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'Horror Movie' questions the motivation behind evil acts

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'Horror Movie' questions the motivation behind evil acts

William Morrow


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William Morrow

Paul Tremblay’s Horror Movie is a peculiar horror novel that takes a refreshing look at the haunted film subgenre, while also eliminating the line between novels and movie scripts.

Dark, surprisingly violent, and incredibly multilayered, this narrative is a superb addition to Tremblay’s already impressive oeuvre that shows he can deliver the elements fans love from him — while also constantly pushing the envelope and exploring new ways to tell stories.

In June of 1993, a small group of young people got together and spent a month making a bizarre horror movie titled Horror Movie. With one camera, a skeleton crew, a script that broke a lot of rules, and almost no budget, they managed to make their film after a few setbacks and plenty of blood and accidents. While the film was never released, three scenes and a few stills were made available online, and they became the stuff of legend over the years, collecting a cult following and sparking a frenzy of speculation, online debate, and conspiracy theories.

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Now, 30 years after the original, unreleased film was made and after all the drama —psychological and emotional as well as legal — that ensued, Hollywood wants to make a big budget version and release it. The man who played “The Thin Kid,” perhaps the original film’s most iconic and mysterious character, is the only surviving cast member, and they want him to reprise his role. He still has the mask he used in the movie, and also the scars the filming process left behind. He remembers the strange things that happened on the set, the brutality that quickly became normalized while they shot dark scenes, and the chaos and destruction the film brought to all of them. Still, he agrees to help with the reboot. As things move forward and he deals with directors and movie people, the past comes back to haunt him — but “The Thin Kid” pushes forward, as always.

Reading a Tremblay novel is entering a universe in which confusion and ambiguity —”My answer was not no. I didn’t say the word ‘yes’” — reign supreme. Horror Movie is no different. In fact, this might be Tremblay’s most Tremblay novel to date. For starters, the author once again eschews the traditional novel format, this time in favor of a mix of novel and screenplay in which one bleeds into the other frequently, switching chapters and effortlessly taking readers from past to present and back again. Also, the screenplay itself is unique in format and makes the reader part of what’s happening, constantly shattering the fourth wall an acknowledging that the events are communal, that we are there, witnessing what the characters are witnessing and feeling the same sense of dread and anticipation that they feel.

While the structure of this novel is unique, the narrative itself is very easy to follow — until it’s not. The story is there, but with many purposeful holes. We know bad things happened while the movie was being filmed — accidents, injuries, extreme violence that occurred with consent — and that the whole thing ended up in court, but we don’t know how or why. And the author holds those secrets until the very end, which, as with any other Tremblay novel, holds a few surprise twists.

Most importantly, this is a narrative that questions the motivation behind evil acts. During the filming, The Thin Kid is horribly tortured: The kids who keep him hostage throw things at him, put out cigarettes on his body, and cut off part of his pinky finger. Some of that happens for real, partly to make it look convincing on screen and partly for reasons that aren’t too clear. There are several unsettling moments in this novel, and at the core of each of them are people acting horribly just because they can. Tremblay’s work has often interrogated the nature of horror and bad behavior, but never as clearly and he does here.

While Horror Movie is the kind of creepy narrative that can be enjoyed without much thinking, it’s also a multilayered novel that almost demands intellectual engagement. Besides the way the author studies awful behavior, the story also explores the unreliable nature of memory. The Thin Kid, now the adult who narrates the novel, is self-deprecating and unreliable. He remembers things a certain way, but knows that his memories might not be accurate: “We laughed. I think we laughed, or I choose to remember we laughed. I think we’re in more control of what we remember or what we don’t remember than we assume.” This purposeful lack of certainty is designed to keep readers wondering, and it succeeds at that.

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Horror Movie is strange and unsettling in the best way possible. This is a novel that’s also a screenplay, but the story all blends together perfectly. Tremblay’s unique voice and chameleonic style have made him one of the leading voices in speculative fiction, and this is one of his best novels so far.

Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on X, formerly Twitter, at @Gabino_Iglesias.

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8 hot new love stories from a stellar lineup of Black authors

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8 hot new love stories from a stellar lineup of Black authors

When the Essence Festival of Culture celebrated its 30th anniversary in New Orleans earlier this month, organizers showcased a stellar lineup of Black romance authors — from trailblazing pioneers like Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson to newer stars Kennedy Ryan, Natasha Bishop and Danielle Allen. In spite of barriers, optimistic, swoony love stories by African American authors are an increasingly sought-after commodity, as we’ve been tracking, finding audiences outside of traditional pathways.

