Sean T. Collins has written about comics and popular culture professionally since 2001 and on this very blog since 2003. He has written for Maxim, The Comics Journal, Stuff, Wizard, A&F Quarterly, Comic Book Resources, Giant, ToyFare, The Onion, The Comics Reporter and more. His comics
have been published by Top Shelf, Partyka, and Family Style. He blogs here and at Robot 6
(Provided that I deem them suitably fabulous, your name and message will be considered eligible for publication unless you specify otherwise.)
Review Copies Welcome
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An anthology of comics written by Sean T. Collins
Art by Matt Wiegle, Matt Rota, and Josiah Leighton
Designed by Matt Wiegle
An indie fantasy anthology
Featuring a comic by Sean T. Collins & Matt Wiegle
The Sean Collins Media Empire
Destructor Comes to Croc Town
story: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Wiegle
1995 (NSFW)script: Sean T. Collins
art: Raymond Suzuhara
Pornographyscript: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Wiegle
It Brought Me Some Peace of Mindscript: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Rota
edit: Brett Warnock
A Real Gentle Knifescript: Sean T. Collins
art: Josiah Leighton
lyrics: "Rippin Kittin" by Golden Boy & Miss Kittin
The Real Killers Are Still Out Therescript: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Wiegle
Destructor in: Prison Breakstory: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Wiegle
Cage Variations: Kitchen Sink
script: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Rota
Cage Variations: 1998 High Street
script: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Rota
Cage Variations: We Had No Idea
script: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Rota
The Side Effects of the Cocaine
script: Sean T. Collins
art: Isaac Moylan
Cage Variations: No
script: Sean T. Collins
art: Matt Rota
The Amazing! Incredible! Uncanny Oral History of Marvel Comics
The Outbreak: An Autobiographical Horror Blog
Where the Monsters Go: A 31-Day Horrorblogging Marathon, October 2003
Blog of Blood: A Marathon Examination of Clive Barker's Books of Blood, October
The Blogslinger: Blogging Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, October-November 2007
The Things That Should Not Be: The Monumental Horror-Image and Its Relation to the Contemporary Horror Film (introduction)PDF
My 35 Favorite Horror Films of All Time (at the moment)
My David Bowie Sketchbook
The Manly Movie Mamajama
Horror and Certainty I
Horror and Certainty II
En Garde--I'll Let You Try My New Dumb Avant Garde Style, Part I
Evil for Thee, Not Me
The 7 Best Horror Movies of the Past 7 Years (give or take a few films)
Keep Horror NSFW, Part I
Meet the New Boss: The Politics of Killing, Part I
130 Things I Loved About The Sopranos
In Defense of "Torture Porn," Part I
At a Loss: Lost fandom and its discontents
I Got Dem Ol' Konfuzin' Event-Komik Blues Again, Mama
Losing My Edge (DFADDTF Comix Remix)
GusGus, the Universe, and Everything
"I'd Rather Die Than Give You Control" (or Adolf Hitler, Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, and Trent Reznor walk into a blog)
The 11 Most Awful Songs from Geek Movie Soundtracks
The 11 Most Awesome Songs from Geek Movie Soundtracks
11 More Awesome Songs from Geek Movie Soundtracks
The 15 Greatest Science Fiction-Based Pop/Rock/Hip-Hop Songs
My Loch Ness Adventure
The Best Comics of 2003
The Best Albums of 2003
The Best Albums of 2004
The Best Comics of 2005
The Best Comics of 2006
The Best Comics, Films, Albums, Songs, and Television Programs of 2007
The Best Comics of 2008
The Best Comics of 2009
The Best Songs of 2009
80 Great Tracks from the 1990s
Interviews with Sean
Interviews by Sean
Avatar (Cameron, 2009)
Barton Fink (Coen, 1991)
Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005)
Battlestar Galactica: Razor (Alcala/Rose, 2007)
Battlestar Galactica: "Revelations" (Rymer, 2008)
Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 (Moore et al, 2009)
Battlestar Galactica: The Plan (Olmos, 2009)
Beowulf (Zemeckis, 2007)
The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963)
The Blair Witch Project (Myrick & Sanchez, 1999)
The Bourne Identity (Liman, 2002)
The Bourne Supremacy (Greengrass, 2004)
The Bourne Ultimatum (Greengrass, 2007)
Casino Royale (Campbell, 2006)
Caprica: "Pilot" (Reiner, 2009)
Caprica S1 E1-6 (Moore et al, 2010)
Children of Men (Cuaron, 2006)
Cigarette Burns (Carpenter, 2005)
Clash of the Titans (Leterrier, 2010)
Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008), Part I
Crank: High Voltage (Neveldine/Taylor, 2009)
Daredevil (Johnson, 2003)
The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
Dawn of the Dead (Snyder, 2004)
Della'morte, Dell'amore [Cemetery Man] (Soavi, 1994)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl: The Play (Eckerling & Sunde, 2010)
District 9 (Blomkamp, 2009)
Doomsday (Marshall, 2008)
Dragon Wars [D-War] (Shim, 2007)
Eastern Promises (Cronenberg, 2007)
The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973)
The Expendables (Stallone, 2010)
Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, 1999)
Eyes Wide Shut revisited, Part I
Garden State (Braff, 2004)
Gossip Girl Seasons 1-2 (Savage, Schwartz et al, 2007-08)
Gossip Girl Season Three (Savage, Schwartz et al, 2009-2010)
Grindhouse [Planet Terror/Death Proof] (Rodriguez & Tarantino, 2007)
Heavenly Creatures (Jackson, 1994)
Hellboy (Del Toro, 2004)
Hellraiser (Barker, 1987)
A History of Violence (Cronenberg, 2005), Part I
The Host (Bong, 2006)
Hostel (Roth, 2005)
Hostel: Part II (Roth, 2007)
Hulk (Lee, 2003)
The Hurt Locker (Bigelow, 2009)
I Am Legend (Lawrence, 2007)
The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008)
Inglourious Basterds (Tarantino, 2009)
Inside (Maury & Bustillo, 2007)
Iron Man (Favreau, 2008)
Iron Man II (Favreau, 2010)
It (Wallace, 1990)
Jeepers Creepers (Salva, 2001)
King Kong (Jackson, 2005), Part I
Land of the Dead (Romero, 2005)
Let the Right One In (Alfredson, 2008)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Jackson, 2003)
Lost: the first five episodes (Abrams, Lindelof et al, 2004)
Lost Season Five (Lindelof, Cuse, Bender et al, 2009)
Lost Season Six (Lindelof, Cuse, Bender et al, 2010)
Lost Highway (Lynch, 1997)
The Lovely Bones (Jackson, 2009)
Match Point (Allen, 2006)
The Matrix Revolutions (Wachowski, 2003)
Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
The Mist (Darabont, 2007), Part I
Moon (Jones, 2009)
Mulholland Drive (Lynch, 2001)
My Bloody Valentine 3D (Lussier, 2009)
The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange #1 (various, 2010)
Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)
Pan's Labyrinth (Del Toro, 2006)
Paperhouse (Rose, 1988)
Paranormal Activity (Peli, 2009)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Verbinski, 2007) Part I
Poltergeist (Hooper/Spielberg, 1982)
Quantum of Solace (Forster, 2008)
Rambo (Stallone, 2008)
[REC] (Balaguero & Plaza, 2007)
The Ring (Verbinski, 2002)
The Road (Hillcoat, 2009)
The Ruins (Smith, 2008)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Wright, 2010)
Secretary (Shainberg, 2002)
A Serious Man (Coen, 2009)
The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)
Shoot 'Em Up (Davis, 2007)
Shutter Island (Scorses, 2010)
The Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991)
The Sopranos (Chase et al, 1999-2007)
Speed Racer (Wachowski, 2008)
The Stand (Garris, 1994), Part I
The Terminator (Cameron, 1984)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991)
Terminator Salvation (McG, 2009)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper, 1974)
There Will Be Blood (Anderson, 2007)
The Thing (Carpenter, 1983)
300 (Snyder, 2007)
"Thriller" (Jackson & Landis, 1984)
28 Days Later (Boyle, 2002)
28 Weeks Later (Fresnadillo, 2007)Part I
Twilight (Hardwicke, 2008)
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (Slade, 2010)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Weitz, 2009)
Up in the Air (J. Reitman, 2009)
War of the Worlds (Spielberg, 2005)
Watchmen (Snyder, 2009) Part I
The Wicker Man (Hardy, 1973)
The Wire (Simon et al, 2002-2008)
Zombi 2 [Zombie] (Fulci, 1980)
Zombieland (Fleischer, 2009)
Books of Blood (Barker, 1984-85)
A Clash of Kings (Martin, 1999)
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Howard, 2003)
The Dark Tower series (King, 1982-2004)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling, 2003)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Rowling, 2005)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Rowling, 2007)
Hitler: A Biography (Kershaw, 2008)
It (King, 1986)
Mister B. Gone (Barker, 2007)
The Monster Show (Skal, 2001)
Portable Grindhouse (Boyreau, 2009)
The Ruins (Smith, 2006)
'Salem's Lot (King, 1975)
The Stand (King, 1990), Part I
The Terror (Simmons, 2007)
Abe Sapien: The Drowning (Mignola & Alexander, 2008)
Abstract Comics (various, 2009)
The ACME Novelty Library #18 (Ware, 2007)
The ACME Novelty Library #19 (Ware, 2008)
Across the Universe: The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore (Moore et al, 2003)
Action Comics #870 (Johns & Frank, 2008)
The Adventures of Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls (Herge, 1975)
