"Video Night" Book Review
Written by Gabino Iglesias
Published by Samhain Publishing
Written by Adam Cesare
2013, 248 pages, Fiction
Released on January 1st, 2013
Turn back your clock to a time when everything seemed easier and horror movies blew you away. It's the '80s and Billy Rile is a regular kid. He enjoys hanging out with his friend Tom, playing Nintendo, eating pizza, looking at pretty girls, and watching movies. This last pastime is really important as Billy and Tom, a couple of gorehounds who take their genre seriously and with typical youthful passion, get together once a week for video night. This week, however, things are different: an alien life form has found its way into town, a creature that invades, overtakes, and transforms its host's body and can use it as it pleases. Billy and Tom go about their regular life and prepare for video night while the town slowly succumbs to the nasty invasion. Unfortunately, the two friends and the girls that join soon have to face the invasion head-on when the creatures crash their get-together. The violence and gore they enjoy on the screen becomes real, and they will have to fight with all they have to survive the night.
The first time I encountered Adam Cesare's work was when editor extraordinaire John Skipp sent me the first batch of Ravenous Shadows novellas for review. I knew Cesare had to be a good writer because Skipp wouldn't have worked with him otherwise. After reading Tribesmen, I was convinced Cesare was a talent to be reckoned with and a name I would encounter again. And I was really looking forward to that next time. When I learned about Video Night, I had to get my hands on it. Considerably thicker than the novella I'd read, the title and cover promised more of what I already knew the author could deliver: fast-paced, wonderfully gory, unabashedly movie-flavored horror that's fun to read and as entertaining as the genre gets. He delivered all of that and more.
In Video Night, Cesare wastes no time yanking readers into the story. The novel opens with a couple of youngsters getting hot and heavy in their car when an alien, a cross between a huge spider and something created by H.R. Giger, bursts from the guy's mouth, destroying his throat and face and giving the girl the experience of a lifetime. From then on, things never slow down, the gruesome births and transformations keep coming, and the narrative constantly builds to an explosive, action-packed finale that includes mutilation, fire, and plenty of death.
If you put together the gore, action, monsters, and sense of excitement that made '80s horror movies so great, you'll only have about half of what makes Video Night a must-read tome for horror fans. Not happy with paying a wonderful homage to some of the genre's most beloved films, Cesare also managed to infuse his novel with the games, music, and happenings of the era as well as the awkwardness, hormones, and problems of being a teenager. The result is a narrative so full of nostalgia and unfiltered campiness (in the best definition of the word), that it makes the reader enjoy him or herself despite the severed limbs, exploding faces, deadly scurrying creatures, and constant tension. As a child of the '80s, Video Night took me back and actually made me want to play Nintendo and then sit down and watch Re-Animator.
Although the nostalgia and compelling story are enough to make Video Night a must-read, what makes me recommend this to everyone out there is something else: Cesare's smart managing of the genre. There's a big difference between an author that decides to grab a formula and use it in his or her work and one that studies the formula, deconstructs it, leaves only the best elements, and then has fun with it. Cesare definitely belongs to the second group. The writing contains some formulaic elements, but only when the author knows that they will make readers feel or remember something or when the writing becomes an homage to the genre the author obviously grew up loving.
When it comes to entertaining, throwback, film-centric horror, Cesare has invented his own subgenre. It started with Tribesmen, but Video Night pushed it to a new level while simultaneously establishing its author as one of the most talented and engaging voices of horror fiction's newest wave.