This summer’s most exciting new releases take us from the streets of 1816 London to the NASA Space Center in Houston to Athens. The challenge is whittling your reading options down to a manageable number of contenders. Relying on bestseller lists, algorithms and TikTok means you might be missing some of the best the genre has to offer. Fortunately, we love the process of discovery. We’ve compiled a list of some hot new romance novels by Black authors, starting with a timely debut that finds readers at the Olympics.

Let the Games Begin

With the Paris games fast approaching in July, this Olympics set comedy is the perfect prelude. Rufaro Faith Mazarura is a British Zimbabwean writer making her debut with a story about two 20-somethings in Athens. Olivia and Zeke are British citizens and the high achieving offspring of Zimbabwean immigrants. She’s a focused college grad with a dream internship with the Olympics that she hopes to parlay into a permanent position. He’s Team Britain’s popular track star shooting for gold after previously earning silver. While they run headfirst into their attraction, neither one can afford the distraction. Vibe: Sweet and inspiring.

A Love Like the Sun

Beautifully blending beloved tropes and smooth, often lyrical prose, A Love Like The Sun by Riss M. Neilson, centers childhood friends fake dating their way toward a deeper connection. The magic of this convention is in the permission it conveys to go with attraction under the guise of doing it for show. “Always braver together,” Laniah and Issac have been ride-or-die besties since they were little. Now in their 20s, Laniah is struggling and Issac is GenZ’s perfect internet boyfriend: a mixed media artist/model /brand ambassador/influencer with an enviable online following and clout to spare. Part of his appeal is that “people love watching a beautiful shirtless man use his hands to make sculptures while listening to music.” The other ingredient is uniquely Issac: a sweet and handsome guy who “believes firmly in soulmates” and is in touch with the feminine perspective. Facing the loss of her business she runs with her mother, Laniah agrees to give her natural hair care business a boost through their “fake romantic association. Along the way, the two lovers navigate challenges related to mental health, racial identity, grief, and a chronic illness. Heightening the tension, despite being bffs with an electric attraction, Laniah and Isaac are kind of opposites. She’s a hermit uncomfortable with public attention; he lives his life on the internet and his fans think they own him. I had a hard time letting go of these two! Vibe: Unabashedly swoony, angsty and pining.

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A Gamble at Sunset

Blending history and fairy-tale like romance, Vanessa Riley’s latest centers a wealthy Black family teetering on the edge of ruin entangled with England’s most unusual duke. When the 19th-century Black daughters of a self-made “King of Coal” fake an engagement to avoid ruination, their champion is a duke connected to Russia’s Peter the Great. As grand as that sounds, like most of Riley’s work, the first novel in her “Betting Against the Duke” series is sweepingly romantic and grounded in the hidden Black figures of Europe’s past – real people, who, as Riley explains, defy expectations and are often forgotten. Marriage to a titled aristocrat was supposed to be the Wilcox sisters’ golden ticket to respectable London society. Instead, eldest sister Katherine’s noble husband, an inveterate gambler, lay waste to their fortune. On his deathbed, Viscount Hampton tries to turn his vice into virtue, challenging his long lost friend the Duke of Torrance to one last wager: “Jahleel. Bet . . . five pounds you can’t love ’em like I.” The plea draws the part Russian, part British, part African duke (a fictional descendant of the real Gen. Abram Gannibal) and his friend Lord Mark Sebastian close to the family. While the widowed Katherine spars with the duke, Sebastian is fascinated with middle sister Georgina. Mark and Georgina’s risky behavior leads to a fake engagement to save Georgina’s reputation, but there’s nothing false about their attraction. This is striking return to historical romance after Riley’s stint consulting for The Hallmark Channel’s multiracial adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and three critically praised novels including Island Queen. Vibe: Brontes meet Bridgerton: light on steam and high on thought-provoking twists and juicy drama.

The Kiss Countdown

In this sweet and steamy romance by first-time author Etta Easton, the sparks are undeniable as a nerdy, sexy astronaut enters into a mutually beneficial arrangement with an event planner in need of a fresh start. When Houstonite Amerie Price loses her boyfriend and her job in a dismally short space of time and runs into that ex at a cafe with his shiny new girlfriend, she’s so desperate to save face that she pretends to be dating the nearest handsome stranger. The cooperative bystander turns out to be a real life hero, who needs his own kind of rescue. Their town is home to the billion-dollar Johnson Center, NASA‘s Mission Control headquarters, and every guy in Houston seems to claim he’s an association. But Ahmad is really an astronaut. They strike up a friendship and a bargain– she’ll pretend to be his girlfriend to thwart his matchmaking mama while he preps for a major mission, and he’ll provide a rent-free refuge where she can get her event planning business off the ground. That win-win situation gets complicated when red hot attraction and feelings get involved. Vibe: Sweet and sexy — fake dating and close proximity are a stellar recipe for love.

