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Not-so-final girls: 17 girls (and 1 guy) who didn’t survive their horror movies

Ryan Murphy’s new series Scream Queens debuts this week, featuring renowned “final girl” Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the genre that made her a star. The archetype of the “final girl,” or “survivor girl,” has been much celebrated, subject to academic studies and revisionist takes and generally held up as the lone redeeming feminist quality of the otherwise-despicable slasher genre. But what about the other, not-so-final girls? The best friends, the queen bees, the mean camp counselors, and the sexually adventurous classmates who didn’t have the wit and determination to make it to the final reel? Don’t they deserve a little recognition? After all, without a gaggle of gal pals to get murdered, she wouldn’t be the “final” girl, would she?

In honor of these bridesmaids of the horror world (always the victim, never the victor, right ladies?), The A.V. Club has assembled 17 notable examples of not-quite-final girls (and one overtly sexualized guy) who served honorably as cannon fodder in slasher films throughout the decades. There have been others—the notoriously prolific Jason Voorhees personally dispatched dozens—but these are the ones who stood out.

1. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh)

Dies first in: Psycho (1960)
Without Psycho there would be no other slasher movies, and although she was no one’s best friend (she was more of a loner, really) without Marion Crane there would be no other not-so-final girls. Audiences were genuinely shocked when Marion met her maker not even halfway through the film, leaving many—as truly great horror movies tend to do—to remember her death as more graphically violent than it actually was. The scene where Marion gets stabbed in the shower, along with its screeching violin soundtrack, became instantly iconic, and has been parodied in more TV shows, movies, and ad campaigns than one can count. Here’s one: Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis re-created the scene for an upcoming episode of Scream Queens, putting a nice cyclical bow on the whole thing. [Katie Rife]

2. Barbara Coard (Margot Kidder)

Dies fourth in: Black Christmas (1974)

Like many inevitable victims in slasher movies, Margot Kidder’s Barb likes to smoke, drink, and have sex. But unlike so many other doomed co-eds, she’s defined by much more than these madman-tempting vices. For one, Barb’s not afraid to stand up to Black Christmas’ forever-anonymous killer, responding to his obscene phone calls not with silence, but acid-tongued quips such as, “Why don’t you find a wall socket and stick your tongue in it? That’ll give you a charge.” Her verbal confrontations anger several of her sorority sisters, especially Claire, who storms out only to become the first victim. Later on, Barb drunkenly expresses guilt over driving Claire away, adding even more humanity to her character and making it all the more tragic when the killer stabs her to death with a glass unicorn from her nightstand. [Dan Caffrey]

3. Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles)

Dies seventh in: Halloween (1978)

Don’t feel sorry for P.J. Soles. She got her chance to play the lead as No. 1 Ramones superfan Riff Randell in Rock ‘N’ Roll High School, and went on to a healthy, if mostly low-budget, film career. But more than 30 years later, Soles is still famous for her supporting role in the original Halloween (1978). As “final girl” Laurie Strode’s sexually active pal Lynda Van Der Klok, Soles get strangled with a phone cord by Michael Myers, who she thinks is her boyfriend in a ghost costume. In a 2014 interview with Vulture, Soles talked about her iconic death scene, saying, “I remember thinking, this is the last time I’m going to be on the screen, except for dead in the closet, so I thought, I better extend this!” [Katie Rife]

4. Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss)

Dies first in: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

As terrifying as A Nightmare On Elm Street is, it has a much lower body count than most of the horror released in the same era—Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter, released the same year, had a total of 13 deaths—and depending on what you make of Mrs. Thompson, it can be argued that Tina is not only Freddy’s first onscreen victim, but also the only female one. Tina is not necessarily the promiscuous friend, but your mother would probably describe her as “fast”: she has an air of confidence, but is perhaps not as sexually experienced as she lets on. Very early on in the film, Tina and Rod make to the bedroom together rather quickly as the virginal Nancy and and nice-guy Glen retire to their separate corners. Tina’s death scene is not only brutal and frightening, but also a marvel of special effects as a seemingly weightless Wyss is dragged across the ceiling. While Jason always edged out Freddy in body count numbers, the Nightmare series was always more imaginative. [Mike Vanderbilt]

