Monday, 19 September 2022

The Final Girl Support Group

Slash Fiction

The Final Girl
Support Group

by Grady Hendrix
Titan Books
ISBN: 9781789096064

The Final Girl Support Group is the latest novel (at time of writing) by Grady Hendrix, a writer who I quite liked already from his unique novel Horrorstör (reviewed by me here) and his book about the 1970s/80s horror paperback boom, Paperbacks From Hell (reviewed by me here). This one was first published in July of 2021 so I’m guessing it’s one of his pandemic projects. It’s also the best book I’ve read by him by far and, you know, I already liked his others somewhat.

For those who need their memory jogged, the ‘final girl’ is a term coined in the early 1990s by Carol J. Clover in her look at the horror and slasher genres... Men, Women and Chainsaws. I’ve never read it myself but it’s considered something of a classic of film and feminist theory and, yeah, I do have a copy sitting a few feet away on one of my huge ‘to be read’ piles so, you know, I’ll get to it one day. So, final girl is a referral to the last person standing in a slasher or horror movie, usually a woman (a term which I always argue somewhat implies that strong women do exist in the genre) after all the other victims are left behind for dead. The one who, if the ending isn’t too downbeat, kills (or appears to kill) the marauding killer in the last act... only for them to return to plague her in the sequel, if the box office is sufficient.

For this fabulous fiction, Hendrix gives us a tale about a regular group therapy session which unites the ‘final girls’ of real ‘fictional’ life slasher crimes, metatextually referring to some well known films in the process. The plot is that, after decades of meeting, the half a dozen or so members of the group all pretty much hate each other and bicker in the sessions constantly. They all have their own ways of dealing with thier personal trauma, including Lynette Tarkington, who tells the tale from a first person point of view. Lynette is a typical survivor, shut away in her heavily secured apartment, checking sight lines and weak spots on any situation which takes her out in the open, switching buses and taking complicated routes back to her apartment to make sure she’s not followed etc. A traumatised individual anyone would think was over compensating for her traumatic experiences but... totally justified as it turns out. Because, suddenly, one of the final girls is dead and a series of attacks seems to point to them all being targeted and, unfortunately, due to various narrative twists and turns which I certainly won’t spoil here, it’s up to Lynette to try and keep everyone safe, even though nobody actually trusts her a damn or even wants to be near her after certain things which go down in this novel.

And that’s all I’m saying about the plot other than... it was an absolute joy to read this one. The writer is obviously a connoisseur of American slasher films from the 1970s and onwards and it’s certainly a loving homage to the genre... at least it seems so to me. I will, as regular readers of this blog may remember, fully admit that I am not a big fan of the genre and have not seen very many slasher films... I’m much more into Italian giallo movies and will obsessively watch those any day but, I dunno, American slashers seem a bit too mean spirited and aesthetically challenged for my taste. But it doesn’t matter because, although I’m sure I missed a fair few of the cleverer references, I think I was certainly picking up on a fair few of them also. I might not have seen the films but I could work out when there was a veiled reference to Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger or, indeed, Leatherface, for example.

Also, there’s a lot of humour in the book and Hendrix manages to perfectly match the very grim, gravitas of Lynette’s character with some laugh out loud moments. Not too mention some nice chapter title moments. The chapters are all called a variation or expansion of a regular slasher film style title you would get on a film franchise so, a few of them here by way of an example: The Final Girl Support Group 3D, The Final Girl Support Group’s New Nightmare, The Final Girl Support Group IX Final Girl VS Final Girl, FGSG X and The Final Girl Support Group XXI The Final Chapter II... and the list goes on for 24 chapters.

Punctuating each chapter is a fictional document to give a commentary from the ‘real’ fictional world of the characters by way of such things as a chat group screen display, the final girl support group notes by the doctor, articles in newspapers and magazines (Rue Morgue magazine is mentioned by name and it’s just possible some of the documentation is real, I would guess), the VHX box blurb from the fictional movie Gnomecoming and a police incident report form, etc. And it’s great stuff. Also, a chair... a chair which is either stationary or drawn in a falling motion in one direction or another... I’m not completely certain of the significance of the chair, to be honest but, it might be just a referral to Lynette’s mental state in various chapters as she tells the story, I guess. On the nice UK Titan Books hardback I read for this review, remove the dust jacket and you will find the same chair foil stamped on the cover.

And there are some nice touches to the characters too, such as the more James Bond than Bond precautions Lynette takes whenever she enters a new space or her only friend being a plant named Fine... short for Final Plant, after the few she had before she learned how to take care of them properly all died, leaving a Final Girl plant, so to speak.

And that’s about as much as I’m saying about The Final Girl Project other than, it’s an absolutely wonderful novel and I thoroughly recommend it for any fan of the genre and, even for non-fans of the genre such as myself. Oh, and I learned something too. Now I know what ACTH is and also what a hybristophile does. So I’ll try and use those two in sentences at some point I guess (oh, wait, I think I just did). Anyway, go read this one, it’s great.

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