Let's talk about slashers, shall we? Yes, I’m referring to that illustrious group of grisly movies where nightmares happen all around Elm Street and severed limbs are doled out along with Milky Ways on Halloween. Judge away, but I love those movies. Give me an omnipotent killer who never says a word as he preys upon suburban teenage archetypes in dark and isolated settings to the tune of a revving chainsaw as it slices into some nubile flesh, and I'll be a pretty happy girl.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to be normal. In fact, I was the one who considered climbing out the window at slumber parties when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was slid into the VCR after we’d grown tired of freezing the underwear of the poor girl who’d made the grave mistake of falling asleep first. For me, the visual carnage of torture that always seemed to be shot in extreme close-up was enough to give me waking nightmares for weeks. Friday the 13th was even tougher for me to take. I went to sleepaway camp, for fuck’s sake! I did not need the mental association of a wandering masked psychopath attacking counselors reverberating around my brain when I’d soon have to spend eight weeks in a remote setting with nothing to use as a weapon besides a lanyard. I mean, it was bad enough when they showed us Jaws on a rainy afternoon and then insisted that we jump into the lake for swimming lessons the next morning! I really couldn’t afford to be terrified of hockey masks as well.
The thing is, despite my very real wariness of all things horror, I was oddly drawn to those movies. I’d wander the aisles of Blockbuster with some Rob Lowe movie gripped in my hand, but I couldn’t help but check out the box covers in the Thriller section. I must have picked up I Spit On Your Grave a zillion times to check out the hatchet the woman was holding as well as the tagline that indicated that she had every right to have viciously slaughtered four people. Is that blood or dried small intestine on the tip of that hatchet? I’d wonder. I never rented I Spit On Your Grave while I was still in high school – I’d always chicken out – but I did eventually start enjoying the act of consuming cinematic fear. I can still recall that freezing chill that spread inside of me as I watched The Silence of the Lambs and I realized that there was something very powerful and almost hypnotic about the coupling of atmosphere and certain shots – of mixing explicit fears with an implied brutal subtext – and I would marvel at the way a great filmmaker is able to invade the psyche of someone he’s never even met.
Then came senior year of college and a high-level Film Theory course that was one of the last requirements for my major. For a class steeped in dense theoretical analysis, the professor elected to use all horror films as his visual texts. I perused the syllabus the first day with a heady mix of anticipation and palpable dread – and my heart almost stopped dead when I saw that one of the movies I’d be required to watch was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’d still never seen it, not a single frame, but it had morphed into something legendary in my mind, my very own blood-spattered white whale.
In somewhat of a daze, I went to the bookstore after class to pick up what was required and it was then that I first saw the book that would become one of my all-time favorites. The cover – a mix of black background and red text the color of plasma – was emblazoned with a shot of Leatherface glaring beneath the title: Men, Women, and Chainsaws. I took the book home with me, crawled on top of my bed in my sorority house, and opened it with more trepidation than I probably would if I were invading someone’s diary.
By the time I finished chapter one, I was all fucking in. The author delved into the violent terrain of slasher films in an effort to examine theories of representation and identification in cinema and every single movie she referred to became one I needed to see immediately. My friends were good sports about my newfound obsession. They were mostly Business or Education majors who were drawn to romantic comedies, but they’d sit beside me as I watched Sorority House Massacre in our living room. They would understand when I’d press pause and join them when they took a break to get a snack or follow them into the bathroom as they peed because they realized I was too scared to be left alone on the couch. But while the movies still frightened me, I wasn’t really looking at them in the same way anymore. I started to focus instead on the visual and thematic iconography of this gritty little subgenre known as “the slasher.” I read my textbook carefully and recognized the signs of a killer ruled by psychosexual fury and began to see how his violent lashing out was, for him, a release that felt almost sexual. I started to nod seriously and take notes while watching a shitty movie like Splatter University. My friends would either be cowering behind throw pillows in fear or laughing at the horrible acting and the absurdity of a killer priest hiding a weapon inside of a crucifix while I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, “Girls always get killed onscreen and their deaths are shot at close range.” I began to note how men often kicked the bloody bucket in rooms so dark that it was almost impossible to see the penetration of the killer’s weapon or that their deaths took place entirely off-screen. I saw with clarity that female characters are mentally toyed with before the axe comes down and that there clearly is only one character a viewer is able to root for in the slightest.