5. Sylvia (Helene Udy)

Dies 11th in: My Bloody Valentine (1981)

The low-budget Canadian horror movie My Bloody Valentine—one of a series of holiday-themed slasher films that came in Halloween’s wake—has benefited greatly from hindsight. The MPAA demanded extensive cuts before it would issue the movie an R rating, truncating several scenes and removing much of makeup artist Tom Burman’s (Halloween III, Teen Wolf, The Goonies) work from the film. Those scenes were restored on the 2009 DVD release, allowing audiences to see the inventive kills as they were originally conceived. One of the most memorable is the demise of Sylvia (Helene Udy, who would leverage the role into a modest horror career), who is impaled on a shower head by the unbelievably strong killer as she—what else?—waits for her boyfriend to come back with a beer. The water that comes out of her mouth when Sylvia’s hapless man finds her body adds a blackly comic touch, one of the reasons My Bloody Valentine is remembered as one of the better slashers of its era. [Katie Rife]

6. Judy (Karen Fields)

Dies 11th in: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

As soon as the audience meets mean girl Judy in the 1983 slasher classic Sleepaway Camp, a hive mind mentality takes over: Everyone wants her to die. She’s cruel to our shy heroine Angela, and despite having had a summer fling with Angela’s cousin, Ricky, she treats him like dirt. (The Sleepaway Camp wiki—because everything has a wiki— describes her as the “camp bitch.”) Judy is mean, prefers the company of older men, and like most of the victims in Sleepaway Camp, is an all-around terrible person­. The camp cook is a pervert, the younger campers throw dirt at Angela, and M-E-G really makes Judy work for the title of “Queen Bitch.” Judy wins out in that category, however, by attempting to steal Angela’s love interest Paul. Don’t fret though, because Judy gets hers in the end when she’s offed by a particularly gruesome combination of suffocation and a curling iron in the vagina. It’s hard to say who is the actual “final girl” of Sleepaway Camp: It could be Susie, one of the few counselors at Camp Arawak who isn’t an asshole, or it could be Angela, depending on how she identifies. [Mike Vanderbilt]

7-10. Marcie Cunningham (Jeannine Taylor), Judy Williams (Debora Kessler), J.J. Jarret (Saffron Henderson), and Adrienne Hart (Kristi Angus)

Die at various points in: The Friday The 13th series (1980-2001)

Even someone who’s seen all of the Friday The 13th movies multiple times can be forgiven for having the death scenes blur together in their minds. That goes double for the not-so-final girls: In addition to having quite the spectrum of survivors—from little Tommy Jarvis and his sister Trish in The Final Chapter to Jason Goes To Hell’s Jessica, half-niece to Jason Voorhees (don’t ask.)—the movies have an incredibly lengthy series of unfortunate women who didn’t make it past the finish line. Here are just a few of the more notable examples: There’s Marcie, an OG not-final girl who gets an ax to the face in the original Friday The 13th; Judy, who is beaten to death inside sleeping bag in Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (this often gets cited as one of the dumber deaths, which is ridiculous, because it’s clearly one of the best); J.J., who dies via one killer electric guitar riff in Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan; and Adrienne, whose head gets frozen, then smashed in Jason X. It’s like sticking your tongue on a lamp post in winter, times a million. [Alex McCown]

