Author: Craig Shaeffer
Review Number: 20
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novella
Summary: (From creativeguypublishing.com)
On a cool October night at the Starlight Cinema, an all-night horror movie triple feature is about to begin: Witching Hour Theatre. It’s the one exciting thing in Larry Wilson’s life, not counting the lovely brunette who works the concession stand. Settling in, he loses himself in the atmosphere of the old place: the crowd, the screams, the popcorn and the blood.
But when the second feature ends, only thirteen moviegoers remain. Among them, a woman of nineteen with a fondness for piercings and the macabre, a cop and his wife, a trio of bad-tempered bullies, and a solitary figure sitting silently in the shadows of the back row.
On this endless October night, Witching Hour Theatre will become Larry’s worst nightmare. For the movie on the screen is growing stranger by the minute. His fellow theatergoers are disappearing one by one.
And the figure from the shadows is advancing.
Why did I read the book: After reviewing Fried! Fast Food, Slow Deaths and our interview with editor Joel A. Sutherland, we were put in contact with another independent press called Creative Guy Publishing. CGP has graciously sent us review copies of some of its offerings, and Witching Hour Theater really caught my eye with its interesting premise.
Witching Hour Theater opens with protagonist Larry Wilson buying a ticket to the Starlight Cinema’s triple feature on a Friday night. Larry, in his late thirties, leads a quiet, uncomplicated life. He frequents the Starlight Cinema’s Witching Hour Theater every Friday for the thrill of the films he loves and the sense of camaraderie with other horror buffs. On this particular October night, however, things are a little different than usual. For one, Larry finally works up the nerve to ask out the cute brunette that works the concessions stand—and she says yes. Buoyed by the success of scoring a date, Larry enters the theater and notices that it is much fuller than usual. The films shown at the Starlight follow a standard format: new film, classic film, and obscure film. That evening’s offerings consisted of a new mainstream teen slasher, The Omen, and finally a strange film Larry has never heard of before—which looks promising in the ‘B-movie it’s so bad it’s funny’ department. While the theater is crowded, Larry expects that, as usual, the audience will thin out after the popular first flick leaving only the diehards by the end of the second film.
By the third film, Larry finds himself among only a handful of other audience members. Somehow, almost soundlessly, most of the audience has up and left. As the third movie continues, Larry finds himself drawn to the film as it delivers some solid scares. At one point, a succubus seduces a character in the movie, and there is a closeup of her face, showing completely white, pupil-less eyes, delivering a jolt to Larry. When he chuckles at himself and turns around sheepishly to see if anyone else reacted as he did, he sees that everyone in the audience has disappeared, except for a dark figure. Uneasy, Larry keeps checking over his shoulder, only to find that each time he turns around, the figure is seated closer behind him.
The plot shifts gears here as Larry gets up close and personal with the shadowy man, and it turns into a mad dash to save his life.
Mr. Shaeffer is a masterful storyteller. I found myself riveted by this novella, unwilling to put it down until I had finished every delicious tingly fun page. Mr. Shaeffer first draws attention to horror clichés through the lens of Larry’s observations, then uses those very same clichés to create a thrilling, fast-paced book that is part homage, part exploitation, and completely cool.
I loved Larry’s running narrative, using his horror movie smarts to avoid making the same mistakes that get people killed on screen. While I was slightly disappointed to see the story turn from the supernatural to the more traditional slasher brand, this novella was executed flawlessly and worked from beginning to end. I give big props to Mr. Shaeffer also for refraining from the annoying pitfall of delving into some convoluted backstory that would undoubtedly drag down the plot, or sound plain silly–especially considering the novella itself is only 50 pages long.
As the title implies, Witching Hour Theater is every bit as delightful as a midnight horror movie. Like any of the best slasher pictures, Mr. Shaeffer manages to set the perfect atmosphere, distract, and shock you, all the while leaving you reaching for the popcorn with reckless abandon.
Notable Quotes/Parts: I was reading this novella just past sunset in my apartment, by myself, most of the lights off. The combination of eerie atmosphere at home plus Mr. Shaeffer’s engaging plot was a pretty volatile combination. When Larry finally does see the shadowy figure in the theater, I’m big enough to admit that I was a little spooked.
Ok, so I totally jumped. But that’s a good thing!
Additional Thoughts: On the format of the novella—I admit that when it comes to books, I’m somewhat of a traditionalist. I like the physicality of books, the rustle of pages, the faint smell of the ink and paper. Reading for me is a tangible, physical experience and I have been hesitant to make the switch over to ebooks or other formats. Witching Hour Theater is the first chapbook I have read, and is a nice low cost alternative to bound copies or electronic versions of novels. Personally, I very much like the format and cost (not to mention the bookshelf space saving!) efficiency of chapbooks. While ebooks are great and all, because of the type of reader I am, I will usually print off a hard copy (I have yet to indulge in a Kindle or other reader, and am not a huge fan of reading off a computer screen since I spend a good 9 hours of my day doing just that at work). Printing off numerous pages and then struggling with a stapler or hole-punch is kind of a hassle—and I’m happy to find that chapbooks are a wonderful alternative. A bit cheaper than paying for a mass market paperback, already nicely printed and bound together, it’s like getting a book for a bargain price, without any of the trouble. Also, double points because the format allows for cheaper printing and distribution, and gives more opportunity to smaller presses and lesser known authors.
Verdict: Definitely a keeper. Witching Hour Theater snuck up on me and completely took me by surprise. I very much enjoyed this novella, and recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, completely entertaining read.
Rating: 7 Very Good
Reading Next: Every Which Way but Dead (Rachel Morgan Book 3) by Kim Harrison