YA Weekend: Scream All Night by Derek Milman
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (July 24, 2018)
Length: 400 pages
Scream All Night is not a book that falls entirely into the realm of what I typically read, but I was already made aware of that fact by the author when he contacted me to see if I would be interested in taking a look at his debut. And quite honestly, despite not being a big reader of YA contemporary fiction, I really liked the sound of it. No, it’s not a horror novel, but the fact that the premise was about the making of horror films was an idea that greatly appealed to me, not to mention the meta quality of the story.
At the center of this coming-of-age tale is 17-year-old Dario, whose father Lucien Heyward is the legendary director of dozens of beloved B-Horror cult films such as The Curse of the Mummy’s Tongue and Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun. However, few were aware of the things that truly went on behind the walls of Moldavia, the castle estate where Lucien made all of his films. Dario was just a boy when he was cast in the starring role of Zombie Children, and was subjected to verbal and physical abuse as well as unbearable emotional pressure at his father’s hands while on the set. At the time, Dario’s mother, struggling with severe mental health issues, was also unable to help her youngest son and in fact was hospitalized for much of his childhood. Life got so bad for Dario, that soon after Zombie Children was completed, the boy had himself legally emancipated from his father, choosing instead to be raised in a foster facility rather than step foot in Moldavia Studios ever again.
But Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun, despite being universally panned by critics, gained a large following of loyal fans and Dario himself became a minor celebrity. Moldavia, along with the tightly-knit community of cast and crew who live permanently on its grounds, carried on with the business of making campy movies—until the news breaks that Lucien Heyward is dying. Refusing to go out quietly, the eccentric director decides to invite all his family, friends, and fans to a mysterious event as a final sendoff. Dario reluctantly agrees to attend, with a promise to himself that this would be his last time at Moldavia. Instead, he finds himself roped back into his past when it is revealed during the reading of the will that Lucien had named Dario the heir to his studio and legacy.
A quirky dramedy, Scream All Night delivers a unique spin on a familiar idea—that of going back to your roots and rediscovering the family and friends you left behind, in spite of the painful memories. The main gist of the tale isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s all in the way it is told. Notwithstanding its blood-curdling title, which actually refers to one of Dario’s father’s favorite catchphrases, there is a surprising amount of heart and warmth found in this novel. This is one big zany family, made up of not only the Heywards but also the handful of actors, film crew, and administrative staff who have done recurring work on Lucien’s movies and found a home at Moldavia. For the same reason I love books about circuses and traveling shows, I also enjoyed the feeling of community I felt when I read about life at the studio. There is a strong sense of trust and camaraderie between everyone, a shared culture that—as weird and chaotic as it is—all of them can understand. Even Dario, who has been away for years, is unable to walk away from Moldavia’s magic once he steps back into it.
Much of the story is built around the relationships Dario has with the people who are closest to him. In addition to the troubled memories he has of working with his father, our protagonist also has his oddball of an older brother to deal with. Then there is Jude, Dario’s roommate and best friend from their youth home, who tags along for the ride and is immediately taken by life at Moldavia. Most surprising of all, there is also a romance which I thought was exceptionally well written and sweet—rare for me when it comes to YA. Hayley is a young actress who has been working at the studio for years, but she was also Dario’s childhood friend, first love, as well as co-star in Zombie Children of the Harvest Sun. The romantic elements in their story were light, natural, and free of unnecessary drama.
With all these interesting personalities in one place, there was never really a dull moment. If you’re looking for something more beyond reading about relationships though, there’s also plenty of hilarity and tragedy involved in the making of a Moldavia Studios production. While the story takes place in the present, Milman wrote that his book was “modeled loosely on Hammer Horror during the time they were filming their classic creature features at Bray studios in the 1950’s.” Fans of cult horror films will probably enjoy these sections the most, as the narrative pokes fun and pays tribute to both the movies themselves as well as the subculture of fandom surrounding the genre.
At the end of the day, you can call this a fun read about monster movies, but Scream All Night is also about so much more. It’s a story that’s full of pleasures, and genuine even in its sometimes-over-the-top portrayal of love and family. It’s a coming-of-age journey full of sadness and regrets, but also hope and lots of laughter. All in all, the novel was an unexpected surprise, both in terms of its sentimental poignancy and how much I enjoyed it. I’m very glad I picked it up.