CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT BOOK REVIEW!
MIDNIGHT MOVIE by Tobe Hooper (with Alan Goldsher)
(2011 Three Rivers Press / 316 pages / trade paperback)
By L.L. Soares and Nick Cato
(THE SCENE: A run-down dive bar in the heart of Austin, Texas)
L.L. SOARES – Wow, that was some movie. I guess we should review Tobe Hooper’s lost first film, Destiny Express now.
NICK CATO: What are you talking about? Destiny Express isn’t real. It’s a fictional movie that’s at the heart of the new book, MIDNIGHT MOVIE, where Hooper tries his hand at being a novelist.
LS: You mean we’re not here to review the movie Destiny Express? Now I’m really confused.
NC: As the new novel MIDNIGHT MOVIE opens, Destiny Express is a movie Hooper made when he was a teenager in Austin. No one has actually seen it – not even Hooper himself – when a print suddenly turns up during the annual South By Southwest Music Festival…….
LS:….. Yeah, and a genuine weirdo named Dude McGee, who has found this movie, calls Hooper and offers him a lot of money to come down for the premiere screening and do a Q&A thing afterwards. Hooper is sure the movie is awful, but agrees to do it because he needs the money, and he’s really curious to actually see the flick. Not long after it was filmed, Tobe was in a car accident and has big gaps in his memories of that time period.
NC: There’s always a roll of the eyes when a famed horror film director tries his hand at a novel (Wes Craven, anyone?). When I heard Tobe Hooper—director of my all-time favorite horror film, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) —had written one, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, especially after hearing that one of my buddies HATED it and another LOVED it. I’m curious to see what you thought of it.
LS: And we don’t normally do book reviews here at the Cinema Knife Fight website, but when there’s a direct link to movies, like a new novel by a legendary horror director, we thought we’d try something different.
And what a coincidence. TEXAS CHAINSAW is my all-time favorite horror movie, too. Since then, Tobe’s movie output has been kind of uneven, but I’m always curious about what he’s up to next, not just in movies, but in this case, his first novel.
NC: Well, for the first 100 pages or so, MIDNIGHT MOVIE had me hook, line, and sinker. The pace was nice, the initial idea seemed great (a screening of an unseen Hooper film shot in his teenage years somehow causes America to become a zombie land)…..
LS: See, that’s where he almost lost me. Hooper is the guy who made TEXAS FRIGGIN CHAINSAW, a movie that was unlike everything else around when it first came out, and yet, in this book, his first (lost) horror movie sounds like just another zombie flick. Considering how creative Tobe is, and the cool title of the movie, Destiny Express, I was hoping that when he described the actual film, it would be something different and bizarre. But it sounds like just another zombie movie. I was bummed out about this at first, since I’m really kind of tired of zombies and was hoping for something a little more original from Mr. Hooper.
But I guess it makes sense, because if Tobe was a teenager at the time, he’d probably make a first movie that was kind of derivative, influenced by the movies that were popular at the time, like George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).
In the book, as Nick said, a screening of this lost movie in Austin leads to the audience freaking out, and some kind of killer virus getting out into the world.
NC: Yeah, right after that great set-up, the novel goes in several different directions, and I spent most of the time wondering if Hooper (and co-writer Alan Goldsher) could bring it all together in the final act.
They do and they don’t.
LS: I’m kind of shocked that you didn’t like this one more, because I absolutely loved it. It grabbed me right away with it’s really unique style—it’s written as an “oral history” type book, from various characters’ points of view—including Tobe Hooper himself—with excerpts from characters’ blog postings, Internet message board ramblings, and e-mails, along with the characters’ narratives. I liked the way they put this one together and it kept me barreling through to the end.
And I didn’t think it lost steam after the first 100 pages at all! I thought it did a great job of maintaining a steady pace from start to finish. I was hooked and read this one pretty quickly—and I’m a notoriously slow reader.
NC: While I enjoyed Tobe Hooper as the antagonist (as well as the group of misfits who help him re-film his lost epic), and REALLY liked how the zombies are so in the background you hardly know they’re there, there were so many other things going on I had a hard time staying focused on the story: besides the zombies, why did the screening of the film cause mass terrorist attacks and outbreaks of sexual frenzy? And just who were carrying out these attacks? The zombies, or some kind of splinter cells? Isn’t a zombie invasion enough? The authors seriously should’ve trimmed this thing down a bit (even at just over 300 pages, 75 could’ve easily been chopped without losing anything).
