Grady Hendrix talks about the novel “The Final Girl Support Group”
Much like the villain in a slasher movie, author Grady Hendrix had a book idea that kept coming back. He wanted to face the horror movie trope of The Last Girl – the last character standing at the end of the movie – and bring her into the real world. Seven years later, and The final support group for girls falls on July 13.
Hendrix, the author of the 2020s New York Times Bestseller The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Killing Vampires, completed his first draft of what would become Final girl in 2014, only to be turned down by its editor when thriller writer Riley Sager announced his own take on survivalism in horror films, 2017 Girls Final. “It was frustrating, but I got it,” says Hendrix Rolling stone. “So I just stuck it in a digital drawer until my manager asked me if I had anything written [a few years later]. I showed him Girls Final and he says to me, ‘I can sell this. If you get it right, I can sell it.
Last August, while staying with his family in South Carolina during the pandemic, Hendrix set out to rework the book in his mother’s all orange guest room and ended up throwing away the second half of the manuscript entirely. “I’m pretty glad it didn’t sell out sooner because I don’t think it was the book it needed to be,” he says. “And this is going to sound so ridiculous, but I always knew what the last paragraph of this would be and I would never get there.” I was gluing the landing, but I was gluing a C-minus landing.
The resulting book is set in a reality where the slashers are real, and each gets their own corresponding horror movie franchise. Meanwhile, the lone women who survived their killings (yes, plural, because there is always a sequel) form a therapy group where they discuss their trauma – or, more often than not, fight. When the last girls begin to die, however, main character Lynnette Tarkington (a paranoid agoraphobic whose only friend is a houseplant) sets out to save her surviving companions.
Rolling stone spoke with Hendrix about slashers, final girls, and why finding entertainment in murdering women is more than a little messed up.
Have you read any of the other latest girl’s books before writing?
I didn’t watch any other girlish stuff until I did this final draft because by then the book is ready. I didn’t want someone else’s ideas to influence me. I knew the last girls were always treated like this horror icon when I was like, “Well, what if you treat them like real people?” One of the things I had to get hold of was to stop thinking of them as definitive girls and start to think of them as just women, you know, and human beings.
I was curious if you had seen the 2018 Halloween, where Laurie Strode becomes an intense survivor after her relationship with Michael Myers. She reminds me of your main character.
No. And you know what ? I postponed this after returning the manuscript, my pleasure. I liked it a lot, actually. One of the things I liked was the little moments. There was something so human about complementing the background characters who were just there to get stabbed.
I was pretty happy to see that, because it’s something I tried to do in the book as well. I kept looking for slasher movies – character lists and things like that – and what really struck me was how the names of the characters were just a first name without a name. family. Or it was just like “security guard”, you know, “crazy old man”. And I’m like, “But in real life, they’re real human beings.”
What’s the scariest thing about slashers, in your opinion?
There is always a sequel. It always scared me. One of the first slashers ever on my radar was back in ’81, Friday the 13th, part two. It always scared me that Adrienne King would survive the first movie, which I hadn’t seen – I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies, but I read about it Fangoria – but she gets killed at the start of the second.
I was like, “Wait a minute. Are you just gonna kill her? Either way, the franchise is the unstoppable killer who always gets the last girl at the end. The franchise is the monster.
Do you have a favorite girl or final slasher?
I love, love, love Black christmas – its Canadian character; I am married to a Canadian. I find her Canadian character and Christmas cheer truly heartwarming. I love Olivia Hussey sweaters. Margo Kidder is really great. And there is a legitimately terrifying killer. But in terms of final girls, I have to say, I love Alice Johnson from Nightmare four and five. She gets a big bow to go from being kind of a limp, intimidated kid to having the best outfit scene in all of slasherdom – and her brother fights Freddy in a dream dojo.
What do you mean with this book on slashers?
What I really wanted to understand – because in all of my books I have a question I’m really trying to answer – and with this one…. I’ve watched women get killed for fun for over 40 years. I mean, people get killed for fun, but women often. And I was like, “That’s weird, man, what’s wrong with me? What does that say about me? “
I love a dark ending as much as the next person, but the ones I came back to were the ones who survived the end and lived. For me a lot of that [the book] was, “You can get away with this. You’re going to come away with missing pieces, you’re going to come away with scars, but whatever it is, you can get away with it. You just have to run a little faster and farther and give up a little later than everyone else around you.
Your book is a more realistic view of the slasher. Why did you choose this path?
Funny when the slasher thing took off in the early 80s, they were really aimed at teenagers, right? … When you start to go through the last slashers, they get really awkward. I mean, Freddy [Krueger] eat pizza with screaming faces on it. Everything kept getting younger and younger. And in the late ’80s, there were people publishing mid-level books starring Freddy and Jason aimed at teenage and seventh-grade readers. And it was really weird. You were selling this incredibly violent tale in a really kid-friendly way.
What always makes me think is that there’s this idea that because a lot of these movies were made in the 80s and a lot of people like me grew up in the 80s these movies are heartwarming now. and nostalgic. But, you know, a guy with a gun moving very methodically through a campground or a school or a college dorm and killing everyone… that’s not beyond the bounds of reason. This is the real horror scenario of modern times. I was like, “Oh my God, that’s the same thing. So why is one of them funny and one of them terrifying?
Maybe because slashers don’t use weapons? They kill in a very elaborate and unrealistic way. Not to give away too much, but is that why you gave one of your villains an arsenal of automatic weapons?
Yes. One thing that was really important to me with this book was that a working weapon is never used except by killers. I hate this image of a badass chick in a ripped muscle shirt with a gun shooting people down. This picture tells me a lot more about sweaty teens and what they want to see than the women I see doing strong stuff in real life. I am making generalizations, but [with women], it is about forming networks. Support each other.
Will Final girl have a sequel?
No. You know there are so many books that I need to write. I only published a book after 40 years, so for me there is still a killer behind me with a six foot chainsaw. If I slow down and type slower, there will be like a pile of offal to Grady’s taste, the gravestone saying “I should have tried harder.” “
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.