The “Final Girl” – as coined by the author of Men, Women, and Chainsaws – is the survivor of the slasher. She’s the only character we really know anything about and our knowledge of her likes and her dislikes and her fears are divvied out to us from the very start of the film. She’s the one who is different from her friends: she’s intelligent and thoughtful and she covers herself the hell up while the rest of the girls happily allow their clitorises to wave in the wind. She’s the one who hears the strange noise and doesn’t think it’s just a storm, the one who never suggests that right now would be the perfect time to disrobe and take a shower. She eventually stumbles over her friends’ body parts and she’s often got a unisex name and some stereotypically masculine energy because God forbid a universe of viewers form an identification with a classically feminine character. She is not sexually active and she’s the one we will all root for until the bitter bloodstained end.
“Her name is Jessie!” I’d exclaim to the friend sitting beside me, the one I’d made watch yet another one of these movies. She’d be hiding her eyes behind her fingers while contemplating making new friends. “Jessie is a unisex name! She’s our Final Girl!”
“You realize that you’re ruining the movie, right?” she would mumble.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I’d respond with a serene smile. “It’s not like you didn’t know that the blonde chick named Tiffany would kick it the second you saw her. She laughed about forgetting her chemistry textbook at school and you can see her nipples right through her tank top! That chick is going down in no time. I think she’ll be impaled by something like a spear! What do you think?”
My friend would respond by staring at me blankly.
“I think that I can’t believe you are getting a degree in this bullshit,” she would respond seriously.
She had a point.
I think one of the reasons I eventually became so drawn to a genre I used to avoid like the flesh-eating plague was because of how satisfying it felt to apply the theory as I watched. Okay, I’d think to myself as the blades of a chainsaw ripped through a female character’s flesh. This girl is dying because she’s trespassing unknowingly on the killer’s turf and because of the killer’s psychosexual fury. She’s been coded as nothing but female and sexual since she first stepped onscreen and that’s why she’s a fucking goner. There was a quiet simplicity to it all. I liked that there could be zero discussion about which person to root for in one of these films. The other entertainment I was typically drawn to was way more complex, populated by characters who were both benevolent and hideously flawed. I didn’t love how conflicted I would feel when I’d start to care about a character who would lie or cheat or steal. I had enough of a problem giving assholes passes in real life.
Speaking of assholes, I think one of the problems I have these days with a show like Vanderpump Rules is that I can find nobody with whom I want to fully identify. If this series were a slasher, at this point I think I might have to cheer for the fucking chainsaw.
Turn our Vanderpumpers into slasher characters and SUR would become an absolute bloodbath. (I’d be concerned about what that might mean for its Board of Health codes, but Jax works there so those codes have to be pretty lenient.) Let’s talk definite victims. Those who will become mere terrible memories are undoubtedly James, Lala, Jax, and Kristen. All four have allowed themselves to be portrayed as miserable one-note characters who lead flaw first. For the record, I’d like to suggest that Kristen be offed during the cold open so she’s out of our lives by the time the credit sequence is over. The rest of the group is a bit more problematic. See, it’s unlikely that Sandoval or Schwartz will make it out of a slasher movie alive. While they have not come across as terrible people, they’ll probably be too busy getting their eyebrows threaded to notice the danger signs. Scheana might make it halfway through, but eventually her insistence to implore her addicted husband to get himself a little tipsy might ruin her chances at survival. Stassi had a shot to survive too, but she blew it by coming back to this show after she’d already crawled to safety. Sadly for her, she traded survival for generic infamy and she recently became way more blonde, a practice that rarely leads to a positive outcome in a slasher. Besides, she’s bunking on Kristen’s couch and Kristen’s lair will be the first place the evil invades if there's any justice in this world.
