Midnight Special by Phoef Sutton (47North, 2012)
Hipster film geeks take it in the gut with The Midnight Special by veteran TV and mystery writer Phoef Sutton. Number 12 in the Dead Man series, this is another addition to the cannon by a member of a circle of talented writers. I’m guessing Mr. Sutton has had to put up with one giggling fan-boy too many from the tone of this book.
Matt Cahill, the reborn Ajax with an ax, travels to an LA theater for this episode. He’s read about an account of a massacre during the showing of a film. The word “dark” was found written in the aftermath. Checking the internet, Matt discovers the film being shown was a 70’s grind-house movie called Dinner at the Brooklyn Morgue. And every time this movie has been shown, some kind of violent murder has occurred, always with the word “dark” in some language scrawled at the scene of the crime. Matt’s supernatural nemesis, Mr.Dark, has been very busy.
Matt is forced to travel to the latest scheduled showing of Dinner at the Brooklyn Morgue in LA because the film has been booked into a repertory theater. Will he be able to stop the owner of the theater, Hollywood wunderkid director Barnabas Yancey, before another massacre can occur?
Author Sutton uses a lot of this episode to blast snarky west coast hipsters. Having endured the east coast variety, it’s hard to remember we were all young and naive once upon a time. Especially when some self-appointed expert ruins a showing of an old Hammer classic by making a sneering comment during the “introduction”. But I digress.
The best part of the Midnight Special is the first chapter. A grisly murder occurs when someone won’t quit texting in a theater showing the killer movie. Prior to the carnage, we are introduced to the projectionist:
“At fifty-five, Bo didn’t think of himself as an old man, though everyone else did. A child of Swedish immigrants, he’d begun as the projectionist at the Rialto in 1979, when he was a junior at Tulane University himself, dreaming of being a filmmaker, watching the classics thread their way through the little window onto the big screen like projections of his future achievements. Back then the Rialto was a rep house, showing two double features of everything from Bogie and Bacall to Preston Sturges to François Truffaut to Jean Renoir to Satyajit Ray to everything in between.
He watched them all and somehow along the way never got his degree and never made that short film that was going to catapult him to the level of the next Scorsese or Coppola. He just kept firing up the lamp, dimming the houselights, and working the projector. He worked it, even though the Rialto was sold to a second-rate movie chain in the mid-eighties and stopped showing the classics, replacing them with second runs of The Karate Kid Part II and The Golden Child.”
There’s a sadness in those two paragraphs which sums up all the abandoned neighborhood theaters and empty film canisters. A sadness which can’t be explained to people who have grown accustomed to downloading all they want in the way of movies. It’s obvious Sutton has had to endure it all: the dissolution of the film medium, closing of local film houses and the rise/fall of video stores.
It’s what makes this a good book. The feel for the material. The author might spend a little too much time unleashing his wrath on the current batch of film director wannabees, but the writing comes from the heart.