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The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

“Men don’t have to pay attention the way we do. Men die because they make mistakes. Women? We die because we’re female.”

Grady Hendrix asks audiences to suspend their disbelief with one provoking question: what if horror's classic cinematic final girls were real survivors of real crimes? What happens to these teenage girls when the credits roll? This is that story.

Twenty-two years ago, Lynette Tarkington survived the violent massacre of her parents, younger sister, and boyfriend in a horrific home invasion. Since that day, she has been living the life of a “final girl,” surviving the only way she knows how. Much like the Jamie Lee Curtis’ character in the most recent Halloween reboot, Lynette is a shut-in. She won’t allow herself to move past anything but survival mode. Her one ounce of freedom extends only to attending a “Final Girl Support Group.” The therapy group is exactly what it sounds like—six women, all sole survivors of brutal mass attacks come together once a week to share their experiences and support one another. One day, one of the final girls doesn’t show up to a meeting, and Lynette soon realises someone is targeting the group. She makes it her mission to protect her sisters no matter the cost.

And so readers are drip-fed the trauma of six women, with cunning Easter eggs that would make any horror film buff ecstatic. Adrienne survives a camp counsellor massacre, making her the star of fictionalised Friday The 13th. Even her name is a clue; her real-world film counterpart, Alice, is played by Adrienne King. The same goes for Final Girl’s Support Group Heather (Heather Langenkamp in Nightmare On Elm Street) and Marilyn (Marilyn Burns in Texas Chainsaw Massacre). My favourite of the scream queen inspirations was Julia Campbell who’s story bears an uncanny resemblance to the Scream franchise (last name inspired by the actress Neve Campbell who played Sydney in the series). While some might be quick to label this lazy and uncreative, I thought Hendrix accomplished exactly what he set out to do—a love letter to 70s/80s/90s slasher flicks. It’s meta and twisted and totally engaging. It felt like a truly wicked puzzle, following the clues and uncovering which Final Girl belonged to which real-world franchise.

I loved the multimedia component at the start of each chapter—articles, transcripts, diary entries and police reports. It made it feel authentic and immersive. I honestly think the book could have had more of that. I will say that this aspect was not friendly to those with sight impairment—dark backgrounds with small and unreadable writing or font that were difficult for me, with 20/20 vision, to make out at times.

Hendrix’s decision to humanise slasher icons provoked me to think deeper about the world of violence we live in. I found each woman’s survival tactics deeply moving, from Heather’s substance abuse to Dani’s escape to an idyllic farm. The fact that none of them was able to truly outrun their past was reminiscent of the relentless sequels of these serial killer films. How heinous it would be to turn someone’s spine-chilling trauma into pop-corn munching film revenue. This isn’t an entirely new concept—in fact, many people’s lives and deaths are exploited into fucked-up entertainment.

One critic on Goodreads couldn’t imagine real-life final girls getting any notoriety like they did in the book. But I saw this as a deliberate choice—victims, especially women and girls—are hardly remembered. We all know Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, The Zodiac, but can anyone name their victims? The only one I can think of is Sharon Tate, and that’s because she was already a film star at the time of her death. Hendrix took the power back into these women’s hands. As for the unlikelihood that six of these women would live in L.A? I saw that as a cheeky nod to the film industry itself.

While this book was made purely to entertain, I couldn’t help but consider the realities of what it is to be a woman. Although I’ve sung praise for Hendrix’s approach, knowing the book was written by a man didn’t totally sit well with me. Traditional horror films have all been directed by men, Wes Craven’s Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street, John Carpenter’s Halloween, Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. While you could make the argument that it’s pure entertainment, I do wonder about the world’s fascination with violence against women. Hendrix himself brings this up, through the eyes of his female protagonist, but knowing she is essentially a mouthpiece for a male perspective is uncomfortable at the very least.

The book reached just the right level of intensity. Some of those films Hendrix draws inspiration from usually strike a humorous cord, perhaps because they’ve aged, the special effects look fake, etc. But The Final Girl Support Group went the extra mile—it had moments of truly horrendous gore. Some of the more blood-curdling moments were psychological horror. For example, when readers learn the extent of the protagonists’ traumatic background, it’s honestly haunting. The introduction of Crazy Chrissy and her horrific cameo in the book was a whole story on its own, in my opinion. I’ve never encountered a Final Girl whose Stockholm syndrome is so bad that she ends up shacking up with her would-be killer.

The Final Girl Support Group didn’t let up from the moment it began. The action began early on, which actually made me feel like I was reading an adaption of Jason Bourne more than the likes of Halloween. There’s hidden snipers shooting through houses, car chases, kidnapping. None of the conventions of horror made an appearance until much later on. It didn’t really get into its horror roots at all until the final confrontation with the killer. Up until that point, the pace and plot were at times messy. Once I allowed myself to overlook the uneven pacing and the level of action, I really fell in love with the story. The killer reveal—no spoilers—was a surprise, a good final plot twist. It hit the mark in that it wasn’t obvious from the beginning but certainly made complete sense in hindsight. Think Scream 4, for those who want a clue.

If you aren’t squeamish, and you enjoy a good classic horror film now and then, this might just be the book for you. Be prepared for some twists and turns, a pace that won’t give you time to breathe, and six women who are tough as nails.

The Final Girl Support Group

By Grady Hendrix

352 pages. 2021.

Buy it now from our Bookshops in the US and UK.


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a day ago

Appreciate the practical tips and advice in this post. Solar


han gu
han gu
6월 19일

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Lucy Williams
Lucy Williams
5월 23일

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