So who’s our final girl? I guess it comes down to Ariana or Katie, but I’m going to go out on a dismembered limb and give Katie the seal of survival. It’s a tough call, though. Both women are clearly intelligent and have spent much of this season saying what I think most viewers have swirling around inside of our heads. Neither tolerates dickheads all that easily and neither has disrobed on camera, but Katie is my choice because she’s not always in a terrible mood and the final girl is meant to be someone who appears to enjoy life and wants to keep living it. Besides, one of the key attributes of final girldom is celibacy, and Katie has made sure that we all know that she hasn’t gotten laid in eons.
Sure, her idiotic librarian outfit a few episodes back almost severed my identification with her for good, but I am willing to overlook it because I want positive things for this girl. She does not seem particularly interested in embracing total stupidity and she has never entirely tossed her pride aside just to get attention. I might question her choices when it comes to nose rings and friendships, but at least she holds people somewhat accountable for their sins and she seems reluctant to make the same mistakes twice. Simply put, she does not come across as a horrific human being, and in slasher films – and on reality shows – that’s maybe all it takes to make me root for someone.
Unfortunately, Katie’s ultimate survival is in question on this last episode of the season. She is throwing herself an engagement party and it appears that she’s tried to make sure that everything goes perfectly. She secured herself a gorgeous location, promised the owner of the property that certain people will not attend, and she’s hoping for the best. Sadly for the bride-to-be, some evil cannot be so easily squelched and I’m betting that this party will turn into a fucking massacre.
Bring on the phallic weaponry!
It'll take us a little while to get to the really gory part, so we begin tonight by floating in the (relative) calm before the storm – which strikes me as the perfect cliché to use for a show that's long been a total cliché. But look! Here comes Tsunami Jax arriving back from Hawaii! He trudges into his depressing apartment where he's greeted by his newly buxom maid/girlfriend, Brittany. Things worked out well for our favorite sweaty douchebag in court. He only ended up with probation and all will be fine as long as he "keeps his nose clean," an act that I'm betting will be difficult for him because something tells me his nose is often, um, not so clean. But now that he's home, what he'd really like is some peace and quiet. It's just so tough having a loving girlfriend who does your dishes and inflates her tits to make you happy! Can she maybe just go live in his neighbor's closet?
Speaking of closets, Stassi's finally got one of her own. That's right, she no longer has to hang her clothing alongside Kristen's rompers because she's finally in her very own place. Thank goodness this apartment lives up to her standards, you guys. I too held my breath hoping a woman with no job would get the crown moldings of her dreams and I'm thrilled to say that I finally feel at peace. It's really hard to root for Stassi sometimes. She strikes me as being so consumed with playing the entitled self-aggrandizing one because someone foolish once told her the act was charming and that caricature has become who she really is now – or maybe it's the other way around. At any rate, her very first houseguest is Kristen, which means someone should just torch the place to cleanse it of its newly horrible energy. Will hardwood floors survive an inferno?
Kristen enters with champagne and the two of them guzzle it immediately, lest they have to admit that all they really have is one another. That's far too depressing a thought, so they throw that cheap bubbly down the fucking hatch while over at Jax's place, he blurts out, "I can't escape you!" to the girl who moved across the country to get berated in person. He then tells his girlfriend that the jail cell he was locked inside of briefly was the most peaceful environment he's been in ages. I don't think any of us should be shocked if Brittany smothers the guy in his sleep. Worse comes to worse, maybe the jail cell she winds up in for committing murder will be just as peaceful as the utopia Jax visited after stealing some sunglasses.
