The defining element of slasher film franchises of the ‘80s and ‘90s was the “final girl.” The one who runs for her life as a serial killer cuts down her friends one by one just behind her. The final girl is plucky and resourceful. She runs from the monster until backed into a climactic battle where she slays him with nothing but quick thinking and grit, and the audience can shakily let out their held breaths. But what happens to our teen heroine after she’s killed the killer, and has nothing but the rest of her life ahead of her?
In Grady Hendrix’s fiendishly meta novel, The Final Girl Support Group, Lynette Tarkington is the most paranoid member of a therapy group for “finals girls” like her. Each woman in group therapy has survived a bloody battle with a serial killer that inspired a major horror franchise. They are the real-life embodiments of Nancy Thompson from Nightmare on Elm Street and Laurie Strode from Halloween, only these final girls’ monsters were real, and the victims weren’t bleeding corn syrup and red dye. And since their near-lethal assaults, they have managed to live to middle age.
The novelis being adapted into a series for Annapurna Pictures by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain (co-creators of ABC’s The Fix) with Hendrix on as an executive producer. His previous novel, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, was optioned for series adaptation by Amazon Studios following a bidding war between no less than ten buyers. Hendrix’s novels, My Best Friend’s Exorcism and Horrorstör, are also being adapted for the screen.
In The Final Girl Support Group,Lynette’s fear of being murdered keeps her in an apartment under a false identity with a custom-built, bulletproof security cage around the only entrance. She has spent her adult life perfecting survivalist skills. Her inability to trust people anymore means that the only relationship in her life outside of her therapist and support group is with a houseplant. It’s a codependent relationship.
The therapist who runs the group, Dr. Carol Elliott, is struggling to keep therapy sessions constructive sixteen years after the group was formed. As her patients snip at each other in session, Dr. Elliott questions whether the group has a purpose anymore. Even Elliott’s own focus has moved on to the latest lone teen survivor of a high-profile, camp serial killer.
When a fellow member of the final girl support group is found murdered, Lynette hatches a plan to keep the rest of them safe, but her extreme, isolated lifestyle makes the others in the group suspect her of being the killer.
Hendrix shares just enough about the other five survivors in the support group without getting too bogged down in backstory. By the second half of the novel, the story’s pace flies. Hendrix’s voice charms with irreverent wit while he skewers classic horror fans’ hunger for stories where violent men brutalize and murder women in a narrative ritual designed to excite us. We the audience care because we identify with the victim, and yet on some level, we want them to suffer, and then suffer even more in the sequels. Why are we so entertained by blood-spurting deaths and trauma? Does the unreality of fictional trauma make it okay to like consuming it?
In The Final Girl Support Group, the trauma that defined the survivors’ lives will affect them until they die, but the general public—once obsessed with their morbid stardom—is “over it.” They resent Lynette and the other survivors for existing, as if they only have a right to do so while entertaining the general public. The final girls in group therapy didn’t ask to be in the limelight, but once there, it was only natural to sell the rights to their stories or access to themselves and live off the money. It turns out, though, that the only thing more pathologically unforgiving than a psychopath is the public eye.
The Final Girl Support Group
By Grady Hendrix
Published July 13, 2021