In his afterward, author Adam Cesare notes that although Video Night was his third published novel, it was actually the first book he had written. During my reading of this story, I had suspected it was his first novel, which is not to say it's bad (ratings-wise, I'm leaning toward 3.5 stars, but have rounded up), just that there are some rough patches here and there.
Video Night is a solid bit of fun, but it lacks some of the surety and depth of a latter book like Con Season, Cesare's most recent. This is a pulpy, straight-forward, 1980s-infused horror story about an alien invasion in Long Island. Cesare is a well-studied student, and clearly a loving fan, of the horror genre (check out his YouTube for his thoughts on recent films, and a book pairing to go along with the movie), and it shows in each of the few stories of his I've read. The dude knows the ins and outs of horror and its genre conventions, and lovingly crafts odes to the gorefests of yesteryear. Video Night is an earnest, and oftentimes nostalgic, exploration of 80s horror, putting at its center two teenage boys who indulge in VHS horror rentals for their weekly video night. The appearance of a new drug on the scene and some odd behavior by the locals builds towards a video night well beyond anything they had imagined, but their habitual consumption of horror flicks may have left Billy and Tom the most prepared for an alien attack.
As a child of the 80s, I found a lot to enjoy here. While it's impossible for me to watch a VHS tape in these days of high-definition, I couldn't help but recall a certain fondness for the technology of old and the almost ritualistic preparation of popping in a movie cassette and adjusting the VCR's tracking on a worn out tape to try and salvage some degree of picture quality. Video Night is a different type of alien invasion story -- there are no UFOs or laser guns -- and it's neat to compare mankind's then-cutting edge technology against an almost mundane, lo-fi, subversive alien threat. The finale is wonky fun and full of silly conceits (never before have frozen TV dinners been used to such great success, I'd wager!), and Chekhov's Gun gets a workout here in the form a samurai sword.
Video Night wears its horror influences on its sleeve, and with proud, horror-geek fondness. It's not a book of insider's baseball like Con Season was, and it's main aim is simply to have fun. On that level, Cesare succeeds. It's not particularly deep or thematically rich, but it is entertaining enough for me to overlook some of the rougher edges. It's not quite enough to get me to swear off Blu-ray discs and streaming HD movies, but I doubt that was the point, anyway...
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