Afrodisiac (Rugg & Maruca, 2010)
Against Pain (Rege Jr., 2008)
Agents of Atlas #10 (Parker, Hardman, Rivoche, 2009)
The Airy Tales (Volozova, 2008)
Al Burian Goes to Hell (Burian, 1993)
Alan's War (Guibert, 2008)
Alex Robinson's Lower Regions (Robinson, 2007)
Aline and the Others (Delisle, 2006)
All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder Vol. 1 (Miller & Lee, 2009)
All-Star Superman (Morrison & Quitely, 2008-2010)
American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar (Pekar et al, 2003)
An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories (Brunetti et al, 2006)
An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons and True Stories Vol. 2 (Brunetti et al, 2008)
Aqua Leung Vol. 1 (Smith & Maybury, 2008)
Archaeology (McShane, 2009)
The Arrival (Tan, 2006)
Artichoke Tales (Kelso, 2010)
Asterios Polyp (Mazzucchelli, 2009)
The Aviary (Tanner, 2007)
The Awake Field (Rege Jr., 2006)
Axe Cop (Nicolle & Nicolle, 2009-2010)
Bacter-Area (Keith Jones, 2005)
Bald Knob (Hankiewicz, 2007)
Batman (Simmons, 2007)
Batman #664-669, 672-675 (Morrison et al, 2007-2008)
Batman #681 (Morrison & Daniel, 2008)
Batman and the Monster Men (Wagner, 2006)
Batman and Robin #1 (Morrison & Quitely, 2009)
Batman and Robin #9 (Morrison & Stewart, 2010)
Batman: Hush (Loeb & Lee, 2002-03)
Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat (Dixon, Moench, Aparo, Balent, Breyfogle, Nolan, 1993)
Batman R.I.P. (Morrison, Daniel, Garbett, 2010)
Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight (Cosentino, 2008)
Batman Year 100 (Pope, 2007)
Battlestack Galacti-crap (Chippendale, 2005)
The Beast Mother (Davis, 2006)
The Best American Comics 2006 (A.E. Moore, Pekar et al, 2006)
The Best of the Spirit (Eisner, 2005)
Between Four Walls/The Room (Mattotti, 2003)
Big Questions #10 (Nilsen, 2007)
Big Questions #11: Sweetness and Light (Nilsen, 2008)
Big Questions #12: A Young Crow's Guide to Hunting (Nilsen, 2009)
Big Questions #13: A House That Floats (Nilsen, 2009)
Big Questions #14: Title and Deed (Nilsen, 2010)
The Black Diamond Detective Agency (E. Campbell & Mitchell, 2007)
Black Ghost Apple Factory (Tinder, 2006)
Black Hole (Burns, 2005) Giant Magazine version
Black Hole (Burns, 2005) Savage Critics version, Part I
Blackest Night #0-2 (Johns & Reis, 2009)
Blankets (Thompson, 2003)
Blar (Weing, 2005)
Bone (Smith, 2005)
Bonus ? Comics (Huizenga, 2009)
The Book of Genesis Illustrated (Crumb, 2009)
Bottomless Bellybutton (Shaw, 2008)
Boy's Club (Furie, 2006)
Boy's Club 2 (Furie, 2008)
Boy's Club 3 (Furie, 2009)
B.P.R.D. Vol. 9: 1946 (Mignola, Dysart, Azaceta, 2008)
B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #4 (Arcudi & Snejbjerg, 2009)
Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*! (Spiegelman, 2008)
Brilliantly Ham-fisted (Neely, 2008)
Burma Chronicles (Delisle, 2008)
Capacity (Ellsworth, 2008)
Captain America (Brubaker, Epting, Perkins et al, 2004-2008)
Captain America #33-34 (Brubaker & Epting, 2007-08)
Captain America: Reborn #4 (Brubaker & Hitch, 2009)
Captain Britain & MI:13 #5 (Cornell & Oliffe, 2008)
Cartoon Dialectics Vol. 1 (Kaczynski, 2007)
Chance in Hell (G. Hernandez, 2007)
Chester 5000 XYV (Fink, 2008-2009)
Chrome Fetus Comics #7 (Rickheit, 2009)
City-Hunter Magazine #1 (C.F., 2009)
Clive Barker's Seduth (Barker, Monfette, Rodriguez, Zone, 2009)
Clive Barker's The Thief of Always (Oprisko & Hernandez, 2005)
Closed Caption Comics #8 (various, 2009)
Cockbone (Simmons, 2009)
Cold Heat #1 (BJ & Santoro, 2006)
Cold Heat #2 (BJ & Santoro, 2006)
Cold Heat #4 (BJ & Santoro, 2007)
Cold Heat #5/6 (BJ & Santoro, 2009)
Cold Heat #7/8 (BJ & Santoro, 2009)
Cold Heat Special #2: The Chunky Gnars (Cornwell, 2007)
Cold Heat Special #3 (Santoro & Shaw, 2008)
Cold Heat Special #5 (Santoro & Smith, 2008)
Cold Heat Special #6 (Cornwell, 2009)
Cold Heat Special #7 (DeForge, 2009)
Cold Heat Special #8 (Santoro & Milburn, 2008)
Cold Heat Special #9 (Santoro & Milburn, 2009)
Comics Are For Idiots!: Blecky Yuckerella Vol. 3 (Ryan, 2008)
The Complete Persepolis (Satrapi, 2007)
Core of Caligula (C.F., 2008)
Crossing the Empty Quarter and Other Stories (Swain, 2009)
Cry Yourself to Sleep (Tinder, 2006)
Curio Cabinet (Brodowski, 2010)
Cyclone Bill & the Tall Tales (Dougherty, 2006)
Daredevil #103-104 (Brubaker & Lark, 2007-08)
Daredevil #110 (Brubaker, Rucka, Lark, Gaudiano, 2008)
The Dark Knight Strikes Again (Miller & Varley, 2003)
Dark Reign: The List #7--Wolverine (Aaron & Ribic, 2009)
Daybreak Episode Three (Ralph, 2008)
DC Universe #0 (Morrison, Johns et al, 2008)
The Death of Superman (Jurgens et al, 1993)
Death Note Vol. 1 (Ohba & Obata, 2005)
Death Note Vol. 2 (Ohba & Obata, 2005)
Death Trap (Milburn, 2010)
Detective Comics #854-860 (Rucka & Williams III, 2009-2010)
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Gloeckner, 2002)
Dirtbags, Mallchicks & Motorbikes (Kiersh, 2009)
Don't Go Where I Can't Follow (Nilsen & Weaver, 2006)
Doom Force #1 (Morrison et al, 1992)
Doomwar #1 (Maberry & Eaton, 2010)
Dr. Seuss Goes to War (Seuss/Minear, 2001)
Dragon Head Vols. 1-5 (Mochizuki, 2005-2007)
A Drifting Life (Tatsumi, 2009)
Driven by Lemons (Cotter, 2009)
Eightball #23 (Clowes, 2004)
Ex Machina Vols. 1-9 (Vaughan, Harris et al, 2005-2010)
Exit Wounds (Modan, 2007)
The Exterminators Vol. 1: Bug Brothers (Oliver & Moore, 2006)
Fallen Angel (Robel, 2006)
Fandancer (Grogan, 2010)
Fatal Faux-Pas (Gaskin, 2008)
FCHS (Delsante & Freire, 2010)
Feeble Minded Funnies/My Best Pet (Milburn/Freibert, 2009)
Fight or Run: Shadow of the Chopper (Huizenga, 2008)
Final Crisis #1 (Morrison & Jones, 2008)
Final Crisis #1-7 (Morrison, Jones, Pacheco, Rudy, Mahnke et al, 2008-2009)
Fires (Mattotti, 1991)
First Time (Sibylline et al, 2009)
Flash: Rebirth #4 (Johns & Van Sciver, 2009)
Follow Me (Moynihan, 2009)
Footnotes in Gaza (Sacco, 2009)
Forbidden Worlds #114: "A Little Fat Nothing Named Herbie!" (O'Shea [Hughes] & Whitney, 1963)
Forlorn Funnies #5 (Hornschemeier, 2004)
Forming (Moynihan, 2009-2010)
Fox Bunny Funny (Hartzell, 2007)
Funny Misshapen Body (Brown, 2009)
Galactikrap 2 (Chippendale, 2007)
Ganges #2 (Huizenga, 2008)
Ganges #3 (Huizenga, 2009)
Gangsta Rap Posse #1 (Marra, 2009)
The Gigantic Robot (Gauld, 2009)
Giraffes in My Hair: A Rock 'n' Roll Life (Paley & Swain, 2009)
A God Somewhere (Arcudi & Snejbjerg, 2010)
Goddess Head (Shaw, 2006)
The Goddess of War, Vol. 1 (Weinstein, 2008)
GoGo Monster (Matsumoto, 2009)
The Goon Vols. 0-2 (Powell, 2003-2004)
Green Lantern #43-51 (Johns, Mahnke, Benes, 2009-2010)
Held Sinister (Stechschulte, 2009)
Hellboy Junior (Mignola, Wray et al, 2004)
Hellboy Vol. 8: Darkness Calls (Mignola & Fegredo, 2008)
Henry & Glenn Forever (Neely et al, 2010)
High Moon Vol. 1 (Gallaher & Ellis, 2009)
Ho! (Brunetti, 2009)
How We Sleep (Davis, 2006)
I Killed Adolf Hitler (Jason, 2007)
I Live Here (Kirshner, MacKinnon, Shoebridge, Simons et al, 2008)
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! (Hanks, Karasik, 2007)
Image United #1 (Kirkman, Liefeld et al, 2009)
The Immortal Iron Fist #12 (Brubaker, Fraction, Aja, Kano, Pulido, 2008)
The Immortal Iron Fist #21 (Swierczynski & Green, 2008)
Immortal Weapons #1 (Aaron, Swierczynski et al, 2009)
In a Land of Magic (Simmons, 2009)
In the Flesh: Stories (Shadmi, 2009)
Incanto (Santoro, 2006)
Incredible Change-Bots (Brown, 2007)
The Incredible Hercules #114-115 (Pak, Van Lente, Pham, 2008)
Inkweed (Wright, 2008)
Invincible Vols. 1-9 (Kirkman, Walker, Ottley, 2003-2008)
Invincible Iron Man #1-4 (Fraction & Larroca, 2008)
Invincible Iron Man #8 (Fraction & Larroca, 2008)
Invincible Iron Man #19 (Fraction & Larroca, 2009)
It Was the War of the Trenches (Tardi, 2010)
It's Sexy When People Know Your Name (Hannawalt, 2007)
Jessica Farm Vol. 1 (Simmons, 2008)
Jin & Jam #1 (Jo, 2009)
JLA Classified: Ultramarine Corps (Morrison & McGuinness, 2002)
Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer (Katchor, 1996)
Jumbly Junkery #8-9 (Nichols, 2009-2010)
Just a Man #1 (Mitchell & White, 2009)
Justice League: The New Frontier Special (Cooke, Bone, Bullock, 2008)
Keeping Two (Crane, 2001-)
Kick-Ass #1-4 (Millar & Romita Jr., 2008)
Kid Eternity (Morrison & Fegredo, 1991)
Kill Your Boyfriend (Morrison & Bond, 1995)
King-Cat Comics and Stories #69 (Porcellino, 2008)
Kramers Ergot 4 (Harkham et al, 2003)
Kramers Ergot 5 (Harkham et al, 2004)
Kramers Ergot 6 (Harkham et al, 2006)
Kramers Ergot 7 (Harkham et al, 2008)
The Lagoon (Carre, 2008)
The Last Call Vol. 1 (Lolos, 2007)
The Last Lonely Saturday (Crane, 2000)
The Last Musketeer (Jason, 2008)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier (Moore & O'Neill, 2007)
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 3: Century #1: 1910 (Moore & O'Neill, 2009)
Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga (Levitz, Giffen, Mahlstedt, Bruning, 1991)
Little Things (Brown, 2008)
Look Out!! Monsters #1 (Grogan, 2008)
Lose #1-2 (DeForge, 2009-2010)
Lost Kisses #9 & 10 (Mitchell, 2009)
Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 (Los Bros Hernandez, 2008)
Low Moon (Jason, 2009)
The Mage's Tower (Milburn, 2008)
Maggots (Chippendale, 2007)
The Man with the Getaway Face (Cooke, 2010)
