Author Grady Hendrix's bibliography is a selection of must-read novels: the twist on the haunted house that is Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism and its tale of friendship and possession, the heartbreaking heavy metal story of We Sold Our Souls, and the New York Times bestseller The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, to say nothing of the non-fiction exploration of '70s and '80s horror pulps, Paperbacks from Hell. He's also been part of the scripts for the horror films Mohawk and Satanic Panic.
All of this is since 2014. It's a crazy pace, and what's even more impressive is that every single one of these is different and fun and absolutely compelling to read or watch. His latest, The Final Girl Support Group, sees Hendrix diving into the aftermath of every slasher film you've seen—and many you haven't—and how these traumatic events affected the women who defeated the killers and survived to see another morning. We spoke with Hendrix via Skype about the new book, slashers, and how that can all be a metaphor for life in general.
TLU: I know that, for many of your books, you do a lot of research beforehand, and I'm curious as to what the research was for this new book, because there are definitely some obscure Easter eggs scattered throughout. I know you did that in the last book as well, but it seems like you dove deep into slashers for this one.
Grady Hendrix: Well, it's funny. Usually when I do research writing a book, it's more about the location. A lot of times if there's stuff like, Southern Book Club was in the '90s and this book, bumping it back to 2010 because I wanted to avoid COVID or any hint of COVID.
But usually, the research is really intense about the place and sort of the physical world the characters inhabit. With something like Southern Book Club, it's like, “Okay, I got to figure out vampires,” so I did a fair amount of vampire research with it. It was like, “Okay, these sort of male killers,” and I read a lot of Maria Warner, who does a lot of story studies of fairytales and folktales and things, because there's always that thread, and I feel like one of the writers who picks it up the best is Angela Carter with this idea that there's an element of almost-slasher in fairy tales–you know, “Bluebeard.”
The thing with her in “The Company of Wolves” story is there are men who are hairy on the inside and the idea of these dangerous men who you're attracted to, but they will kill you. That took me back to Maria Warner's stuff on folktales. You'll see a lot of that in the Chrissy Mercer chapters, like her ranting about her vision quest slasher stuff. That chapter used to be a lot longer, but my editor was like, “I think this is less interesting to people who don't live inside your head.”
But usually the big chunk of research comes after the book's done and I'm putting together a show to go out on the road with because that's when I'm just going to try everything—not just specific things geared to the book, but I'm going to read everything and I'm in the middle of that right now for this slasher thing.
I wrote the first draft of this book in 2014 and just had a hell of a time selling it and it sort of finally came around, but I've been rewriting it ever since and the last pass I did, I was like, “You know? This should be fun for everyone,” and so that's when I went really heavy on the Easter eggs. I was like, “Every name in this book is going to be a reference, everything is going to somehow tie into slasher movies,” and then it was like, “Oh my God, there's so many of them. There is like this alternative slasher universe out there”—several of which are so wild to me.
Now, the interesting thing is, talking about alternate slasher universes, one of the things I noticed may have something to do with the fact that it is set in 2010. There was this interesting thing right around 2010, where you had Scream 4 come out in 2011 and Behind The Mask hit home video right around the turn of the decade. Those are slashers that play with the idea of this world that's been created by the slasher film and really look into the influence that they've had. In the case of Behind The Mask, it is a world where all of these different super-human, possibly supernatural, definitely supernatural in some cases, like all exist in one realm.
Well, and there was also–don't forget–right around then, there was The Poughkeepsie Tapes and also Cropsey. I really hadn't thought about how that was right around the time of the Leslie Vernon movie stuff. But yeah, I mean, it's funny: horror is the one genre that always is supposed to be true, right? All the books are like, “Well, this happened and here's an account of it,” like Turn of the Screw: “Oh, it's a governess my friend knows.” Then, the urban legend aspect of it like, “This happened to so-and-so's friend” and then the creepypasta version of it: “Is this true? Is it not?”
