The Slasher genre has a mythic status for some, and it is easy to see why: few genres encapsulate the primal fears and survival urge of the human race, and women in particular, the way a Slasher does. Grady Hendrix’s latest novel The Final Girl Support Group goes some way to answering the question of why Slashers are so iconic, enduring, and often problematic in equal measure.
I have been a huge fan of Grady Hendrix ever since I read his masterpiece My Best Friend’s Exorcism, a novel I still keep coming back to as one of the best narratives about young friendship (and demonic possession) ever written. Since then, Hendrix has authored a slew of incredible books, from the heavy metal conspiracy theory horror of We Sold Our Souls, to a refreshing take on the vampire genre in The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires. In each of these cases, Hendrix takes on a genre, a theme, or a setting (in the instance of Horrorstor), and makes it his own.
The Final Girl Support Group is Grady Hendrix’s take on the Slasher genre, although tonally it presents as more of a Thriller. The premise is electric: a group of final girls meet in a support group to talk about the trauma of what they have experienced. That is, a new killer starts to take them out one by one, leaving us with the question of who will be the final, final girl.
I have to say that this is not my favourite Grady Hendrix book, but then again, he has written so many great yarns that this is hardly a severe criticism. I felt The Final Girl Support Group was at its strongest when Hendrix was exploring the emotional trauma of surviving an encounter with a killer, and how that can haunt a person for the rest of their life. Given the number of school shootings and massacres taking place in America on a weekly basis, and indeed in other parts of the world, this theme felt timely and potent. Hendrix handles this with his usual flair for creating realistic psychological interiors, writing with immense pathos about the aftermath of life-changing brutality.
Some of the flashbacks in this novel are the scariest and most “Slasher-centric” parts of the book, for want of better terminology. This is both a boon and a curse. Each of the final girls in this story is an echo of a final girl from one of the major franchises we know and love, including Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream, and Halloween. However, Grady puts his own spin on the genre by not only decoding the meaning behind these works but also the interrelationship between survivors and the film-industry, and how the Hollywood machine capitalises on suffering in order to produce entertainment for the masses. Who are the real women behind the silver screen heroines? How do they feel to have their worst moments forever replayed, and often in distorted ways?
Linked with this is the concept of how we glorify our killers. Hendrix is at pains to avoid doing this, and borrows from Scream (arguably the most influential of the above franchises on this novel) in order to achieve his aim, concealing the identity of the killer and creating a detective narrative that remains focused on our heroines and their struggles. If am honest, the final revelation of who is behind the murders fell flat for me, and I think that whilst the moral sentiment of remembering the survivors rather than glorifying the killers is admirable, it creates a narrative problem of a dissatisfactory antagonist. A hero is only ever as good as their villain. We may not like this truth, but it is a truth. Every bad-ass saviour needs their worthy antithesis, someone strong enough to oppose them, because this makes the hero even more triumphant. The more cunning, evil, ruthless, or supernaturally powerful our villain, the stronger and more courageous our heroine seems. I feel that in steering heavily away from the adulation of murderers – something the Slasher genre is predicated upon – Hendrix fell into the trap of creating an underwhelming foil.
The theme of why we idolise and glorify killers is explored throughout the novel, most notably in a sequence of scenes with “Crazy Chrissy”. Chrissy is a “traitor” final girl who now profits from selling “murderabilia”, the artefacts and talismans used and left behind by killers, to adoring fans. Chrissy is a mouthpiece for Hendrix’s analysis of the genre, a clever way of dissecting the archetypes and mythology underpinning the Slasher without having to turn the narrative into an essay. If I have a criticism of this, it’s that I wished Chrissy had more screen-time, because she is one of the most fascinating characters in the whole book. As it happens, the scenes with Chrissy and her museum of horrors are all-too-brief as the story flashes along at a deadly and almost breathless pace.
There is much to love about The Final Girl Support Group, particularly the way Hendrix creates his own universe of interrelated Slasher lore. Fans of classic Slashers, however, with all their mythical and archetypal terror, will perhaps not enjoy this book as much as those who enjoy clever vivisections of a genre in the hands of a skilled writer. Nonetheless, The Final Girl Support Group is a worthy meditation on a genre that is surely due its next revival. Or perhaps it would be better to say “sequel”?
The Final Girl Support Group is published by Titan Books and is available here.
New York Times bestselling author Grady Hendrix’s novels include Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls, and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. He’s also the author of Paperbacks from Hell, a history of the horror paperback boom of the Seventies and Eighties, which won the Bram Stoker Award for “Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction”. He’s been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Locus Award, and tweets @grady_hendrix
Reviewed by Joseph Sale
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