This novelization of Tobe Hooper’s cult slasher classic has a strange history: Commissioned based on Lawrence J. Block’s screenplay and written by Dean Koontz using the pseudonym Owen West, it was released before the movie due to production issues. That’s just the beginning of the overall strangeness of the project: Most of the movie’s actual plot is reserved for the last 60ish pages of the novel, while the rest of it is mired in detailed, strange-but-compelling background for everything from throwaway moments in the movie to sometimes even peripheral characters. In a way it’s like a modern adaptation of a pop culture property: I thought to myself a number of times that this could be adapted nowadays as an miniseries-long remake of the original movie by someone like, say, Ryan Murphy. More importantly however, this holds up as a solid horror novel in its own right: It’s more effective than the average horror paperback, and there’s a palpable sense of tension on the way to the climax that often recalls some of Stephen King’s most well-sequenced, nerve-wrangling page-turners like “Misery” or “Pet Sematary.” Unfortunately it all goes to pot a bit in the end with an underwhelming denouement that’s rushed and unsatisfying, but on the way there it’s a gripping, occasionally scary read with plenty of memorable moments.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)