Grady Hendrix is an award-winning novelist and screenwriter living in New York City. He is the author of Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls, and the New York Times bestselling The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, which is being adapted into a series by AmazonStudios. Grady also authored the Bram Stoker Award-winning nonfiction book, Paperbacks from Hell, a history of the horror paperback boom of the 70s and 80s. His new novel is The Final Girl Support Group and he recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for The Final Girl Support Group?
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies, so after Boy Scout meetings when our Scoutmaster took us to the gas station for snacks, I convinced him that I was allowed to buy issues of Fangoria with my snack money instead. I’d pore over Fango’s deeply detailed plot breakdowns and photo spreads and the first one I remember was their feature on the opening of Friday the 13th Part 2 in which the final girl from Part 1 gets murdered by Jason. The casual cruelty of that blew my mind. This woman had seen all her friends die, decapitated the killer, and survived, but she still couldn’t let her guard down. Years later, a friend and I snuck into Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and my mind melted when Heather Langenkamp, the final girl from the first Nightmare, showed up to lead a group therapy session. The idea that a final girl from one film would turn up in another blew my mind. What if the women who survived horror movies were out there helping each other? What if they wanted to give each other a fighting chance?
How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?
I’ve spent years writing this book but, weirdly enough, not much got left on the cutting room floor. The biggest change was the end. I knew what the last paragraph would be almost from the first draft all the way back in 2014 but the way I got there seemed to be missing something. It never came to life. I was doing the last revision on the book in August 2020 down in South Carolina because my Mom had gotten sick and I needed to be there for her, and I suddenly realized what had to happen. I rewrote the last third of the book almost entirely from scratch, hunched over a tiny table in my Mom’s all-orange guest room while the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic killed over a thousand people a day. Getting Lynnette through this gauntlet and safely out the other side kept me sane while all that chaos and horror raged around me in the real world.
Are you a fan of “slasher” Horror films? Do you have a favorite franchise? A least favorite film or franchise? (I realize that you may not want to address this one and if that is the case, please don’t. But I also realize it might be so bad that it could be fun to answer.)
Before I wrote Final Girl Support Group I liked slashers as much as the next person but I went deep on them to write this book and now I’m kind of addicted. I like all the franchises equally but I think Friday the 13th is the one I feel the most fondness for: it’s not as grim as the Halloween movies but it’s not as carnival barker as the Nightmare on Elm Street films. In terms of my favorites, I love Halloween H20 because it’s such a great end to the Laurie Strode/Michael Myers relationship, plus it’s got a very-CW, late-90s gloss on it that I find ridiculously fun. I think Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is severely underrated and it has the best final girl of the franchise in Alice Johnson who gets the best gearing up scene in all of slasherdom, also it’s got a dojo fight with Freddy! How can anyone resist? But if I had to pick my favorite film across all the franchises I’d have to say Friday the 13th Part 2 because it’s genuinely terrifying and it had such a huge impact on me as a kid.
What is the most ridiculous or outlandish way you’ve seen someone die in a slasher film?
There are so many. I mean, are we talking about the clawed bear mascot of Girls Nite Out? The sharpened bowling pins of Gutterballs? The furious hamadryas baboon of Shakma? Death by football in Graduation Day? Death by trophy in Fatal Games? Any of the ludicrous murders in Happy Birthday to Me (shish kebab skewer, scarf caught in the spokes of a motorcycle wheel, weight lifting)? The drill-tipped electric guitar of Slumber Party Massacre 2? Or maybe it’s Death Spa with its tanning beds and weight machines? And even though Jason once killed someone else with a corkscrew, and Freddy turned a bunch of kids into pizza toppings, I’ll always appreciate Michael Myers’ limited repertoire of a kitchen knife, squeezing skulls, and picking people up and hanging them on hooks. I mean, it’s eleven movies later and he’s still basically doing the same three things over and over. You have to respect his commitment to his craft.
Why do you think that at the end of these films there is always a "final girl"? Why are there no "final boys" (Or are there?) Why do you think "final girls" became, and continues to be, the convention?
While there have been a few final boys before (most notably in Nightmare on Elm Street 2) you're right that most final girls are women. I think it's become a genre convention, kind of like the way men with mustaches are always evil in old Westerns, so it just reproduces itself at this point. However, if you want to trace it back earlier than that you start to get into the realm of folklore with things like Beauty and the Beast or Bluebeard or the legend of the virgin used to lure the wild unicorn. Why do we create these archetypal stories of women facing violent men? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in mythology men are often associated with conquest, and armed might, and violence while women are more frequently associated with childbirth and reproduction. There's a frisson to pitting the forces of death against the creator of life.
Do you have an idea or theory regarding why/how the “slasher” sub-genre of Horror continues to be popular in the age of a global pandemic and regularly reported mass gun shootings?
Slashers are all about a guy walking slowly and methodically through a supposedly safe space like a high school or a college and killing everyone he finds one by one. I can’t think of a more relevant genre for the America of 2021. On top of that, aren’t our lives slasher movies? We spend years running as fast as we can, trying to escape death that comes plodding after us, but no matter how fast and far we go, no matter how many doors we lock, it’s always right on our heels every time we turn around. And when it finally catches up with us our final undoing is always sort of baroque and undignified.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
Right now, I’m reading a ton of old slasher books like Robert Walker’s inadvertently goofy series of serial killer novels (Dead Man’s Float, Razor’s Edge, Dying Breath) and On My Honor which starts as a Boy Scout slasher, then turns into what you think is a pedo thriller, then winds up being about a cold-blooded hitman who executes perfect assassinations by hypnotizing 13-year-old Boy Scouts into knocking off his targets.
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional artforms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer is the best book I’ve read in ages. A short, sharp shocker of a Nigerian novel it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I also just re-read Charles Portis’s True Grit for the umpteenth time and it’s still my pick for the Great American Novel of the 20th Century. The movies don’t even come close.
What are you working on now?
I’m starting the press for These Fists Break Bricks my nonfiction book coming out in the Fall that tells the all-shocking, all-true story of kung fu movies coming to America back in the Seventies. It features everything from The New York Times fueling racial unrest by circulating fake stories of “karate killers” to eleven-year-old boys making global blockbusters, and the CIA secretly funding karate films as part of a plan to root out Communists in Japan. And I’m working on my novel for 2022 about evil puppets.