Review Details

Review type: Book

Title: Burn the Negative

Author: Justin Winning

Publisher: Putnam

Release date: 30th May 2024

Burn the Negative

Reviewed by: Ian Hunter

Other details: Hardback, £21.99

Burn the Negative by Justin Winning

Ian Hunter

Okay, I’m hooked before we even start, as I have to admit I’m a sucker for horror novels about lost films, cursed films, incomplete films that need completing, etc, etc, and among my favourites are novels or novellas by the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Gary McMahon, Joel Lane, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and others. I’ve noticed a recent trend of novels around slasher movies, be they about survivors, perpetrators, or locations; I suppose because many of the authors grew up watching those sorts of movies and their novels are filled with an intoxicating scent, a heady blend of blood and nostalgia. Certainly, Josh Winning knows how to douse the reader with Eau de Nostalgia, having done this in his previous novel “The Shadow Glass”, about a failed fantasy film full of puppets which seem to be alive, and some of them want to take over the world.

In “Burn the Negative”, we are in that slasher-homage territory as Winning takes the reader on a twisting, rollercoaster ride concerning the remake of a notorious movie, but not a film remake; here, we get a streaming series called “It Feeds” based on the movie “The Guesthouse” which became a cult classic, for all the wrong reasons. Namely, some of the cast and crew died in circumstances very close to those depicted in the film, victims of the Needle Man. Then, Laura was known as Polly, a child actress who starred in the film and played a character with the ability to tell people how the Needle Man was going to kill them. To escape the legacy of the film, she moved with her parents to the UK and changed her name, her looks, and even her accent, but now, because of the death of her father and with her mother suffering from dementia, she is relieved to be able to escape her present life for a little while. Only two days; surely nothing bad can happen in so short a time? But “The Guesthouse” is back in a different form, and the Needle Man is back, too. At least Laura thinks he is, but is he really? Is she seeing things? Her imagination is fuelled by her present problems combined with secrets of the past she has kept well hidden but now are scratching their way to the surface of her thoughts.

Books about films aside, if you are a fan of those old slasher movies, then you will enjoy this as it uses many of the tropes of those sorts of films – tension, jump scares, damaged characters, misdirection, OTT deaths, as well as casting a post-slasher lens on the making of these films and the dark side of the movie industry by looking at things like child stardom and being eaten up and spat out by the celluloid monster. In order to survive and stop the Needle Man, Laura has to enlist the help of her sister, Any, a failed actress, and Beverley, a creepy psychic who is working on the new show and is even more damaged than she is. Thus, one becomes three, just like in “The Shadow Glass” when the son of the director of the film has to team up with a fan and studio executive to save the world.

“Burn the Negative” consists of thirty chapters, plus an epilogue, and before each section there is a…something – it might be a definition of a word, book extracts, comments by fans, script transcripts, extracts from articles, incident reports, journal entries, essay extracts, Instagram posts, interviews, reproductions of VHS boxes, Facebook posts, ads, Tweets, etc, etc, all of which add to the creepy, gory, over the top fun. No doubt that will all continue in Winning’s next book, “Heads Will Roll”, about a sitcom star going to a camp in the woods to get over some recent troubles, obviously ignoring the old warning about not going down to the woods today, or at any time. Until then, you can cosy up in bed with “Burn the Negative”; just make sure you can see the door, keep the light on, and have a sharp knife under the pillow next to you, and then you’ll be fine.

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