Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Midnight Movie - book review from the abyss

Midnight Movie is a story narrated through interviews, internet blogs, news stories, a splashy diarrhea laden media dump in a documentary style format, no doubt retreading the same tone as Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s pseudo-documentary style; siphoned through a tangled narrative about a mysterious zombie outbreak which supposedly had been caused by the screening of a "lost" Tobe Hooper classic Destiny Express.  Hooper plays a major role in the action along with several other fictional or mostly fictional characters (I’m unsure if some of the people he refers to in the novel were cooked up by Tobe and co-writer, as the novel is semi-autobiographical of Tobe’s own life). The zombies, instead of being the brain hungry, mindless, shambling creatures popularized by Romero’s ilk are sex crazed fiends; Hooper (and co-writer) were going for a different kind of id, one that spews blue cum and generally acts like a hyper sex crazed teen that will literally fuck itself to death.  If this had been a movie it’d resemble a Southern fried, low budget take on The Crazies mixed with a dash of Necromantic while borrowing elements from The Ring told through media breaks and talking heads, all underlined in Hooper’s dry devil-may-care sense of humor.

What I enjoyed most about the story had nothing to do with the story at all, it was reading into some of Tobe's own inner monologue, dialogue which sometimes caters to nerdgasming slashheads like yours truly, that got my goat and I suspect is the main pull for many people purchasing the book.  The characters in the novel are just as eccentric as some of the characters in his quirkier movies (think Eaten Alive) and there’s certainly an effort made to entertain above all else even if the horror is reduced to the slapstick over the top antics of some splatter flicks; tongue planted firmly through the cheek.  The mystery surrounding the outbreak kept me going as the clues were evenly spread throughout the book, revelations came to the reader at a satisfying pace, although I pretty much guessed the true catalyst for the outbreak from the onset.

Where the novel falters is in its inability to remain focused and tonally consistent. One of the main themes in the book is about how society easily sheds its cultural center when faced with a crisis; going through denial of said crisis then spinning the narrative of events to cartoonish extremes to sate the sensibilities of the public.  Catch phrases are attached to terrifying events to rob the tragedy of its horrible power to spread fear, to reshape perceptions, to loosen the control of society.  When the zombie outbreak happens the government steps in to erase the digital footprint of related events and information from the internet and by blaming the incidents on meth heads.  The result is a society that seemingly continues to plod on with horse blinders on, dealing with the menace by internalizing the events in rose colored glasses, or by plain denial.  People continue with their 9 to 5 as best as they can while dealing with these crazy people spewing blue slime out of their pee holes.  There is only a general sense that something is amidst, something is wrong with the country, but like Tobe Hooper says, when isn’t there something wrong?  He’s not even aware of the outbreak until it literally knocks on his front door. 

However later in the novel people begin reacting to the threat of the rising zombie menace by locking themselves into their own homes or leaving town all together as violence escalates in the cities.  The streets are described as dust strewn and clogged with rolling tumbleweeds, deserted and ghostly with the foreboding sense that the infected could be anywhere.  When the threat is dealt with and reversed society reconvenes back to a seemingly normal state of affairs as if the screw happy zombies were but a bump in the natural progression of civilization, a temporary throwback hardly marked in the history books to be trivialized by later generations.  If the threat caused society to lose its cultural center how did it find it again?  It’s unclear and inconsistently presented in the book; it’s hard to imagine a culture that would ignore the zombies on such a large scale, a government capable of hiding the threat as easily as it had in the book in the age of the superhighway of information, and people’s uneven reaction to it.  It’d be hard enough to censor social networks, none the less silence the entire interwebs.  The book doesn’t focus long on the aftermath; it seems satisfied in its conclusion of the story as an entertainment piece but does nothing to address the themes presented and subsequently abandoned through the novel, none of the narrative threads seemed to knot together evenly at the end with the exception of recounting the fate of all the major players.  If it had something definitive to say the crux was lost in Hooper’s staunch musings about Hollywood and the gross-out antics of the zombies.  The novel slides between observations about the meta-culture and oozing orifices; a jubilee of nihilism and amorality run amok while examining the ugly social trends of a media saturated world.        

The third act of the novel shifts focus from the sprawling zombie apocalypse to Hooper’s mission to recreate the amateur shoestring budget movie that is suspected to have kick started the whole humping deadhead epidemic.  Exhausted, flying on fumes and guided by intuition, Hooper decides to remake the film Destiny Express gambling that whatever black cinema magic might had spawned from original could by undone by filming another. Again it’s difficult to see the underlining message when the passages are riddled with road kill and the narrative thread is broken by idiotic tweets and blog passages by chicks with the blue goo with unstable libidos.  Perhaps there’s something to be said about movie remakes robbing or dampening the magic of the original, but that seems kind of pedestrian.    

All in all I couldn't recommend this to anyone that isn't a gushing Tobe Hooper fan.  The day I read this book I was bed ridden, suffering from a summer plague during a stiffening heat wave, with Lifeforce, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and Eaten Alive playing on the cathode ray throughout the morning and afternoon hours. The only breaks I had were to spill some fluids in the bathroom, either from pissing or puking.  Bow to the porcelain goddess.  Zombie films seem so much more pertinent when your sick and suffering, but the Tobe Hooper love-fest did little to help elevate the material in the novel and my enjoyment of it.  Buy at your own risk.  This is a library loaner for sure.