In this incendiary mash-up of horror and suspense, a notorious slasher film is remade…and the curse that haunted it is reawakened.
Arriving in L.A. to visit the set of a new streaming horror series, journalist Laura Warren witnesses a man jumping from a bridge, landing right behind her car. Here we go, she thinks. It’s started. Because the series she’s reporting on is a remake of a ’90s horror flick. A cursed ’90s horror flick, which she starred in as a child—and has been running from her whole life.
In The Guesthouse, Laura played the little girl with the terrifying gift to tell people how the Needle Man would kill them. When eight of the cast and crew died in ways that eerily mirrored the movie’s on-screen deaths, the film became a cult classic—and ruined her life. Leaving it behind, Laura changed her name and her accent, dyed her hair, and moved across the Atlantic. But some scripts don’t want to stay buried.
Now, as the body count rises again, Laura finds herself on the run with her aspiring actress sister and a jaded psychic, hoping to end the curse once and for all—and to stay out of the Needle Man’s lethal reach.
In penning a love letter to horror movies, Josh Winning has created quite an entertaining, clever tale with Burn the Negative. The star of the show, Laura Warren, is a journalist set to revisit the horrors of her childhood when she is sent to Los Angeles as part of an article centered on the freshly rebooted horror series, It Feeds. As the focus of the original movie, The Guesthouse, Laura is confronted with the ugliness of being thrust into childhood stardom in numerous unexpected ways. Horror references abound, Winning manages to craft not only a frightening plot but also a psychological thriller that leaves you guessing which way is up.
Setting out to determine what is killing cast members left and right, Laura acquires help from her failed actress sister, Amy, and mysterious psychic, Beverly. One of the most interesting facets of this book is Laura’s relationship with Beverly, a woman who is immediately disregarded by most. Beyond her occupation, Beverly is guarded, vague, and carries a lot of baggage. Yet, Laura latches onto her for help despite Amy’s frequent (and dare I say annoying) insistence that her insight is not needed. I can’t help but feel that Beverly is representative of us, horror fans everywhere; we’re intrigued by the ideas of the occult, fascinated by what goes bump in the night, and continuously test our nerves with stories of the macabre. Most of society shies away from these topics, but we dare say, “Come closer.” This is exactly what Laura does with Beverly, emulating our fellow horror fans who, for the majority, welcome us with open arms. Isn’t that one of the best aspects of finding “your people?”
I’ve written about “fun” horror before, and at the risk of sounding redundant, this is another very fun horror read. The novel evokes a meta sense of the horror movie scene, frequently referencing icons such as Freddy Krueger. If you want to translate this book to the world of cinema, Burn the Negative evokes the same feelings that the Scream franchise champions itself. There were numerous scenes in which I found myself actually laughing or fist-pumping the air.
Additionally, Winning confronts Hollywood and its effects on human beings. When discussing events that transpired on the set of The Guesthouse, I felt the strong discomfort of unease surrounding Laura, then known as Polly, who was widely pushed into fame by her mother. Think of the “Gordy’s Home” scene from Jordan Peele’s 2022 movie, Nope. Humans are obsessed with the spectacle regardless of the fallout. Laura is the perfect example of the after-effects of this obsession surrounding stardom.
Even though it takes some time to find its pacing, the best parts of this novel are in the last one hundred pages. I truly could have never fathomed where the plot was moving, the final showdown executing some gnarly body horror. As if it can’t get any wilder, the last ten pages of the book make the previous ninety look like child’s play (pun fully intended). Winning capitalizes on the theme of our bodies physically taking on damage when we experience trauma or largely negative events.
Burn the Negative is a very entertaining read for horror film aficionados and horror fiction fans alike. Winning really finds his footing towards the end of the novel and executes a twisty conclusion to his take on the haunted film trope. On the surface, it reads as a spooky premise, plain and simple; however, on closer inspection, this book is a greater social commentary on Hollywood and the film industry itself. Regardless of how deep your reading experience is with this novel, you’re in for the same frightening dread that makes you throw your tub of popcorn at the theater.