There aren’t many genres I actively dislike, but the slasher genre is one of them. Sure, I’ve read and watched more of them than the average person — even recommended a few (FINAL DESTINATION 2 in particular) — but I often treat slasher pieces like homework, that they’re often cruel and misogynistic, and am always pleasantly surprised when they turn out to be intelligent and have something to say (e.g. SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982 — I haven’t had a chance to check out the reboot yet) and WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE).

Near the end of October, I was running out of horror novels to read, and the feminist bookstore down the block predictably didn’t stock much in the way of horror, and most of what they had on the shelf I’d already read except for one book: Grady Hendrix’s THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP. I hemmed and hawed about a dude writing a horror novel about women, violence, and trauma, but looked at the back and all of the blurbs were from women authors who I am big fans of, so I decided to give it a chance. (For what it’s worth, I didn’t realize until later that my wife had previously gifted me a copy of PAPERBACKS FROM HELL, which he also penned, earlier this year.)

THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP takes place in an alternate ~2010 universe that asks the question: what if all of the slasher film franchises we know — HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, SCREAM, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, etc. were based on real-life events, and the final girls were real, and 20-30 years after the fact, after their film franchises have faded, how would they be coping, and how would their lives turn out? Well, they are in a therapy group to chew over their experiences, and have been for quite some time.

That said, some of them are doing worse than others, and that goes from bad to worse once it’s apparent that someone is murderously chasing after all of them. Again.

In the wrong hands, this novel could have been schlocky, insensitive garbage but, instead, it’s a surprisingly sensitive portrayal of living with trauma and fear. While Hendrix is lifting a lot from prior sources, he doesn’t revel in it, there’s not a lot of winking — it’s more along the lines of ‘oh, I see what you did there’ — and he makes the characters distinct, separate and often more interesting than the composites he is working from.

It’s also thrillingly plotted, with deft feints and twists and turns. In other words, it’s the total package.

I was initially attracted to horror when I realized that it could be more than sensationalism, when it also served as a way to highlight matters of humanity — especially emotional matters — that many refuse to acknowledge or publicly discuss. THE FINAL GIRL SUPPORT GROUP goes above and beyond that, and is a surprisingly brilliant example of what the genre is capable of.