Development Hell (Book)

Development Hell reviewReviwed by Johnny Butane

Written (and Directed) by Mick Garris

Published by Cemetery Dance Publications

I have to admit that when I first heard about Mick Garris’ first full-length novel, it reeked a bit of gimmick. Director, screenwriter, producer, and published novelist? That’s a set of skills that usually don’t go together very well, especially in our genre.

I am happy to report how wrong that knee jerk reaction was; Development Hell is one of the most fucked up, touching, and downright odd books I’ve ever read. It does have its share of issues, which I will get to, but the positives and overall originality of the book more than make up for it.

The story follows a hotshot young director, a kid who’s spent his entire life worshiping at the alter of, as he refers to it repeatedly, Lady Hollywood. Of course he grew up in the 80’s so his influences include the likes of Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg, but he’s as devoted a cinemaphile as anyone else I’ve met in my years in this business. He starts off in the same place most young directors do these days, film school, making pretentious art films that he feels will pave his way into the Hollywood machine. He feels he’s hit paydirt when he meets a news vendor on the street who is in possession of the most hideous… he calls it a baby… that he’s ever seen. It’s utterly inhuman and disgusting, but it gives him an idea for a brilliant film that will put him on his way to becoming The Next Big Thing.

Things go badly. I don’t really want to say how or why, but things go very bad indeed, and pretty soon he finds himself holed up in his condo, slave to the insatiable hunger of the creature he had hoped would make him a star. The first of many life-changing realizations comes to him while he’s wallowing in misery, and he makes some bold moves that put him back in the spotlight again, which is a pattern that occurs off and on throughout the book in one form or another. Throughout it all though, our narrator (who is never named) is passionate about his undying devotion to that bitch goddess Lady Hollywood. All he wants is to be a famous director, someone a kid like him will look up to in 20 or 30 years, and he’s willing to do anything to get there.

After a brief encounter with an undead former Hollywood starlet, our hero finally finds love in the form of an actress from one the last movies he’ll ever make. She soon gets pregnant, and he’s facing down the barrel of Hollywood Marriage, but it all goes a lot better than he ever expected, and he finds himself truly, honestly happy for the first time in his life. So of course another horrible tragedy is right around the corner.

I don’t want to go into much more plot detail because this is one of those books that really works better the less you know going into it. Suffice it to say the plot takes a major turn about halfway through, and everything is different from there on out.

Garris’ voice as an author is assured, steady, and full of an almost bittersweet anger towards a business that would just as soon embrace you as destroy your very soul. You’re only as good as your last picture, a fact that our narrator is constantly reminded of through the ups and downs of his time on Earth. Garris uses his incredible berth of knowledge of all the behind-the-scenes wheelings and dealings of Hollywood to paint an incredibly vivid picture of just how fucked up the system truly is, and we as the reader are helped in our understanding of it because we go through it with the main character. This is not some semi-autobiography (unless there’s a lot of fucked up shit about Mick Garris that we don’t know about); it’s a view of Hollywood from one man who only wants to seduce the bitch and make her his lover.

At times the book does tend to drag as our main character goes off on diatribe after diatribe about how unfair and/or unjust the Dream Machine can be. There’s almost a pattern to how often this particular subject is brought up, to the point where Garris recognizes it and has the character call himself out on all his bitching. It’s fine to be opinionated and bitter towards Lady Hollywood, but when you keep on going back to her teat for a few more drops of milk, who else is there to blame but yourself? The one thing Development Hell really taught me, other than the fact that Garris is a damn fine prose writer, is to never, ever make movies unless you’re willing to die for your dream… both literally and figuratively.

Development Hell is, first and foremost, just a damn fine story. Garris throws in enough twists and turns to keep the reader wondering what’s going to happen on the very next page, let alone 200 pages down the line, and it’s told with such a sharp eye and keen insight into its subject as to almost serve as a warning for anyone who thinks they have what it takes to make movies. Of course, there is a degree of hyperbole about the entire tale, but then what great story based in any sort of reality isn’t made better with a dash of embellishment here and there? Humor, horror, and real human emotions all combine to make Development Hell a must-read for anyone who calls himself a movie fan.

4 out of 5

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Johnny Butane