B-List: Heroines that overcome all odds to best the baddie

Anyone who’s known me for longer than a day knows I’m all about the Spooky.

October is the month when my power is at its greatest, and Halloween the only holiday that truly matters. Skeletons and taxidermy figure heavily into my home décor. I’ve rescued cats from abandoned houses and cemeteries, and I live my life by the credo What Would Wednesday Addams Do?

So, naturally, I consider horror — movies, books, TV shows — to be a year-round genre. Some may prefer to save their creepy content for cloudy days and chilly nights, but I’m always ready to argue summer is a fantastic time to get the adrenaline pumping and vocal chords screaming.

After all, summer is the time for camping (“Friday the 13th” and “The Burning”) and trips to the beach (“Jaws”). Summer is when babysitters are at their busiest (“When A Stranger Calls”) and teens plan sleepovers (“The Slumber Party Massacre”). And, of course, everyone’s going to carnivals (“Us”), amusement parks (“Final Destination 3″) and boardwalks (”The Lost Boys”) to ride the rides, eat fried food and shudder every time they see a clown (“IT”) …

With all of that in mind — and since the close of season four of “Stranger Things” may have y’all in the mood for further frights — I’m taking the opportunity to recommend some solid entertainment featuring a new crop of Final Girls (aka the heroines that overcome all odds to best the baddie and see the end credits), starting with:

1. “The Sun Down Motel” by Simone St. James

It’s 1982. Viv, a young runaway, works the night shift at a roadside motel in Fell, New York. She has some suspicions about a man who comes to the motel. She thinks he’s connected to the girls who’ve been turning up dead in town; to the ghosts she’s seen during her lonely shifts. And she’s grown tired of being careful, tired of how angry the world makes her, tired of violent men getting away with murder …

It’s 2017. Carly Kirk comes to Fell in search of answers. She wants to solve an old family mystery, and find out what happened to her beautiful Aunt Viv, who disappeared 35 years ago. So she takes a job at the rundown Sun Down Motel, the last place Viv was ever seen, and begins to dig into the town’s history. What she uncovers not only shakes her — it may prove deadly.

In this paralleling story told by two very different girls in two different times, St. James delivers another scorcher of a mystery full of ghosts, societal commentary and righteous feminist rage. The perfect novel for fans of true crime and horror.

2. Netflix’s “The Fear Street Trilogy”

Loosely based on the teen book series by horror icon R. L. Stine, this interconnected trilogy of films features actors who play several characters over three different time periods: 1994, 1978 and 1666.

In “Part One: 1994″, a group of Shadyside teens face off against reanimated killers tied to Sarah Fier, a witch who cast a curse that has blighted the town for centuries, turning it into the “Murder Capital” of the country and causing a repetitive cycle of misery for every generation.

In “Part Two: 1978″, Camp Nightwing’s summer fun turns into a grisly massacre. Sisters Ziggy and Cindy Berman struggle to break the witch’s curse by reuniting Sarah Fier’s severed hand with her body.

In “Part Three: 1666″, we’re finally shown the truth about Sarah Fier — and see that history is always written by the victors. In the film/trilogy’s conclusion, we’re back to 1994 where the survivors face off against the source of Shadyside’s evil once and for all.

This trilogy does so many things right. It’s true to the spirit of the original “Fear Street” books, which are beloved by many who came of age in the 90s. The moments of horror are visceral and the gore is plentiful to the point where even I was squirming.

The way all three stories are interwoven is extremely satisfying, and having the same core cast play multiple characters over the three timelines was a lot of fun — fans of “Stranger Things” will also enjoy seeing Maya Hawke (aka Robin) and Sadie Sink (aka Max).

Then there’s the commentary at the heart of the trilogy. Final Girl Deena (Kiana Madeira) is biracial and a lesbian, and both details figure heavily into her character arc and the story itself. The themes of generational trauma, systemic oppression and the class conflict between the cursed Shadyside and the blessed Sunnyvale are almost too relatable in a real world context, and this is a series that bluntly illustrates the lasting violence of misogyny, homophobia and white entitlement.

And while there obviously isn’t a happy ending for everyone in these stories — the body count is pretty dang high across all three films — “The Fear Street Trilogy” does ultimately end on a hopeful note, suggesting that it is possible to break cycles of abuse and injustice. A message we all desperately need/want to hear right now.

