Thursday, October 15, 2015

Book Review: Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker

I recently had the pleasure of reading Andrew David Barker's new book Dead Leaves. Dead Leaves is a novella and is Barker's second book. Barker's critically acclaimed debut, The Electric, sold out as a limited edition hardback and is currently available in paperback.

Dead Leaves is set in Barker's hometown of Derby, England during Britain's era of the video nasty in the 1980s. During this era, police rounded up and destroyed suspected video nasty tapes deemed harmful and morally reprehensible. The goal was to "save" the children of the UK from the gruesome images and violence depicted in these films. Mary Whitehouse, an English social activist, led this moral campaign to rid the UK of such works.

Barker's Dead Leaves chronicles the adventures of three friends in search of a VHS copy of The Evil Dead, perhaps the most infamous film on the video nasties list. These three friends, Scott, Paul and Mark have recently finished school. Scott and Paul are on the dole, with no real desire to begin working in the factories or warehouses of Derby. Mark, a year older than Scott and Paul, has secured employment and frequently cohabitates with his girlfriend, Lindsay.

Scott and Paul pass the time watching horror movies. Scott, in particular, is inspired by these films and wants to become a filmmaker. Scott's father is very much part of the working class in Derby and, along with his mother, is pushing Scott to apply at one of the local warehouses. Scott doesn't want to end up like his father. He doesn't want to just get a job, get married and have kids, only to be doomed in a dead-end job and paying the bills that comes along with that existence.

There are some fun moments in Dead Leaves all horror fans will appreciate. Scott and Paul are fans of Cronenberg and there is an interesting discussion about Lynn Lowry's physical attributes in Shivers and her background in soft-core porn. Black Christmas, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of The Dead and Halloween are some of the other films referenced. Scott's main escape from his dreary life is horror films. He dreams of becoming a horror filmmaker. Scott sums up his passion for these films with this passage:

"Naïve this may have been, but at seventeen, this was how I thought. In fact, I felt consumed by the idea. It centred me, and it felt good. Some days my ambition would wane – usually because I’d become bogged down by the pressure of the entire world insisting I get a shit job – and I would find myself feeling lost and depressed. But then I’d throw on a Romero film, or a John Carpenter, and I would be fixed again."

Dead Leaves also has many references to the music of the day. Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon", David Bowie's "China Girl" and Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" are pop songs playing in the background while these young men peruse the local video store, Ray's Video Emporium. However, it is Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" that is preferred by the trio, deeming the song "an all-time classic". It seems befitting that this song, with its memorable main riff and galloping rhythm, inspired by Tennyson's “Charge of the Light Brigade”, would be this trio's anthem. It is at Ray's Video Emporium that Scott and Paul experience a police raid whereby many of the movies they love and enjoy are confiscated.

There is a wonderful passage in Dead Leaves in which Scott perfectly sums up why The Evil Dead is so important to him and other budding, young filmmakers. Even though he has not yet seen The Evil Dead, Scott has read the Fangoria and Starburst articles about the film and knows the story of how a young group of friends ventured from Michigan to Tennessee in November of 1979 to film a horror movie on their own terms. Part of that passage is as follows:

"I’d always thought of films as being made by established veterans who’d gotten into the business either through heritage and/or by their proximity to Hollywood. Movies were something other people got to make, not kids from the back of beyond. The idea that these guys went out to a cabin in Tennessee and came back with the most original and ferocious horror film in years blew my tiny little mind. It was punk rock.

It was the seed that sowed my future."

In conclusion, Dead Leaves is a coming of age story about three horror fans that is written for fans of the genre. This novella is about reconciling one's reckless teen years with impending adulthood and all of its responsibilities. Along the way, we get a glimpse of how Derby was in October of 1983. We see our main characters get involved in pub fights, police raids, video piracy, vandalism and even betraying one another. The search for a VHS copy of The Evil Dead certainly drives the plot, but the reader is really getting an understanding of what it is like to come of age during the Thatcher years, while Mary Whitehouse's firestorm of moral panic and censorship plays out.

Click here to order Dead Leaves directly from Boo Books

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