Andrew David Barker’s new book Dead Leaves is available today and we have an exclusive review of his book. Dead Leaves chronicles three friends’ troubled journey to obtain a VHS copy of The Evil Dead in the height of the video nasty hysteria. Click see more below to read the review.
Written by: Lisa Fernandes
The Evil Dead is infamous for several reasons. The obscenity trial; the video nasty banning; the infamous vine rape scene – for a teenager growing up in that era, who wanted nothing more than to shock the conservative juggernaut overtaking the world, it was the perfect statement of rebellion, the black leather jacket of moviegoing experiences. By the time the mid-80s rolled around and the movie made its way to VHS, it was an object of curiosity, and nearly impossible to own. Copies had to be searched out and brought in, contraband, to their homes; if you were in the UK, where the movie was a certified “Video Nasty”, then the search could be a fruitless rebellion against one’s childhood conformity.
All of this is reflected in Andrew David Barker’s charming novella, “Dead Leaves”; it focuses on friends Scott and Paul, two young UK gore hounds who seek the holy grail that is The Evil Dead just on the cusp of the start of the obscenity raids that would lead to Sam Raimi’s trial. Told by their favorite source for banned flicks that his last copy of The Evil Dead has been stolen and it’ll cost the proprietor (and thus them) sixty quid to get a new copy, Paul and Scott instead call on their friend Mark, who knows somebody who knows another person who can acquire a fresh copy. But Mark’s connections are more trouble than they’re worth, and it starts Paul and Scott on a quest through the ramshackle world of down-at-the-heel pubs and violent, punkish vhs bootlegger who sell their wares out of the back of vans.
Disillusioned by a fruitless, unwanted job hunt, things seem pretty hopeless until Paul comes up with a mysterious wad of cash in time. Scott and Paul plan on making cash by bootlegging the cassette themselves once they snag a copy. But adulthood still nips at the kids’ heels, even as they try to make that one last leap that will land the ultimate holy grail of banned horror into their grasping hands; it comes in the form of a raid on their favorite shop. Scott then teams up with the rebellious and inspiring Lindsay, girlfriend of Mark and the untouchable, assailable female presence in his life, but that only leads them both to more misery. Will Scott, Paul and the others make it safely to maturity? And more importantly – will they finally get to see The Evil Dead?
We also get a decent portrait of what makes them tick as people. Scott is on the cusp of joining the blue collar world, and the group’s dogged pursuit of the movie is one last screech of rebellion against life. Barker does a good job taking us into the working class world of his characters. For the group of them, facing down the future, with adulthood and the threat of repeating the mendacity of their parent’s working class lives just around the horizon, horror isn’t just a way of life, it’s a state of being, a cudgel against the threat of numbness. Working as our narrator, he speaks about horror as if it’s a narcotics addiction; after the thrill disappears from his life and simple action movies no longer excite him the way they did when he was a child, he starts searching for extremities to repeat the high. If Return of the Jedi, which lets him down after months of hot anticipation, could be likened to a joint, The Evil Dead might be compared to a hit of pure grade heroin. He’s so movie mad that his dream is to become a director, to escape from his working class meander and become a something, an artist, a star, or a purveyor of simple trash.
To Scott, The Evil Dead – and Sam and Bruce and Rob Tapert – represent a way out of their circumscribed world and into a world of glamour and excitement. While he and his friends speak almost exclusively in the language of film, Mark and Paul don’t share his aspirations. Scott holds his dream close to his chest; his parents push him in an opposing direction and he rejects it through the power of his own dreams. Scott’s enthusiasm is contrasted by Paul’s dour attitude; he takes every enjoyment lightly on the surface, because the world around him is, in his opinion, total shit. Paul is in revolt and Scott cannot understand it; if everything to Paul is bullshit, everything Scott loves is a part of his identity, a guiding beacon to freedom. It’s a contrast that Scott himself cannot fathom.
For otherwise there is naught but the drudgery of Margaret Thatcher’s England to contend with – the fruitless march toward an endless grave. If Sam Raimi could escape, even though they’re of two different social classes entirely, certainly Scott might – couldn’t he? And who’s to say what he can and can’t watch?
The story itself is decently gripping, with memorable characters (my favorite was rebellious but fiercely loyal Lindsay, even though Scott sees her mainly through manic pixie dream girl-tinted glasses). It feels almost awkwardly divided in places between kitchen sink working class drama and coming of age seriocomedy, but the parts that work work very well indeed. You root for Scott to get the hell out of England, to find his way, and the events that take place in his grinding but still friend-filled life. If you’re too young, too American, or too new to the fandom to remember how vicious the Video Nasty scandal really was, Barker’s story is well worth reading.