Hollywood, California: the Bermuda Triangle of art, sex, and commerce. The beautiful people make their daily deals with the devil on the sun-dappled patio at the Ivy, not in a fiery underground cavern. Nobodies become somebodies in the blink of an eye, but the flash of heady success can be fleeting. The rocket that shoots you into the atmosphere can be carrying weapons of mass destruction that can send you just as quickly and efficiently to Hell.
Mick Garris is no stranger to horror — he's been a published author, a screenwriter, and a successful director in the genre — but Development Hell is his very first novel. The book is written in first-person by a Hollywood player whose first cinematic opus is not just a disaster… it destroys his very life.
The opening chapter grabs the reader by the throat and sucks us in by introducing us to two monsters: our self-centered, hotshot player, and the mutant pawn he seeks to exploit for his upcoming movie. The deformed baby he buys from a Mexican street vendor is "slippery-looking, completely hairless with dark, rubbery skin. It looked more like a human than any other kind of animal, but only barely. It seemed like it had been burned or something, except that its skin was wet, oily. It had lips like a fish, large and gasping, breathing like a rich fat man puffs on a Romeo y Julieta: wet and floppy."
Yuck. The book gets much, much grosser but it's also hilariously funny and insightful. Horror fans will not only love the creepy necrophilia themes, bloody shotgun murders, and supernatural slitherings, but the sly asides referring to the films of Tobe Hooper, George Romero, and even Charles Band are also sure to delight. Stephen Spielberg, James Cameron, Colin Farrell, and many other Hollywood dramatis personae (even dead ones) have cameos.
Development Hell is one of the most unique novels I have read in quite some time, and as a lifelong movie buff I thoroughly enjoyed the satirical swipes at every silver screen extravaganza from Sullivan's Travels to Swordfish.
My only minor quibbles are: 1) The player seems too knowledgeable of Old Hollywood for a cocky young egoist who's only in the game for money and fame; the acquisition of this knowledge is explained in a chapter that deals with his sexual obsession with the corpse of Jean Harlow (yep — you read that right!), but it still doesn't ring quite true. It's a small thing though, because it's just so much fun to read Garris' musings on the Tinsel Town of yore. 2) When our hero becomes an ectoplasmic ghost floating around movie sets, parties, cemeteries, and famous peoples' houses, it is fun at first, but goes on for a bit too long. Just when Development Hell starts to drag, it's thankfully jolted back to life when our male hero finds a female body to inhabit. And she just happens to be one of the most famous leading ladies.
Without giving anything away, I will say that the ending of the book is worth the price of admission — Garris skillfully brings everything full circle and ends on a note of horror that will linger in your mind long after the last page of this wildly entertaining, wholly original novel is turned.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson