Dead Trees: Horror Show by Greg Kihn

Yes, MTV used to show music videos.

Nearly everyone I knew professed to hate the network, but I don’t know many who didn’t watch MTV. It was perfect background fodder for the burnout generation. You could laugh at what you hated, but sooner or later something you wanted to see would air.

One of the mainstays of early MTV was Greg Kihn. Kihn had a few hits, rocking out with cheerfully depressing songs like “The Breakup Song” and “Jeopardy.” I neither loved nor hated Kihn. His stuff was harmless and rather pleasant, but I didn’t buy his records.

I don’t think anyone could have predicted that, out of the blue, Greg Kihn would publish one of the best horror novels of the ’90s. The perfectly titled Horror Show was an immediate favorite of fans everywhere.

Horror Show was a Stoker finalist in the Best First Novel category, but it lost to Owl Goingback’s Crota. Goingback is a damned good writer, but Kihn should have gotten the honor.

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a more irresistible premise for a genre story. The thrust of Horror Show is Landis Woodley, a low-budget schlock film director who is kind of an amalgamation of Ed Wood and William Castle. Other characters are modeled after Vampira, Anton LaVey, and Arch Hall, Jr.

Woodley is working on his latest opus, colorfully called Cadaver. Receiving permission to film at the L.A. Morgue, he and his alcoholic special effects makeup artist come up with a ghastly scheme: Why not use real corpses to make Cadaver the most terrifying, unforgettable horror show of all time?

Meanwhile, celebrity Satanist Albert Beaumond (I see Vincent Price as this character) steals a native, South American artifact that seems to be able to unleash evil unto the world. A pair of tuning forks which, when used, hold a terrifying and uncontrollable power. These two plot threads come together at the morgue, and real Hell is about to crash the set of a Landis Woodley production.

Horror Show manages to be a loving, funny homage to ’50s-era low budget horror, but it is also a genuinely scary and effective genre novel in its own right. I’ve read things with similar ambitions, but none work as well as Kihn’s brash debut novel, Horror Show.

I recommend a lot of horror novels, here and elsewhere, but Horror Show is one that should be read by anyone interested in the genre. I’d love to see it done up as a deluxe hardcover edition someday.

Kihn followed Horror Show with two sequels, Big Rock Beat and Mojo Hand. Both are really good, but Horror Show is the best thing he published. I hate to say that about an author’s first book, but in this case it’s true.

I said that I am not a fan of The Greg Kihn Band. I’m not, but Kihn did an album called Horror Show, which had a simultaneous release with the book of the same name. The album isn’t directly taken from the novel, but I love the title track. So much so that I have requested to my wife that it be played at my funeral.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

Leave a Reply