Billy Rile is smart, adept at Nintendo and has a killer Hi-Fi setup. Life is good. But he has no idea that an alien life form has infected his town, a creature that overtakes and transforms its host. It could be inside anyone: a classmate, a pizza delivery man, even the girl next door. When Billy’s weekly movie night is crashed by this otherworldly menace, he and his best friend and their dates will have to summon their courage and call upon all their horror movie knowledge if they’re going to make it through Video Night alive.
There may be no time period remembered more fondly than the 1980s. That goes double for horror fans, as the decade yielded countless classic genre efforts, in addition to the home video boom. Its influence can still be felt to this day; viewers flock to throwback pictures seemingly plucked from mom-and-pop video store shelves, such as Hatchet and Hobo with a Shotgun, in an attempt to relive the magic. It’s no surprise that the reversion trend has infiltrated the horror novel market, a prime example being Adam Cesare’s Video Night.
Rife with retro references, Video Night takes place in Long Island in 1988. It cites the likes of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Ozzy Osbourne, and that’s just the first page. The book offers a fresh take a familiar familiar tale: an incognito alien invasion, the likes of which have been explored in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Puppet Masters, Night the Creeps, The Hidden and The Thing. Although its influences are obvious, Cesare never allows the story to become stale or predictable.
Like many of the films that served as inspirators, Video Night opens with a horny, young couple having sex before facing the consequences of promiscuity in a horror setting. The antagonist is not a slasher, but rather a rapidly-multiplying extraterrestrial. The creature is described as something akin to a nasty cockroach-squid-porcupine hybrid (although we later learn it takes other forms throughout its life cycle). When facing a human opponent, the monster can use its barbed tentacle to either inhabit the host or kill them swiftly.
Billy Rile is the unlikely hero. He’s a 17 year-old, virgin geek who loves Nintendo and horror movies. Every Friday night, he and his longtime (and only) friend, Tom, get together to watch a horror flick. Billy is quite fond of what they affectionately refer to as Video Night. Tom doesn’t mind playing along, as long as Billy is willing to put up with his girlfriend, Darcy, from time to time.
The long-running tradition is abruptly altered when Tom convinces Darcy invite her friend – and Billy’s crush – Rachel to the festivities (to watch Re-Animator, no less). As if that wasn’t enough to stress out a shy teenager, Billy and the gang must face a lot more than just an awkward first date. An alien invasion is being planned across the street, under the direction of Rachel’s sister, Rhonda (or what’s left of her, any way). She’s careful to follow procedure, care for her offspring and lead her minions to ensure a successful takeover.
It’s obvious that Cesare is “one of us;” a fellow horror enthusiast. He includes some relatively obscure details – such as the red, light-up eyes on the Dead Pit VHS – and the relatable characters have good taste as well. For example, Billy and Tom appreciate A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors as the superior sequel in the franchise. The many references always come in the context of Billy, a fanboy, so they never feel clumsy or forced.
The book is as enjoyable as – and, in some cases, superior to – the movies that inspired it. It’s a lean, fast-paced page turner, with its 243 pages taking place over the course of a week. The story frequently shifts between two or more concurrent events – most often, one involving the kids’ video night-turned-double date-turned-disaster and another with Rhonda and Darl (a streetwise cop who is surely a send-up of Tom Atkins) – which keeps things interesting while maintaining a distinct film-like quality.
Upon completing Video Night, I was compelled to be kind and rewind it. It’s easy to imagine the book as a novelization of a long-lost ’80s horror flick. I’d love to see it adapted into a movie; it would make a fun, modestly-budgeted throwback with the potential to become a cult classic. Nostalgic horror fans will find plenty to enjoy in Cesare’s love letter to the ’80s. Video Night’s take on the decade’s fun, gory and humorous films will bring readers back to the glory days of Stuart Gordon, Sam Raimi, Fred Dekker, Frank Henenlotter and John Carpenter.
Book Review: Video Night – Author Adam Cesare