And the found footage? There's no such thing as a found footage rom-com, you know, there's no such thing as a found footage action movie. There's only found footage horror movies, so the idea that this stuff really plays fast and loose with “Is it real? Is it not?” really informed the idea of “these are women who the crimes really happened to and then the people with the movie franchises just ran with it and just mutated it into something unrecognizable.
Because when I was a kid, the beginning of Friday the 13th: Part II always freaked me out because it was like, “This character survived. It's a character from one movie in another movie,” and then she gets killed in the first scene and you're like, “What?!” There was just something so cruel about how offhanded it was. And I feel that, if this was really the story of your life—if you were really Alice Hardy in Friday the 13th—and this happened and then a few years later, they're making movies about how the killer is in space, it must just be such a screwy head trip that someone's taking something in your life and just turning it into a cartoon, basically.
It's just so wild to me—just the second you imagine that these things happened, then I just feel like it opens up this huge door of like, “Oh, my God, that must be awful,” and then everything else, like Freddy Kreuger lunchboxes, that's even more awful. I feel like once you take that step into, “This is real,” you just wind up in this place where every storytelling possibility is just wilder and more intense.
One of the things that's great about this book is that you flip the script in a very literal sense, in that in horror movies, you have a bunch of very barely-drawn characters—out and out caricatures and stereotypes, in most cases—where they basically exist just as fodder for the real star of the show, which is the villain, the slasher, whomever that may be, but in Final Girl Support Group, you're looking at these women and their actual response to this trauma. It's like the idea that Spider-Man: Homecoming is more interesting than The Avengers, because the real personal details are far more fascinating in terms of character development. It seems like you're into the lasting results of stuff. Is it because dealing with the aftermath is more rewarding for you as a writer: to be able to dig into this kind of “What if?”
There's two parts of that. One is, yeah, I always love picking up what happens later. I just think a lot of stories end too early. I get that a Friday the 13th movie ends with the police showing up and the final girl in the hospital room, but it's like, “But then what? What's it like that first night at home? What happens next?” So I really like a chance to do that, but the other thing is also I find slashers really a mirror on something that we do in real life, which is everyone knows Freddy and Jason and Michael Myers but we don't really remember the names of the final girls, and we especially don't remember the names of this sort of faceless machete fodder.
And in real life: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy. Name me one of their victims, you know? Name me one of them. And so, I always feel like we put our attention in the wrong place. We're attracted to this celebrity and not the price or the cost of their celebrity.
Interestingly enough, the episode of My Favorite Murder that came out today features a survival story, which they've begun to do more of and which inevitably ends up being far more jaw-droppingly “What the fuck?!” than any story about a killer or a murder. The story of, like, how someone survives their plane crashing in the Amazon or being stranded in the Arctic is definitely more uplifting, but it's also one person succeeding against the odds, which is far more fascinating than, “Oh, another person had mental issues and then killed their parents.”
It's interesting that you say that, because the big Achilles heel for true crime for me is that eventually there's a courtroom scene, and it goes on for 150 pages and it's boring. Someone did a study of true crime readers and discovered that most of them—or just slightly under a majority of them—stop reading the last third of the book. Once the killer is caught, they're not interested, and I get it. It's usually boring stuff, but the survival thing is interesting.
When I was a kid, my mom subscribed to these two Christian magazines: The Upper Room and Guideposts. Both of them loved survival stories, 'cause it'd be like, “This guy went skiing downhill and hit a tree at 70 miles an hour, and the slope closed and his face had totally caved in and he had to drag himself six miles down the slope with a shattered spine and a caved in face,” and then at the very end, they'll be like, “And then he thanks God for his recovery,” of course, but they were just the most gruesome survival stories. That also may be what attracts me a little more to someone who lives than the murdery part.
Now, all of that is to say The Final Girl Support Group is also itself a slasher, in that there's somebody who's hunting down members of this group, which allows for a certain level of meta-commentary. But also, there is something about the pacing of this book that is breakneck. Was that something that was brought about by trying to mirror the tone of certain slashers?
Absolutely. I mean, who cares about everyone arriving at camp and hearing the warning and getting out of the car and unloading the sleeping bags? The payoff is the final night, you know? I wanted this to be one long chase because I also feel like that's kind of how some people live their lives. I think especially people who've had something traumatic happen to them. You spend your life running away from something and you don't want it, you know, people know about your problems catching up with you. A lot of our lives are just a chase sequence.
That's a very interesting way of looking at it, but the engagement that you have with the very real world aspect of this—I mean, there are nods to possible paranormal aspects within the book, but you do lean hard into the very real world results. This is not the world of John Wick. When people get hurt, it reminds me a lot of another weird take on the slasher, Happy Death Day, where even though Tree's reliving it, she has the, like, the results of all of these deaths.
I grew up around guns. I'm from South Carolina, and one of the things you learned early on is that guns in movies are not like guns in real life. They don't make that same satisfying noise and they don't look as cool, but the damage they do is so much worse than in a movie. I always love in a movie when you see someone shooting like a machine gun at a car and sparks are flying up and they're hiding behind the door. I've seen someone take a machine gun to an old 1950 Chevy and chop that thing up from 50 yards away. It's crazy.
And you know, I've been in a couple of fights and usually end up getting beaten up. I don't really fight, but I've been beaten up pretty badly a few times, and it's not like they make it seem. You hear these people who take self-defense classes or they look to get in fights and stuff, and they have all these strategies and it's all show, 'cause once the rubber meets the road, it all goes out the window. It's just the people who win are the people who are just willing to be more brutal and horrible. I really wanted to show that all the planning, all the stuff, all the bad-assery—it just falls apart. You can't plan for the worst thing that's ever gonna happen to you. You just have to go through it.
What makes it the worst thing that's ever happened to you is because you thought you knew what it was going to be and you were terribly wrong, which makes the psychological devastation as bad as whatever the actual physical, financial, existential fallout is. And in a way, the worst thing that ever happens to us is our lives. I can't tell you how many people I know who are not where they thought they were going to be—for better and for worse—but life just happened to them and they just had to roll with it. All these plans they had went out the window, and some of them are really happy with where they ended up, and some of them are still holding on to where they thought they would end up—that image they used to have of themselves. It's just—things happen, man.
There's a certain level of self-awareness in characters that really determines where they're going and how they're going to respond to what happens. Lynette has this idea of who she is and that idea is repeatedly challenged throughout the book by other members of the support group and people she encounters and things like that. That realization of becoming self-aware in an actual, clear-eyed way, as opposed to a rigidly-defined manner, is what makes her such a satisfying character because there's there's growth. As out-there and batshit as she seems at the beginning, there are hints of things that I could relate to, where I'm like, “Oh yeah! Yeah.” I think that's what grounds this book: there are people who've been through terrible and cinematic things, but they're still terrible things, and I think we can all relate to that.
One of the reasons that I find the Alien franchise so powerful, or even one of the reasons that the Halloween franchise is not my favorite, is the way you keep seeing the same people. Alien is structured around Ripley. Halloween is structured around Laurie Strode, whether she's in the movie or not. Nightmare on Elm Street, it's different characters. Usually they pop in and out. Friday, it's almost always different characters. But there is sort of that slasher movie metaphor for life, right?
A slasher movie is a lot like being alive: you go camping, you go home from school, you go on a date, you go babysitting, and you think you know who you are. You're like, “I'm a camp counselor. I'm a babysitter. I'm a nice girl. I'm a this, I'm a that,” and life is like, “No, you're a survivor. You just don't know it yet, and that will be the best and the worst thing that's going to happen to you. I feel like that's a little bit like life. Most of us don't get murdered, but most of us had this idea of who we are. And then we have some horrible dark night and we learn who we really are, and that's great and that's horrible all at once.
The Final Girl Support Group is out from Penguin Random House on July 13 and can be pre-ordered here.