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BOOK REVIEW: Tobe Hooper's Midnight Movie

08.01.2011by: Matt Withers

PLOT: Director Tobe Hooper gets a strange invite to attend a screening of his first film, shot when he was a teen. The flick is called DESTINY EXPRESS and has never been seen. In fact Hooper hardly remembers anything about it himself. After the screening, those in attendance start to fall victim to a host of symptoms, including bizarre sexual occurrences and finding themselves undead. The question quickly becomes, did the flick cause it all, and can Hooper do anything about it before the whole country is overwhelmed by oversexed people leaking blue fluid, and zombies?

REVIEW: This book is a helluva fun read. Almost a perfect beach horror novel if you can imagine such a thing. It's not deep, and it doesn't always make a lot of sense, but it is fun. There's a very good chance you will finish it in two or three sittings because it is compulsively readable.

The story is a faux documentary exploration featuring Twitter feeds, blog entries, newspaper clippings, and interviews with any number of primary players, most recognizable of which is of course writer/director Tobe Hooper. It's a good layout for the story and is handled well, although the constant shifting of perspective, particularly in interviews feels unnecessarily rapid fire at times. It's also annoying to have multiple links to pics and YouTube vids that you obviously can't click on.

Hooper is clearly having a blast creating a curmudgeonly archetype of himself that feels a bit like he did a spec Halloween episode of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. His character in this is endlessly self-deprecating, though, so you're always with him, even at his grumpiest. And after all, in the story one of his films may have inadvertently started an apocalypse of sorts, so you can't blame him too much for being a little pissed off.

The story itself carries the reader along so smoothly and rapidly that you don't mind so much that this is well thread ground. Not only are we dealing with zombies, but there are also strong echoes of John Carpenter's CIGARETTE BURNS and Wes Craven's NEW NIGHTMARE in both idea, and the meta games the story plays.

But again, it's so much fun to read that none of that really bothers you while reading it. There are also some logical gaps that are problematic, the most obvious being the idea that a zombie outbreak could have all traces of it essentially scrubbed from the internet. I don't think even the most dedicated conspiracy theorist would buy that a Genie like that could be put back in the bottle.

One of the real pleasures of the book, however, is that it feels like vintage Hooper. While the story itself doesn't strike me as particularly filmable, it is decidedly cinematic and features delights such as people dismembering themselves and others before using those limbs as weapons, sexual fluids being turned into what is dubbed the "blue spew", and a couple of characters who will definitely make your skin crawl any time they are present.

The tone of the novel is all juvenile humor and adolescent hornyness, which may turn off some, but does a good job of establishing this as a separate voice than the loftiness of Barker, the dryness of Koontz, and the unending detail of King. The book has a co-author in Alan Goldsher, but it feels like Hooper's vision all the way.

I'm really pretty damn impressed with this first effort. Some may think that since Tobe Hooper is a screenwriter he had a leg up on the novel game, but the two are very different disciplines and he comes close to nailing it. MIDNIGHT MOVIE isn't going to find it's way into the cannon of great horror novels, but it definitely jumps right into the fun as hell to read group.





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