Living through a real-life slasher attack changes a town. For Proofrock, Idaho, the Independence Day Massacre has left scars but has also drawn in new residents—some for the horror of it all, and others for the offer of free college in the aftermath of the traumatic event at the center of Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart Is a Chainsaw. Set four years later, Don’t Fear the Reaper returns to Chainsaw’s protagonist, Jade Daniels, who is not the same slasher-obsessed girl she once was. She is older and wiser, less compelled by the tidy plots of the films that once captured her imagination. But when a vehicle convoy transporting serial killer Dark Mill South wrecks outside of Proofrock, a whole new terror is unleashed on the town. The killer is out for revenge for the death by hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1862, and he walks into Proofrock with carnage on his mind. Over the course of 36 hours, the town’s carefully rebuilt peace is shattered as Dark Mill South carves his way through its residents, high schoolers and older townies alike. Jade’s fight to survive will test the very mettle of her being and every lesson she’s learned from her beloved horror films.
Jones’ second entry in his Indian Lake Trilogy is an all-consuming dive into the aesthetics of slasher films of yore, married with prose that takes itself seriously enough to be captivating but not so seriously that it feels needlessly glum. Don’t Fear the Reaper is a love letter to horror classics: Its characters reference iconic Final Girls and blood-spattered, seemingly immortal murderers in their dialogue even as Dark Mill South (a hulking monster whose preternatural gift for gore is remarkable even compared to his predecessors) plays out those tropes in front of them. Even the chapter titles are named after classics of the genre, from It Follows to Silent Night, Deadly Night. However, Jones doesn’t just deftly employ the tropes of slasher films; he expands them, giving his cast of teen characters the depth and motivation that is often lacking in a film genre that demands a tight 90-minute timeline. A perfect mix of compelling writing, characters who never cease to surprise and just the right amount of schlock, Don’t Fear the Reaper is a modern essential for anyone who loves rooting for the Final Girl.