Book Review: The Visceral Thrill Ride of 'Video Night'


I don’t know if Adam Cesare is old enough to have lived through the home video horror boom of the 1980s. I am, and it was a wild and wonderful time; there was a movie rental store on every corner, and each one had a deeply stocked section devoted to scary movies. The shelves were lined with videocassettes housed in giant clamshell covers adorned with the latest in schlock artwork: letters written in dripping blood, of course, and nubile, scantily clad young women in some sort of danger. Some of them took it a step further, adding gimmicks like blinking red lights where a creature’s eyes were supposed to be. Of course, like the posters that preceded them, many of the elements of the cover were nowhere to be found in the actual movie, but by the time you’d discovered this, the shop already had your money.

It was a great time because the movie stores carried everything. Stuff you read about in Fangoria, cult movies like Evil Dead or Re-Animator or Basket Case – stuff that had no chance in hell of playing a theater in my little Alabama town – was readily available at the rental stores. And I took in as much as I could.

Whether he did it back then, or has been playing catch up in the years since, it’s clear that Adam Cesare has taken in a healthy dose of those movies as well. His love of them pours from every page of Video Night, his new novel coming in January from Samhain Publishing, and for old guys like me who were regulars at their local store, he’s not only nailed the feeling of that particular time, but of the movies we were watching back then as well.

Video Night is set over a single week in 1988, but Cesare doesn’t beat you over the head with cute ‘80s references. In fact, there’s very little fat in the book. Cesare sets up the situation in the first few pages in a scene that’s very reminiscent of the opening of many of the era’s slasher flicks – only this time, instead of a mask-wearing maniac, we get something more along the lines of John Carpenter’s The Thing or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Or maybe David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Video Night’s creature is like those creatures, but with Cesare’s own unsettling twists.

It’s a tightrope act that Cesare manages throughout the book, borrowing elements from classic (and not-so-classic) horror flicks while managing to keep things fresh and unpredictable. There’s the jaded law enforcement official whose town is facing a threat he can’t possibly understand; there’s the movie-crazy kids who live and breathe horror, making them uniquely suited to recognizing and battling the creatures; and there’s the villain of the piece, having to place the bulk of its master plans in the hands of a couple of less-than-capable lackeys. All of this will feel familiar, and yet none of it will play out exactly the way you think.

This is not the first time Cesare has synthesized his love of horror films into a book – his excellent novella Tribesman, which was released by Ravenous Shadows earlier this year, was a love letter to cannibal movies. Like that book, Video Night is compulsively readable with two or three times the payoff of many of the movies it pays homage to. In fact, it would be a great movie in its own right, with characters that the audience can relate to (and root for), and creatures that are tailor-made for some practical effects genius to run wild with.

As hard as it is to explain to people sometimes, horror can be fun. In the right hands, horror can be a pure thrill ride – a blood-splattering, gut-spilling rollercoaster that leaves you wanting more. That’s Video Night in a nutshell. Adam Cesare is the most exciting new writer I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year, and I can’t wait to see what kind of madness he gets up to next.

Order Video Night by Adam Cesare (Samhain Publishing).

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.