A Little Kissing Between Friends

Chencia Higgins (The Vow and Wolves of West Texas) is a dynamic young writer who has amassed a following and a healthy backlist as an indie author of contemporary and paranormal romance. Her lauded traditionally published debut D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding featured two women faking an engagement and falling in love on a reality TV show. In A Little Kissing Between Friends, longtime friends are reluctant to risk their connection on a chance at love. Cyn is a successful Houston-based music producer with a big supportive family. Single mom “Jucee” Juleesa is the best friend Cyn has been crushing on. Having seen each other through health crises and breakups, there’s a lot on the line. That said, this is a quintessentially summery read — more heart and positive vibes than conflict. Vibe: Sweet and steamy. Undistilled Black joy.

Looking for Love in All the Haunted Places

At Hennessy House guests are greeted with five rules. One is a warning: “Do not explore the house for any reason.” To secure her dream job on the set of a haunted house reality show, Lucky Hart has to survive in the eerie dwelling, adhere to those five simple prohibitions, and avoid catching feelings for the show’s empathetic star Maverick Phillips. That’s easier said than done when “meeting him felt like the thrill of a lifetime.” Lucky is gifted; she has a kind of extra sensory perception that enables her to read people, and her reaction to him is shocking: “Hearing him say her name like that threatened to send her gasping into the afterlife. So strange. So bizarre. So dangerously against her nature that she felt a little lightheaded…” Claire Kann’s first adult contemporary romance, The Romantic Agenda, was equal parts poignant and frothy and frequently named as one of the best romances of 2022. A tender and specific writer with broad appeal, Kann explored the challenge of finding love when you’re deeply romantic and also asexual. Her new novel recreates that winning formula while adding a haunted house setting and magic to the mix. Vibe: Swoony and spooky.

Curvy Girl Summer

Indie publishing’s Black romance queen Danielle Allen is among the best and most beloved to wield a pen or laptop. Hotter than the sands of Negril, her first traditionally published novel delivers big — big spice, big hair, big hips, big laughs and BIG heart. More Michelle Buteau than Bridget Jones, Curvy Girl Summer is fat-positive and complicated. When IT professional Aaliyah makes it her mission to find a long term romantic partner and squash her family’s constant carping on her single status before her 30th birthday, her parade of dates are more comic relief than romantic connection. Great for a laugh; not so much for the heart. More and more, what she looks forward to is what happens after the dates are done: spending time with her favorite bartender and friend Ahmad. Vibe: Unabashedly sexy and grown. The literary Survival of The Thickest.

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One and Done

Determined to be America’s first openly gay Black university president, the last thing Dr. Taylor James needed was a handsome, sharp-dressed diversion from his goals. A one time only, no-strings attached tryst is what the doctor wants, and the guy hitting on him at his usual brunch spot is giving all the wrong signals. Dustin McMillan is handsome, professional and complicated. He has a tortured relationship with the Oakland family he worked so hard to escape. But hiding that past cost him a chance with this man who seems tailor made for him. With this romance set in academia, author Frederick Smith is writing what he knows. By day he’s a senior university administrator and it shows in the convincing characterization of the workplace and consistently crisp writing. This Bay Area romance is addictive reading. Vibe: Deliciously messy. A wry grown-up take on academia by way of The Office: It’s Looking meets The Chair.

Carole V. Bell is a cultural critic, researcher of media, politics and identity, and co-host of Season Four of the Black Romance Podcast.

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L.A. Affairs: I was on a date with my husband when I spotted a guy who was just my type

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L.A. Affairs: I was on a date with my husband when I spotted a guy who was just my type

The light was low at the Echo as Elliot Moss started playing his new single. The distortion kicked in, and my jaw dropped. It was a departure for someone I typically describe as an electronic music singer-songwriter. I was there on a date with my husband. We loved the new sound.

I was holding my husband’s hand when I looked to my right and saw a guy who caught my attention.

He was so focused on the stage that he never noticed me. He was at the show by himself, and I desperately wanted to start a conversation. I’m polyamorous; my husband and I date and have relationships with others, so a conversation wouldn’t have been out of the question. Despite several attempts, I couldn’t even catch his eye. After a few more songs, I realized that I had to take a risk and give him my number. The regret of wondering what if would have been too strong.