11. Doug (Peter Barton)

Dies 11th in: Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter is perhaps one of the most flagrant cases of false advertising Hollywood has ever thrust upon the public. While Jason Voorhees would return seven more times, 13 unlucky guys and girls would not, including the stunningly handsome Doug, portrayed by soap star Peter Barton. The Final Chapter sets up two would-be final girls in Trish Jarvis, older sister to Corey Feldman’s Tommy, and the virginal Sara Parkington. Once Sarah instigates relations with pretty-boy Doug, audiences know that her chance of survival is slim to none. While engaging in a post-coitus shower, Doug is attacked by the man behind the mask in one of the most violent kills in the film. “What does Jason do to him? He just goes right through the glass and crushes his head against the tile. Just smashes his face,” director Joseph Zito says in the behind-the-scenes documentary Crystal Lake Memories. “I wanted to go against the cliché of the girl in the shower of Psycho, so in our version, it’s the prettiest guy with the most chiseled face, the most perfect face.” Zito really wanted to turn the idea of the “scream queen” on its head, putting an attractive young man in a very vulnerable position before he is violated by Jason. In a sick way, it’s kind of progressive. [Mike Vanderbilt]

12. Tatum Riley (Rose McGowan)

Dies fifth in: Scream (1996)

The main joke behind Wes Craven’s 1996 meta-slasher Scream is how often characters are able to recognize horror movie clichés while being unable to escape them. There’s talk of “rules,” and there are complaints about the genre’s inherent misogyny, and yet, in the heat of the moment, most of the walking targets find themselves making the same mistakes as their forebears. That’s more or less what happens to Tatum (Rose McGowan): “Don’t mock the stranger in the garage you wrongly assume isn’t the killer.” Which is a shame, because McGowan gives one of the film’s most likable performances. As final girl Sidney’s best friend, she’s supportive and cheerful, and, as one of the few characters who is never labeled a potential suspect, avoids the general contempt screenwriter Kevin Williamson seems to have for all teenagers. Under slightly different circumstances, it’s not hard to imagine her lasting until the final scene. But every horror movie needs at least one likable victim, so Tatum is forced to suffer an undignified (and improbable) fate: death by garage door. [Zack Handlen]

13. Sasha Thomas (Tara Reid)

Dies eighth in: Urban Legend (1998)

Not long after breaking into film in The Big Lebowski, but well before encountering a Sharknado, Tara Reid was one of the ill-fated sexy teens in 1998’s Urban Legend. Reid played the suitably lusty Sasha, friend to final girl Natalie (Alicia Witt) and host of the college radio show, “Under The Covers With Sasha.” She dispenses sex advice to other horny co-eds in between scenes of getting it on with her boyfriend Parker (Michael Rosenbaum). Her dedication to her craft proves to be a fatal weakness—the “Puffy Coat Killer” comes for her at the radio station, and she unwittingly broadcasts her death to the dozens of students who must have been listening at the time. But Sasha has plenty of lascivious fun before she bites it, licking microphones and pushing a sex-positive agenda. [Danette Chavez]

14. Paige Edwards (Paris Hilton)

Dies fourth in: House Of Wax (2005)

Just as Home Alone haters showed up in surprising numbers for the 1991 coming-of-age drama My Girl to watch Macaulay Culkin die, Paris Hilton haters gave the 2005 House Of Wax remake some notoriety by gushing over how it was worth the price of admission just to watch her fight a serial killer and graphically lose. Hilton was at the height of her cultural saturation infamy at the time, a year after her sex tape hit the internet, and a bit over a year into her reality show The Simple Life, and plenty of people were willing to pay $8 at a theater to see her take a knife through the feet and a pole through the head. Unlike most non-acting celebrities making horror-film cameos, though, she gets a surprising amount of screen time, as one of the film’s stars—specifically, the one targeted by all the slut jokes and sex gags, and the one surprised by the killer when she’s bedding down in what every woman sleeps in: a push-up underwire bra and a bulky sweater unbuttoned to the navel. Cue running, screaming, impalement, and sweet catharsis for the hate-watchers. [Tasha Robinson]

15. Kia Waterson (Kelly Rowland)

Dies last in: Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)

