Merry Scary Christmas: The Raddest and Baddest Festive Final Girls
Christmas is an odd time of year, one where millions of people want nothing more than a strange old man to break into their house and leave them stuff. A tradition that seems so nightmare inducing has unsurprisingly inspired many a festive fright-fest, covering everything from seminal low budget gore-fests to seasonal event movies. Holiday horror has become a thriving subgenre in it’s own right. Though I’m not here to talk about these frightful films, but the totally awesome women who inhabit them. Yes! There truly is a Final Girl for any time of the year, and we’ve got out some of the baddest and raddest who’ve managed to survive not only the Christmas season, but also a terrifying array of weapon-wielding foes.
So, pull up a comfy chair, grab a carton of eggnog, wrap up in your warmest blanket, and get ready to spend some time with some seriously festive Final Girls!
Often sited as the first true slasher movie, Black Christmas is a stone cold classic. Not least because of its absolutely badass female ensemble cast, including an early performance from Lois Lane herself, Margot Kidder. But it’s Olivia Hussey’s performance as the first widely recognized Final Girl, Jess Bradford, that really makes an impact. Introduced as the victim of abusive, sexually explicit phone calls, Jess soon turns the victim trope on its head by announcing to her boyfriend that she’s pregnant and doesn’t want the baby. Though the idea of a woman putting her career and herself before a marriage and family may seem less radical now, at the time these scenes were almost as shocking as the multiple murders that take place under the same roof. Despite being a pregnant college student who wants an abortion, Jess survives the movie massacre. Shirking the respectability politics and moral spin that were often put into slasher movies in later years, Jess is the Final Girl who created the space for later rule breakers like Scream’s very own Sydney Prescott.
One of the most camp Christmas classics has to be New Year’s Evil, based around a killer who calls up our radical punk rock princess, Blaze Sullivan, threatening to kill a person as each time zone hits midnight. Roz Kelly’s portrayal of the self proclaimed “Queen of Rock and Roll” is radical in a whole raft of ways, not least the fact that at the movie’s release Kelly was 37. So not only did she smash gender stereotypes by creating a provocative character with agency who managed to outdo a mass murderer, but she also made it abundantly clear that Hollywood’s ageism was already tired bullshit in 1980. An iconic bad girl turn from an actor who made her name in Happy Days, New Year’s Evil is a fearsome frolic led by our badass babe of the airwaves.
It’s a rare thing to find a horror movie in which the victimised are children, and if you do find such a thing it’s likely handled badly and played for controversy and shock. Cuento De Navidad (A Christmas Tale) has none of these problems, a classic horror with echoes of The Monster Squad and The Goonies. The film follows Ivana Baquero’s Moni and her friends, who discover an unconscious bank robber in a hole that they dug and decide on a whim to keep her prisoner. Baquero’s performance is part of a two-sided balancing act that she shares with the group’s Santa-costumed axe-wielding nemesis, Rebeca Exposito, played with incredible malice by Maru Valdivielso. The two women create a relationship outside that of victim and captor, with statuses that change as the film progresses. Though Moni is not a traditional Final Girl, she is a unique one who carries this fantastic little oddity right to its unforgettably off-key ending.
Inexplicably useless authority figures are a slasher trope that appear as regularly as girls running upstairs instead of outdoors and creepy men breathing heavily down phone lines late at night. So it’s refreshing that our devout Final Girl from 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night is actually incredibly attentive and in tune with her young charges, one of whom will later become the movie’s big bad. Gilmer McCormick’s Sister Margaret is a rare Final Girl whose story we get to see play out over many years. A pure and devoted woman, she is undoubtedly the hero of the film. Even when she knows that one the children who used to be in her care is now a serial killer, she chases him down not just to save lives but also to save him. Driven by compassion and kindness rather than survival or revenge, Sister Margaret is a true one-off in the realm of Final Girls.
I discovered Dead End during a streaming service horror binge and it is a truly strange little movie. Essentially the best episode of The Night Gallery that Rod Serling never made, it follows a family driving to a holiday dinner who take a short cut and end up on a road that leads to nowhere. A tight ensemble piece, Alexandra Holden’s Final Girl has a very different journey from most, spending the majority of the movie in a moving car. The power of Marion’s character comes from the fact that she manages to create an entire life, personality, and motivation whilst doing it. As she watches her family slowly succumb to madness, Marion begins to wonder if she’ll be next, though as it turns out, fate has bigger plans for her. A Final Girl who is chosen rather than made, Marion Harrington is a masterclass in self-discovery and survival in the most claustrophobic of places.
Mary Woronov might be best known for her work with Andy Warhol and Russ Meyer, but she was also the star of this lost creepy Christmas classic. A hard to find gem, SNBN is narrated by our (arguably first) Final Girl, Diane Adams. Predating Jess Bradford and Black Christmas by a full two years, the two films have an interesting amount of similarities, though our heroines are refreshingly different. Clearly inspired by Giallo, Hitchcock, and Fulci, this movie creates a psychedelic palette and a sensual, strong, and uncompromising lead in Diane. Setting out the framework for what would later become the set-in-stone rules for slasher movies: Don’t have sex. Don’t try to hide. Don’t open the door. Don’t drink or do drugs. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t ever say, “I’ll be right back.” Diane manages to maneuver the moral minefield and survive, setting the stage for decades of Final Girls in film.
Breaking out of the teen sorority girl mold with a starring role in a claustrophobia horror classic P2 is Rachel Nichols as Angela. It’s rare to find a Final Girl who also happens to be a career driven adult woman, and that’s where we meet our protagonist. She’s successful, a little cold, and generally not what you’d expect in your usual horror film. But Nichols kills as a woman fighting for survival against Wes Bentley’s proto-MRA, upset at being friendzoned, a misogynist would-be murderer. Nichols carries a film for which most of the time she’s the only person on screen, and though she’s painted as an unsympathetic character at times, she’s an unrelenting badass who you can’t help rooting for against Bentley’s Reddit-induced nightmare.
One of the original Christmas chillers, To All A Goodnight is most likely remembered for its terrifying Killer Santa. Though it now seems unoriginal, this was only the second time the trope had been used and its iconic use of a Santa mask makes the movie’s big bad all the more memorable. Who could take down such a formidable foe? Well that would be Jennifer Runyon’s Nancy, a student at the finishing school where years earlier a prank gone wrong sparked a series of events that led to some severely grotesque and untimely deaths. Nancy is an interesting addition to our roster as Runyon’s performance is pitch perfect, but Nancy herself is complicit in the chaos surrounding her and regularly crosses the line of good Final Girl behaviour. A conflicted Final Girl whose last act baddassery is slightly dampened by an unnecessary save by a well meaning male student, Nancy is nonetheless a Festive Final Girl to die for.
Another rarity to round off our list, The Dorm That Dripped Blood a.k.a. Death Dorm is an uber low budget classic that was clearly created to exploit the success of the burgeoning slasher genre but still manages to be fun in its own right. One of the coolest things about our last Final Girl is that this is Laurie Lapinski’s only professional credit, which is a shame because her turn as Joanne is the best thing that TDTDB has to offer. Precocious and tough as all hell, Lapinski never leaves you with any doubt that Joanne will be the last one standing. The fact that this movie is often forgotten means that Joanne is a bit of a lost Final Girl but she’s one who definitely needs remembering when you’re looking for some Christmas fear.