Over at SUR, the entire cast has been scheduled to work so the final conflicts of the season can be presented along with the day's specials. First on the docket is James, who tells Sandoval and Ariana that he's been spending some time with Kristen lately. They do what any normal person would do upon hearing such news: they laugh in his face. Of course, James is far too much of a moron to recognize their disgust and he looks positively proud, like banging his psychotic ex proves his virility in the way his low-cut tank tops never could. Unfortunately, poor James is experiencing a conundrum. See, he likes Lala too, so – as he so eloquently phrases it – it'll all come down to which girl will open the door for him wider, an image so revolting that I might need to go gargle with some bleach.
In the SUR bathroom, Lala shares the beginning stages of her nervous breakdown about attending Katie's engagement party. She and Katie have never really been close, but I guess the producers made Katie fork over an invite and now Lala is consumed by the things that matter most: what will she wear to someone else's big day and how should she do her hair? Luckily, there's a theme that’s here to guide her and that theme is "Linens & Lace," so Scheana instructs Lala to dress like she's going to meet someone's grandmother. It's actually a sweet reply, especially when Scheana could have said, "Try not to flash your tits, Lala, or we'll make you leave the party and sit on the curb like those girls in the third grade did to you during what became the single most defining moment of your life." Also consuming Lala’s thoughts is her upcoming possible brawl with Kristen who apparently recently bellowed to the heavens that Lala is a “ratchet whore” – because in addition to being the finest dramatic actress of this or any other time, Kristen is also a wordsmith. Lala claims not to care about what Kristen thinks of her. All that matters is how much she cares about James and, yes, that settles it: Lala does not have a fucking prayer of making it out of my slasher movie alive because someone with such questionable taste in other human beings should simply never be permitted to eventually procreate.
Newly freed from his Hawaiian court case and the girlfriend who makes him feel shackled because she has the need to be treated with some decency, Jax arrives back at SUR. The self-proclaimed number one guy in the group (seriously: is that a thing?) is welcomed back warmly by Sandoval, a man who is either the single most forgiving soul on the planet or the biggest chump in the hemisphere. Sure, Jax has stolen from him and spread vicious rumors about him and fucked his girlfriend, but Sandoval just can't help but love the asshole and all I can think upon hearing him say such a bizarre thing is that our metaphorical body count is rising.
Lisa arrives next and she encourages Jax not to minimize everything he's recently gone through in court. She'd like for him to one day be accountable for his actions, but there's not a snowball's chance in hell that the day will be today – or tomorrow – or ever.
On a new and sweltering day, Katie and Scheana arrive at Lisa's home to set up for the party. They need to borrow some of Lisa's umbrellas to shade the guests from the scorching sun, but I think we can already see that sunburn will be the least of anyone's problems. For one thing, the engagement party is an all day and all night event. After Lisa's house, they're all going to go to SUR for the afterparty where Sandoval’s band will perform! Meanwhile, Ariana is getting ready to cut this new version of Scheana out of her life and Kristen and Stassi are decking themselves out so they can arrive at a party they were expressly told to stay away from, an act that doesn't alarm Kristen in the least because she's never invited anywhere. Does she have some feelings of insecurity about such a thing? Has she considered maybe modifying her psychopathic behavior to uncover the reasons as to why she's never welcome anywhere anymore? Is she perhaps contemplating what it means that her dear friend Katie was far more concerned with snagging a gorgeous location for her party than she was at making sure Kristen would be there with her? Are you fucking kidding? Of course Kristen doesn't think about any of that because it turns out that total and willful blindness are the newest offshoots of intense therapy.
A far more normal homosapien, Stassi is a bit nervous for the party. She knows she's not invited and she realizes that Jax is going to be there. Such factors are anxiety-inducing, so she takes her mind off what's real by asking Kristen all about the total fiction that is her life. The new crazy that’s ruling Kristen's days is that James has been texting her, pleading for the two of them to get back together. It seems Kristen, who is terrified of being alone, might be willing to give the guy one more chance. If anyone's keeping track, this will be chance #153 for James. I hope he makes it count, but then again, he might as well just tell her to go fuck herself because chance #154 will be just around the corner.
