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Riley Sager: five movies that inspired my writing

Although I write books for a living, my heart belongs to the movies. There’s nothing quite like the communal experience of sitting in a darkened theater with a group of strangers, watching a film for the very first time.

Since Final Girls is a novelistic take on the beloved horror movie trope, it’s only natural that the lifeblood of many different films run through its veins. So here are five films that influenced the book. They may not be my favorite scary movie — although two certainly are — but they’re the ones that helped make the book what it is today.

riley sager

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

It feels a bit silly writing about Psycho when so much has already been written. The shower scene. Norman Bates. Mother. All of them have rightfully attained the status of legend. Yet for the purposes of Final Girls, I was inspired less by the movie than by its setting. You see, Samantha Boyd, the second of three “final girls” integral to the book’s plot, survived a massacre at a place known as The Nightlight Inn. It’s a run-down motel on the outskirts of Tampa, Florida. And though I don’t describe it in very much detail, you can be sure that it looks a lot like a certain Bates Motel.

riley sager

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

This is it, the movie I was watching when I first got the idea for what would eventually become Final Girls. I love everything about it, from the shocking first minutes to the slow burn middle to the absolute nightmare of the ending. I can truly say that there’d be no Final Girls without Halloween, just like there’d be no concept of the “final girl” without Laurie Strode. They weren’t the first of their kind in film history, but they certainly had the biggest influence.

riley sager

Single White Female (Barbet Schroeder, 1992)

Let’s be frank: This isn’t a very good movie. It’s certainly no Psycho. It’s not even Fatal Attraction, to which it owes a considerable debt. But Single White Female does pose an interesting, unnerving question — how much do you really know about the people you live with? By inviting Jennifer Jason Leigh into her home, Bridget Fonda opens a Pandora’s Box of trouble. I decided to do the same thing in Final Girls, but with a twist that will hopefully makes readers’ jaws hit the floor.

riley sager

Scream (Wes Craven, 1996)

After years of shoddy imitations and endless remakes, the slasher genre was in dire straits. Then along came Scream, which picked up the tarnished knife, gave it a self-referential polish and left the world laughing and shrieking at the same time. It also turned this movie lover into a horror hound. Before Scream, I wanted nothing to do with scary movies. After Scream, I couldn’t get enough. And in Sidney Prescott, played with spiky vulnerability by Neve Campbell, I found my quintessential “final girl.”

riley sager

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)

While a fantastic hybrid of slasher flick, film scholarship and dark comedy, The Cabin in the Woods begins as one thing, then warps into another before ending in the most unexpected fashion. It takes what you think you know about slasher flicks and turns it on its ear, simultaneously upending and exceeding expectations. My goal was to do the same thing, although with less winking humor and more psychological depth. If The Cabin in the Woods is a funhouse-mirror version of a horror movie, then Final Girls is its serious cousin.

riley sager
riley sager
Riley Sager

Riley Sager is the pseudonym for an author who has previously published under another name. Riley is a native of Pennsylvania, a writer, editor, and graphic designer who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. Riley is the author of Final Girls.

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