If Stephen Graham Jones' wickedly clever "Demon Theory" were to ever be made into an actual film, the witty tagline might go something like this: "Someone has taken his love of MLA too far." Culled from the fictional case notes of the fictional Dr. Neider at the equally imaginary Owl Creek Mental Facilities, "Demon Theory" is presented as a three-part novelization of the movie trilogy "The Devil Inside", based on the (you guessed it) fictional best-selling novel inspired by said notes. Part literary film treatment, part pop culture lexicon, "Demon Theory" tells a triptych of interconnected stories (imagined here as sequels) concerning a group of Midwestern med school pals and their encounters with the nasty titular creatures. Imagine throwing "Jeepers Creepers", the "Scream" films, TV's "Grey's Anatomy", and Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" into a blender and mixing on high.
In part one, or Demon Theory 16, Hale, Nona, Con, and gang leave the trick-or-treat festivities of a Halloween party behind when Hale's diabetic mother calls with a medical emergency. Faster than you can utter the words trapped-at-an-isolated-country-house-in-a-snowstorm, these future doctors of America find themselves slasher fodder for a demon with an axe to grind (or in this case, garden shears). Part two, or Demon Theory 17, finds much of the gang, in one (re)incarnation or another, reunited in a hospital at Christmastime in a breathless, action-packed "Aliens" meets "Halloween II" roller coaster ride of gory entrails and acidic demon blood. Finally, in the third and final Demon Theory 18, several of the battle-weary characters return to the scene of the crime in order to figure the whole existential mess out. The layers of narrative unfurl at just the right moments throughout when the reader's mind has been gloriously stretched to its outer limits keeping track of this richly plotted tale.
Using liberal doses of footnotes as the literary equivalent of pop-up videos, Jones creates a blood-soaked textbook of pop culture reference and epitomized post-modernism with "Demon Theory". He fashions a unique literary hybrid - part novel, part reference book - and seemingly satirizes the post-"Scream" self-awareness of the horror genre while lovingly chronicling it down to its last obscure nuance one footnoted annotation at a time. But in between the definition of retroactive continuity, Clive Barker quotes, deliberations of who rightfully deserves the first scream queen title, and the etymology of the word bumf*ck, Jones powers through a gripping narrative rich with convincing dialogue, atmospheric suspense, and an ample gore quotient.
Lazy readers beware; "Demon Theory" is the anti-beach read. Jones challenges with an intricate read, at times frustrating and distracting until readers hit their stride shifting from footnote to narrative and back again against the backdrop of screenplay jargon. Although Jones offers no easy mass-market thrill rides here, the payoffs are well worth the workout of little gray cells. The ingenuity of "Demon Theory" is the true marvel at work here, presenting as the intellectual literary cousin of Wes Craven's "Scream" trilogy. This cerebral terror trip is made even more so by Jones' staunch refusal to lay his cards out on the table as to whether "Demon Theory" is an application of intellectualism to the horror genre or tongue-in-cheek boyhood homage to a genre he clearly loves. No, he's far too skilled a writer for that, his "Demon Theory" far too superior a novel.