Mattie & Dodi (Davis, 2006)
McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13 (Ware et al, 2004)
Mercury (Larson, 2010)
Mesmo Delivery (Grampa, 2008)
Micrographica (French, 2007)
Mister Wonderful (Clowes, 2007-2008)
Mome Vol. 4: Spring/Summer 2006 (various, 2006)
Mome Vol. 9: Fall 2007 (various, 2007)
Mome Vol. 10: Winter/Spring 2008 (various, 2008)
Mome Vol. 11: Summer 2008 (various, 2008)
Mome Vol. 12: Fall 2008 (various, 2008)
Mome Vol. 13: Winter 2009 (various, 2008)
Mome Vol. 14: Spring 2009 (various, 2009)
Mome Vol. 15: Summer 2009 (various, 2009)
Mome Vol. 16: Fall 2009 (various, 2009)
Mome Vol. 17: Winter 2010 (various, 2009)
Mome Vol. 18: Spring 2010 (various, 2010)
Mome Vol. 19: Summer 2010 (various, 2010)
Monkey & Spoon (Lia, 2004)
Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby (Nemoto, 2008)
Monsters (Dahl, 2009)
Monsters & Condiments (Wiegle, 2009)
Monstrosity Mini (Diaz, 2010)
Mother, Come Home (Hornschemeier, 2003)
The Mourning Star Vols. 1 & 2 (Strzepek, 2006 & 2009)
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 (Petersen, 2008)
Mr. Cellar's Attic (Freibert, 2010)
Multiforce (Brinkman, 2009)
Multiple Warheads #1 (Graham, 2007)
My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Heatley, 2008)
The Mystery of Woolverine Woo-Bait (Coleman, 2004)
Naoki Urasawa's Monster Vols. 1-3 (Urasawa, 2006)
Naoki Urasawa's Monster Vols. 4-5 (Urasawa, 2006)
Naoki Urasawa's Monster Vols. 6-18 (Urasawa, 2006-2008)
Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys Vols. 1-3 (Urasawa, 2009)
Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys Vols. 4 & 5 (Urasawa, 2009)
Neely Covers Comics to Give You the Creeps! (Neely, 2010)
Neighbourhood Sacrifice (Davidson, DeForge, Gill, 2009)
Never Ending Summer (Cole, 2004)
Never Learn Anything from History (Beaton, 2009)
Neverland (Kiersh, 2008)
New Avengers #44 (Bendis & Tan, 2008)
New Construction #2 (Huizenga, May, Zettwoch, 2008)
New Engineering (Yokoyama, 2007)
New Painting and Drawing (Jones, 2008)
New X-Men Vol. 6: Planet X (Morrison & Jimenez, 2004)
New X-Men Vol. 7: Here Comes Tomorrow (Morrison & Silvestri, 2004)
Nicolas (Girard, 2008)
Night Business #1 & 2 (Marra, 2008 & 2009)
Night Business #3 (Marra, 2010)
Nil: A Land Beyond Belief (Turner, 2007)
Ninja (Chippendale, 2006)
Nocturnal Conspiracies (David B., 2008)
not simple (Ono, 2010)
The Numbers of the Beasts (Cheng, 2010)
Ojingogo (Forsythe, 2008)
Olde Tales Vol. II (Milburn, 2007)
One Model Nation (Taylor, Leitch, Rugg, Porter, 2009)
Or Else #5 (Huizenga, 2008)
The Other Side #1-2 (Aaron & Stewart, 2005)
Owly Vol. 4: A Time to Be Brave (Runton, 2007)
Owly Vol. 5: Tiny Tales (Runton, 2008)
Paper Blog Update Supplemental Postcard Set Sticker Pack (Nilsen, 2009)
Paradise Kiss Vols. 1-5 (Yazawa, 2002-2004)
The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack (Gurewitch, 2009)
Peter's Muscle (DeForge, 2010)
Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days (Columbia, 2009)
Pixu I (Ba, Cloonan, Lolos, Moon, 2008)
Pizzeria Kamikaze (Keret & A. Hanuka, 2006)
Plague Hero (Adebimpe, 2009)
Planetary Book 3: Leaving the 20th Century (Ellis & Cassaday, 2005)
Planetes Vols. 1-3 (Yukimura, 2003-2004)
The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Eisner, 2005)
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Vols. 1-3 (Urasawa, Nagasaki, Tezuka, 2009)
Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka Vols. 1-8 (Urasawa, Nagasaki, Tezuka, 2009-2010)
Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories (Jason, 2008)
pood #1 (various, 2010)
Powr Mastrs Vol. 1 (C.F., 2007)
Powr Mastrs Vol. 2 (C.F., 2008)
Prison Pit: Book 1 (Ryan, 2009)
Prison Pit: Book 2 (Ryan, 2010)
Real Stuff (Eichhorn et al, 2004)
Red Riding Hood Redux (Krug, 2009)
Refresh, Refresh (Novgorodoff, Ponsoldt, Pierce, 2009)
Remake (Abrams, 2009)
Reykjavik (Rehr, 2009)
Ronin (Miller, 1984)
Rumbling Chapter Two (Huizenga, 2009)
The San Francisco Panorama Comics Section (various, 2010)
Scott Pilgrim Full-Colour Odds & Ends 2008 (O'Malley, 2008)
Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (O'Malley, 2007)
Scott Piglrim Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe (O'Malley, 2009)
Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (O'Malley, 2010)
Second Thoughts (Asker, 2009)
Service Industry (Bak, 2007)
Set to Sea (Weing, 2010)
Seven Soldiers of Victory Vols. 1-4 (Morrison et al, 2004)
Shenzhen (Delisle, 2008)
S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Hickman & Weaver, 2010)
Shitbeams on the Loose #2 (various, 2010)
Show Off (Burrier, 2009)
Siege (Bendis & Coipel, 2010)
Siberia (Maslov, 2008)
Skim (Tamaki & Tamaki, 2008)
Skyscrapers of the Midwest (Cotter, 2008)
Skyscrapers of the Midwest #4 (Cotter, 2007)
Sleeper Car (Ellsworth, 2009)
Sloe Black (DeForge)
Slow Storm (Novgorodoff, 2008)
Snake 'n' Bacon's Cartoon Cabaret (Kupperman, 2000)
Snake Oil #5: Wolf (Forsman, 2009)
Snow Time (Krug, 2010)
Solanin (Asano, 2008)
Soldier X #1-8 (Macan & Kordey, 2002-2003)
Speak of the Devil (G. Hernandez, 2008)
Spider-Man: Fever #1 (McCarthy, 2010)
Split Lip Vol. 1 (Costello et al, 2009)
Squadron Supreme (Gruenwald et al, 1986)
The Squirrel Machine (Rickheit, 2009)
Stay Away from Other People (Hannawalt, 2008)
Storeyville (Santoro, 2007)
Strangeways: Murder Moon (Maxwell, Garagna, Gervasio, Jok, 2008)
Studio Visit (McShane, 2010)
Stuffed! (Eichler & Bertozzi, 2009)
Sulk Vol. 1: Bighead & Friends (J. Brown, 2009)
Sulk Vol. 2: Deadly Awesome (J. Brown, 2009)
Sulk Vol. 3: The Kind of Strength That Comes from Madness (Brown, 2009)
Superman #677-680 (Robinson & Guedes, 2008)
Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941 (Sadowski et al, 2009)
Sweet Tooth #1 (Lemire, 2009)
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #4 (Kupperman, 2008)
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #5 (Kupperman, 2009)
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #6 (Kupperman, 2010)
Tales of Woodsman Pete (Carre, 2006)
Tekkon Kinkreet: Black and White (Matsumoto, 2007)
Teratoid Heights (Brinkman, 2003) ADDTF version
Teratoid Heights (Brinkman, 2003) TCJ version
They Moved My Bowl (Barsotti, 2007)
Thor: Ages of Thunder (Fraction, Zircher, Evans, 2008)
Three Shadows (Pedrosa, 2008)
Tokyo Tribes Vols. 1 & 2 (Inoue, 2005)
Top 10: The Forty-Niners (Moore & Ha, 2005)
Travel (Yokoyama, 2008)
Trigger #1 (Bertino, 2010)
The Troll King (Karlsson, 2010)
Two Eyes of the Beautiful (Smith, 2010)
Ultimate Comics Avengers #1 (Millar & Pacheco, 2009)
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 (Bendis & LaFuente, 2009)
Ultimate Spider-Man #131 (Bendis & Immonen, 2009)
The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite (Way & Ba, 2008)
Uptight #3 (Crane, 2009)
Wally Gropius (Hensley, 2010)
Watchmen (Moore & Gibbons, 1987) Part I
Water Baby (R. Campbell, 2008)
Weathercraft (Woodring, 2010)
Werewolves of Montpellier (Jason, 2010)
Wednesday Comics #1 (various, 2009)
West Coast Blues (Tardi & Manchette, 2009)
Wet Moon, Book 1: Feeble Wanderings (Campbell, 2004)
Wet Moon, Book 2: Unseen Feet (Campbell, 2006)
Weird Schmeird #2 (Smith, 2010)
What Had Happened Was... (Collardey, 2009)
Where Demented Wented (Hayes, 2008)
Where's Waldo? The Fantastic Journey (Handford, 2007)
Whiskey Jack & Kid Coyote Meet the King of Stink (Cheng, 2009)
Wiegle for Tarzan (Wiegle, 2010)
Wilson (Clowes, 2010)
The Winter Men (Lewis & Leon, 2010)
The Witness (Hob, 2008)
Wormdye (Espey, 2008)
Worms #4 (Mitchell & Traub, 2009)
Worn Tuff Elbow (Marc Bell, 2004)
The Would-Be Bridegrooms (Cheng, 2007)
XO #5 (Mitchell & Gardner, 2009)
You Are There (Forest & Tardi, 2009)
You'll Never Know Book One: A Good and Decent Man (Tyler, 2009)
Young Lions (Larmee, 2010)
Your Disease Spread Quick (Neely, 2008)
The Trouble with The Comics Journal's News Watch, Part I
KEEP COMICS EVIL
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October 2005 Archives
Book One, Chapter One
"The Book of Blood"
I like this story because it feels like a beginning.
And I stole that opening technique from the story itself, which begins with a simple statement of fact, or what passes for fact in Clive Barker's world: "The dead have highways."
Right from the start he's setting this all up as a journey--a frightening one, sure, since your travel-companions-to-be are, well, dead; but a sorely tempting one, because that's a highway you've never travelled before, is it not?
I also like this story because it revolves around the premise that certain stories need to be told. That's why tragedy befalls our handsome, callow young lead, Simon McNeal--the dead have things they want to say, or more precisely things they want heard, a fact Simon chooses to ignore even as he purports, fraudulently, to speak for them. When they finally do get their chance to testify, the release is physical, explosive, and extremely violent. You can't note that you're reading part one of a thirty-round assault on the foundations of horror fiction by a then-30-year-old Liverpudlian playwright and not feel that there's an element of autobiography in there. (That the conceit of the story is that those dead men's tales constitute the remainder of the anthology appears to bear that theory out.)
