Cinema of Shadows
by Michael West
Seventh Star Press (2011)
I've never really thought of movie theaters as scary places, though there was that Jim Carrey movie, The Majestic. That was pretty frightening--in an "I've wasted two hours of my life" sort of way. So, when Seventh Star Press approached me about reviewing this book, I was curious to see how Michael might turn a movie house into a horror house.
The Woodfield Movie Palace used to be a place of art of culture in the modest town of Harmony, Indiana, until tragedy upon tragedy reduced it to a porno theater, then scheduled for demolition. The man who built it died in his seat on the night it opened for business, was the site of a tragic balcony fire that killed several people, plus more than one murder within its walls. So, upon news that the place is going to be torn down, a parapsychology professor at the local university assembled a small team of his students to assist him in a paranormal investigation. After years of seeking a single event of documented paranormal activity, Professor Burke sees the Woodfield as his last and greatest chance to prove ghosts exist.
The lead character of the novel isn't Burke though, but Kim Saunders, who Burke suspects may be the key to his success given her ability to hear and see spirits while her classmates must rely on the scientific instruments they take with them on their "ghost hunts." Kim, however, has a past with apparitions ever since she was an infant, and it seems the last thing she wants to do is go on one more expedition, especially since she only took Burke's course for the easy credit. And, she now has a love interest with a young local doctor, who is having his own strange experiences with the supernatural.
The novel is chock-full of ghostly encounters, some harmless, but far more wind up treacherous--even fatal. Michael West does everything he can to ramp up the tension and the stakes in this book, which is the first time I can recall reading his work. He does a good job shaping the characters through their interactions with one another, though there was a bit more of the inner monologues from some characters than I would have liked. But when it came to the action, Michael didn't hold back, and it became really easy to imagine this rundown theater harboring some really sinister spirits. The place has a ton of backstory that is relayed in the narrative quite well.
Where the disappointment in the novel occurred for me came from my confusion over just what the limits of the spirits' abilities were. I was under the impression that it was the theater that was haunted, so if you wanted to see some ghostly action the characters needed to go in there, but on more than one occasion characters encountered paranormal activity outside the theater. Had that aspect of the novel been better explained, I could have rolled with the punches better, but it felt like a speed bump for me. That, and there was a character introduced late in the novel that wound up playing a surprisingly integral role in the climax, which struck me as a tacked on solution for the established characters.
Cinema of Shadows might not be the new Hell House, but it's a fun, bloody romp that has a great B-movie feel to it. The pacing really felt cinematic, and reminded me of the better Fangoria Fright Flicks that I've seen over the last couple years. Not perfect, but it's worth taking a chance on it if you love ghastly ghost stories.