Adam Cesare wrote two of the best books I’ve read this year – Tribesmen and Video Night. Video Night in particular struck a chord with me by perfectly capturing that mid-’80s vibe when tons of horror movies, good and (mostly) bad, were being churned out and could be easily found at your local video store. After finishing it, I had to pick author Adam Cesare’s brain about the influences behind Video Night and his love of horror films in general.
Video Night takes place in 1988, which was a great period for horror film fans. The home video market was out of control and you could find just about any horror movie because there were video stores everywhere. Did you experience this period first-hand, and if so, how did it play into the book?
I’m a little bit younger, so I actually saw another distinct era of the VHS boom: the rise of Blockbuster.
My town had a ma & pop store (it was called Mr. Video) and I used that as the basis for the store in Video Night. But during my peak-renting time, those stores were on the decline. The independent stores around me were ailing, so I wanted to turn back the hands of time for the book. It always made me kind of sad, because Mr. Video always had the weirder stuff on their shelves, which in retrospect was probably only because they couldn’t afford to replace all their stock regularly.
Things work in cycles, though. Purists used to hate Blockbuster, but the generation after mine is going to have a serious nostalgia jones for those blue, white and orange boxes.
There are too many horror film references in Video Night to mention here. Tell us about some of the main influences, both on the creature in your book and on the plot itself.
There are a lot of references, but I wanted to make sure they all come from Billy’s chapters, because that’s kind of important to the way that he sees the world. I didn’t want it to feel like that laborious “wink wink, look how well-read I am” kind of thing that annoys me as a reader.
One of the first movies I can remember truly disturbing me was the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the one with Donald Sutherland. It was the idea that a completely benign character could be completely evil in the next scene that scared me. That movie also had a good deal of gooey creature effects to balance out how cerebral it was. I felt like it was the best of both worlds.
I have a HUGE affinity for the films of Stuart Gordon and Frank Henenlotter, not only for the creatures but also for their humor, so those were inspirations too.
I wanted to have my cake and eat it, thus I ended up with a creature story that also had a body snatching component to it.
Literary-wise, as non-horror as it probably sounds (although it’s totally gruesome and awesome), my favorite novel is William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. I wanted to wind some of that into there too. That’s how you get the multiple perspectives and end up with a character named Darl.
I hate to ask the stale old "where did the idea come from" question, but I'm curious as to what set you on the path to writing Video Night.
I like period pieces, but I wanted to write about a period that I felt I had half a chance of getting right. I know about Long Island and horror movies, so once I knew the threat that my characters would face, it all kind of stitched itself together.
When I was very young, I was fascinated with the Alien movies. Whenever I would sit down with crayons to draw monsters, I would ensure that it was not just one monster or alien, but that it had a lifecycle. Like egg→facehugger→chestburster→alien. That love is where the creatures in Video Night come from. I wanted monsters that don’t just appear out of a vacuum, but they grow up and have a coherent biology to them.
Of the two main guys in the book - the cockier, more outspoken Tom and the more reserved, humble Billy - who is the most like you?
Ha! I feel like you already know the answer to this one. I’m more of a Billy. But not 100%, I didn’t want to have him be a 1:1 copy of me, so I gave Tom some of my qualities too. Neither of them is me, they’re both kind of bits and pieces of different people I know. The girls, too.
Tom is a character type that I feel we don’t see a lot of, a cool guy that walks that line between bully and best friend. But I feel that that’s a huge proportion of high school kids. There’s a tendency towards meanness in adolescents that gets over-simplified sometimes.
You were a film major in school, and both this book and your 2012 novella Tribesmen have a very lean, cinematic quality to them. Any thought of branching out into screenplays or other aspects of filmmaking?
In undergrad I wrote a bunch of short scripts and one feature. Some of the shorts were horror, but the feature was kind of a buddy road comedy about a has-been rock star that goes on a revenge quest against the petty criminals that killed his dog. But in actuality I was a film studies major. I wrote papers about movies. Kind of like an English major with less reading.
I love film so much. But I also understand the realities of how difficult it is to make it in that arena. Would I like to be involved with films? Of course.
We’re at a really difficult time in horror film fandom. Look on any forum or Facebook thread. Everyone’s so negative, condemning Hollywood for having remake-itus (which is untrue, look at Kill List or Martha Marcy May Marlene and tell me that there are no great original horror films being made). The problem is that most of these people complaining are missing an absolute genre golden age because they don’t read.
If they were into literature you could hand them a book by Laird Barron, Sarah Langan, Stephen Graham Jones, Jeff Strand, Jack Ketchum, John Skipp & Cody Goodfellow, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Laura Lee Bahr, or Aaron Dries and watch them lose their minds when they realize what they’ve been missing.
I know Video Night is not out until January so I don't want to go into spoilers, but the ending is open-ended enough to suggest that a sequel is possible. Thoughts?
If people read this one, that would be cool. I’ve got a vague idea for it. It would pull a Texas Chainsaw Massacre II and go in a completely different direction from the first one, both in tone and plot.
What are/were some of your favorite horror flicks to rent?
That video store I mentioned had a ton of Full Moon releases, Puppet Master and stuff, but what I was always most interested in were Troma movies, of which they had perilously few. Evil Dead II was on heavy rotation, as were the first two or three Critters movies. If I’m being honest, I’m pretty sure there was a time I rented Mom and Dad Save the World and Jason Goes to Hell on the same night. That should give you an idea what questionable taste I had.
Visit Adam Cesare online and order Video Night.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.