Review by Darkeva
Although wonderful, the praise quotes from horror heavyweights Jeff Strand, Stephen Graham Jones, and Nate Kenyon are not necessary to know that Tribesmen is a hell of a book. As with each Ravenous Shadows book, editor John Skipp takes the time to write a personalized note on the virtues of every title. He really believes in each book he’s putting out, and is doing it all in the name of his love for the horror genre.
Horror fans are a unique bunch, and among us, there are readers who happen to enjoy films, readers who started out on a steady diet of films and now consume both media, and those who only enjoy films and aren’t big on reading. The thing we all have in common apart from our love of horror is that we devour the genre as a whole regardless of the medium, which is great for anyone who picks up Tribesmen as the book is designed to appeal to all camps – if you’re heavy on films but not on books, this is for you. And if you’re a big horror reader, this is also for you.
Tribesmen starts off with a guy, Oroto who is with his son, Vatu, who live on a mysterious island where they welcome travellers to stay for a fee. Oroto’s mother, a bit of an eccentric, uses chicken bones to look into the future. Not long after she sees her latest vision, a group of bloodied, inside-out people come after them. Before they die, the mother places a curse on the island.
We flash forward to the present with producer Roland Pressberg, who isn’t impressed with the banned film a director is showing him, but nevertheless, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and he assembles a crew that will start shooting in the Amazon. The scriptwriter, Jacque, is a Cambridge-educated, multi-lingual guy who likes Cynthia, the lead actress, who is of a mixed African-American and white background. The cinematographer, Denny, ties with Tito in terms of who is the bigger jerk. Only once they arrive on the desolate island does Denny reveal that there is no hotel and that the crew must camp with the natives.
Denny is the first to encounter the natives in the form of an old black woman, with a bizarre appearance, and doesn’t understand what he has just witnessed. To make matters worse, the frights start out early for Jacque and Cynthia, who find themselves in a burial ground with mummified remains.
Tito gets progressively slimier as the book goes on, and forces both the makeup girl and Jacque to serve as his actors, because they can’t find their lead actor, Umberto. Among Tito’s slimiest traits are his deceitfulness, particularly as he pretends not to speak or understand English so well, but it’s all a ruse, as Jacque discovers.
The author, Adam Cesare, has a film degree, and it shows – the scenes in Tribesmen play out with such authenticity that the reader will get sucked in and feel like they’re there with the rest of the poor crew. In tales like this, the reader knows all too well that it won’t take long for the body count to rise, as the island waits to claim as many victims as it can. The book reminded me of the same idea behind a film from a few years ago called The Shadow of the Vampire starring Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich, which posits that the actor playing vampire Count Orlok, Max Von Shreck, was actually a vampire that director F.W. Murnau used to play the lead. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
Eventually, Tito and Denny become so delusional that they actually think they’re still filming and all the brutality and gore is just acting, but the deaths are very real, and the characters just get even nuttier as things move forward. The novel has heart-pounding action and will invoke genuine fear in the reader for the two main protagonists, Cynthia and Jacque, and if they’ll ever escape. Let’s just say that most of the crew start to take the term “cinéma vérité” a bit too far. Tribesmen is a quick read that any horror fan will enjoy.