There seems to be more risk-taking in the world of publishing. Not to diminish the accomplishments and gambles of cinema and television, but there are just certain esoteric ideas that are easier verbalized than they are visualized. It’s most likely one of the reasons H.P. Lovecraft is such a seminal author of horror fiction, but his cinematic adaptations don’t always hit the mark in capturing his words succinctly on film. I mean, how are you even supposed to photograph unimaginable creatures that make you go insane by just the sight of them? Free from budgetary constraints, modern horror fiction can push the boundaries even further than we could ever stomach on screen from the under-your-skin creep of Nick Cutter’s The Troop to Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s brooding witch horror Hex.
And then there is Grady Hendrix, an author who seems to have a preternatural ability to not only describe the indescribable but to do it in ingenious and increasingly entertaining ways. Hendrix, who is also the co-founder of the New York Asian Film Festival, has written numerous books, various short stories, and even the first graphic novel cookbook with his chef and restaurateur wife Amanda Cohen (seriously, if you’re ever in New York, check out Dirt Candy). He’s also the author of Paperbacks From Hell, which chronicles the boom of genre paperback novels from the late ’70s through the ’80s. And it’s from this well of schlocky dime store novels that we see where Hendrix is inspired.
The novels he mentions in Paperbacks From Hell are almost too batshit for words, featuring Nazi leprechauns, killer giant rats, and enough repressed sexuality to bring Sally Jessy Raphael out of retirement. But while the books may be literary B movies, they are still popping with an abundance of imagination that is truly awe-inspiring. And Hendrix has imbued that ingenuity into his own work, especially with his breakthrough novel Horrorstör, which is set in an IKEA from Hell.
Horrorstör has been in development for TV with Charlie Kaufman for some time now, but it looks like Hendrix’s even bigger follow-up novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is going to make it to screens first thanks to the director of Happy Death Day. The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Endeavor Content, the Development and Distribution studio behind major hits like Killing Eve, will develop My Best Friend’s Exorcism with Christopher Landon. The script will be co-written by Hendrix and Jenna Lamia, best known for her work on MTV’s Awkward and the crime comedy Good Girls.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which has been described as Beaches meets Heathers meets The Exorcist, is a page-turning novel of two best friends, Abby and Gretchen, tackling everything that late ’80s adolescents and high school can throw at them. From boys and body image issues, to even demonic possession! Despite being written by a man, the story of sisterhood is extremely authentic and recognizable. It’s the grounded backbone the novel needs to allow for the Satanic showdown in the book’s latter acts, and what the film likely will center on as well.
That is why it’s so refreshing to see Lamia’s name on the project. Not only does she bring a female voice to a movie about women, but coming from Awkward, a show about a teen who gains popularity after her high school believes she attempted suicide, she understands the cadence and vernacular of the age. The worst thing a high school movie can do is mimic Steve Buscemi’s memetic joke from 30 Rock, but with Lamia’s words, it will only strengthen the source material’s authenticity.
Landon is an inspired choice to develop Hendrix’s novel. While he rocketed into public acclaim with his Groundhog’s Day– inspired teen-scream film Happy Death Day (and will be returning for it’s equally inspired sequel Happy Death Day 2U), I was most taken by his work on Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Upon release, I admittedly had written the film off as another cash grab in the oversaturated, post-Walking Dead world. What I wasn’t expecting to find was an astute commentary on changing gender roles with a focus on the harmful ramifications of toxic masculinity on young men. Landon carried these themes into Happy Death Day, which has now become a motif of his career. He is a gender-conscious director, which is why I believe this quote from the press release is so intentionally worded:
Landon is developing the feature adaptation as a potential directing vehicle.
What this says to me is that, while it is likely that he would direct My Best Friend’s Exorcism, at the moment Landon is strictly developing it. Which means it’s quite possible that rather than have a man direct this story of feminist camaraderie, we could see a woman behind the camera. Highlighted after Jason Blum’s careless comments, that he rightfully apologized for, the horror industry especially is bursting at the seams with female talent who could tackle this story with as much panache as Landon, while also having that one thing Landon or Hendrix can’t possibly have: a woman’s perspective.
Women historically haven’t had the opportunities to share their stories, their fundamental personal experiences, and My Best Friend’s Exorcism is the perfect vehicle to do that. A woman will simply have more first-hand, nuanced insights of what it’s like to be a girl in high school. I believe it’s a testament to Hendrix’s work that, as a writer far removed from the world of teen girls as possible, he could craft such a touching and genuine story of sisterhood. But that’s all the more reason that we’ll hopefully see a female director on this film. Because if the story is already this good, just imagine what it will transform into once it’s told through the eyes of a woman.
If anything, My Best Friend’s Exorcism being turned into a film is just the beginning of the Hendrix take over of Hollywood. Last year he co-wrote Mohawk with Ted Geoghegan, with whom he is teaming up again for Chelsea Peters’ Satanic Panic from Fangoria. Horrorstör looks to finally be making headway in production with Hendrix promising that we could hear word “any day now” on the adaptation, and it seems to be only a matter of time before his most recent novel We Sold Our Souls will be optioned for its film rights.
I couldn’t be more excited. Hendrix is one of the finest new genre voices we have in literature, and if Hollywood can just take a drop of the imaginative magic he paints his worlds in, our films will be better for it.