Over at Lisa's house, the families have started arriving. There are hugs and good wishes all around, but it looks like the idyllic portion of the day will end as quickly as it begins because here comes Lala. She's clad in a lace dress with a plunging neckline and she's stuffed full of mimosas that she drank to calm her nerves. Here's an idea: if the prospect of a party makes you so queasy that you need to mainline booze, stay the fuck home.
Ponies are grazing the grounds blissfully in the distance as Lisa chats charmingly with Schwartz's parents, but the peace fizzles in an instant when Kristen and Stassi step onto the premises. Everyone stops what he or she is doing to gape at the people who are showing up brazenly without an invite and Jax takes one look at his former girlfriend and busts out that she looks amazing. I suppose her presence doesn't make him feel like he's been imprisoned for centuries.
Katie greets them both warmly as Lisa stares at them like they're the stinkiest layer of pond scum that has ever floated to any surface and tells them that the afternoon had been lovely thus far and they'd better not fuck it up. (For the record, Lisa is not even a factor in my slasher fantasy. No doubt she's got herself a trusty panic room somewhere in the vicinity that's more luxurious than any home most of us will ever so much as enter and she will usher in her puppies and her ponies and her adoring husband and survive the entire thing. Then she'll call in her housekeeper to remove the bloodstains from her lawn before forgetting anything sinister ever occurred.)
Continuing her I'm Nice Now tour, Stassi calls Brittany over to tell her how lovely she appears to be while James corners Lisa before she can run fleeing from the guy. He plucks from his pocket the Pump CD to show her that his first step on his woefully misguided road to superstardom is complete. Not only that! He and Kristen are doing better and his attitude has changed and he's blissfully happy and ready to be a productive member of society! Lisa smiles warily and cautions him to stay sober and he moves away from the normal one and towards his one true love. He greets Kristen with several kisses and tells her she looks like an angel. Oh, but Lala – she of the mimosas – is none too thrilled to see this loving display before her. She hates everything about Kristen, from her outfit to her hair to her shoes to her fucking insides, and my friends? I think the carnage is almost upon us.
Now it's time for Lisa to make a toast to Katie and Schwartz and it's quick and lovely. Unfortunately, she then asks if anyone else would maybe like to say a little something to honor the couple and the angel herself raises her hand high into the air. Yes, Kristen has something to say. This woman has no fucking shame – to say nothing about owning even a smidgen of self-awareness – and it's frankly getting uncomfortable to watch. Sensing the insanity that’s coming, Lisa attempts to shut the crazy person down, but see, Kristen is no longer human so she can't understand those signs. She pushes her way to the front of the crowd, dragging Stassi behind her. To her absolute credit, Stassi appears to want to burrow her way into the lawn like the gopher in Caddyshack to escape this embarrassing and totally avoidable moment, but Kristen forges forward. "Hi, guys!" she trills stupidly. Then she launches into the story about how Schwartz came to know Katie because it's a story that involves her so she believes it's worth recounting. Plus, it's a story that requires that she say Sandoval’s name six hundred times and she feels just a little bit more alive every time it pops out of her mouth. She rambles on and on and the whole thing sucks, but that doesn't mean that Lala, who looks like a genie who got stuck in the bottom of a bottle with a bunch of backwash and cigarette butts, should belt out, "Can you wrap it up? What the fuck are you talking about?" Katie jumps in to defend her rambling uninvited friend and part one of the worst party ever comes to an end.
Oh, but like any good slasher film, there's a sequel! Part two of the party is happening at SUR and Scheana wastes little time in sitting Ariana down and asking whether she even wants to be friends anymore. Ariana's just not sure. She's sick of Scheana choosing her need to be liked by assholes over her need to be a loyal friend. The truth obviously stings. Scheana's eyes grow misty with tears. I don't blame her. I'd cry if I lost a real friend in exchange for Kristen, too. Hell, I'd cry if I lived in the same time zone as Kristen! That said, Ariana and Scheana seem to care about one another and it's looking like their friendship can maybe be salvaged.
