It doesn’t happen as often as it should – the right book getting the right title. There’s plenty of clever titles, don’t get me wrong. And strong titles. And titles that promise more than the book they’re on can possibly deliver. But there’s also that kind of title that seems forged in the same moment of conception as the novel. Love in the Time of Cholera, say. Lord of the Flies. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The Crying of Lot 49. Their Eyes Were Watching God. It’s about balance – some mix of mystery and aptness. Adam Cesare’s Video Night is a novel that gets that balance absolutely right. The book both is a ‘video night’ – a couple of high-schoolers, pushing some horror into the VCR circa 1988 – and the whole time it’s also pointing to the ‘video night’ that’s going to be the over-the-top gorefest the genre promises.
That the cover is rigged together like a VHS clamshell only makes it all the better.
Between these sets of endpapers, there’s a movie going on. There’s Adam Cesare, keeping the action spinning, the blood-quotient high, and never looking away from the odd couple at the center of this invasion: high schoolers Billy Rile and Tom Mathers. Limiting ourselves to the Breakfast Club characters (three years prior to the events in Video Night), Billy’s the brain and Tom’s the criminal, the burner. But they’re best friends, and that friendship is slowly revealed to be the core dynamic of this whole story. It’s so eighties you expect Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, Alf and Tawny Kitaen, maybe even an IROC-Z. And Adam Cesare supplies most of it, never mind how old he is, or isn’t.
And of course each of these would-be heroes are interested in particular girls – a princess, a basket case – who happen to be coming over for this video night. And of course there are drugs. There’s even Cesare’s version of Trashcan Man, that narrative outlier who’s so good at cutting his way into the dramatic line of things and skewing the story into the unexpected.
More than that, the cuts here, the section breaks, they’re so film. Cesare comes by that honestly, too; it’s what he studied in school. But you can tell, reading Video Night, that he was also raiding the video shelf himself every Friday night, slouching his way from Herschell Gordon Lewis to Sam Raimi, then back again, and again.
As for any kind of synopsis that won’t spoil: there’s some bad monsters coming to this Maple Street. And they’re wicked cool. They start out as porcupine-ish Lhasa Apsos with an insectile bent and develop into the Sleestak version of somebody who found the Lament Configuration. And the story they’re in, it’s so Night of the Comet that it even makes me use ‘so’ like that.
And, though Halloween’s still ten months away, and the summer blockbuster season nearly as far, still, everybody should read be reading this book, and right now. Video Night’s easy to fall for, hard to look away from. Cesare’s coming on strong, lately. His last novel Tribesman is a good lead-in for this one. Or good chaser. Then maybe some Bone Meal Broth. And, whatever the forum, whatever the mode, he always provides what you want the most from your horror: the idea that somebody’s written this because they thought it would be so cool. Because they wanted to see these monsters themselves, and make you scream while doing it, make you laugh, make you cringe. Because they wanted to make your Friday night that much better. So, hit that first chapter. It’ll hook you, and the next time you look up, you’ll have swallowed the book. It’ll be nesting inside you like a seed, like an egg, like an invasion.
And you might have to do it again next Friday.
STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES
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