LS: Antagonist? I thought Tobe was the protagonist/hero of this one. He is one of the main people who strive to save the day and reverse the effects that the screening of Destiny Express had on everyone who saw it. I really liked how Hooper was one of the main characters and we got some insight into who this guy is, who normally hides behind the camera. From his annoyance at how people constantly mispronounce his name (it’s “To-bee”), to his anti-social ways, to his struggles to get movies made with studio money, I just really dug that Hooper gave us a peek into his real life, even if it is really skewered.
As for the zombies, another thing I liked about the book was how it wasn’t just flesh-eating zombies that were the big threat. The movie screening affects a lot of different people in very different ways. Some become zombies. Some get a kind of sexually transmitted disease nicknamed the “Blue spew,” the symptoms of which include a need to be constantly having sex, and blue discharge when they do. Some become homicidal maniacs who suddenly erupt with violence. If it was just plain old zombies, I probably would have lost interest early on, but the fact that this book is so strange, and the symptoms of the “virus” so varied and creative, kept me coming back for more.
And no, a zombie invasion is not enough. Because a zombie invasion has been done like a hundred thousand times before. I really wanted something different, and I got it. But if you like zombies, that’s here, too. Like when Tobe has to shoot his zombified best friend in the head to put him out of his misery.
Another main character, film critic Erick Laughlin, finds that his symptoms are even weirder. Not only does he become invisible at night, but he travels to crowded places like movie theaters and shoots red dots from his body at the people collected there, giving them the weird-ass virus symptoms as well. “Spreading the love,” so to speak. I thought this manifestation of the illness was especially INSANE.
And I thought the book was a perfect length. I don’t think Hooper should have cut it down at all.
NC: DOH! I meant to call Tobe the PROTAGONIST before—not the ANTAGONIST—cut me a little slack here. Maybe the virus from the novel is starting to infect me?
While the novel works fine as a metaphor for Hooper’s views on the Hollywood system, and will make independent film makers proud of what they do, MIDNIGHT MOVIE—in the end—is a so-so offering that starts out fantastic then looses steam as it unfolds (the quick and blah conclusion doesn’t help, despite some ends being decently tied up).
I’d say this one is for Hooper fanatics only.
LS: Oh, I totally disagree. I think it’s so much more than a metaphor for Hollywood. In fact, I thought it was an out-and-out comedy a lot of the time. So many hilarious things happen throughout the course of the book, things that are completely absurd, that I found myself really digging the tone of the entire thing. I just found it all incredibly entertaining.
I thought the ending tied up everything pretty well, and gave us some real insight into the nefarious, salami-breathed Dude McGee, as well as a director named Tobe Hooper (we can only guess how much the character of Tobe Hooper is based on the real thing). The only disappointment I had was when I reached the end of the book and suddenly realized that it had been written by Tobe Hooper and Alan Goldsher, because I was reveling in how entertaining it all was, and was bummed out that Tobe didn’t do it by himself (especially since Goldsher’s name is nowhere on the front cover!). You’d think someone who has written so many film scripts could have written a novel by himself. But then I thought about it, and realized there are some talented twosomes in the writing world (some great ones in the horror genre alone), who acquit themselves just fine. So I guess you can add these two guys to that list.
MIDNIGHT MOVIE is so over-the-top, so completely OUT THERE, that I think it would win over a lot of readers who aren’t necessarily fans of Tobe’s films, so it’s not just for Hooper die-hards. I also thought it was very cinematic (no surprise there, since the author is a movie director).
I really enjoyed it, and give it three and a half knives out of a possible five. What about you, Nick?
NC: I didn’t like it as much as you did. It just didn’t wow me. I give it one knife. And chances are Hooper didn’t write even half as much of this as Goldsher did.
LS: Wow, that’s a big difference in opinion. I’m surprised you didn’t like this one better than you did. It was funny a lot of the time and had a real “Bizarro” feel to it.
As for me, I gobbled it up from start to finish, and I’d love to see more from Hooper and Goldsher.
NC: I’d rather watch CHAINSAW MASSACRE for the umpteenth time. But of course I’ll probably follow whatever Hooper decides to unleash next.
LS: Well, that’s it for our special edition of Cinema BOOK Knife Fight. Until next time…
© Copyright 2011 by L.L. Soares and Nick Cato
L.L. Soares gives Tobe Hooper’s MIDNIGHT MOVIE – three and a half knives
Nick Cato gives Tobe Hooper’s MIDNIGHT MOVIE – one knife.