Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Adam Cesare's TRIBESMEN: 70's Exploitation Film in Literary Form
Written by Adam Cesare
Published by Ravenous Shadows
158 pp (PDF Format)
Kindle Edition available on Amazon
Boston writer Adam Cesare's debut novella, Tribesmen, evokes the feeling of strolling down 42nd street in its heyday of grime, peep shows, and grindhouse cinema. Darting into any number of theaters on that street in the 70's and early 80s might land you in a gore-soaked martial arts extravaganza, a rape-revenge shocker, or a mean-spirited Gialli slasher. This is the stomping ground of Cesare, a young writer whose historic sensibilities of that sleazy era betray his youth. An adaptation of his book could easily be seen sharing a marquee with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Ferox. His novel is one part homage and one part satire of those notorious Italian Cannibal classics, as well as a sly nod to low budget filmmaking.
A small film crew, led by scuzzball Italian director Tito Bronze, heads to an uncharted island hoping to rip off the popular and infamous film Cannibal Fury Atrocity. Along for the cinematic quest is screenwriter Jacques, macho superstar Umberto, sexy lead Cynthia, Denny the junkie director of photography, and Daria, hair and makeup. This group reads like a genuine cast/crew call sheet of an obscure Z-grade horror film complete with requisite prejudices and addictions. Tito, the ego-maniacal director, will stop at nothing to get his latest exploitation masterpiece "in the can". He's at odds with Jacques, a young writer who can't believe his advanced degree is squandered to create trash cinema. Caught in the middle of their creative bickering is Cynthia, a young actor from Queens whose brains, toughness, and beauty takes second billing to the narcissistic star Umberto. These players will find out what it means to die for art (or a quick buck), while others will kill for it.
In order to present the utmost authenticity, Tito brings them to the exotic location hoping to exploit the native people. The stumbling block is that the village has been abandoned, the island cursed by tragedy. Forced to improvise without local "savages" to populate the film, Tito "casts" his supporting players in key roles. Jacques, Denny, and Daria have all been upgraded to acting in Tito's brutal vision, a film unparalleled in shocking carnage. The group is soon under the influence of a spiritual presence that wishes to help them finish their transcendent gorefest, one that splashes real blood and brains on the camera's lens. With Tito's irresistible charisma, and the possessive charms of the island's spirits, the most epic snuff flick is about to be filmed.
Cesare's writing style is sparse, so it's quick and easy to devour. It's told from multiple viewpoints, each chapter devoted to a member of the cast and crew. The reader is able to spend time in the shoes of each character, regardless of whether or not it's a comfortable place to wander. Cesare doesn't care if you relate to all the characters. Experiencing the motivations of each serves to highten the suspense. Cesare develops his characters well, and even though most of them are caricatures, you can imagine them strolling the opposite way past you on that same stretch of 42nd Street. People like this really exist.
Nothing about the story feels forced, and the ensuing chase and capture scenes are gripping. It's something I don't believe a lot of writers could pull off when trying to channel this very specific feel. You either get it, or you don't, and Cesare definitely understands what tropes and nuances are necessary to reel the reader into his ugly world. The story is wholly original, yet a nice throwback to an all but forgotten era of outrageous movie poster proclamations, banned video nasties, and outraged film critics. It's also a good commentary on the dangers of low or no budget film productions where trusting the wrong people can land one in the cooking fire.
As Cesare develops, it'll be great to see what else he has up his sleeve. Tribesmen is a great start in that it establishes him as an author who is interested in the craft of writing, but stripped of pretension. His work is brutal, funny, disgusting, politically incorrect, and most all, as entertaining as a cannibal family Sunday dinner. I suggest you throw on your favorite 70's horror film score while reading to shake things up, and have your vomit bag handy just in case. Keep repeating: It's only a book. It's only a book. It's only a book...