The Nameless by Ramsey Campbell (1981): Children in Heat
Now this is a classic cover for vintage horror fiction! Once the creepy-kid aesthetic (or is that cliche?) was set in stone with books and movies like The Bad Seed, Children of the Damned, The Exorcist, and Audrey Rose, it would be a long time before publishers could give it up. The image on this 1985 Tor reprint of Ramsey Campbell's 1981 novel The Nameless is perfectly precise: gaudy, tasteless, macabre. Little girl in her Sunday best! On fire! Staring at you menacingly like she doesn't even care about the flames! Fuck you, mom! I hate you, dad!
1985 UK reprint
Honestly I was pretty underwhelmed by The Nameless when I read it about two years ago. A young girl goes missing, presumed murdered, and her mother grieves until mysterious clues start turning up that the girl might still be alive... somewhere, and is at the mercy of a perhaps mythical, murderous cult (ooh, the best kind!). It's not a bad storyline, but the novel is overly quiet and too understated. While that style works very well in Campbell's short stories, spread out over 300 pages it loses its power. I know this sounds terrible, but as a horror fan, the cult needed to be even more horrible! As I recall, the climax is quite muted and happens pretty much in the last two pages. The book doesn't have nearly the intensity that either of the paperback covers above suggests, and this original, tamer hardcover art below is much more accurate.
The Nameless was made into a similarly just-okay Spanish film in 1999, Los sin nombre. I'm working on tracking down more titles in this creepy-kid subgenre, particularly the classics, or "classics," mentioned above.
Looking for a forgotten horror novel or short story? Remember the cheesy paperback art but not who wrote the book? Send me an email at willerror[at]gmail.com describing it and if I don't know it, one of my readers might!
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