And I like the story for the sex. Not that there is any, beyond a little male masturbation, which I assure you is very little indeed for Barker at this (or any) stage in his career. But Barker does such a fine job of conjuring an image of a painfully desirable young man, laying (and lying) in an empty upstairs room in just his underwear while a (presumably middle-aged, though it's never made clear) expert in the paranormal sits in the kitchen below, fiddling with a wedding ring that's outlived the man who put it on her finger, psyching herself into believing she's found success in the form of the fraud above her, and wanting this kid so badly she can practically taste it. It's really very sexy. (When the violence is done, by the way, I feel it's done sensually, certainly with more delicacy than many of the subsequent stories, though even in the most brutal there's a sensual element that can't be denied, or in many cases resisted.)
So the groundwork has been laid here--the body horror, the sex, the need to see and to share, the instaneously blown mind (about which much more in the weeks to come, I'm sure). These are all themes that wind back and forth fugue-like throughout the subsequent 29 tales. Like I said, this one feels like a beginning. "Read and learn," Barker exhorts at the story's end. Okay then.
Everybody is a book of blood;
Wherever we're opened, we're red.
--Clive Barker, Books of Blood
2003 was a very good year for me, in horrorblogging terms. That was the year I did Where the Monsters Go, the big October-long horrorblogging marathon thing that began with the posting of my senior essay on horror from Yale University and ended with a thirteen-day marathon-within-a-marathon starring reviews of my thirteen (and then some) favorite horror films. (Click on the preceding link, or sniff around the sidebar at your left, and you'll be on your way.) At the time I was mostly a comics blogger and a far more casual horror film watcher than I had been, which was what made the horror blogathon so challenging and so rewarding. See, I'd come to feel that, through a sort of benign neglect, I had started growing away from horror.
Needless to say, that feeling didn't survive the month.
Back then, as best I could tell at the time, there were no dedicated, year-round horror blogs. (That's another thing that made "Where the Monsters Go" v1 so challenging and so rewarding.) Today, of course, things have changed. Just take a look at that old blogathon's namesake horrorblog aggregator. October horrorblogging sprees are delightfully plentiful this year as well--be sure to check out Dark But Shining's list of 'em; Dark But Shining itself is doing its own as well, and as a matter of fact I'll be participating in it before the month is out.
Okay, fine. I get to this point in this post, and now what? What's the point of this ramble? (Other than to brag that, to paraphrase Al Columbia, I was horrorblogging when horrorblogging wasn't cool?) The answer I'm stuck with is "none, really." And yet I think that that is the point. When I started typing on October 1st, 2003, I really had no idea where I'd end up. I mean, I knew I'd be posting many of the papers on horror I'd written in college, and I had vague plans for a culminating movie-watching marathon, but beyond that, I was wandering. Seeing where the days and the month and the horror took me.
And that reminds me of my earliest experiences with the work of Clive Barker. It's no secret he's my favorite horror creator, but what might be a secret is that I was a comparatively late bloomer in that regard, and with horror in general. As a child I loved Godzilla and the Universal monster stable; as an early adolescent I devoured Stephen King; I'd seen The Lost Boys and some of Kubrick's more unpleasant works; but in the autumn of my junior year of high school my experience with unabashed Horror Films was nonexistent. One night, though, I was flipping through the channels before bed (like as not looking for either a half-decent video or a skin flick) when I came across the opening credits of the movie Nightbreed. I'd heard about this film from friends who were already big-time Barker devotees, but had never seen it, or Hellraiser, or anything like it. No slasher flicks, no zombie movies, no gore, no splatter, nothing. So when I landed on this channel, playing this movie, I can't begin to tell you how my heart pounded. I knew full well that what this movie stood to contain could, well, horrify me--frighten, terrify, nauseate, traumatize.
But I watched it anyway. And I loved it.
And that was that, really. By the time Christmas passed I'd asked for and either received or acquired myself with gift certificates the Barker books, the ones that came most highly recommended by my horror-fan friends: the Books of Blood. Here in America they're called Books of Blood Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three, The Inhuman Condition, In the Flesh, and Cabal. I plowed through them. I remember reading them on the train down to visit my then-girlfriend now-wife in Delaware, Massive Attack playing in my headphones. They opened an entirely new vista of imagerey and ideas before me, a huge one. This had happened once or twice before then (with The Hobbit in first grade and perhaps The Dark Knight Returns in sixth), and maybe once since (with Jimmy Corrigan in my senior year of college), and since I'm sure you've had a similar experience at some point, I'm sure you'll agree that it's wonderful. It's a world to wander in, is what it is.
It's been a long time since I've read the complete Books of Blood. I've read and reread several of the stories (esp. in Volume One) often enough to have them nearly memorized, but from start to finish? Not since the winter of, what was it anyway, 1995? Over ten years, I think. Well then, Sean, consider the next 30 days your tenth anniversary present.
Welcome to Blog of Blood, my month-long Books of Blood blogging marathon. Every day I will read and comment upon one of the 30 short stories in Clive Barker's Books of Blood: The Complete Edition, the lovely and massive hardcover omnibus collection released by what is apparently the now-defunct Stealth Press in 2001. (The novella "Cabal," which was collected in and lent its name to the final American volume, was not in the original batch and therefore not in the collection, but we'll see, we'll see.)
I honestly have no idea what I'm going to think or write or say about any of the stories. I've done very little blogging on prose fiction over the years, and even less concentrated marathon-style blogging on same. Plus, part of me really wants those of you who haven't already read these stories not to have the thrill of discovery sapped out of it by giving away major spoilers, so I tentatively plan to avoid doing that as much as possible (though I'm not making any promises--caveat lector), giving me even less to rely on in terms of easy material. The stories themselves, of course, are about as far from easy material as it gets, especially for someone on whom they've had such an impact. It runs deep, and it runs wide.
So my plan, of course, is just to wander through it. Wander with me, won't you?
Book One, Chapter Two
"The Midnight Meat Train"
What a title this story has! (When I find titles I like, I like 'em a lot. I remember starting a thread on the Comics Journal message board back in the day asking people to list simply their favorite comics titles; I'm fond of Our Cancer Year, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, That Yellow Bastard, "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool"...I like them wordy and off-kilter in a specific way. That's also why I like Gang of Four song titles so much: "I Found That Essence Rare," "At Home He's a Tourist," "Natural's Not in It," et cetera.) The Books of Blood boast a whole lot of wonderful titles--"How Spoilers Bleed"; "In the Hills, the Cities"; "Pig Blood Blues"; "The Life of Death"; "Skins of the Fathers"; "Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud"--but this is a standout even among the standouts. It's the closest to a Texas Chain Saw Massacre-style guarantor that what is to follow will not end well.
This is a story of dark New York City, seedy, vulgar, evil New York City, "DROP DEAD" New York City. New York City is my favorite place on Earth, so in a way that makes this hard to relate to. I had very little independent experience of the place before Rudy Giuliani transformed it from the 10th Level of Hell into the sort of place where a guy like Mike Bloomberg stands to win a sizable chunk of the African-American vote. But a lot of the ugliness can never be gotten rid of, and that's really what this story is about. The rot is in the foundations.
It's also a story of race, which I must admit I never picked up on until this most recent re-reading. The references to skin tone, ethnicity, religion, and racial strife aren't necessarily going to beat you over the head (with one notable exception), but they're present throughout in a way that they don't tend to be in most of Barker's work. Some of those who end up on the titular train are described as "black bucks" or "an anemic Jewish accountant"; the hero of the piece, upon stumbling across a victim, mentally takes the time (to follow the logic of Barker's word choice) to "decide" that the dark-skinned corpse is (was?) Puerto Rican. There are also blissed-out punk teenagers and graffiti and "opinionated brute[s] that New York bred so well." Race and class, and among them a one-man Hurricane Katrina.
This is a story about disillusionment with the New York experiment in particular and--as becomes apparent when we meet he who motivates the Subway Butcher, that Jack the Ripper of the West 4th Street station--the American one in general. I'm curious as to whether the pre-success Barker had visited either place before writing this; with the exception of a few misplaced Britishisms, it does seem, to his credit, as though he had. Barker, I think, is both fascinated with and repelled by America (aren't we all, though?); he writes love-letters to Hollywood and to America's expansiveness and shoots them through with revulsion for its willful, indeed prideful ignorance and ugliness--and as this story about NYC shows, it was not a red-state-only antipathy. (There's plenty of that too, though--Cabal/Nightbreed, anyone? Still and all, America hardly comes off looking any worse than the UK, but given the attitudes of most English artists during the era of Maggie Thatcher, that's probably to be expected.)
I hate to make this story sound this political--I'm really only working these issues through for myself, see. Mainly it's a tremendously gruesome and exhilarating horror story, the real tone-setter for the entire project, actually. This is the first place where Barker really tests you. The description of the bodies and what happens to them, first through some accidental post-mortem injuries, then through some quite deliberate ones; the unknowable City Father, a splatterpunk remake of the notion of the Lovecraftian monster; the fate of our hero's mouth...it's stomach-turning and transgressive and very scary. And there is worse to come, but this is where Barker asks you what you're really made of.
If you can make it here, in other words, you can make it anywhere.
The Carnival is really crowded today. But then, it's October now, so it would be...
First things first: This Dark But Shining post is your one-stop-shopping destination for all the big October/Halloween blogathons that are going on around the Internet. Dark But Shining's own 31-day "My Favorite Monsters" postfest, by DBS member Rick Geerling, begins here.
DBS also has a little contest goin', in which those of you who are visually inclined stand to win some truly terrific horror manga. Since the only book they're offering that I've already read is Junji Ito's masterful Uzumaki, I sure do wish I knew my way around Photoshop.
Speaking of horrorblogging marathons, Steven at Corpse Eaters has kicked off his comprehensive examination of the Friday the 13th series, and even though I have yet to see a single one of those flicks, I like reading what he has to say about them so far.
And were you aware that I may have been doing some marathon horrorblogging of my own? Scroll down this very site and see!
Jason at Infocult links to another hilariously reimagined film trailer--from the series that brought you The Shining as a feel-good comedy and West Side Story as a fast-zombie flick comes Titanic as an American J-horror riff. Fricking great.
The other day I mentioned that I was fixing to do a series of "meet the horror blogosphere" posts stemming from some of the sites I've discovered in my quest for fresh links to feed into Where the Monsters Go. I don't think I've got the time to do dedicated posts to that effect, but let's throw a few into the mix right now, shall we?
Fearfodder is a horror news blog with a clean, non-"ooh how scary" look, equally clean grammar and spelling, and a whole lotta opinionated news links. Here, Fearfodder blogger Matt links to an article in Scotland on Sunday in which Wicker Man director Robyn Hardy expresses his dismay with Neil LaBute's upcoming American remake. Among the bits of news I'd not heard anywhere else are that 1) The new version will involve killer bees in some fashion; 2) the pagan community (now run by Ellen Burstyn) will be matriarchal; 3) Hardy and original Wicker Man villain Christopher Lee are planning a new film about Scottish paganism called May Day. Hmm.
