Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay: A Sinister Ode to Cult Cinema

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay, a Horror Book Review by Tony Jones

‘Horror Movie’ is Paul Tremblay’s playful and sinister ode to obscure cult cinema and the flicks which seem forever out of reach

I am a long term fan of Paul Tremblay and always look forward to what he might next dream up, my personal favourites being A Head Full of Ghosts (2015), Disappearance at Devil’s Rock (2016) and Survivor Song (2020). My teenage daughter was also blown away by A Head Full of Ghosts, she commented that this brilliant book remained with her long after completion and still had flashbacks.

However, I was not so struck by either The Cabin at the End of the World (2018) or The Pallbearers Club (2022), the former being a much-discussed polarising ‘love it or hate it’ style of novel, filmed by M. Night Shyamalan, and the latter an oddball, but frustrating, drama redeemed slightly by its numerous cool musical references. I am uncertain where I would place Horror Movie in my ‘Top’ Tremblay list, but it would most certainly rank in the upper regions of a fascinating and unique back catalogue. 

Tremblay’s career genuinely took off after the success of A Head Full of Ghosts, even though he had been writing for many years previously. His first short story collection initially published in 2013, Growing Things and Other Stories, was later expanded and rereleased in 2019, with a second collection The Beast You Are arriving in 2023, which brought together an assortment of bits and bobs and a previously unpublished novella.

Horror Movie is an excellent place to start if you are new to his writing

,as it features the hallmarks in his best fiction, ambiguity in particular, without which most of his fiction would not exist. This latest work cleverly plays around with horror film tropes, explores what phenomenon turns films into ‘cults’ and is blessed with an outstanding, highly engaging, unreliable narrator. In cinema the ‘story’ behind a film occasionally becomes more famous than the film itself.

For example, there are many stories of the clashes between charismatic German actor Klaus Kinski and director Werner Herzog, particularly when filming Fitzcarraldo, which spawned the ‘Making of’ documentary The Burden of Dreams. The speed in which legendary b-movie director Roger Corman churned out films is another example where the behind the scenes escapades were often more interesting than the actual film. Or if you dig deep into the underground Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising is another beauty. But none of these can match the bizarre circumstances behind the unreleased 1993 version of Horror Movie

Paul Tremblay skilfully mixes this idea up by building a cult following around a film which was never officially released, but certain key scenes appeared on YouTube and due to the complex and strange history of the film (was it cursed?) it remains one of the most infamous unseen films in cinematic history. Due to the fact that most of those involved in shooting this low budget horror film are now dead, its legend has continued to snowball. When the Horror Movie novel opens the flick is back in the media spotlight as a remake (technically a reboot) has been greenlighted, and the only surviving cast member will have a production credit in the latest version.

This was a great premise for a horror story, which was also slightly reminiscent of Katya de Becerra’s superb YA When Ghosts Call Us Home (2023) in which a home movie filmed by two sisters turns the siblings into overnight film stars and questions arise over the remarkably realistic special effects in which the supernatural creatures look just too real. This is no copy though which simply uses the same horror film tropes.

Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay has a complex narrative structure

So take your time in figuring out exactly how things connect together, it is worth being patient. It switches back and forth between the original shooting of the low budget film, with the present day filming of the reboot. But also includes sections of the screenplay in every chapter. Also, the core narration is for an audiobook that the only surviving cast member has written about the events. It’s a lot to unpick but is cleverly and stylishly done once it starts to flow. Snippets are juicily dropped as we find out more about the only surviving cast member and the circumstances in which an absolute novice with no acting experience ended up in the flick. 

The core storyline is set in 1993, featuring four main characters: Valentina (also the director), Cleo (the screenwriter), Karson (the male lead), and Thin Kid, who may or may not be human and does not have a speaking part in the film. The actor who plays Thin Kid is also the narrator and has made a life out of appearing at horror film conventions and grudgingly milking this now iconic role. Dodgy incidents on the set are implied throughout the narrative. With three pivotal scenes from the notorious movie resurfacing online years later, sucking in a new generation of fans and the clamour for a proper reboot. As the story unfolds, events on the original film set escalate. Little is what it seems and Horror Movie will have most readers on the hook as it hurtles towards its brutal climax.

I love books about horror films that suck in fandom, pop culture and the fact that viewers love tracking down films that are unavailable. Living in the UK, I am old enough to recall the long unavailability of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, A Clockwork Orange. And the near mythical status they had amongst young horror fans who longed to watch films which seemed forever out of reach. Horror Movie beautifully captures that spirit and if a bootleg version of the 1993 version of Horror Movie ever appeared online. I would jump at the chance to watch it, hell, I would even hit the cinemas to watch the reboot! This novel is Paul Tremblay in playful mode, his ode to cult cinema. But be warned, it is also incredibly dark, and Thin Kid is one of his finest, most monstrous creations.

Tony Jones

If you are not convinced by Tony’s excellent review, then check out our second review by Anthony Watson here

Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay

Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay
Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay

Signed first printing + bonus content – see concept notes and pages from Tremblay’s noteboks.

The monster at the heart of a cult 90s cursed horror film tells his shocking and bloody secret history. Slow burn terror meets high-stakes showdowns, from the bestselling author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World.

Summer, 1993 – a group of young guerrilla filmmakers spend four weeks making Horror Movie, a notorious, disturbing, art-house horror film. Steeped in mystery and tragedy, the film has taken on a mythic, cult renown, despite only three of the original scenes ever being released to the public.

Decades later, a big budget reboot is in the works, and Hollywood turns to the only surviving cast member – the man who played ‘the Thin Kid’, the masked teen at the centre of it all. He remembers all too well the secrets buried within the original screenplay, the bizarre events of the filming, and the crossed lines on set.

Caught in a nightmare of masks and appearances, facile Hollywood personalities and the strangeness of fan conventions, the Thin Kid spins a tale of past and present, scripts and reality, and what the camera lets us see. But at what cost do we revisit our demons?

After all these years, the monster the world never saw will finally be heard.

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  • Tony Jones

    Tony Jones has been a school librarian for thirty years and a horror fanatic for much longer. In 2014 he co-authored a history book called The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, which took almost ten years to research and write. Not long after that mammoth job was complete, he began reviewing horror novels for fun and has never looked back. He also writes for Horror DNA, occasionally Ink Heist, and in the past Horror Novel Reviews. He curates Young Blood, the YA section of the Ginger Nuts of Horror. Which is a very popular worldwide resource for children’s horror used by school librarians and educationalists internationally.

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