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The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

8/10 Grady Hendrix has captured the essence of renting a blood-soaked VHS video store gem that will keep you up all night with a wicked and satisfied smile on your face.

One of the fondest memories of my youth was wandering around the video store. I grew up in a small town without much to do, so my options were limited: spend all night being a pain in the ass to the wait staff at the diner, driving around looking for haunted landmarks from Weird New Jersey magazine, or watch horror movies until it got bright outside.

No matter how many times I visited the same neighborhood store I wandered the same aisles, picking up each VHS box, admiring the cover art, reading every tagline (“They’re dead, dangerous… and rarin’ to party!”), and hoping against hope that a new entry would appear on the shelf. When I heard that Grady Hendrix’s new novel was about the Final Girls from classic horror films of my youth, adding it to my queue was a no-brainer.

It’s a great ‘what if’ concept. In the book’s world, each horror movie franchise—Friday the 13th, Halloween, Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silent Night, Deadly Night—are all based on a true story. In the book, these movies have different names, but there are actual Final Girls stemming from the same horrific events that you’re seeing in these big screen films.

These Final Girls have met for therapy sessions once per month for sixteen years. Unsurprisingly, each of these women has dealt with their experience in vastly different ways. Most have sold the rights to their stories to Hollywood, launching horror movie franchises and living off the royalties. But after so many years in the same therapeutic circle, the threads between the group members start to fall apart, and some bad things start happening to those involved.

We see the story through the eyes of Lynette, the survivor of the Santa Claus massacre of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Years after surviving the first massacre, Lynette was tragically the target of a second violent assault and now lives in constant fear and paranoia. (Julia, another member of the Support Group, was also a victim of a second attack – the details of which you can you see in the book’s version of Scream and Scream 2, a la Sidney Prescott’s story.) Lynette only leaves her house once a month to go to the support group, and once every two weeks for food. Any time she leaves the house, she is armed to the teeth, doubles and triples back using public transportation, and cuts herself off from all communication. Before the reader knows her story, her actions may seem like a mental sickness, though it’s understandable considering the trauma of her past. But as the story progresses, her paranoia is no longer in question; the question is if she is paranoid enough.

Beyond this setup, the less that is known about the plot, the better, as Hendrix leads the reader through a maze of twists and turns that flirt with 80’s tropes before subverting them, and occasionally inverting those subversions to keep things razor sharp. It’s a wild ride, and a passionate love letter to 80’s slasher movies and psych horror whodunit films. I’ve never come across a protagonist quite like Lynette; she has a perfect amount of advantages and flaws that allow for the reader to both cheer for her while also juggling so many other possibilities of potential outcomes as each chapter adds another surprise bombshell to the mix. If there’s one thing this book never runs out of, it’s surprises.

One area I think the book suffers is the closing sequence. I liked all the decisions that were made regarding the characters’ fates, but the setting of the final events went off the rails. The tone of it felt off from the rest of the story, especially a couple of ideas that happened in the final scenes that felt like they belonged in an entirely different book. Even so, this is a book that fans of thrillers will enjoy, and fans of the genre will devour.

In The Final Girl Support Group, Grady Hendrix has captured the essence of renting a blood-soaked VHS video store gem that will keep you up all night with a wicked and satisfied smile on your face. The Final Girls… have seen their Final Days!

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