by Elizabeth Massie
Del Rey (2011)
Prefacing this novella is an introduction from John M. Bennett and Lawrence Robbins, explaining the story is a prequel to a horror movie called Playback coming out soon (presumably this fall). And that struck me as weird, because the movie is set in present day and revolves around a group of teens and social media, while the novella was a historical fiction piece with Thomas Edison as a feature character. Now, if the a teen horror flick can successfully tie together two disparate stories, my hat is off to those boys, but cynical side smells a track wreck.
Fortunately, the novella holds up very well on its own, as Elizabeth Massie has taken whatever source material she was given for this movie tie-in and created a compelling bit of horror set during the advent of the motion picture.
The story starts in Luna Park 1903, as Thomas Edison and his team use his motion picture camera to record the execution of a carnival elephant. Cruel and unusual, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn this is historically accurate. The reason behind this display is Edison wants to discredit Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse and their alternating current technology, which is gaining favor his direct current, by having the elephant and other creatures killed via alternating current. But, while Edison goes about his maniacally competitive ways, bordering on outright paranoia, it winds up someone is out to get him: the grandson of the true inventor of the motion picture, Louis Le Prince, Andrew.
Andrew has a strange ability to impose his will on people whom he records with his grandfather's camera. A few moments of their image captured on film and people turn into zombies--the old-fashioned, automatons that act as slaves type of zombies. And the act of revenge he executes against Edison is delightfully macabre and kind of plays well into the shady history of that era.
Again, I have no idea how such a novella is going to play into a movie that, on a surface level, feels like your run-of-the-mill teens and technology horror flick. But, if this is the prologue, I can at least give the film makers the benefit of the doubt, because Elizabeth Massie has certainly established a great platform from which a bigger story to take off from.