Final Girls vs Final Girl Support Group
In the past few years, one of my favorite horror archetypes has seemingly taken on a new prominence in pop culture, the final girl. The one girl of the group who recognizes the dangers of camping in a place where plenty of people have been hacked up with a machete or locking the doors on Halloween to protect the kids they are babysitting. These smart and strong women are left standing when times comes to confront the maniac who has been hacking everyone to pieces. In the past few years two of the very best authors in the horror genre have tackled the idea of the Final Girl in with a new approach, looking at the mental, emotional, and spiritual scars left after their done battling the slasher. In 2017, Riley Sager published his first standalone Final Girls to rave reviews and big sales. Stephen King hailed it as the best thriller of the year and it was even spotlighted on the daytime talk show The View. Just this past summer Grady Hendrix who is arguably the genre’s hottest author right now thanks to a string of hits, released The Final Girls Support Group also to rave reviews and bestseller numbers. Two luminaries of the genre both taking a similar approach to one of the genre’s most popular tropes led some to wonder if a bit of animosity had risen between the two. In fact, when Hendrix initially pitched his novel it was turned down because Sager’s book had just been released and was doing incredibly well so they did not want to look like imitators. But after the success of last year’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Hendrix’s publisher revisited the idea figuring enough time had passed. Two things happened on July 13, 2021 when it comes to horror novels, Final Girl Support Group hit the shelves and Riley Sager threw some shade via a Tweet he later deleted. Given these two scribes share an audience of those who like to read scary things, a rivalry between the two is not ideal. Both men took a premise of a final girl turning to her fellow survivors to finally achieve inner-peace but are the books similar enough to warrant any bad blood?
As anyone who has read one of his books can attest, Riley Sager is partial towards mentally traumatized young women as protagonists. In Lock Every Door, Jules is grappling with having lost everyone and everything while uncovering the secrets of a building owned by wealthy elites. In The Last Time I Lied, budding artist Emma has to return to the summer camp where the worst night of her life occurred. In Final Girls we have Quincy Carpenter, who went on an outing with her friends to a remote cabin, full of the innocent hope of spending times with friends and finally hooking up with guy she was crushing on. This became a nightmare when, by all accounts, an escaped patient from the nearby mental health facility brutally slaughtered them all. The events from that night were so horrific that Quincy has locked the memories away thanks to a host of medications. But she is not alone as she becomes a media darling along with two other “Final Girls”. Lisa, who’s sorority sisters were killed by a knife-wielding maniac, and Sam who survived a massacre at a hotel brought on by the Sack Man. When Lisa seemingly commits suicide, it brings Quincy and Sam together and Sam leads her fellow survival girl down a dark path. Final Girl is a slow burn but when the revelations hit they hit HARD and by the time you reach the book’s conclusion your jaw will be firmly on the floor.
Ever since his acclaimed Horrorstor, Grady Hendrix has been arguably the hottest author in horror fiction. His writing is sharp, witty, and mixed with a rock n’ roll coolness. He is perhaps best known for his smash hit My Best Friend’s Exorcism, about Abby a teen girl in the 80’s who has to deal with the fact that her best friend Gretchen has been possessed by a demon. With last year’s the Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, he bucked against the current trend and returned the bloodsuckers to being dangerous parasitic monsters using a charming façade. With the Final Girl Support Group, he takes readers to a world where the famous slasher movie franchises are based on true events, completely in-tune with his pop culturally savvy style. Many of the final girls from these events have formed support group at the behest of Adrienne, the sole survivor of the Camp Red Lake Massacre. But when Adrienne is killed by a copycat, the group falls apart leaving them vulnerable to someone methodically picking them off. At the center of this is Lynnette, who knows there is someone pulling the strings but being ostracized from everyone else makes it difficult to deal with it.
The biggest differences between the two is its approach to the horrors which created their respective Final Girls. Riley Sager opts for creating his own horrors, sure he cherry picked elements from the genre but they are based in realistic setting. The knife wielding maniac who killed Lisa’s sorority sisters, was a guy screwed over by a business deal and snapped. The Sack Man, Sam faced down was just a lunatics who put a burlap sack on his head and used a host of tools to kill as many people as possible at once. The protagonist Quincy’s own slasher came from a place of complete surprise, (SPOILERS) as the friendly cop who “rescued” her had actually committed the murders and framed the mental patient (END SPOILERS). In the current world we live in, where at any moment someone with stupidly easy access to a weapon can just go massacre a bunch of people, these monsters are one’s we can easily recognize. The main villain in particular resonates with modern readers as he (SPOILERS) hides his evils behind a badge (END SPOILERS). By contrast, Grady Hendrix, true to form, made his monsters variations on famous cinematic slashers translated into a more believable world. This makes sense when each of these horrific events is adapted into a movie series in the world of the book. Instead of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Leatherface’s cannibal family, you have the Panhandle Meathook with a pair of cannibalistic brothers. Rather than Sidney Prescott evading Ghost Face in the Scream series, we have Julia who dealt with the multiple people taking on the Ghost mantle for the Stab franchise. On Halloween night, Dani’s brother escaped a lunatic asylum and left a trail of bodies leading to her in the Babysitter Murders. Given that he tries to keep the story in a grounded setting his take on A Nightmare on Elm Street with its supernatural elements is particularly clever. He introduces readers to the Dream King, and as far as the laypeople are concerned his Deadly Dreams movies were simply based on a neighborhood where a series of young people committing suicide and the survivor, Heather, tried to connect these events to a pedophile who worked as a school custodian. Whenever our characters in a believable world end up skimming the surface of what happened, they learn there is a nightmarish truth behind it they are ill-equipped to comprehend. On top of this, there are plenty of East Eggs sprinkled throughout for horror movie fans.
There is also a vast difference between the characters of Lynette and Quincy as people coping with the horrors they survived. When we meet Lynette she is deep in paranoia as her encounters with the Santa Claus Killer have been burned into her mind. She lives in fortress of an apartment, cut-off from all but the support group and constantly paranoid at the threat of death around her at all times. But what plagues her deep down is that many in her support group do not regard her as a real “final girl” but merely a victim who survived. She picked up this label because when a psychopath in a Santa suit hacked her family and boyfriend to pieces, she did not fight back instead she played opossum until the police showed up and dealt with the situation. One could easily argue she is compensating for the arguable lack of guts she showed during this horrific moment. In contrast to this, Quincy is trying her damndest to lead a sunny, cheery, normal life, and thanks to Xanax and grape soda, she is largely successful. She hosts growing baking vlog and has a loving fiancée who is moving upward at his law firm. The night a psycho killed her friends in the woods is not burned into her memory, instead she blots out those events and continues on like everything is sunshine and rainbows. By the end of their respective character arcs, they have to completely different takeaways. Lynette learns that while what happened to her was horrible but she does not have to go it alone, and that when push comes to shove, she does have the courage to stand up in a deadly crisis. Quincy learns that no matter how hard she tries to forget it, her bloody past was something that really happened and she has to woman up and face it head on because it has made her a stronger person. One learned it is okay to lean on the support of others while the other learned self reliance.
What we have in the end, is that two of the most brilliant minds in terror bringing their own unique takes to a similar premise. As an avid reader of spooky tales, this puts me in a good place. I have my choice at a terrifying buffet of Riley Sager’s bleak character-driven narrative or Grady Hendrix’s cool, fast-paced thriller. Either way I am leaving my library a happy dude. Considering these two guys along with Jennifer McMahon and Erika Larson are my favorite authors working right now, I want a world where they are buds or at least respectful colleagues. I would like to think of the similarities in the base premises of Final Girls and the Final Girl Support Group is simply a case of great minds thinking alike but in their own spooky ways.