You would think that a member of Destiny’s Child would be able to find a more glamorous role for their film debut than a crossover horror movie. Yet such was the path of Kelly Rowland, whose first big-screen role was that of Kia Waterson, best friend to Freddy Vs. Jason‘s heroine Lori Campbell (Monica Keena). While presented as shallow and dismissive, Rowland does move past the archetype to capture two of the film’s more memorable beats. First, by process of elimination she comes within an inch of having to give Jason Voorhees mouth-to-mouth, and then later she bravely stands up to Freddy Krueger with a bit of smack talk about his iconic blades. (“You trying to compensate for something? Maybe coming up a little short there between the legs, Mr. Krueger?”) Those insults turn out to be prophetic, as the minute she compares his knives unflatteringly to Jason’s machete he points behind her, and said machete propels her into a tree with hilarious pneumatic tube speed. Rowland may have performed on an album called Survivor two years prior, but that turned out not to be prophetic in the least. [Les Chappell]

16. Megan (Greta Gerwig)

Dies first in: The House Of The Devil (2009)

Director Ti West keeps the body count low in his ’80s horror homage The House Of The Devil, with just one bystander dying on screen: Greta Gerwig’s Megan, the best friend of the film’s hero. Best friends in horror movies are almost always thankless roles—they exist to be killed off, basically—but Gerwig injects her character with the same scene-stealing charisma she later brought to her leading roles in Noah Baumbach’s lighthearted comedies. All feathered hair and appetite, Megan is everything her naïve friend Samantha isn’t: blond, blunt, and mischievous. Some of the film’s most memorable scenes are simply of her eating, either picking apart a slice of pizza with her fingers or rummaging through a stranger’s candy bowl. And though she’s marked for death from the moment she agrees to drive her friend to a suspicious babysitting gig, she’s the script’s voice of reason, the one who cautions Samantha that an offer that seems too good to be true probably is. [Evan Rytlewski]

17. Jules Louden (Anna Hutchison)

Dies first in: The Cabin In The Woods (2012)

As a tongue-in-cheek exercise in meta-horror, there were two things audiences could predict from the first moment they saw perky blond pre-med student Jules bound onto the screen in The Cabin In The Woods: That she would have sex, and that she would die immediately afterward. And director Drew Goddard cheekily obliged, although he did turn the lens back onto the audience by projecting Jules’ topless downfall onto a gigantic screen in the control room where a team of bureaucrats had orchestrated her blood sacrifice as that year’s archetypal “Whore.” (If you haven’t seen the movie, just do; it’s kind of a long story.) “This is what you came for, right?“ Goddard seemed to be saying. “Well, here it is.” In this movie, even the titillation factor comes with a wink and a nod. [Katie Rife]

18. Kelly Curtis (Kate Miner)

Dies fifth in: Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006)

It’s quite a feat to be the most meta horror film on a list that contains both Scream and The Cabin In The Woods, but Scott Glosserman’s clever mockumentary about a nascent slasher who peppers his speech with “industry terms” like “fly-by” and “survivor girl” ably pulls it off. The film follows murderous neophyte Leslie Vernon as he prepares for an upcoming bloodbath under the observation of (and with occasional assistance from) a documentary film crew. The documentarians (and the audience) are lead to believe that Kate Miner’s character Kelly is the object of Vernon’s charismatically deranged attentions, and with good reason: She seems to fit Leslie’s stated criteria, being brave, smart, and, of course, a virgin. (The film’s constant comparisons between the slasher/final girl dynamic and a romantic courtship make this last part extra important, and also extra creepy.) So when the movie’s perspective-shifting third act kicks in, and Kelly is revealed to be a foul-mouthed, sexually experienced coward, it’s not long before she goes out a window to her death—just in time for the film’s real final girl to establish herself, and for Kelly to be relegated to the mounting pile of final-girl also-rans. [William Hughes]