Book: “The Last Final Girl” by Stephen Graham Jones
Publishing Info: Lazy Fascist Press, September 2012
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: Life in a slasher film is easy. You just have to know when to die.
Aerial View: A suburban town in Texas. Everyone’s got an automatic garage door opener. All the kids jump off a perilous cliff into a shallow river as a rite of passage. The sheriff is a local celebrity. You know this town. You’re from this town.
Zoom In: Homecoming princess, Lindsay. She’s just barely escaped death at the hands of a brutal, sadistic murderer in a Michael Jackson mask. Up on the cliff, she was rescued by a horse and bravely defeated the killer, alone, bra-less. Her story is already a legend. She’s this town’s heroic final girl, their virgin angel.
Monster Vision: Halloween masks floating down that same river the kids jump into. But just as one slaughter is not enough for Billie Jean, our masked killer, one victory is not enough for Lindsay. Her high school is full of final girls, and she’s not the only one who knows the rules of the game.
When Lindsay chooses a host of virgins, misfits, and former final girls to replace the slaughtered members of her original homecoming court, it’s not just a fight for survival-it’s a fight to become The Last Final Girl.
Review: I’m sure it’s come up before, but I love slasher movies. There isn’t necessarily much depth to them, and there are certainly problematic elements to many of them, but I thoroughly enjoy sitting down and taking in the likes of “Friday the 13th”, “Sleepaway Camp”, “Halloween”, and “Nightmare on Elm Street”. And many, many others. High School Kate loved them because of The Final Girl trope, in which the nice, shy, virginal girl was ultimately the one to come out of it at the end, traumatized but alive and ready to fight another day, as there was a lot to relate to with that portrayal at the time. I still like The Final Girl idea, even if it, too, is a bit problematic, and the gang that includes Laurie Strode, Tree Gelbman, and Sidney Prescott (and MANY others) is a girls club that I love. Which brings me to Stephen Graham Jones and his book “The Last Final Girl”. Which is a love letter to the genre that I love that twists it all up into something wicked and fun.
“The Last Final Girl” is a meta, experimental narrative with shifting points of view, stage direction, a script like structure, and bucket after bucket of blood as a number of ‘final girls’ find themselves in a Thunderdome-like fight to the finish, all while a slasher killer in a Michael Jackson mask is picking them and others off. While I did find the narrative structure a bit jarring at first, once I eased into it and got used to it it was easier to follow. This is probably the biggest hurdle for this story, as everything else worked pretty damn well for me. “The Last Final Girl” is filled with oodles of slasher movie references, from characters sharing names with movie heroines and villains (characters with names like Ripley, or Baker, or my favorite Crystal Blake, as if you remove the B, what do you get?), to references to plot points, tropes, actors, actresses, what have you. It’s a major opus of taking so many things and blending them together into a story that’s part deconstruction, part satire, part gore-fest. I loved finding the little Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout, as I love a good game of ‘spot the reference’.
I also thought that Jones created some fun protagonists in our troop of Final Girls. Izzy, the weirdo misfit and main girl we follow, was particularly fun, as, like many of the characters, she’s aware that she’s in a slasher film scenario, and is doing her best to adjust to it and perhaps get through it until the end. And on top of all of that, Jones tweaks and toys with preconceived notions of slasher films, virginal final girls, and masked killers (though given the details that have come out more and more about Michael Jackson in the past year or so, what may have been a sly twist at the time now feels all the more ominous and icky). It never feels like these twists or subversions are trying to outdo the original source material; on the contrary, you definitely feel the affection that Jones has for the genre as a whole, even as he’s playing with it a bit. It feels more like “Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” in that way as opposed to “Cabin in the Woods” when looking at deconstructing horror tropes. I felt that “Vernon” was parodying the genre with affection, with “Cabin” came off as feeling smugly superior to it (this is just my opinion, however).
I will say that if you aren’t well versed in the slasher genre, and if experimental writing styles confound you, “The Last Final Girl” is probably not going to be the book for you. I think that if I wasn’t so into the genre as a whole I would have been completely turned off by the narrative style, as the reason I kept going at first was because of the theme at hand. If it wasn’t a story by an author I really enjoy, and a genre homage that I hold close to my heart, I don’t know if I’d have been able to get past the experimental style choices. As mentioned above, I got into it as it went on. But it took a little adjustment.
Overall, I enjoyed “The Last Final Girl”. It made me want to have a full slasher movie marathon by the time I was done with it.
Rating 8: A brutal, fun, and funny love letter to slasher movies, though it may not translate as well if you’re unfamiliar with the topic.