Quirky 80s Horror

Author: Grady Hendrix

Abby was the uncool kid. Her ET themed fifth grade birthday party was ruined when the popular rich girl hosted a party at the same time – one that everyone went to instead. Everyone except Gretchen. Gretchen came to Abby’s party, and they become instant and fast best friends. The problem? They’re in high school now, and things have changed. For example – Gretchen is possessed.

Anyone who has read Grady Hendrix before knows that he has a unique approach to horror. It’s not quite the bombastic slapstick of Jeff Strand, who owns it and gives us memorable titles such as Clowns VS Spiders, but it’s not the deadly seriousness of Stephen King or the deeply disturbed Edward Lee. Hendrix is somewhere between the realm of serious horror and that goofy, genre-bending B-movie stuff that gave us Scary Movie. Hendrix is tongue-in-cheek though, preferring to spice up truly horrible moments with 80s style absurdity, high school drama, and in some of his other works, possessed puppets and a final girl with a plant obsession. It’s a theme, this love of the quirky mixed with a distinctive pop-culture homage. Sometimes it works, sometimes it sucks, and sometimes it’s both at the same time, like My Best Friend’s Exorcism.

In a true Jennifer’s Body style, with a bit of Lost Boys (channeling the Frog Brothers) thrown in, this book is at times engaging and at other times stupid and insulting. Fans of 80s horror (or 80s culture) will find some nostalgia here and something to love, but it quickly becomes overdone. It’s too 80s without enough of that gut punch that has made 80s horror, cheesy as it was, enduring.

After experimenting with LSD for the first time, a goofy girls retreat turns into a nightmare when Gretchen goes missing. When they find her the next morning, the new cruel girl is in play. Gretchen quickly becomes someone else. Is it the effects of a bad trip, growing up, at-home-troubles, or something that happened to her in the woods? Abby is determined to find out, but in true horror fashion, the absentee adults here, including the lackluster parents, just aren’t listening. Even the priest is a waste of time. So, Abby must save her friend all on her own. But is she sure Gretchen is possessed and not just . . .you know . . . a bitch because she is a teenager. Of course, she did throw up owl feathers, so there is THAT.

As the story goes on, it is oddly engaging. Gretchen’s demon is suitably petty, high school style. As the charismatic Gretchen gets on with everyone else, Abby sees through to the demonic inside. And it’s justified, because petty schemes are starting to unravel everyone connected to the now evil Gretchen.

That’s when some holy rollers with a weightlifting fetish move into town. This is where we truly channel the Frog Brothers, as the soon to be exorcist exhorts faith and fitness fanaticism; love Jesus and bench press like a boss. It’s absurd, but unlike the Frog Brothers, it’s also there to do some old-fashioned Christian bashing. Not a fan.

Teaming up with an experienced and doofy exorcist, Abby tries to save her best friend, and we finally get the moment we’ve been waiting for, the true confrontation. It’s not as horrible or as supernatural as I had hoped, but we do finally get an answer to the is-she-possessed-or-just-a-jerk question, one that honestly was answered early on by the few true supernatural signs (i.e., the bout of feather vomiting). Also, Gretchen did horribly murder her own dog – a gut wrenching and unnecessary scene that convinces both us and Abby that this girl is experiencing something beyond the usual teenage attitude.

The ending ties everything up, but again it falls short. Despite this encounter with the supernatural and a weird exorcism, teenage girl BFF style, the girls never really discuss what happened and the greater implications. For example, after all this, Abby specifically says years later that she never gave that religion, is-there-a-God, Heaven-and-Hell stuff any thought. Really? After your best friend was possessed and you exorcised the demon? That didn’t pique your curiosity just slightly? You just went back to leg warmers and Cyndi Lauper?

Why the highish rating though? Honestly, despite the flaws, of which there were many, something about this book was campy and fun. Hendrix does have that charm, even on his misses, and despite complaining about this and that not working (and again, really hating the Christian bashing stuff), I still got into the flow and weirdness of it. Much like Jennifer’s Body, there is something oddly intriguing, something a little bit magical in the weirdness. It kept me engaged and wandering, and the Audible version was exceptionally well rendered. So, you know, watch out for the demonic and teenage girls (arguably the same thing). Happy reading fellow ghouls.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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