Also on Fearfodder, a title too good not to pass along: From Ringwraiths to Cenobites. It's from a post about the upcoming documentary Ringers, about the fan culture surrounding The Lord of the Rings, which apparently features your friend and mine Mr. Clive Barker. Considering how influential the look of the Cenobites has been on everything from Dark City to Darth Maul, and how influential the look of the Ringwraiths is becoming (we all love Dave McKean, but if he sincerely the Dementors in the last Harry Potter movie are derived from his designs, he's got another think coming), the confluence was a welcome one.
Continuing our blogospheric tour, welcome to The Black Lagoon, a beautifully designed blogspot site (!) featuring lengthy and considered reviews of tons of horror classics. If you can forgive them for perpetuating the inexplicable hardcore-horror-fan CW that the Dawn of the Dead remake was soulless Hollywood action-horror hackwork, there's much to be read and admired there.
Bill Sherman continues his series of posts on how the networks have all been saying "Let's get Lost" this season with a review of Invasion. Along similar lines, Kevin Melrose at Dark But Shining tries to figure out what exactly is so fishy about the underwater-monster series Surface.
This is not horror-related at all, really, and I'm breaking my embargo to do this, but I don't think anyone will care. People, DO WHAT ERIC REYNOLDS SAYS and order Michael Kupperman's absolutely hysterical Tales Designed to Thrizzle. This humor comic is an absolute classic in the making, I'm telling you. I mean, look at this cover:
Finally, this is why I love the Internet: This morning I open my inbox and I find an email linking to a ton of downloadable, Halloween-themed mp3s. The source? Sub Rosa, an invite-only, clothing-optional, underground stoneworking studio-slash-slow-food restaurant in Dundee, Oregon. Ladies and gentlemen, is the world not a pretty fine place? (Thanks to Sub Rosa proprietors Mike and Linda for the link!)
Book One, Chapter Three
"The Yattering and Jack"
And now for something completely different.
This story is horror-comedy, believe it or not. While many of Barker's stories have their funny moments--"What would a Resurrection be without a few laughs?" is the line from one of them upon which author Ramsey Campbell seizes in his introduction to Volume One--few are as through-and-through lighthearted as this one. Which is not to say it's all Evil Dead 2, though; try to imagine that film with its predecessor's tree-rape sequence grafted in and you'll get a feel for some of this one's darker moments. Nothing quite that untoward, but someone is driven insane, and since our protagonist (Jack), who loves her, knew full well this could happen, it's a wrenching thought. "That was hard," as Barker puts it. "That was almost unforgiveable."
Almost. Barker extends quite a mercy in this one, one of the few he ever extends, when during the climactic confrontation between the two titular characters--a poltergeist-like minor demon and a more-than-meets-the-eye gherkin importer--Jack's daughter smiles at her father, despite the fact that she on some level is aware that he's put his daughters at grave risk for both their sanity and their lives. "Whatever was at issue here, she loved him." Tender, all the more so because it's probably undeserved, or at least underdeserved.
The comic business is a real larf in this one, provided you don't mind animal mutilation played for laughs--three cats, a tankful of guppies, and a Christmas turkey meet unfortunate ends. The fate of the turkey, and of the Christmas tree itself, are antecedents of the wackily improvisatory calypso possession scene in Beetlejuice, tinged here though with menace that makes the laughter come through gritted teeth. And there are funny moments with the prose, too: Whenever the Yattering thinks of his masters, Beelzebub and the other Powers of Hell, he reflexively adds a parenthetical "(long may they hold court, long may they shit light on the heads of the damned)."
Underneath it all there's a common Barker theme (albeit one that's usually played much more seriously): that some folks are perfectly able to live outside the rules. It's a Hell of a message. Pun (as is the case with the whole story) intended.
Book One, Chapter Four
"Pig Blood Blues"
This is one of the saddest tales in the series. Sadness is an emotion that horror should probably exploit with more regularity and force, because horror by its nature is about loss and weakness and futility. (One of the most horrific scenes in any movie I've ever seen is when Joe Pesci's character in Casino is forced to watch as his brother is beaten to a pulp with baseball bats, then thrown into his grave while he's still breathing. It's also one of the saddest scenes I've ever seen--Pesci's Nicky Santoro sobbing, mournfully muttering his brother's name over and over again.) Throw in madness--real up-is-down black-is-white what-the-fuck madness--and you've got this story in a nutshell. Each of the characters seems to have arrived at the end of the road, resigned to a life that's a lot less than they wanted it to be. When the horror happens, they desperately try to avoid it, but you never get the sense that they think it's anything less than inevitable. "He even began to understand Lacey's lassitude, his inability to fight the powers that overtook him," writes Barker of his main character, bitter ex-cop and shop teacher Redman. "Mama, they fed me to the pig. Not Mama, help me, save me. Just: they gave me to the pig."
And god help me, I never made the connection between the pig who lives in the story's reformatory's farm and the fact that Redman is himself a "pig" until this read-through. Can you believe that? It's not like it's subtly laid out, either. The pig is an interesting symbol in art--it represents a predatory greed, but also slaughterability. "This is the state of the beast," as Barker puts it. "To eat and be eaten." The cop who wants to save one last victim, for whatever (sexual? parental? more noble, or less?) reason--which is he, ulimately? Or does it matter? Does shit just happen, has it always happened, will it always happen? It seems like throwing the word "Blues" in the title is just a delicious way for Barker to deflate the capital-I Import of his prose, but aren't we really singing these blues all the time?
Let's get right into it...
The indefatigable Bill Sherman keeps on walking the post-Lost creepy hourlong drama beat. This time up, he looks at Night Stalker, comparing it to the original Stalker in both its TV movie and weekly series incarnations.
Pete Mesling's Fearfodder is definitely a new favorite site of mine. He unearthed a couple of interesting links recently. First, he reminds me to remind all of you that Giant Magazine, the delightful pop-culture publication for which I review graphic novels, recently came up with its Scariest Movies of All Time list, which can be found online via The Guardian. Pete, I assure you The Shining made the top 15...
Second, Pete links to this interview with Clive Barker at Barker's official fan site, Revelations. The usual talk of sequels to previous publishing projects and plans for upcoming movies abounds. Horror fans might also be interested in hearing Barker's feelings on getting back in front of horror fandom, from which he's been away for a while, at several upcoming horror cons.
Also on the Barker beat, Bloody Disgusting has some updates on the current status of Barker film projects The Plague and The Midnight Meat Train.
I don't know why I never made this connection before, but Kevin Melrose at Dark But Shining makes a strong case for the central scene of William Golding's Lord of the Flies as (though he doesn't use the phrase himself) a monumental horror-image. That's exactly what it is--surely it influenced my appreciation of such images even if I never picked up on it until now.
Des at the brilliantly titled Without Me You're Only You is writing up one of his favorite horror movies every day all month. Fun stuff so far--just click over and keep scrolling.
Finally, just something I stumbled across while flipping through a magazine: Shadow of the Colossus, a video game that revolves around the awesomely intimidating nature of monsters that are really, really, really big. Take the vertiginous sensation of being dwarfed by skyscrapers or big sky country, add in the idea that the thing that's dwarfing you is alive, and I think you'll get a sense of why this is the sort of creature I really find exhilarating in a primal way. (It's sort of like the flip side of the way my beloved sea monsters exploit depth.) Worth thinking about in advance of tomorrow's Blog of Blood installment...
Book One, Chapter Five
"Sex, Death and Starshine"
When I think of Books of Blood Volume One, I tend to forget that this story is in it. Even when I turn the page and, hey, there it is, it takes me a while before I can remember what happens in it. Compare that to "The Midnight Meat Train" or "Pig Blood Blues" or "In the Hills, the Cities," the conclusions of all of which I practically have committed to memory.
Perhaps it's because this story is very different from all of those, in a way that dovetails less with my concerns and preoccupations as a horror reader than they do. It's far less fatalistic, I think. Which is odd, because if anything the characters involved, a troupe of theatre people putting up a production of The Twelfth Night with a soap star playing the female lead, deserve their fates less than the characters in the other stories; moreover, it's tougher to square what we presume to be the motivation of the monsters here with their eventual actions. They seem not just cruel or even capricious, but contradictory.
But the unevenness of the story works for it in a certain sense. The idea here is that theatre people--Barker himself was one before he turned his attentions from script-writing to prose--the really great and dedicated ones at least, operate in a world of their own, where their art is both cause and effect, means and end, alpha and omega. Their actions and the consequences thereof, Barker appears to say, shouldn't make sense to us, any more than a cat could understand that when her master disappears for an hour he's actually gotten in the car and driven to the grocery store to pick up hummus and baby carrots. I'm not wholly convinced that it makes for effective storytelling, but there are certainly moments and images that linger all the more because it's difficult to wrap your head around them. There's a bit of business with footlights that's like a collision of grand guignol with comedia dell'arte with the theatre of the absurd. "The mask he wore was neither comic nor tragic," says Barker at another point of another character, "it was blood and laughter together."
One final word: Lots of sex in this one! I remember thinking it was really hot stuff when I was in high school. His depictions of beautiful, sexual women and heterosexual liasons generally are certainly steamy enough to explain how he passed as straight for so many years, at least to the general public. And really, you've got to hand it to any author who takes the time to puzzle out the advantages and disadvantages of being fellated by a reanimated corpse.
Book One, Chapter Six
"In the Hills, the Cities"
This story starts off similarly to "The Midnight Meat Train," with a snapshot summary of disillusionment. The earlier story kicks off by detailing how main character Kaufman's lifelong long-distance infatuation with New York City deteriorated so badly during his first six months of actually living there that he now sees the town he once referred to as "the Palace of Delights" as just another city, but worse--one that "bred death." "In the Hills" begins by outlining the dissolution of a love affair, first from the point of view of Mick, who's come to see his journalist boyfriend Judd as a humorless pedant, then of Judd, who regards Mick as a vapid prettyboy. As in "The Midnight Meat Train," a momentary truce between the ex-beloveds is reached--in the former through the quiet beauty of a New York dawn or twilight, and in the latter through sex, where passion can express itself without words.
Maybe things won't be so bad, then.
The story continues to draw you in, but this time through a difference from earlier stories. In both "Midnight Meat Train" and "Pig Blood Blues," the first time Barker shifts the focal point of the narrative from the protagonist to the antagonist, he makes you aware almost immediately of the nature of the horror you're about to confront. Right away you know that you're in the presence of a serial killer with a sense of purpose; right away you know that you're in the presence of a hungry, evil animal.
But when "In the Hills" makes a similar shift, what, exactly, are you hearing and seeing? A Serbian villager laughs to himself that the expression "a head in the clouds" will be made real. "Limbs" and "flanks" are being lashed together by an entire town, one of two that's been so mobilized. There's the potential for trouble since (we learn) the long-time organizer of this special day for one of the towns has died, leaving her inexperienced daughter in charge. But...that's it, really.
