The Broken Man by Michael ByersBy Michael Byers (PS Publishing; 2010)

This novella is an adroit skewering of Hollywood mores, as well as an astute portrait of Bush-era America. Pretty ambitious, I’d say, for a 64-page horror story! What gets lost is the book’s raison d’etre: the scary stuff, which is never allowed to reach its full potential.

Gary Rivoli is a filmmaker specializing in slasher flicks. Like so many others in Hollywood, he’s put aside his ideals to concentrate on trashy films he doesn’t like but which make money. This guy is a type extremely common in Hollywood, driven by equal amounts of self-loathing and arrogance (during a Houston sojourn he ponders how “when outside Los Angeles he was reminded how rich and beautiful his friends were and how relatively ugly and poor everyone else was”). Speaking as one who’s spent time in the Hollyweird trenches, I believe author Michael Byers must have some experience in this particular universe, as he’s captured it with remarkable accuracy.

Politically Byers also has much to say. This tale is set in the mid-2000s, when Dubya was in power. An early rumination about Gary’s left-leaning Hollywood pals concludes with the observation that “They were all hideous, really–hypocritical greedy failed cowards, all of them, even those he liked to think of as the best of them,” which might seem to suggest a certain agenda. Yet republicans, as observed in a later passage, don’t come off much better. As a Texas-based colleague informs Gary: “it’s hard living here at the moment with all these people with their heads up their asses,” and later complains about “One more fat fucking republican.” About Mr. Byers’ own politics I have no idea, but he’s an equal opportunity offender.

This leaves the horror angle, which doesn’t have the same weight as the socio-political elements. This portion of the book involves Alice White, a creepy monster maker who creates an imposing creature called The Broken Man for Gary’s latest film. The critter terrifies Gary, who comes to believe that Alice is a witch who’s cast a spell on him.

Not a bad set-up, but the way in which it works out is less than inspiring–and not the slightest bit scary. Gary Rivoli himself could have pinpointed what’s wrong with this novella, and by its end I was hoping for the type of exploitation he would no doubt willingly provide. No such luck!