Turn to Ash Media, LLC
[Please note that the author kindly supplied a review copy of this title in return for an honest review]
Movie novelizations must be one of the most difficult types of fiction to write, in my humble opinion as a book reviewer. I’ve read a few articles about the process, and social media posts from authors who have been contracted to write them, and they’ve really laid out many of the difficulties and limitations, not to mention the often severe pressure that the author can come under. Interference from studio executives who want to make sure that the novel ‘gels’ exactly with what they want from the movie; editors who are themselves come under pressure from those executives to get the product out within a very strict time-frame; those time-frames shifting backwards and forwards due to reshoots, script changes or stars dropping out of filming; and the damage to the author’s sanity when it becomes obvious that the ‘special effects’ were both special and absolutely not effects, and what happened on the screen actually happened in real life, blood and gore and screaming human sacrifices included. Why, there’s even the classic problem of the novelization not actually matching the final script that gets produced, and the two diverging on some very key points! All in all, it sounds like an incredibly stressful job to undertake, and certainly not something that I’d like to do.
Hang on, rewind a little. Go back through those last few paragraphs. What exactly was that about the author’s sanity being reduced to a tattered remnants of its former self, as a result of writing the novelization? I don’t…I don’t remember reading about that in any of those articles, or social media posts from even the most jaded of authors. And yet it must be something that happens, because by the time I’d finished Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization it had become apparent that author Jonathan Raab had suffered greatly in producing this epic feat of Weird Horror. Because, you see, the official novelization of Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI isn’t strictly what one would call ‘just’ a novelization of the film’s script; it’s also an extended journey behind the scenes of the movie, delving into the mysterious and arcane practices that are involved in filming another entry in a long-running slasher series, and the tragedies involving the cast, crew and director. It’s even a chance for Mr Raab to ruminate on why exactly he was chosen to pen the novelization of the controversial movie, in an increasingly interesting and definitely, absolutely sane fashion.
I can’t speak for why Mr Raab was chosen to write the novelization, but I do know that I couldn’t have asked for a more interesting novel to bring me back from my extended hiatus in Horror fiction blogging, or a better author. For although I’ve only known about Raab since early 2018, I will once again go on record to say that I think he is one of the leading lights in the Weird Horror genre; and that his publishing company, Muzzleland Press, is publishing some of the best-written, high-quality and highly unsettling titles in all of Weird Horror. You only have to take a look at novels such as The Lesser Swamp Gods of Little Dixie and anthologies like Terror in 16-Bits or High Strange Horror to see just how damn good Raab is, along with the group of authors he has brought together under the Muzzleland Press banner. I’ve never enjoyed Weird Horror titles quite as much as when Raab is involved, either as author or editor, and as such I was deeply intrigued when Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization was announced as being ready for publication; and although my hiatus unfortunately hit right when it came out, I was lucky enough to be offered a review copy by the author very recently, and jumped at the chance to see what weirdness and aberrations Mr Raab had come up with this time.
The first thing that hit me, as both a reader and reviewer, is the cover image for Camp Ghoul Mountain, both in terms of its imagery and its quality. It is, quite frankly, one of the best pieces of cover artistry I’ve ever come across in the genre and a huge credit to illustrator Will Fugman. Fugman captures the essence of the novel perfectly, enticing the reader with a series of individual depictions that are expertly blended together to form a grisly collage. Wwe have someone being beamed up into a UFO by a beam of light, cowled figures sinisterly bearing burning torches, a terrified teenager running away from an aze, suspended in mid-flight; and looming above them all, a crazed goat-face, bisected by a manic wielding a bloodied chainsaw. It’s all brought to life in gorgeous colours and complemented by some excellent font choices for the novel title and author name; there’s even a creased and slightly faded sticker on the cover proclaiming that this is the OFFICIAL novelization of the movie, an emphasis that is intriguing and disturbing in equal amounts and raises the query of how many unofficial novelizations there are.