3. “Screen Violence” by Chvrches

Scottish synth band Chrvches has a reputation for a smooth indie-pop sound, a casual club vibe that’s perfect for a low-budget arthouse film full of Millennial longing.

So when they released a horror-themed concept album, “Screen Violence”, last August, plenty of people — including yours truly — were more than a little surprised.

But boy, is it a heck of an album.

Recorded during the first COVID quarantine, when the band was trapped in California thousands of miles away from their families, and heavily inspired by lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s long-time struggle with online harassment, “Screen Violence” brings to mind settings straight from an 80s slasher film.

“In the final cut / In the final scene / There’s a Final Girl / And you know that she should be screaming,” laments Mayberry in the aptly named “Final Girl”, while she also muses “That was the first time I knew you can’t kill the king / And those who kiss the ring” in “How Not To Drown.”

“Screen Violence,” with its feminist rage and determination to survive, pairs perfectly with both numbers one and two on this list and I, personally, can recommend it for any long drives with the windows down and the volume up.

4. “Ready or Not”

Grace (Samara Weaving) has really hit the jackpot. She’s marrying the handsome Alex (Mark O’Brien) and joining the glamorous Le Domas family, who built their vast fortune on an empire of party games (and a peculiar deal with a mysterious man named Le Bail).

After the ceremony, the bride is told its tradition for the family to play a game at midnight before the newlyweds leave for their honeymoon. She draws the Hide and Seek card, and is told she loses if any of the family finds her before sunrise.

Unfortunately for poor Grace, this proves to be the most intense, most bloody, game of Hide and Seek ever. Because if the Le Domases don’t find and sacrifice her before sunrise, they won’t just lose their fortune: they’ll lose their own lives, thanks to that devil’s bargain their ancestor made.

So what if this entire movie is just an excuse to have Samara Weaving in a torn, bloodied wedding dress and bandolier of shotgun shells, fighting off evil millionaires? Tell me you don’t want to watch an hour and a half of that?!

I deeply, deeply appreciate this recent trend in horror where the rich white people are the real monsters/threat; the Le Domases being willing to sacrifice untold numbers of people — even people they supposedly love enough to marry — in order to preserve their way of life is no different than real world billionaires content to let their workers toil for poverty wages without health insurance just so they can purchase a third mega-yacht.

5. “The Final Girl Support Group” by Grady Hendrix

What if those slasher franchises we all love so much — “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” — were actually inspired by real events?

What if the survivors of those awful massacres, the so-called Final Girls, were real women forced to navigate not only their personal trauma, but the commodification of it into mass entertainment? Suppose they, unified by their shared experiences, start a support group with an empathetic therapist …

Now, what if a fresh psychopath decided to make a name for themselves by killing those infamous Final Girls, one at a time — and the one who realizes what is happening isn’t believed by anyone else?

“The Final Girl Support Group” somehow manages to be both an entertaining horror novel, full of violence and gore and psychological tension, hitting all of the familiar tropes and beats we expect from a slasher story, and a poignant deconstruction of the genre itself.

It’s an undeniable truth the entire horror genre is built upon suffering, and nine times out of 10 it’s specifically the suffering of women. How do fans of the genre, particularly female fans, reconcile this fact with the entertainment we take from it? Horror puts a price tag on pain — can we pay that price with a clear conscience?

It’s a hard question that has no easy, simple answer, and Hendrix doesn’t try to give us a pat solution to the problem, which I appreciate. He’s also one of the few male authors I’ve found who can really write women; the female characters in this, especially narrator Lynette, are complex, messy and feel real even as they face the bizarre and extreme.

And while “Support Group” tackles plenty of heavy, horrific things, it still manages to be a rousing, enjoyable read. Hendrix does a fine job peppering in allusions and Easter eggs hardcore horror fans will point at Leo Dicaprio-style, and the climactic battle between good and evil is very cinematic.

Honestly, I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t get the miniseries or movie treatment in the next few years; sure, there’s nothing exactly brand new in this story, but the horror genre — with all of its sequels and remakes and reboots, its juggernaut killers who comes back from the dead and its cycles of generational trauma — has never met a story it couldn’t kill twice.

So long as there’s always a Final Girl left to see the sunrise, I’m pretty OK with that.

• ANGIE BARRY is a contributing columnist for Shaw Media. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers topics in pop culture, history and literature, contact her at newsroom@mywebtimes.com.