Paul Tremblay’s Horror Movie: A Post-Modernist Take on Lost Films

Paul Tremblay’s Horror Movie: A Post-Modernist Take on Lost Films

Review by Anthony Watson

Having skilfully deconstructed demonic possession, vampires and the end of the world (twice, sort of) in his previous novels, Paul Tremblay has now turned his post-modernist gaze to the trope of the lost and/or cursed film with his new book Horror Movie.

The book is, for the most part, a first person narration by the “Thin Kid” – an actor in the film that gives the novel its name which was made in 1993. His real name is never disclosed, something which plays nicely into the theme of identity which runs through the book. Those sections of the book that aren’t his narration are made up of the screenplay of the film which allows for a wonderfully fractured narrative that moves back and forth between them as well as in time. The Thin Kid provides recollections of the actual making of the movie as well as a commentary on the present day discussions around a remake/reboot of the film.

This fractured approach allows for much dropping of clues and hints as to what happened during – and after – the making of the film. What is known from the outset is that it was, despite being completed, never released (save for a few scenes posted online) and it’s the reasons for this that provide one of the mysteries of the book. What’s also known from the outset (courtesy of the blurb on the back cover) is that the Thin Kid is the only surviving member of the cast, something which hints at the “cursed” nature of the film.

That cast included Valentina and Cleo, the latter of whom is responsible for the screenplay which intersperses the narration. It’s presented in the book in standard screenplay format in centred text with all the INTs, EXTs and other abbreviations one might expect. But this is no ordinary screenplay; the directions for the actors go beyond mere adverbs and instructions as to which way to look, delving as they do into the psychologies and inner thoughts of the characters, providing much more detail than just that required for the lines of dialogue to be delivered.

Early on in the book Cleo states that she wants to plant her movie inside people’s heads and let it grow, and as the screenplay progresses, this ambition is realised as these psychological insights become more frequent and detailed, finally extending into an analysis of what the audience themselves will be thinking and experiencing as they watch the film. In a brilliantly constructed sequence the audience (and by dint, us as readers) are kept in suspense for five minutes with nothing happening on screen, the screenplay becoming a rumination on all the emotional responses they will be going through, the anticipation for the “final kill” growing all the time.  The observers have become the observed.

All of which feels very manipulative – which, of course, Cleo actually is. The Kid is pretty much coerced into appearing in the film and has never acted before. Cleo has chosen him because he is perfect for the role. As the story progresses, and the Kid is persuaded to cross more and more lines in the cause of art, it becomes clear that that role is more than simply portraying a character on screen.

The lines between reality and fantasy become blurred; there’s a ritualistic element to what the character of the Kid undergoes in the film but that’s also the case for the actor himself. It’s never clear whether the Kid is a method actor par excellence or whether some malignant forces are at play moulding and changing his identity – which, throughout the film, is hidden behind a mask – and as such his part, and his motivations, in the incident which ends the film, and ensures it can never be released, are ambiguous. Whichever, his involvement in the film is definitely a transformative experience for him.

Horror Movie is such a clever book. The ambiguity which is a feature of Paul Tremblay’s best novels (and which can divide opinion) is very much at play here but it’s the way it’s constructed that gets under your skin; after a while you come to feel like you are playing a part in proceedings too, are complicit in what happens. What is real and what is not? It’s a question that can be asked of any images seen on the screen but is equally applicable to the text of this novel. Yes, the Thin Kid is an unreliable narrator but even knowing that gives us no real insight into who he really is. He’s the monster of the film for sure but there’s nothing to say a monster can’t be a victim too.

I think Horror Movie is Paul Tremblay’s best book, a title I previously bestowed on A Head Full of Ghosts. It’s the kind of book that has you still thinking about it long after you’ve finished, (always a sign of real quality), finding significance in scenes and dialogue that isn’t apparent until you’ve read the whole thing. This book, and the rest of Paul’s oeuvre, would be perfect for some real, academic analysis – there’s a brilliant doctoral thesis just waiting to be written on them. It is clever but more importantly it’s disturbing and unsettling, everything you could wish for from a horror movie. I mean novel.

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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