Saturday, June 4, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 4: Favorite final girl

I’m probably, as usual, in the minority with my opinion, but I love Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It represents a brilliant move by Tobe Hooper. How do you top the terror and grittiness of the original TCM? You can’t! Tobe knew that. He decided to go the other way with it and make a black comedy. It’s gory, it’s hilarious, and it’s just plain fun. It also features my pick for favorite final girl, Stretch.

In the world of academic film analysis, gender in horror movies is discussed, dissected, and pontificated upon to death. Stretch as a “final girl” is a favorite in these discussions because of the obvious phallic imagery of the chainsaw and the inversion of gender roles in the latter parts of the film. I’m not going to discuss that here, though. I got more than enough of that crap in film school.

Played by the great Caroline Williams (Stepfather 2, Leprechaun 3, Halloween 2), Stretch is a DJ at a small radio station. A couple of douchebags call her up and refuse to hang up. While trying to disconnect them, she actually hears their deaths at the hands of Leatherface. She gets in touch with Dennis Hopper, who is hunting the chainsaw clan, and he convinces her to play the tape of the murders on the air. That’s when Leatherface and Choptop bust into the station and raise some hell.

Like most final girls first encounters with the killer, there’s a lot of running and screaming. She has a GREAT scream too. She’ll need it, because she basically spends the entire second half of the film putting that scream to use. Seems to be a recurring thing in the TCM flicks, huh? She has one weapon to use against Leatherface that none of the other TCM girls have, however. Leather’s sweet on her. He doesn’t kill her right away. Instead, he turns the saw off, runs it slowly up her leg, and basically starts dry humping her with it. If that doesn’t get you all hot and bothered…well…then you’re probably a lot saner and better adjusted than me. I can tell you from experience that you CAN use a chainsaw as a sex toy. Wait, I’m getting off topic here, aren’t I. Anyway, what does Stretch do? Most women in that situation would flip out. She more or less seduces Leatherface and talks him down. He actually spares her life! Damn she’s good.

Then she bravely decides to chase them to their hideout below an abandoned theme park. As expected, this begins the usual TCM torment of the final girl. You saw what they did to Sally Hardesty? Stretch doesn’t have it any easier. Leatherface forces her to wear the severed face of her co-worker and dance with him. It really is a sweet, romantic scene. Then she’s tied up, but makes her escape only to be spotted by Drayton Sawyer and cornered by Leatherface. Then comes a hilarious scene where she tells him “Listen, this is not gonna work out. I’m trying to be open with you. It’s nobody’s fault, I just can’t do this.” It takes a lot of guts to break up with a guy while he waves a chainsaw inches from your face. Apparently it was a traumatic breakup for Leatherface, because in the next movie it’s implied that he’s gay and he’s crossdressing by the next one. Way to ruin it for the rest of the ladies there Stretch!

Well, the rest of the family discovers her and knocks her out. She wakes up at the infamous Sawyer family dinner table. Here she has the single greatest extended freakout scene in horror history. While she’s taunted and bashed repeatedly in the head with a hammer, she screams and rants hysterically with the absolute most priceless facial expressions you’ve ever seen. Seriously, if you haven’t seen TCM 2, it’s worth it for her performance in this scene alone.

After she’s knocked unconscious for a second time, she “hulks up.” While Hopper brings the cavern to the ground, she is chased by Choptop up a staircase into a tower. They claw, scratch, bite, kick, and slice all the way up. When they get to the top, she snatches a chainsaw from the mummified hands of grandma. While she tries to start it, Choptop dances around her slashing her over and over (and over…) with a straight razor. This scene is absolutely brutal. She tries the pull start over and over, wide eyed and screaming like a savage, as he cuts her to ribbons, dancing and singing the whole time. That scene is just amazing. She is the epitome of “I’m going to kill you or die trying” at that moment. Then she finally gets it started.

What happens next is pure genius. She slices Choptop and he falls presumably to his death. Then, in the last shot of the film, she does Leatherface’s chainsaw dance. She wasn’t there to see him do this dance in part one. She's seen him do it in this film, but she's doing her own version of it. This can mean only one thing, she gets it. She’s not imitating anybody. The saw has possessed her. She understands the power and the madness of the saw. THE SAW IS FAMILY! I hate it when a “final girl” just all of a sudden goes from screaming victim to Madame Badass. With Stretch, you know this didn’t happen. She didn’t “summon her inner strength” or any of that BS. She went full tilt nuts! After being tormented by the chainsaw family, she has apparently heard the saw’s siren song and adopted it as her own. While the family may be dead, their madness lives on in their (at the time) final victim. She basically defeated the family and took over for them. There isn’t going to be any “things going back to normal.” Following Stretch from tough girl DJ to screaming mess to hysterical freakout to final acceptance of her new insanity is one of my favorite character arcs in any movie. That’s why she is my favorite final girl. Just don’t ever call her darlin’.

As a bonus, here’s a cool interview Dread Central did with Caroline Williams:


Master_Gio said...

Great choice! I had quite the crush on her as a kid. She's cool in person, too.

cash said...

Ahhh Chainsaw II. Probably my favourite one for several reasons. Tom Savini effects (Jesus Lord God!! make sure you get the unrated version of this), Dennis Hopper, Choptop.

I once asked Gunner Hansen why he never came back to reprise his role as Leatherface in this sequel. "You know they asked me to," he says while signing my poster. "But they didn't want to pay me shit." And I thought to myself as I paid him $10 to jot down his name on a 27x41 piece of printed paper. I thought he had a big fan base and money in his pocket. Hooper and Chainsaw gave him notoriety, immortality. And he's worried about a few bucks? I'd have jumped at the script on site. But thats just me.

As for Caroline Williams? Four words. HOW GOOD ARE YOU?

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Caroline Williams (as the bird was in 1975 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

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