As a courtesy, I asked my husband if I could slip someone my number. He looked around and instantly identified the recipient. After six years of polyamory, he knew my types. This recipient was my tall, nerdy, earnest type. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

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The bar sold popcorn, so I asked for a bag and fetched a pen out of my purse. On a torn piece of paper I wrote, “You have great taste in music. I’m not single, but I’m available,” and I left my number. Despite trying to catch his eye all night, I was suddenly nervous, my heart pounding out of my chest. I’d only ever given one person my number, and it led to a rather mediocre date.

As I approached him, I suddenly wanted to hide. Earlier I had tried to catch his eye, but now I couldn’t stand to feel the weight of his gaze. I tapped his shoulder, gave him the folded note and immediately ran to the restroom. At 42, I felt like a nervous teenager. There was just one song left. I didn’t see him as I walked out.

An hour later, he texted. “Thanks for your kind note. That was quick, I couldn’t really catch a vibe.” We started to chat. I shared my dating profile, but he wasn’t on the apps. He was curious but just getting out of a relationship. Not single, not available.

Soon, his status changed: single, but still not available, working through a breakup. We kept in touch. I wasn’t in a rush. All the texting only added to the feeling of being a teenager, the anticipation building.

As we started talking about a first date, I admitted to already planning multiple dates with him in my head. The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City was the perfect place for me to gauge just how weird someone was. Or maybe one of my favorite L.A. dates: the Broad followed by Angels Flight to dinner at Grand Central Market. I also had a surprise date option: something he would have to trust me on — no hints. He chose the surprise date. I beamed at my phone; he was also adventurous.

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I told him to buy a bottle of Pinot Grigio that we might not drink. “I need to ask a Virgo question: Will you have glasses for us?”

“It doesn’t matter if I have glasses.”

“If we drink it, it does matter!”

I asked him to trust me.

I picked him up at 5:30 p.m. Having talked about our shared feminist identities before the date, I opened the car door for him. He blushed, realizing how nice it felt. He had brought two bottles, so we could choose. I did not bring glasses.

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I pointed my Prius toward Echo Park. When I started driving into the neighborhood, his curiosity piqued; he’d never been up the hill before.

We parked and found “Phantasma Gloria” by Randlett King Lawrence, an artist who uses the sun and vessels filled with water as his medium, turning his entire yard into an object lesson of how our perception of reality is subject to change with a simple shift of perspective. Randy warmly welcomed us, generously offering to share the bottle of Pinot Grigio with us using his own glasses.

Following dinner at Bacetti, we planned two more dates for that week. I also invited him to a polyamorous meetup I was hosting in downtown L.A. He accepted. My heart fluttered; he already wanted to be a part of my life. He already wanted to meet my people. He felt as strongly about me as I felt about him.

The second date felt as easy as the first.

When I wrote to confirm our third date, he canceled.

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When I wrote to confirm the meetup, he declined.

It stung. It felt like it was over even more quickly than it began. Polyamory is not a relationship orientation or style that is best for everyone. He was curious, but maybe it wasn’t right for him. Or maybe I wasn’t right for him.

The night of our canceled date, the Annenberg Community Beach House was having an ambient electronic concert. Underwater speakers were placed in the heated pool. I paid $10, slipped into the water, closed my eyes and floated on my back listening to Colloboh play. As the sun dipped farther down the horizon, I walked upstairs and meditated to a sound bath.

In that moment, enveloped in sound, I tried to let go of my attachment to the relationship that was not meant to be — to let those other imagined dates sit unscheduled. As the crystal bowls sang over the waves of the Pacific, I realized that perhaps the most important dates to plan were the ones that I planned for myself.

The author works in higher education and lives with her family in Pasadena. She hasn’t given up on finding love again and again and again. She’s on Instagram: @valinda.weeee

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L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $400 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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'Twisters' has us spiraling : Pop Culture Happy Hour

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'Twisters' has us spiraling : Pop Culture Happy Hour
Twister was one of the biggest disaster movies of the ’90s. Now, it’s finally got a sequel — one with an all-new cast, state-of-the-art effects, and a whole lot of tornadoes. The new film stars Glen Powell and Daisy Edgar-Jones as rival storm-chasers who have a habit of running into tornadoes while everyone else is fleeing. Twisters was directed by Lee Isaac Chung, who also directed the Oscar-nominated Minari.
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