CAMP BLOOD REDUX: ADAM CESARE’S THE CON SEASON

The Con SeasonI am familiar with the name Adam Cesare, but until recently I have only read one of his novels. That book, TRIBESMEN, I read, and enjoyed when it was part of Ravenous Romance’s horror imprint many moons ago. That imprint is long gone these days (though the book has found new life in another edition). I was pleased with the theatricality of Cesare’s work. That book’s story drew inspiration from the cannibal flicks Italians filmmakers such as Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato and the like made back in the 1980s (one of which will be coming under gentle scrutiny in our month long appreciation of all things horror in October), pitting silly filmmakers against cannibals in a grueling survival horror story. Short, fun, gross, and passionate. It was not a matter of dislike for the author that kept me from exploring his other works, just a matter of too little time. Well, I have now unfouled that little oversight with another fun little story that shows the author’s love of horror flicks: THE CON SEASON.

The novel’s premise is a juicy one, ripe for exploration: A bunch of B-movie and C-movie horror film stars get invited to a special convention out in the sticks of Kentucky; they arrive expecting another goofy exercise in meeting the fanbase only to discover they are in a fight for their lives in a real life slasher flick. It’s a kind of BATTLE ROYALE pitting aging horror stars against a killer as well as a small army of fans intent of getting their pictures with dead stars.

As a premise it seems like gold. In its execution, the novel is a fun, fast-paced read.

The protagonist is Clarissa Lee, a woman in her fifties who made a pretty good living playing horror starlet pretty hard in the eighties. The offers have dried up these days, but she’s not in demand quite as much as she once was. As it turns out, this is in no small part to her one-stop-shop manager/accountant/agent who has also let her funds go to hell over the last few years. So, when the offer to “star” in a new kind of convention comes her way with an advance of five grand, she does not hesitate but respond that she will do it. The vodka and the mad helped move the decision along, of course.

A handful of celebs agree to it. A porn star who appeared in a couple of horror pictures. A fellow who reminds me of an amalgam of both Sid Haig and Ken Foree. A pretty actress who made one picture and still manages to get the con goers hot and bothered. An older queen who made her mark in 1970s horror. Maybe one or two others . . .

What they don’t know is that the power behind this little convention are interested in making a snuff picture starring their favorite horror stars. It’s the best way to launch their own slasher, a psychopathic dude in a kewl getup they call The Fallen One:

Design-wise, The Fallen One was a heavy metal Jason Voorhees. He was a Cenobite by way of a  Marvel superhero. The costume featured a weathered leather jacket that had dark, bony protrusions tearing through it at the elbows and shoulders. The big man wore a stylized demon-head mask that left a space for the actor’s mouth and chin. It was a window of exposed skin that, while reminiscent of Batman’s cowl, told the audience: yes, The Fallen One is supposed to be wearing a mask, not an actual demon. (1755)

Before the con even gets underway, the organizers are hard at work. Their first act is to kidnap, torture, and coerce a hardcore film director to their cause. Keith Lumbra is a bit of an ass, a loser who is not terribly likable, but you still have to feel for the dude because he is as much a victim as the unknowing actors who show up in backwoods Kentucky. He is also one of the more chilling characters in the book because his unique version of Stockholm Syndrome finds him trying to make the best movie he can from the suffering of others. He goes all in to save his life and stop the pain, and while his decision is loathsome it is nevertheless understandable. It’s hard not to empathize with someone who suffers the way he has, and yet the reader is never quite certain if he will take the chance to escape should one arise. Of course, his part of the narrative builds to just such an opportunity, and follows the repercussions of his decision.

Cesare’s novel swings back and forth through its perspective characters, sticking mostly with Clarissa or Keith, but occasionally jumping into a couple of other heads—including the psycho in The Fallen One getup who gets to muse about such things as why slashers who use guns are cheating but using a bow and arrow is totally acceptable.

While the book bills itself as a survival horror novel, that aspect does not really kick in until well after the halfway point. The beginning of the book is mostly about setup, so horror hounds eager to get to the gore will have some time to wait. However, when the book hits its stride, it delivers a couple of set pieces that would give a splatter movie’s effects crew some fun to replicate:

The big man reared back and slammed [the victim]’s head against the folding table, her forehead connecting with the corner.

The top of her scalp and skull opened up and peeled back. The wound reminded Keith of the way a drunk guy might try to take the cap off a beer bottle without an opener, only to end up shattering the neck against a countertop.

A new wave of blood pushed across the tabletop, pushing the watery fake stuff out of the way in a darker gush.(location 1850)

Unfortunately, this is not a wall to wall horror fest. Instead, Cesare’s book is more a consideration about aging in the entertainment industry as well as the uglier sides of fandom. The two leads are regular con goers, scraping by with the cash they get for photo opportunities. Their views on fandom range from the melancholic to the acidic. Take Clarissa’s observations on the marked difference between sf fans and horror ones:

The Nebula Journey headshot didn’t move many units at a show like this weekend’s, but when she did sell one she knew to stay alert for the unanswerable continuity questions that were probably headed her way. The horror nerds asked her which international cuts of her films she preferred and the sci-fi nerds asked about FTL drives and the mating rituals of her character’s alien species. (location 289)

That brief observation tells a reader all they need to know about Clarissa’s feelings for the fans she has to interact with in order to make a living. It’s not quite strong enough dissatisfaction to be all out contempt, but it’s close. The woman is burned out on all this stuff. One hopes she can get back into the acting side of things, if she manages to escape this novel.

The stars in this book are each worn out. They have been chewed up by The Industry. Their stars have, for the moment at least, passed. One cannot help but empathize with these characters perspectives.

Cesare’s writing style is clean, readable, though repetition creeps in a bit too often for my taste. The book has a few things to say, a fun idea to exploit, and some characters to build up, threaten and occasionally kill off. It’s a splatter flick in prose, and it would make a fun little exercise in a celluloid experience. Maybe it’ll get adapted someday. Now that would be fun.

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THE CON SEASON is available in eBook, paperback, and audiobook editions.

The author’s earlier cannibal novel, TRIBESMEN, is still available in a different edition than the one I read. Grab a copy in eBook, paperback, or audiobook today.

Next week, I was hoping to check back in with the Considering Westlake reading series, taking a look at his novel of angels, devils, and the people caught in between: HUMANS. Alas, that will not be happening. I got a bit distracted.

Next week, we will jump back into the works of Stephen Gregory (author of THE CORMORANT) whose first short story collection ON DARK WINGS came out through Valancourt Books earlier this year. The stories it contains are literary gems, sometimes chilling and always heartfelt. Grab a paperback or eBook edition today.

WORKS CITED

Cesare, Adam. THE CON SEASON. 2016.

“Camp Blood Redux: ADAM CESARE’S THE CON SEASON” is copyright © 2019 by Daniel R. Robichaud. Quotes and cover image taken from the kindle eBook edition, copyright © 2016 by Adam Cesare.

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