Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Life and death in the kill screen

Zero Lives Remaining

By Adam Cesare


Publisher: Shock Totem Publications

Pub Date: January 1, 2016 

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of five stars.

While Adam Cesare is usually associated with the Bizarro crowd, I see him a bit differently. He is known to go into the excessive range of surrealist violence and gore which is one hallmark of Bizarro. Yet to me he feels like a bit of a throwback to straight horror and, at the most, Splatterpunk. His writings seem to be more influenced by the hardcore horror writers like Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, and the early John Skipp of The Light at the End and The Bridge. For these authors, it is the terror that is the thing as well as the main characters' reaction to the terror.

That is how I view the novels I have read by Adam Cesare and it is certainly how I picture Zero Lives Remaining . Set in a video game arcade, it is essentially a ghost story that accelerates into a nightmarish carnival of terror and destruction. The Funcave is a modern video arcade that has a second floor devoted to arcane games like Centipede and Ms. Pacman. Robby Asaro died there due to a terrible accident in 1989 and has since been haunting the arcade games as a spectral electrical force. Still haunting in 2014, He is mainly happy with watching the kids play the games but he seems to have a special attraction to video game geek-girl Tiffany. When she is assaulted by Chris, a awkward and cruel boy, he steps in to protect her and his actions transforms his previously benign spirit into an angry and vengeful one. With the customers now trapped in the arcade center, it becomes a matter of who if any will survive.

There is a certain B-Movie aspect to this which is part of the fun. The particular setting of a video game arcade is also rather unique. Much of the beginning of the novel is drenched in the language of the video game nerd. I had a certain disadvantage, not being a gamer. Even though I grew up with games like Donkey Kong and Pacman, I was never really in the scene. I didn't even know what a Kill Screen was until I read this. Yet Cesare's writing skills flows through all this and we are quickly into the action. And that is what the book is all about: the action. It is descriptive, scary and very spooky in the "ewww!" category of horror. Robby is the catalyst to most of the story and he is quite an interesting spook as we watch him go from gentle spectre to a terrifying force. Tiffany is the strong willed nerd girl and it becomes clear why Robby is attracted to her persona. The other main character is Dan, the regular maintenance man at the Funcave. At first he seems to be the one with strength and leadership but unfortunately it never quite pans out. I liked Dan so maybe I am a little miffed at that. Yet all the characters, if mainly in the B-movie range of development, still works well in this straight-out but tightly structured tale of terror.

Overall, Zero Lives Remaining does what it sets out to do; Entertain and leave us with the satisfying aftertaste of being consensually scared. I really liked the ending which of course I won't reveal. The novel may not pave any new ground in the ghost tale/poltergeist genre but it is sure to make you a little nervous when you see your next Ms. Pacman machine.

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