What's going on? Barker is coy, very coy indeed, for a very long time. He is able to rely on what the villager himself knows to be true--that what is going on is beyond rational comprehension. It defies belief, it beggars belief. By the time you grasp what was happening, you're busy conjuring the image in your head, wrapping your brain around its immensity, when you see this, at the end of the relevant passage:
The badly knitted flank might not have caused an accident in itself, but further weakened by the frailty of the competitors it set a scene for death on an unprecedented scale.
Barker waits until the exact moment when you puzzle out what is happening before abruptly dispensing with all pretense of hope. When you finally grasp what you're reading, it's too late. As it is for the villagers. As it is for Judd and Mick.
This is virtuoso writing.
I'm reluctant to say much more about this story. It's my favorite piece of writing by Barker, and one of my favorite pieces of writing by anyone, ever. The prose is so confident, so demanding of attention, awe, terror, it would be churlish (for me, impossible) not to go along with it. I actually wonder whether Barker understood just how good this was as he was writing it (it reminds me of the breathless rock fan's questioning of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant as to what it was like in the studio when "Stairway" was being recorded); I sort of think he did, and at any rate I know he does now, since I believe he regards it as among his finest work himself. But you can get that sense from the writing, which after it turns a certain corner is as relentless as anything you will ever read. "From now on...they were lost to sanity, and to all hope of life."
The concept at the story's core is sui generis, by the way. I assure you you won't see it coming. It may conjure echoes of The Wicker Man, but it's as different as it is similar; it's original and new and mind-boggling. It's an embodiment (literally) of the horrors at the heart of Europe, the Communist and fascist death machines; I'm not the first person to point out, moreover, that Barker set this story in Serbia, just a decade or so before the rape camps were established. The piles upon piles of bodies, the literal rivers of blood--does it need to be said that this speaks not just of Europe, but of all of humanity?
The beginning of the story is perfectly executed. The end of the story is rapturous and, I think, flawless, as Mick makes literal the journey that we the readers are on, and Judd demonstrates why we would choose to merge with something larger than ourselves, even something horrible, lest we face obliteration, the fear of which drives all other fears. (The only potential chink in the story's armor is found early on, with a bit of perhaps too-neat foreshadowing involving mice and bugs being trodden on in a field--but maybe I've said too much now.)
"And they believed themselves deathless, in their lumbering, relentless strength," Barker says of the horror in the hills. "Vast and mad and deathless." That's "In the Hills, the Cities," in content and in quality.
Book Two, Chapter One
When I was in college a professor illustrated the nature of Jesus' parables with the following clue: "To solve this riddle, change one pig." The idea is that the way to interpret the clue is contained within the clue itself.
In much the same way, "Dread" is about what it does: exploiting specific phobias. In that sense it's a very nasty, sordid story. As gruesome as some of the earlier tales are, this is the first one that makes you think, "Jesus, am I really reading this stuff?" It's voyeuristic and unpleasant. And depending on how you relate to the three phobias encountered, it's scary as shit.
In my opinion it's the first of the three phobias--a vegetarian's pathological fear of meat--that is the most harrowing. First of all, we've seen Barker make comparisons between the state of being alive and being meat before, obviously, in "The Midnight Meat Train" and "Pig Blood Blues," so there's that resonance: the way carnivorousness reduces all of us to consumer or consumptible.
Secondly, I'm married to a vegetarian, and in fact have recently become one myself. (After Hurricane Katrina I really couldn't bring myself to cause, however indirectly, an animal to suffer so that I can enjoy my double quarter-pounder. No moral judgment on meat-eaters intended at all, mind you--it's just a personal decision, like the way I won't stop petting my cat until she decides petting time is over.) Amy's vegetarianism, incidentally, is directly attributable to scenes of ostentatious carnivorousness in two horror films, Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (when the raptors eat the cow) and Mike Nichols's Wolf (when Nicholson eats the deer)--I've already got some experience, therefore, with the connection between vegetarianism and a fear of not being a vegetarian, which is what the relevant character in the story is faced with. Inasmuch as vegetarianism in women is often connected to disordered eating and my wife is herself a recovering anorexic, that's another direct line to the dread (you see?) experienced by the pertinent character in the story--even more so because her choice is literally one between eating meat (eventually, eating rotten meat) or starving to death.
Thirdly, and I think most insidiously, that character, Cheryl Fromm, is a popular, intelligent, gorgeous blonde college student. We've all known popular, intelligent, gorgeous young blondes; what Barker is exploiting is simultaneous lust for and resentment of them. Cheryl's degradation is presented painstakingly, methodically, and explicitly. We watch her lash out in anger, sob, urinate, bathe, vomit, and ultimately give in to the needs of her body and eat the meat. (No double meaning intended there from Barker, oh I'm sure.) So there's the "serves you right for not being my possession already, bitch" element, I'm afraid--the desire to punish people for being beautiful, or for being more than we are. It's unpleasant, but if we're honest with ourselves, it's undoubtedly present.
(I also think Barker taps into the strange eroticization of women eating, which arises from the fact that act is all but taboo in today's society. Gregg Araki made the best use of this I've yet seen in his film Nowhere, which boasted a scene in which a group of bulimic teenagers binge with all the wet groans and grunts of a gangbang.)
The other fears? They're tackled well, in their way, though I admit they're a lot less scary to me than the meat one. My pal Jason Adams appears to disagree; your mileage, as they say, may vary. For my money, the approach to Fear #2 is a little too baroque, Fear #3 a little too forced. But they both offer something truly horrific--respectively, the dissolution of a mind over the course of a couple of pages, and a really direct and nasty definition of being tortured to death. Like I said, you'll think, "Jesus, am I really reading this stuff?"
Book Two, Chapter Two
You don't read too many horror stories about track and field competitions, do you?
This story's a tough one to really groove on, if you ask me. The conceit is just a little too, I don't know, frivolous? I really hate to do this and I've tried to avoid it in my discussions of the stories so far, but I think I've got to just tell you what the plot is for you to understand what I mean. So, SPOILER WARNING...
Hell secretly enters a demon in a charity half-marathon in London. If a human wins, democracy will reign for another 100 years ("another"?--ed. Hey, it's Barker's optimistic assessment of the 20th century, not mine!). If the demon wins, the world will end.
Okay. So that's what that is. Like I said, it's a tough one. But still, there are pleasures to be found here.
1) This is the second of Barker's stories to deal with the rules by which Hell is obliged to abide (the other being "The Yattering and Jack"). Considering how chaotic Barker's Earth is, it's curious his Hell is bound to follow regulations just like any other competitor. "We stand for order, you know," says Hell's human summoner in this story. "Not chaos. That's just heavenly propaganda." Obviously, for those familiar with Barker's work in general, this theme is taken up once again, though far less lightly, in Hellraiser and Hellbound.
2) This is also the second of Barker's stories to deal with issues of race (the other being "The Midnight Meat Train"). Tellingly, as in the earlier story, the character who most explicitly voices bigoted sentiments is a monster who subsequently goes down to defeat. But things were certainly set up before then, from the second we learn that the heroic protagonist Joel Jones is black and Hell's contestant is posing as a white South African. I was also struck by the way Barker notes that racists view black people as not just less human, but also more human, than themselves.
3) There are just a lot of really great Barker horror moments--what happens to Jones's manager when he sneaks one last look back at the thing coming out of the portal to Hell; the way one of the demons transforms its face from that of a human into what Barker describes as "a fan of knives" before arriving at its final insectoid form; the gleefully gruesomely described fate of Jones himself, making literal use out of the fact that he's been voted by the tabloids as "the best loved black face in England"; and the fate of Hell's human agent when the race is over, one that presages the bodies-past-their-limits imagery of the (superior) story that follows this one. (Tune in tomorrow!)
4) Though we are with both Jones and his manager Cameron only briefly as compared to similar protagonists in other stories, they're both made pretty damn likable in a pretty short period of time. Perhaps it's because so much of their respective narratives involve physical striving--Joel in his race, Cameron on his bicycle. Our desire to see them succeed is almost sympathetically physical.
5) It's quiet, but you can hear a common Barker theme being played there at the end, as the knowing children in the crowd of spectators lead their horrified parents away--some people's minds are as able to accommodate the unnatural as they are anything else.
At the risk of this feature becoming "ADDTF's Dark But Shining Watch," there's a lot of good stuff going on over Chez Costello/Geerling/Melrose these days.
First, ther's Sam Costello's review of Uzumaki, one of the two best horror comics I've ever read (and one of the best comics of any kind I've ever read, for that matter). I think this is pretty close to essential reading for horror fans.
Second, here's guest-blogger Aaron Weisbrod's assertion that zombies aren't scary. As someone who's been scared by at least four zombie movies, I don't know what I can say besides "nuh-uh." But Aaron doesn't do much to back up his assertion--he doesn't even go so far as to say why, or even if, he's never been scared by them. Mostly he focuses on how zombies are a surefire route to lousy storytelling in the hands of lazy writers. Well, yeah, but what isn't? The comment thread is full of interesting and impassioned rebuttals; by all means read and make your own decision.
Third, here's links to all their October horror-fest posts so far. Go nuts!
Moving on, Phoebe Gloeckner, one of the Greatest Living Cartoonists (and a big-time Uzumaki fan, btw), has been blogging again. This would be unalloyed good news were it not for the fact that in the September 17th entry (if there's a permalink I can't find it, so just scroll down) she reveals that she was alternately condescended to and excoriated during an appearance on NPR, by the show's conservative and "liberal" co-hosts alike. Having your harrowing portrayal of childhood sexual abuse called "pornographic" by bluenosed nitwit Michael Medved is one thing, but he wasn't alone, apparently. Now that's scary.
On a more traditionally monstrous note, today's installment of "Meet the Horror Blogosphere" brings us to the aptly named Giant Monster Blog. Who could say no to a blog whose subhead reads "My thoughts on everything from Angilas to Zigra?" If you dig the Kong or the kaiju, you should make this one a regular stop.
Clive Barker to collaborate with Frank Quitely? It could happen, if Barker has his way--Jonathan Encarnacion's interview with Quitely, the best artist in genre comics today, at Silver Bullet Comics reveals that Barker is a big fan and has made an offer to collaborate on something, anything. Oh please oh please oh please. (Hat tip to Jim Dougan for the link.)
Finally, One Louder links to the video for "Give Me Every Little Thing," a terrific P-Funk-meets-Pet-Shop-Boys track by the fun DFA-produced dance outfit The Juan Maclean. It's kind of like a visual mash-up between 2001, Midnight Cowboy, and '70s smut. NSFW, but delightful in nearly every other way. And while you're at the Waverly Films directorial group's site, be sure to check out the video for Jason Forrest's "Steppin' Off", which is the most note-perfect recreation of '70s arena-rock faux-Tolkienisms since Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge" sequence--or The Song Remains the Same for that matter...