Delving into the novel itself, it doesn’t take long for the reader to realise that this is not like any normal script adaptation they’ve ever come across before. It’s actually divided into several different layers, each providing a different take on Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI, and with each successive chapter becoming more and more dark and disturbing. The first layer is the novelization itself, which appears at first to be a straight adaptation of the script, albeit a very well-written one that’s above the usual pedestrian standards for novelizations. There are tropes galore, and cheesy two-dimensional characters galore, as befits a long-running, low-budget slasher series; but Raab embed these chapters with a real energy and slightly tongue-in-cheek attitude that make them a joy to read. In addition, there is also an ongoing series of footnotes that begin to highlight just how divergent (and therefore deeply controversial) Part VI was in regards to the Camp Mountain Ghoul series and its canon. These footnotes are by far one of the best bits of Camp Ghoul Mountain, serving to advance the plot and fill in key details about the Camp Ghoul Mountain ‘cinematic universe’ (to steal a 21st Century phrasing) but also to give voice to Raab’s musings on the film and its cast and director. They’re a delight, reflecting the same simultaneous mixture of adoration and nitpicking that comes from being a hard-core fan of any film series, while also acting as a meta-narrative to advance the conspiracy theories and real-life tragedies involved in filming the movie. Like I said, there are layers upon layers here, and Raab’s skill as a writer, and passionate Horror fan, means that (much like beloved slasher films) repeat viewings/readings are both essential and highly rewarding.
We then have the next layer, in which Raab begins to dissect the Camp Ghoul Mountain series of cheesy slasher films, burrowing into the core of the series – why it existed, who was behind it, who the serial killer was, and why it was such a beloved series. The Camp Ghoul Mountain films may be fictional (at least, I think they are, but that’s another layer we’ll get to in all good time in this review) but so many of the issues, complexities and controversies that Raab describes are ones universal to slasher films in our reality – Nightmare on Elm Street, the Jason series, and other such classics. While these chapters are great on their own, in the context of Camp Ghoul Mountain, they become genuinely brilliant in the meta-narrative because they allow Raab to demonstrate his own passion for these slasher films, these gory icons of 70’s and 80’s horror movie history. This is a book steeped – nay, soaked – in a heart-felt appreciation for such horror franchises and their mythology, warts and all, good entries and bad ones as well. Raab grew up with these films, as so many of us did, and Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization is in so many ways a tribute to them. Again, the footnotes are key here, as Raab delves into the key decisions by the director that made the film so controversial. We get insights into how director Monty Blackwood began with unusual directorial decisions like unearthly music scoring and strange, almost avant-guard camera shots; and as the footnotes progress, less and less subtle hints that Blackwood had another agenda in making Camp Ghoul Mountain VI, an agenda that certain entities were unhappy with. It starts off smirk-worthy, but rapidly transcends into weird, unsettling and then outright disturbing details that make you start to question reality – the reality of the film, of the novelization, and even our reality as a reader.
Questioning that reality brings is to get another element of this complex novel – the chapters where Raab discusses writing the novelization itself. Firstly he has to deal with a mysterious, omnipotent and strange corporation that offered the writing contract via a vaguely-threatening letter; was able to send documents relating to the film to the authors address despite it not being offered to them; and that could summon otherworldly voices to harass Raab and his family until he agreed to write the novelization. Paranoia? Perhaps, aided by a self-admitted liberal use of cannabis, but then Raab begins to notice strange occurrences in his home and environment – strange noises, damaged mail, odd and disturbing phone calls that lead to surreal threats from the military-industrial complex. This all neatly ties in with Raab’s own digressions about his own personal beliefs, such as his faith or his interest in conspiracy theories like secret government projects, the War on Terror and other grist for the conspiracy theory mill. It all rings oddly true with the different layers of the novel, and more importantly provides a nice edge of paranoia as the various plots progress, especially when Raab begins to detail the life of director Monty Blackwood and the deeply unorthodox directions he took the movie in during filming (and afterwards.
For the first time that I can think of, both as a book reviewer and a reader, I have been overwhelmed by a book – in absolutely the best way possible. I feel like I could go on about Camp Ghoul Mountain for another two thousand words easily, if not write my own little review novella. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the mysterious backstory of Monty Blackwood, the film’s director, or how his descent from auteur movie-maker to seller of magic mushrooms on an industrial scale leads to a bloody clash with the military-industrial complex. Or the way that Raab has so much obvious fun subverting, dissecting and cheerfully eviscerating Horror movie tropes and stereotypes, whether in the guise of writing the Novelization, or his analysis of the movie’s themes. Camp Ghoul Mountain Part VI: The Official Novelization is nothing less than a masterpiece of Weird Horror, and feels like the very pinnacle of what that subgenre can achieve. This is Raab’s greatest work to date – engaging, horrifying and thought-provoking in equal measures, effortlessly moving between different layers that are each written in a distinct voice and cadence. Enhanced with some fantastic interior illustrations by Mat Fitzsimmons which only add to the readers enjoyment, both Raab and Turn To Ash have produced a novel that should be on the shelves of every self-respecting Horror fan; and I cannot wait to see what this collaboration of author and publisher can achieve in the future. Whatever it is, I’ll be first in line to read it.