Reed’s Recommendation Corner: Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay

 CW: amputation, bullying, suicide by others, isolation

It’s 1993, a group of young filmmakers get together to make a film in an old abandoned elementary school before it has an appointment with a wrecking ball. Many years later, one of the original filmmakers releases a few of the scenes onto the World Wide Web, garnering a rabid fanbase. Now, Hollywood has decided to make the film in full, and have pulled in the only surviving member from the original crew, who played the character of The Thin Kid. What happened on the set back in the summer of 1993? How much of what happened was art and how much was something else? 

Is a full film a good idea?

And…. Action!

Welcome to Horror Movie by Paul Tremblay.

The Ring made any video tape suspicious to me. Paul Tremblay reminded me why normal people scare me more. 

Where to begin? I’ve started this review a few times, but I realized that I am having a hard time doing this story justice. The book takes place both when the film was originally being made and in the present where The Thin Kid (who I will refer to as TTK from now on) is working with Hollywood to bring Cleo’s vision to the big screen. (Cleo is the writer of the script, with Valentina directing, and Karson being a bit of the comedic relief. They also star in the film, alongside The Thin Kid.) TTK warns us at the beginning not to trust him and he sets out making himself seem to be the least involved, despite being the main focus of the movie. He leads us through a story of senseless torture with a hint of the supernatural, and I know I spent a lot of time wondering why he would want to relive the nightmare of the original filming. 

The story reads like the making of a monster or monsters and showcases the horror and cruelty that humans are willing to inflict on each other. The sections of script scattered throughout the book build up the unease as you go, as you realize that the whole purpose is just the torture of someone who doesn’t know how to say no to his friends. It reminds me of the Stanford Prison experiment, with TTK as the prisoner and his friends as his tormentors. In the movie and outside of it, TTK begins to slowly succumb to psychological stress created by the unknown elements surrounding the making of the film. 

However, it is hard to tell if this is simply a tale of human cruelty or the influence of something more sinister. The mask that TTK wears and its origins lend a touch of the uncanny to the story, leaving the reader to wonder if all that followed was simply because Cleo found it.

The book’s conclusion sneaks up on you. There are hints along the way - for example, the removal of TTK’s pinky - that might make you wonder about what really happened during the original filming. If the scenes hadn’t been released, would the story still end the way it does? How much of what we see is because of the fracturing of TTK’s mind during that summer of 1993?

Another interesting aspect of this is the idea of fanbases being so rabid that even the most destructive and poisonous of stories begins to look appealing to Hollywood (and more particularly, their wallets). Fans have an amazing amount of influence, and it isn’t often used for good. I think about how obsessive the Star Wars fanbase is, to the point that they have driven actors and other assorted crew off of social media due to their toxic behavior. This was absolutely demonstrated in this story by a fan at a horror convention trying to disprove one of the stories behind the filming by attempting to humiliate TTK in front of a crowd. We demand so much from entertainers, we invade their lives and demand they live up to our expectations (and some of us don’t have their best interests in mind). 

Without spoiling too much of the story, I wonder if it is the original film or the mask is what causes TTK to become a monster. 

This is definitely a book that messes with your head. By the end, you really wonder what the truth is and how much was the magic of making a movie. Was the film just an excuse to torture and isolate their “friend”? Or was it an attempt to shed a light on the irresponsibility of others in pursuit of art?

Paul Tremblay is really good at making you question what you are reading, making you flip back to previous chapters to reread just to make sure, and inevitably leaves you feeling empty and satiated. 

I recommend this to anyone who likes books about cult films, human nature, and of course… monsters. 

This is your favorite monster, signing off. 

Remember, when the last page is read, and the ending leaves you wanting more, I shall be here with another suggestion, should you need it.