Creature Feature by Steven Paul Leiva (audio book review).

Set in the early 1960s, ‘Creature Feature’ kicks off in a Chicago TV studio where Kathy Anderson is playing Vivacia the vampire woman. Vivacia is the host of a late night horror movie show, hence the title of the audiobook, and making a fair living that way but, yearning for more challenging roles, she quits and decides to head east towards Broadway, visiting her parents on the way.

When she gets to Placidville, she finds that things aren’t quite how she remembers them. Her parents behave strangely and their house is untidier than normal, with the grass uncut and the furniture dusty. They are, it appears, fans of her Vivacia character, having installed a giant TV antenna so they can watch her show every night. The following day Kathy discovers that her parents’ admiration for Vivacia is by no means unusual in Placidville: Kathy is feted at every turn, some even suggesting she runs for mayor! When Kathy left Placidville, it was a perfectly ordinary mid-western small town, but now everything seems different. Odd. Creepy, even.

As an audiobook, the story relies quite a bit on our preconceptions. The mid-west atmosphere is played to the hilt, with pancake houses and car washes and neat arrangements of suburban houses. Again, the main characters play on our understanding of the genre. Ambitious young actress, her shifty agent, the awkward geek that seems to be following her around and so on. Although an audiobook rather than a radio play, it’s a two-hander, with Seamus Dever narrating most of the text with Juliana Dever taking care of the lead character, Kathy.

They do the job remarkably well, Seamus Dever putting on various accents that help to make the dialogue feel especially rich and interesting. Juliana Dever may be limited to just the one role but she handles it superbly, bringing Kathy to life as the sane, normal, if not completely likeable character around which the increasingly strange events unfold.

Although pitched as a comedy, the humour comes from the weirdness of the situation and the evident gap between what Kathy understands about Placidville compared with what we, the listener, think is actually happening. In part, this relies on our preconceptions of 1950s and 60s horror movies, whether creatures from black lagoons or what happens when body snatchers invade small town America. With those ideas in our mind we immediately recognise patterns than Kathy does not: it would seem that despite hosting horror film ‘creature features’ on TV, she didn’t really learn much from the experience.

It’s all good stuff, cleverly presented. While set in the past, there’s a satire on modern politics thrown in (listen out for the ‘No puppet, no puppet!’ moment) and Seamus Dever does a great job of giving the narration the dry, arch tone required. He pitches the asides just right, charming the listener while allowing the funny situations and wordplay to work their magic. While this is a comedy, albeit a rather dark one, the story is a thriller as well.

About halfway through, Kathy’s cluelessness is finally broken and the situation becomes far more dangerous. To be fair, the body count is low, apparently just the one poor soul, but the threat is rather more existential. Indeed, the ‘big bad’ of the piece makes it clear that their plans have merely changed in a direction that makes the Reagan presidency seem a lot less, well, human.

Overall, a very entertaining listen, with some splendid music and a few special effects thrown in. The way the book is read elevates it from a straightforward audiobook towards something that feels a lot more like a full cast drama, the range of voices Seamus Dever brings to the piece being so diverse. Juliana Dever is no less talented and, even if she plays just the one part, she does it so well that working together ‘Creature Feature’ whips the listener along towards its thrilling, if worrying, conclusion. Highly recommended.

Neale Monks

May 2021

(pub: Magpie Press, 2020. 263 minute 3225kB audiobook. Price: $14.95 (US))

cast: Seamus Dever and Juliana Dever

check out website: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Creature-Feature-Audiobook/B092BG23VD

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