Sunday, August 21, 2011

Midnight Movie: Tobe or not Tobe...

That's the question, isn't it? How much of "Midnight Movie" is from director Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") and how much is co-writer Alan Goldsher? (The bad "Hamlet" pun is all me.)

I want to believe that as much of the novel as possible sprang from Hooper's mind, even if he wasn't the one who put it directly on the page. The fact is, Hooper has worked in the film industry his entire adult life. Film making is the most collaborative art form we have. He's used to having to work with people, even he talks of being a dictator on set. So I'm going to let this slide. Hooper's name is on the cover (because that's what sells) even though Goldsher wrote the "author's notes" in the book.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get dirty because "Midnight Movie" is a dirty book.

When I say dirty, I mean dirty like your grandma means dirty. There is plenty of brutal and painful sex in the book. Little of it is pleasant. Thankfully much of it is left to the imagination. A good portion of the violence is left to the imagination, as well. There are references to YouTube videos and photos on websites that don't exist, leaving the reader to ponder just what might be going on.

The multimedia references work within the style of the novel. It's half oral history (like "World War Z" in that we know who lived because they are alive to tell the tale) and half modern epistolary. The oral portion is told by Hooper and other survivors of "The Game," a virus that begins during a screening of a fictional film Hooper shot during his teens. The epistolary parts come in the form of blog entries, Twitter posts and diary excerpts. It's a smart move and makes one wonder how the novel would play out as an interactive web experience.

Hooper, naturally, is the most engaging character. He's a curmudgeon and makes references to his Hollywood experiences. No, he doesn't tell us what really happened on the set of "Poltergeist" and has to remind us that he's always operated outside the system. And, like any Hollywood-type should, he name drops like mad when the opportunity presents itself. For a grumpy bastard, he is rather friendly and that helps ingratiate himself to Erick, an Austin, Texas, film critic and hero of the novel for lack of a better one.

Erick and his new girlfriend Janine don't get full-blown cases of the Game, but are affected by it. Instead of a novelist's details, we get more of a common person's perspective on what happens. They give us their versions of the story just as they would if they were telling it to us. There's a certain appeal to that but at the same time feels a bit lazy. Sometimes we want more than what the average person has to tell us.

At 315 pages -- including an interview with Hooper -- "Midnight Movie" is a quick read. The style of the book leaves more empty space on the page that a straightforward novel would. Again, much of that space can be filled in with a good imagination.

I am left to wonder two final things. Will this end up as Hooper's next film? (He's currently in post-production on "Djinn" and his last two features, "The Toolbox Murders" and "Mortuary" never got close to wide theatrical release.) My other question is how good is Goldsher on his own? (I don't know the answer, but his zombie book "Paul is Undead: the British Zombie Invasion" is starting to look better to me.)

Answers to those questions will have to wait for another day. Until then, I can always "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Threat level: YELLOW. This isn't a read right now kind of book, but it's definitely something to put on your list to read by the end of the year. (For an explanation of our ratings, visit the Warning System page.)

"Midnight Movie" by Tobe Hooper with Alan Goldsher is in bookstores now from Three Rivers Press.

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