More glorious short-story mayhem from the best. Clive Barker continued his revolutionizing of the horror genre with Books of Blood, Vol. 3, which was the first thing I ever read by him way, way back in January 1987 (noted in my Berkley paperback). I can still recall sitting in a mall courtyard reading the first story, "Son of Celluloid," and being a tad put off because Barker's measured, careful prose was so very British. His style was unique and took a bit of warming up to. There was little of the neighborly chumminess of Stephen King's work, or the weighty obliquity of Ramsey Campbell's. Nothing of Lovecraft or Matheson, either, I daresay.
Instead, there is a polite informality, a deft and dry wit in his writing, as if to make the horrors more palatable, the deformities less alien, the grotesqueries a welcome respite from reality. A large part of Barker's horror philosophy, if we can call it that, was that horror should subvert our (often wrong) notions of normality and beauty. From "Scapegoats," a strangely poetic tale that evokes the zombie-island nightmares of Italian exploitation film (not exactly in this quote, though):
And I, losing my life with every second, succumbing to the sea absolutely, couldn't take pleasure in the intimacy I'd longed for. Too late for love; the sunlight was already a memory. Was it that the world was going out - darkening toward the edges as I died - or that we were now so deep the sun couldn't penetrate so far? Panic and terror had left me - my heart seemed not to beat at all. A kind of peace was on me.
True, in a story like the infamous "Rawhead Rex" - made into a dismal film in 1986 that Barker disowned at once - there is a ravenous creature that has an enormous head like a skinned penis and a mouth like a vagina dentata. No holding back from the terrors of viscera and humiliation here. In "Son of Celluloid," another well-known story, a criminal's cancer, his literal cancer tumor, infests a fleabag second-run movie theater and brings to horrible life the ghosts on the screen that fascinate us so, but which need our eyes to exist. This incredible cover for the UK paperback edition from Sphere (below), with Barker's own art, presents one of that story's more memorable moments: our Norma Jean (the fuckable fiction, her hapless victim notes), teasing us with the fur divide that had been the dream of millions.
"Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud" is a revenge tale of mobsters and meek accountants that would have not been out of place in the old EC horror comics that the generation prior to Barker grew up on; it contains one of his most inventive deaths, which my friends and I in junior high used to marvel over. A man takes possession of the linen placed over him in wrongful death; a wraith, an actual ghost that appears to be a person wearing a sheet as a Halloween costume, he seeks out the men who framed, tortured, and killed him.
His flesh and blood body was utterly deserted now; an icy bulk fit for nothing but the flames. Ronnie Glass existed in a new world: a white linen world like no state he had lived or dreamed before. Ronnie Glass was his shroud.
Why, that makes think of Barker's wonderful second novel, Weaveworld, in which an entire world is taken up inside an intricately woven carpet. Nicely done, sir.
Now, I wouldn't necessarily recommend Volume 3 as the best place to start if one has not read Books of Blood - one really should start at the beginning, go through to the end, and then stop, and begin again - but I am still thankful that it was the place I started with Barker and his brand new world of horror for the future. And I haven't stopped yet.
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