“You’re really into this movie stuff, aren’t you?”
“Movies are the world, and that’s where I live, yeah.”
This dialogue occurs about three quarters of the way through Stephen Graham Jones’s new book, The Last Final Girl, but perhaps it should be the back-cover copy. That second line is a litmus test: your level of agreement will correspond fairly exactly with your level of enjoyment of the novel. Scratch that, you’ll likely enjoy The Last Final Girl either way, as it is a deliriously sharp and funny take on an oft-maligned subgenre, though the amount you understand will certainly be limited by your filmic diet.
Even though this story of teen girls vs. a murderous madman may seem familiar, the manner in which it is told is not. That one’s full enjoyment demands an intimate knowledge of these films is the league of self-reflexivity Jones is playing in, where you might only catch every fifth reference. None, if you’re my grandmother. He’s fine with that; it’s an inclusive rather than exclusive brand of in-joke. Besides, there are still some characters for you to latch onto even if you can’t name the actor who played Jason in Friday the 13th parts VII-X (Kane Hodder, to say nothing of his trademark head-tilt).
It’s hard to talk about The Last Final Girl without discussing the films with which it is engaging. Regardless of whether you are an aficionado who dates the beginning of the slasher genre with Bob Clark’s Black Christmas in 1974 or draws the line further back to Bava, Argento, and the rest of the Italians, you can’t argue that John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) prompted what’s affectionately known by horror fans and academics as the “slasher-boom.” Friday the 13th and a rash of “holiday” films formalized, and some would say vulgarized, the genre.
Ever since this boom and subsequent bust, the genre, its filmmakers and its fans have been searching for a way to re-contextualize the slasher into something they can enjoy once more. This is the lowbrow-art equivalent of the big bang theory, with Carpenter’s jumpsuit-clad Prometheus creating a decades-long dialectic that’s constantly searching for a spark that will re-ignite the genre.
The slasher genre (already a sub-category of horror) can be carved into three principal subdivisions. First, there’s the quasi-supernatural slasher film with an unkillable antagonist, with whom many of these films ask us to side. Second, there’s the soft-horror of a slasher that’s imbedded in a whodunit murder mystery (see Prom Night). And lastly, there’s the metatextual remixes that began with Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996 and continued, with varied levels of success, up to this year’s Cabin in the Woods.
Why is this history lesson relevant? Because Jones is attempting to reconcile every shade of the slasher, not simply to namecheck but in order to exorcize the genre and explore his own relationship to it. It’s a fascinating, and frequently quite funny, exploration of a media-soaked mind.
The slasher is obsessed with repeating itself, to the point where...read more