Ladies of Horror May-hem: Jess Bradford

jessbradford

This might actually be another controversial choice, because a lot of what we see from Olivia Hussey’s character Jess Bradford in 1974’s Black Christmas is her reacting to the events transpiring around her…and her depending a lot on police to solve said events.

[Loba warning: It’s also going to spoil quite a bit from this film and a couple other films, for which I do apologize. It’s necessary to reveal certain things about this character, however, to justify my selection of her for this series. If you haven’t seen this film, then I would recommend stopping now and getting thee to the closest copy you can find.]

However, I believe that she earned her right to be a Lady of Horror May-hem for several reasons. First, (SPOILERZ) she is the originator of the slasher film “final girl” trope, proving her right to this crown by, der, surviving what many consider to be the first slasher film (blame Canada, eh?). For that reason alone, she stands at the pinnacle of horror movie greatness.

Jess does more than merely survive cinema’s very first slasher villain, however. She does so while contending with what were, at the time, several serious and controversial issues. Actually, one of them remains controversial and something that I can’t really tag as a point of stress for any other horror heroine (please feel free to correct me if I am wrong).

See, Jess has just learned that she is pregnant. Right out of the gate, she breaks the mold of “virginal survivor” that John Carpenter would cast fours years later with his final girl, Laurie Strode…a mold that wouldn’t be shattered completely until almost 20 years later by a wily young lass from Woodsboro High. As a college student looking forward to a future full of many things that do not require diaper change and feeding breaks, Jess decides to terminate this unplanned pregnancy. This does not set well with her boyfriend, who becomes a tad bit unhinged when she informs him of her decision (thus bringing him into contention as a potential suspect for the mysterious and increasingly disturbing obscene calls Jess and her sorority sisters keep receiving).

In that one paragraph, I’ve already identified three ways in which Jess stands apart as unique in the realm of horror heroines from that point in time. First, she’s obviously sexually active, thus proving that the quintessential final girl got her freak on and still survived. Then, she opts for, as I said, a still controversial decision, and she does so without first consulting with or seeking permission from her boyfriend. She stands as an early example of the evolving female identity, both in cinema and the real world. She is scared and a bit too trusting when it comes to authority (read: the expectations she has of the police actually coming through for her and her sisters), but she is also decisive, level-headed, and independent. In fact, she is one of the only sorority sisters to remain relatively grounded amidst the constant cacophonous swirl of activity surrounding her.

Hussey delivers a well-considered performance as Jess, oftentimes serving as the true house mother to her sisters (heavens knows Mrs. Mac isn’t providing much of a positive example). She comforts them, counsels them, chides them, and ultimately tries to protect them, all while contending with more stress and drama than the average college girl should ever have to deal with. Again, she is in many ways what that wily young lass from Woodsboro High will become. For all these reasons, Jess stands as the original example of what a final girl could be, in all her complex glory, if given the proper chance.