But just because one positive thing transpires does not mean the entire evening won't devolve into utter fucking misery the second Kristen watches James and Lala lick one another from across the room. She, of course, runs directly towards the problem instead of backing away forever and next thing anyone knows, two moronic girls are fighting over their right to adore an imbecile. Having had quite enough of her face and her outfit and her hair, Lala can no longer contain herself and she violently shoves Kristen hard. While I do not condone real life violence, I'd watch that moment again in slow motion if I could just figure out which button to press on my remote to make it happen. Can I make it my screensaver?
Does this incident cause Kristen to leave the party? Again, are you fucking kidding me? Instead, the girl lights a cigarette with a citronella candle and muses that it's a good thing Lala has caught her at her most Zen while Lala – also a pinnacle of Zen-filled class – informs Stassi that she will never apologize for her minor assault against Kristen and if Stassi doesn't like it, she can fucking blow her. Again: Stassi, what in the hell are you doing, sweetheart? Get as far as you can away from these monsters. Run until you can't even smell them anymore. At the very least, it'll make for some good cardio.
Into this mess comes some talent because now it's time for Sandoval to perform his new song and you know the guy is serious because he brought along a fog machine. How is the song? Well, let's just say that I no longer have any doubt that Sandoval will not survive the horror movie, but I think the world will survive without his talent.
And in another corner of the room, James has unbuttoned his shirt down to his waist because that's a great look on any man, especially a scrawny pipsqueak like himself. He's draped all over Ken, who appears to want to chew his own arm off to get away, while slurring genius sentences like, "Why does everyone think I'm drunk?" Then he catalogues exactly how many joints he smoked prior to the party and explains that his head feels like a spaceship as those around him tell him to his face that he sounds like a fool. It's then that James lashes out at some girl and that's when Jax decides that he’s had just about enough of the guy he's been weirdly jealous of all season long. "You can't talk to women like that," blubbers the worst misogynist this series has ever seen and he confronts James who is ready for a fight. The sweat is flying and the anger is bubbling and there's a chance that all of these people might off one another before Freddy Kruger even shows up.
James finally stumbles away with Lala. Yes, the fun bitch from earlier in the season has turned into the basic girl she never wanted to be and the prize for becoming the very worst version of herself is an English douchebag. Meanwhile, somewhat randomly, Lisa sits down with Jax and tells him that he and Stassi were so perfectly suited for one another. Since it appears to me – a mere viewer – that all those two ever had in common was the desire to be on television without ever having to develop a talent, I'm not quite sure what Lisa means, but upon hearing her name, Jax melts a little. Then he goes to sit beside his ex-girlfriend and the two have an awkward little chat about the good old days before he cheated on her and got someone else pregnant. He tells her that he will always be there for her. She reiterates that the two of them started this group, which I'm not so sure she wants to take credit for, but whatever. They rehash a bit of the pain they caused one another and then the synapses in both of their brains fizzle and fry and Jax suddenly asks her flat out why she's back in the SUR universe. His theory? Her boyfriend ditched her and she needed to reclaim everything she once spit upon. Jax, my friend? That's the first time you've ever been correct about anything.
After Jax leaves to go back to his prison cell with Brittany, Stassi sits down with Katie, who informs her that she's willing to be friends again but she's not ready to be as close as they once were. Then Katie leaves the party with her fiancé so they can go home and eat pizza while wearing their chastity belts.
Lisa is the one who gets to sum up the season for us. As she explains in her dulcet tones, some of her staff has learned some hard lessons over the last few months and some of them will never learn a fucking thing. Then she and Ken and Giggy get the hell out of there because she can hear the sound of the chainsaws firing up in the distance and she knows full well that sound is not just the wind.
God, I hope the noise is coming from James' place.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle.