Back in March I had the pleasure of interviewing John Skipp here on FEARnet.com about the new horror imprint he's guiding, Ravenous Shadows. During the interview, Skipp laid out a sort of mission statement for the imprint: "Our goal is to deliver all the goods, with all the boring and endlessly redundant shit left out." I've just read one of the inaugural titles of Ravenous Shadows, Tribesmen by Adam Cesare, and all I have to say is: "Mission Accomplished."
Okay, that's not all I have to say. In fact, if I'm not careful, this review could run longer than the novella itself. True to Skipp's vision, Cesare keeps the storytelling stripped lean and trimmed to the bone. This book is the literary equivalent of a lit match touched to jet fuel. It's breathtaking, and it leaves you little to no time to catch your breath.
Tribesmen chronicles the unfortunate adventures of the crew of an exploitation film, flown out to a remote Caribbean island to shoot a cannibal flick on the cheap. The "crew" at this point consists of the screenwriter, the director of photography, an inexperienced makeup girl, a fledgling actress, and a B-movie Italian "star." This motley bunch is led into the jungle by director Tito Bronze, legendary creator of the kind of midnight movies that filled the grindhouses of the ‘70s and ‘8os. What Bronze is expecting to find are a few natives he can trade with (or trick) to appear as extras and a realistic setting for his latest masterpiece. What he finds instead is a place haunted by a particularly bloody past; a forbidden jungle filled with restless spirits who have no interest in Hollywood bloodshed, but instead possess a thirst for something far more real.
Cesare, in an incredible publishing debut, not only captures what it must have been like behind the scenes of the cheap gore flicks that filled the "Horror" section of video stores in the halcyon days of VHS, he captures the unique thrills of those very same movies. Tribesmen is every bit as gory and unsettling as a movie like Cannibal Holocaust, only Cesare has injected it with a good bit more style and substance. In short fashion he fleshes out his small cast, giving us a rooting interest in their fates before unleashing hell upon them.
And unleash it he does. Cesare's moving at a swift pace here, so he doesn't dwell on the gore, but that doesn't mean he isn't heaping it on by the bloody bucketful. It would have been easy for him to skip the setup and get right to the kills, but Cesare (and editor Skipp) have more on their mind. The whole point of Ravenous Shadows is to tell a cracking good story with the fat trimmed away, a tricky balancing act that in less talented hands could turn out like a typical slasher flick – all style and no substance. With Tribesmen, you're actually enjoying the story, not trying to rush through to get to the grue – but when it comes time to spill blood, your patience is duly rewarded.
Tribesmen was among the first wave of Ravenous Shadows titles to get released, and it's a hell of an opening shot. If Skipp and his authors manage to maintain this quality of compelling storytelling, we're in for a fantastic ride.
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.