Would that it were not so, but Where the Monsters Go has been experiencing technical difficulties out the wazoo lately. From erroneous dates to spam links to refusing to accept pings to maybe even dropping included sites off the list, it's been giving me agita. Unfortunately, all these problems are the fault of blo.gs, which ever since Yahoo took it over has been sort of like a catastrophic dirigible accident. All I can advise users of the list or owners of the sites listed therein to do for now is be patient, and email me if your site gets dropped or you run into a similarly major problem. Thank you kindly.
Book Two, Chapter Three
"Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament"
This story is practically lousy with insight.
Jacqueline told me lies at that first meeting....I suppose she could have told me the truth then and there, and I would have lapped it up--I believe I was utterly devoted from the beginning. But it's difficult to remember quite how and when interest in another human being flares into something more committed, more passionate. It may be that I am inventing the impact she had on me at that first meeting, simply re-inventing history to justify my later excesses. I'm not sure.
If one has given oneself utterly, watching the beloved sleep can be a vile experience. Perhaps some of you have known that paralysis, staring down at features closed to your enquiry, locked away from you where you can never, ever go, into the other's mind. As I say, for us who have given ourselves, that is a horror. One knows, in those moments, that one does not exist, except in relation to that face, that personality. Therefore, when that face is closed down, that personality is lost in its own unknowable world, one feels completely without purpose. A planet without a sun, revolving in darkness.
It wasn't that she was feeding on me. I want to be clear about that. She was no lamia, no succubus. What happened to me, my fall from grace with ordinary life if you like, was of my own making. She didn't bewitch me; that's a romantic lie to excuse rape. She was a sea: and I had to swim in her. Does that make any sense? I'd lived my life on the shore, in the solid world of law, and I was tired of it. She was liquid; a boundless sea in a single body, a deluge in a small room, and I will gladly drown in her, if she grants me the chance. But that was my decision. Understand that. This has always been my decision.
It's not a small world, when there's only one face in it you can bear to look upon, and that face is lost somewhere in a maelstrom. It's not a small world when the few, vital memories of your object of affection are in danger of being trampled out by the thousands of moments that assail you every day, like children tugging at you, demanding your sole attention.
There's a lot more where that came from in this, one of Barker's finest short stories. I didn't really remember just how good it was until I reread it, actually.
It starts off with a sort of traditional fable/fairy-tale structure, extraordinary things happening with minimal explanation or justification. In this way the main character's name echoes not only that of another mysterious and captivating woman, Jackie O, but of another character whose bizarre story illustrates the absurd horrors of the human heart, Josef K.
We then switch over to the first-person "testimony" excerpted above, by that of one Oliver Vassi, Jacqueline's doomed lover. (That's pretty much all she has.) It's a switchover that shouldn't work but does, even as the POV is switched back and forth several more times. Barker makes the most of the point-counterpoint through his prose--just by way of a for instance, as our male interlocutors shower Jacqueline with worship and fear, we barely notice that her habitual internal exclamations of "My God, this can't be," internalized supplications to the great Pater, gradually disappear from her mental vocabulary, until in her final triumph they are nowhere to be found.
It's a story about gender and power, and the relationship between the two. As Oliver says,
I was convinced that something in her system was awry...On reflection, of course, that seems laughably naive. To think she wouldn't have known that she contained such a power. But it was easier for me to picture her as prey to such skill, than mistress of it. That's a man speaking of a woman; not just me, Oliver Vassi, of her, Jacqueline Ess. We cannot believe, we men, that power will ever reside happily in the body of a woman, unless that power is a male child. Not true power. The power must be in male hands, God-given. That's what our fathers tell us, idiots that they are.
Students of the superhero genre will doubtless be interested to learn that Jacqueline's powers fall into that traditionally female domain--the fluid powers of the telekinetic. The argument often goes that such powers, along with invisibility, telepathy, intangibility and so forth, are to be seen as inferior through their constant association with femaleness. But "Jacqueline Ess" is maybe the greatest act of reclamation for telekinesis ever, and I'm not even talking about the beautiful passages in which the resting Jacqueline's flesh ripples and flows like a lake, or when her genitals pulse and throb like a sentient flower: Simply put, this is one of the most gruesomely violent stories I've ever read, and that really is saying something. When Jacqueline kills somebody, you know they've been killed. When I first read this story back in high school, I got about a sentence into the part where Barker describes the way the taut flesh of a man's forehead and nose splits down the center as Jacqueline mentally flays him alive before I grunted in disgust and literally put the book down. I'd never done that before and I don't think I've ever done it since. Barker really pushes body horror to its limits here, in the same way that he'll push his phanatsmagorical bestiary/physiology to its limits in the next story.
There are many other moments to savor--the humor (Jacqueline's patronizing shrink is named Dr. Blandish), the sex (telekinetically enhanced and super, super hot), the turns of phrase (the gorgeous iambic pentameter of "my fall from grace with ordinary life," echoing "In the Hills, the Cities"'s concluding "He interrupted neither with his name"), the bracingly direct graffiti shrine to Jacqueline, the Klaus Nomi-esque pimp she enslaves toward the story's end, the punning use of "Her Will" in the title, and especially the last paragraphs, as transcendent as those of "In the Hills," in my opinion. A greatest hit, without question.
Book Two, Chapter Four
"The Skins of the Fathers"
In many ways this story is simply a dry run for the later, more ambitious novella Cabal, which was grafted on and lent its name to the sixth and final volume of The Books of Blood here in the U.S. There as here we have an apocalyptic confrontation between the denizens of a reactionary American small town and a community of monsters more threatening by virtue of their very existence than by any physical danger they may or may not pose. There as here the proceedings function as a metaphor for humanity's fear of that which is different, though in Cabal it's homosexuality that's the subtextual target whereas here it's women, specifically women functioning independently of men. Indeed, Barker goes so far as to make this story into a reverse creation myth, revealing how man sprung from the union of woman and monster, only to enslave the former and eradicate the latter.
Cabal's monsters aren't the beasts of this story--they're more or less human, so they have personalities, they speak English, and so forth. In that way and in several others Cabal is a more rewarding work. "Skins" is simply a much more straightforward horror story, and a terrific one. Things get cranking right away in a terrifically vivid chase scene in the desert--city slicker Davidson walks a mile or so into the wasteland away from his broken-down car to solicit help from what he thinks is a passing parade of some kind, only to discover, with about a half a mile remaining between him and the members of the procession, that they aren't even remotely human. Davidson's split-second switchover to abject terror as one of the creatures bolts from the group and runs across the featureless desert straight for him is utterly convincing and (ahem) pungently evoked. The thought of this huge beast barreling in your direction as you make a run for a car that you have no hope of moving even if you can get inside it before this thing catches you and tears you to pieces is such a primal fear--it's the kind of image you'd imagine preceded and gave birth to everything else in the story!
"Skins" is also a chance for Barker to show off his chops in creating uniquely Barkerian monsters. In the same way that "Jacqueline Ess" showed him flexing his gore muscles, "Skins" offers full vistas of the bizarre menagerie we've caught fleeting glimpses of in "The Midnight Meat Train" and "Hell's Event":
One was perhaps eighteen or twenty feet tall. Its skin, that hung in folds on its muscle, was a sheath of spikes, its head a cone of exposed teeth, set in scarlet gums. Another was three-winged, its triple-ended tail thrashing the dust with reptilian enthusiasm. A third and fourth were married together in a union of monstrosities the result of which was more disgusting than the sum of its parts. Through its length and breadth this symbiotic horror was locked in seeping marriage, its limbs thrust in and through wounds in its partner's flesh. Though the tongues of its heads were wounded together it managed a cacaphonous howl.
See what I mean? Barker's primary technique is really just to sketch a vague picture of a beast by providing a few key details, the sort of details your mind is unlikely ever to conjure without his prompting, and let you take it from there. (I was particularly dumbfounded by the beast whose head is a featureless cylinder.) It's an effective technique, a sort of "guided" version of the CW about the best horror being left to one's imagination. He'll leave it to your imagination all right, but not before giving you a loaner from his own.
One final thought about this story: A lot of it is unfair. The rednecks get what they deserve, for the most part, and that's fine; the abusive husband and father too. But some of the former end up headed for an extremely slow and painful death, so gratuitously awful that even the woman around whom the whole fiasco really centered (due to her dalliance with the monsters and subsequent conception and childbirth years back) is horrified and desperate to save them, even though it's pretty much impossible. And the latter wasn't abusive until the monsters appeared, cuckolded him, and essentially drove him insane. And what about Lucy, the monsters' mate, who is left unprotected by them, has her child taken by them, and is ultimately abandoned to the desert? And what about Eleanor, the pistol-packin' mama who's just as much a woman as anyone but condemned to suffer alongside the male rednecks because of her too-enthusiastic embrace of American machismo? And for pete's sake what about Davidson, whose only crime was a highway breakdown and who was dragged into the final confrontation only because someone literally pointed a gun at his head? (Not, perhaps, the head the proverb refers to, but a head nonetheless.) This is perhaps the clearest illustration yet that the deadliest sin in Barker's world is the failure to be extraordinary; is that really a mortal sin, and should such sinners be so extravagantly damned?
Book Two, Chapter Five
"New Murders in the Rue Morgue"
I think Book Two started off a little shakily, to be honest. "Dread" (though I know it has its partisans) is powerful but uneven, and "Hell's Event" is a bit random. But boy, does this volume finish strong. "Jacqueline Ess," "Skins of the Fathers," and this story, a bizarre, sad, and troubling riff on Poe's original, are each singular and strange and enormously effective horror.
As befits its semi-cover-version storyline, in which Poe's ape-run-amok murder mystery is grafted uncomfortably and disastrously into the present day, "New Murders" is about the horror of getting old. That horror is twofold: On the one hand, main character Lewis feels that he's outlived the usefulness of being alive, if you will--his best days are well behind him and he's acutely aware that, in that sense, there's really no point to sticking around.
In some ways Lewis was almost glad to be old and close to leaving the century to its own devices. Yes, the snow froze his marrow. Yes, to see a young girl with the face of a goddess uselessly stirred his desires. Yes, he felt like an observer now instead of a participator.
But it had not always been this way.
On the other hand, even as Lewis's life thins, he is overwhelmed by a surfeit of life around him. As he investigates a brutal killing that has landed an old friend in jail, he's constantly bombarded by an excess of experience--powerful smells, hideous faces, disconcerting sounds, painful physical trials, diquieting lusts.
It was too much. The dizziness throbbed through Lewis' cortex. Was this death? The lights in the head, and the whine in the ears?
He closed his eyes, blotting out the sight of the lovers, but unable to shut out the noise. It seemed to go on forever, invading his head. Sighs, laughter, little shrieks.
Twice during "New Murders" Lewis muses on the distinction between fiction and reality. At first he dismisses it as a concern of the young--when you're old, he thinks, it all becomes part of the same mental landscape. But by the end of the story over-reliance on convenient fictions has led to tragedy, and his opinion changes completely--something either is
, or isn't.
