by Adam Cesare
Ravenous Shadows (2012)
There is something almost mythological about the film industry of the 70s. Maybe it was the tumultuous political climate mixed with an upheaval in cultural norms, but whatever the catalysts were, movies from that era carry a certain mystique when we look back on them. Especially, if you have any appreciation for cult classics and exploitation films. It seems Adam Cesare has a great appreciation for that era, and if not he sure knows how to fake it.
Tribesmen is a tightly packed story of a small film crew lured into working for a sleazy director in the early 80s, during the twilight years of the exploitation genre. Cost-cutting is the top consideration with this cannibal film, with a skeleton crew of six (including the director and his two "star" actors) on a remote Caribbean island that, upon arrival, is totally deserted. Tensions are already building on the cramped plane ride to the island for their three-day shoot, and when the plane strands them there and the natives are nowhere to be found, the film is beginning to look like a disaster-in-waiting to everyone but the director.
Each chapter switches point of view to a different character, in part to help establish each character and their motivations, and to accommodate the inevitable body count, because not everyone is making it off the island alive. Through their eyes, we bare witness to a rapid free-fall into madness when the spirits of the slaughtered islanders influence the mindsets of the crew and inevitably have them turn on one another.
The atmosphere is just about pitch perfect for both the setting and the pace of this novella. No time is wasted in getting into the sheer visceral horror that ensues, yet the characters are all given enough in the beginning to show their colors. Aside from the director, who feels like the epitomization of the sleaziest cinematic fare, the characters avoid feeling like cardboard cutouts that you might expect from the film equivalent to a story like this. There's a surreal quality to how the horror begins, and once it gets started it is like seeing the scene pass through an hourglass into some blood-soaked bizarro-land. I won't spoil how, but the first kill firmly establishes that you can take nothing for granted and it is literally open season on everyone.
Tribesmen is like a hollow-point bullet. It will bore into your brain through a small entry point, but when it exits your brain it's going to leave a gory mess between your ears. In 2012 so far, I've read horror stories that are spooky, creepy, cringe-worthy, and just plain gross, but Tribesmen is the scariest one I've read so far in 2012.