Lewis, in the end, realizes he falls into the latter category.
The real horror about getting old, according to "New Murders," is that you can no longer afford your fiction. An unfixable mistake, an unforgivable crime, an unforgettable tragedy, an unhallowed death at the end of your days can ruin all that's come before it.
The past, their past together, was dead. This final chapter in their joint lives soured utterly everything that preceded it, so that no shared memory could be enjoyed without the pleasure being spoilt....No innocence, no history of joy could remain unstained by that fact. Silently they mourned the loss...of their own past. Lewis understood now [the] reluctance to live when there was such loss in the world.
The fiction Lewis and his friends believed superior to reality is not just vulnerable to its intrusion but ultimately hollow and lousy in and of itself. Self-blandishments and pretense are not palliative but corrupting and destructive--the central horrific figure in this story, about whom I shall say no more, is the embodiment of this notion, very, very vividly so. And as the world marches on the shattered fictions and those who harbored them are left behind.
Book Three, Chapter One
"Son of Celluloid"
To a certain extent this story, with its examination of Hollywood glamour, is an antecedent of Barker's delightfully trashy La-La-Land epic Coldheart Canyon, written almost two decades later and after Barker himself had had a great deal of experience inside Tinseltown, both as a filmmaker and as a resident. (When I interviewed him before Coldheart came out I mentioned this connection, and his response was "My God, you really do know my work.") As it lacks the depth and detail of that novel, "Son" does not really provide a particularly groundbreaking look at the dream factory--it's no great insight that Hollywood's pleasures are illusory, or that through the magic of the movies the beauty of the stars never fades, you know?
But in this haunted-theatre tale Barker succeeds where he exploits very specific aspects of the Hollywood illusion. Confronted with a deadly Western scenario, Barker notes the threatened characters resentment of the genre's "forced machismo, the glorification of dirt and cheap heroism," and its "handful of lethal lies--about the glory of America's frontier origins, the morality of swift justice, the tenderness in the heart of brutes." Later a character is seduced by a spectral Monroe, and for anyone who's felt a real ache of desire for an actor or actress you'll never even meet, much less make love with, the moment's electrically charged:
He was within a couple of yards of her when a breeze out of nowhere billowed her skirt up around her waist. She laughed, half closing her eyes, as the surf of silk rose and exposed her. She was naked underneath.
Ricky reached for her again and this time she didn't avoid his touch. The dress billowed up a little higher and he stared, fixated, at that part of Marilyn he had never seen, the fur divide that had been the dream of millions.
Of course, this is Clive Barker we're talking about here, so there's more than meets the eye (pun intended--if you read the story you'll get it) to that "fur divide" and to Marilyn herself. It's one of three knockout horror images in this story--the second involving a really creative way of removing someone's eyeballs, and the third a sudden eruption of evil out of the orifices of a picture of innocence.
The story's structure is memorable as well--it starts telling one story, and then as if in homage to another silver-screen goddess, Janet Leigh, suddenly becomes a different story entirely. (It has a coda reminiscent of 'Salem's Lot, also.) I also really like the story's heroine, Birdy--her no-bullshit demeanor (and some of the story's dialogue as well) are precursors to Kirsty from The Hellbound Heart (aka Hellraiser), while her weight and her remora-like relationship to the Hollywood deities (she works in a movie theatre) are later echoed in Tammy from Coldheart Canyon. Ricky is well-sketched as well, a man in his mid-thirties (that's not revealed till the end, actually) who in every respect is trying to live like a 20-year-old in perpetuity.
Not the best story in the series, then (see tomorrow for another possible claimant to that particular title), but as befits the subject matter, hey, that's entertainment.
Book Three, Chapter Two
If I had to recommend one story from The Books of Blood to horror fandom in general, this would be it. Werewolf fans, Grendel fans, Frankenstein or Bigfoot or orc or troll or Jason or Alien or whatever fans--stop what you're doing, click on that Amazon link at the end of this post, buy Books of Blood Vols. 1-3, and the second you receive it, read "Rawhead Rex" immediately. You will never find a better monster-run-amok story no matter how hard you look.
The plot is pure simplicity--in an English country village slowly being overrun by tourists, a local yokel unearths a 9-foot-tall monster that kills and eats people, especially children. This monster--Rawhead, it's called; also the King (hence the "Rex" of the title)--proceeds to do exactly that, in abundance. That's pretty much it. GodDAMN is it great.
The genius of the story lies in the absolute, single-minded savagery with which Barker chronicles the rampage. For example, when I said Rawhead eats children, I was not fucking around. The totality with which the concept of the family is violated in this story is breathtaking--children are yanked from parents' arms and devoured right in front of them, they're yanked out of the family car and vomit down the creature's head as he bites their faces off while the parents look on, helpless. It's unbelievably gruesome, and powerful. Church and Law offer no more protection than Family, either.
The story's full of the sort of primal-fear, fight-or-flight-inspiring images that kicked off "The Skins of the Fathers," with this enormous angry monster bursting down doors, smashing through windows, running down the High Street destroying everything in sight. It puts that cold fear in your gut that you'd get if you went to take out the garbage and found yourself five feet away from a grizzly bear--only worse, because when the eyes of this beast find you they're full of a horrible self-awareness, hatred as well as hunger. Actually, they're filled with joy. Rawhead loves what he does.
As becomes apparent, thematically speaking, as the story unfolds, Barker's original idea for Rawhead was of a giant killer penis. As such "Rawhead Rex" is one of Barker's most searing explorations of gender politics (one of his favorite topics to tackle through horror, thus far most explicitly in "Dread," "The Skins of the Fathers," "Jacqueline Ess," and "Son of Celluloid"; the sex act, of course, is virtually omnipresent throughout the entire anthology).
And there are the usual razor-sharp prose moments, of course, my favorite being when a newly bereaved father can no longer cry: "This time the tears didn't begin. This time there was just an anger that was almost wonderful."
Even some of Barker's more problematic recurring tropes are rock-solid here. Take the quiet, almost curious--indeed, almost welcoming--resignation many of his characters feel immediately before being dispatched by some hideous creature or other: I often find it if not difficult to believe then at least demanding of more explanation than Barker's willing to give it (cf. Ricky in "Son of Celluloid," for example), but here he ponies up a convincing argument in its favor: "[He] just stood and watched. There was nothing in him but awe. Fear was for those who still had a chance of life: he had none." If horror is hopelessness (and I see I'm not alone in thinking that), then this is horror at its purest.
"Rawhead Rex" is probably best known for its legendarily awful movie adaptation, which is a real shame, because it would make an excellent horror movie, albeit dark as anything this side of the original Texas Chain Saw, and Rawhead would make an unforgettable monster. With his orcs (and especially) his Uruk-Hai, Peter Jackson proved that (much as he proved the filmability of Lovecraft with his Watcher in the Water). Meanwhile, Steven Bissette's never-realized graphic-novel version trumped the one that did see print, by Steve Niles and Les Edwards. But the best version, I assure you, is in your head. Go unleash it.
Book Three, Chapter Three
"Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud"
This is a comparatively unassuming story, as far as The Books of Blood go. Barker's not scaling any notable thematic or rhetorical heights here, nor is he pushing the envelope in terms of imagery. (There's one really nasty moment in there, and it'll test your stomach, shall we say, but one's not a whole lot when you consider the source.) Even the protagonist is just sort of an everysquare. The monster is novel enough, but it's not meant to blow your mind a la "In the Hills, the Cities" or anything like that.
No, the modest pleasures of this story are basically derived from the very fact that the pleasures are so modest. This is a revenge story, pure and simple--Kill Bill with ghosts--and if that's the sort of thing you like, you'll like Barker's take on it. The real interest lies in where Barker's potboiler deviates from the formula. Like I said, he's not going nuts here, but there are flourishes now and then that are worth picking apart.
For example, our soon-to-be late protagonist Ronald Glass reacts with disgust bordering on the pathological when he discovers that he's the unwitting house accountant for an enormous, illegal hardcore porn empire--it's not just the notion that revolts him, but the fleshy, hairy, puckered bodies that constitute the goods. However, once the frame-up job hits the fan and his life is ruined because of it, he reacts unhesitatingly with wetworks-style violence. Perhaps Barker is getting at the way straight society is neurotic over sexuality but more or less at home with violence?
Once Glass is apprehended by his victims' underworld cohorts, he's tortured to death, but the torture scene itself is strangely glossed over, pretty much the opposite of what you'd expect from Barker. I think the depiction of torture is one of the most acutely horrifying tools at the disposal of an artist (the facts that I'm a horror buff and that Casino is my favorite Scorsese movie are not unconnected). So why does the god of splatterpunk steer clear of it? Is it because the shlubs who populate the story, even on the criminal side, are so workaday that they can't bear the weight of typically Barkerian excess?
Then there's the ghost-Glass's first victim, whose crime is simply being a boor. This isn't the first time Barker has implied that a failure to be interesting is a capital crime, and it won't be the last; it's interesting that the executioner here is also a drab little man, his spectral condition excepted of course.
The quest for vengeance culminates in yet another spectacularly gory assault on the sanctity of family. To be sure, the child involved makes out a whole lot better than does the one in "Rawhead Rex," but years of therapy, if not institutionalization, are certainly in its future. This sort of behavior is (or was) generally taboo even in horror, but for Barker it appears the violation of taboo is an end in itself, even when the means are as straightforward as they are in "Confessions."
It's a fine little story, underlined with one last subtle embellishment--the parenthetical accusation that hangs over Glass, even in the title of the story that chronicles his attempt to avenge the besmirching of his good name. One last kick in the nuts of the too-ordinary guy. I get the sense that that's the taboo Barker's really gunning for.
Let's kick things off tonight with another installment of "Meet the Horror Blogosphere": Presenting Sylvian L.'s Killing in Style, which bills itself as "Reflections about the giallo." That's really what it is--a series of short, thoughtful little posts on various stylish Italian slasher films, as well as movies that inspired their asthetic, like Blow-Up. This is a heckuva find if you enjoy the genre, or just good writing on horror.
Speaking of giallo, life imitates it: True-crime blogger Steve Huff reports that Mexico City is being stalked by a serial killer who is either a woman or a female impersonator and who has murdered four elderly women this year--three of whom all had prints of the same painting, Jean-Baptisted Greuze's "Boy in Red Waistcoat," in their homes. It sounds like something out of a Dario Argento movie, doesn't it? But unfortunately for the victims, who had the bad luck of being women murdered in Mexico, this particularly movie is unlikely to have a satisfying conclusion.
In other news of the real-world weird, Mickey Kaus has been reporting on a series of "mystery stench" outbreaks in D.C., L.A., and...Wales? Kaus semi-suspects bioweapon experimentation; these things do happen...
Which leads us perfectly to our first Dark But Shining link of the day: Rick Geerling's encomium for Stephen King's military-experiment-gone-awry horror novella The Mist. Rick points out that I love this story. Everyone should.
Next, guest-blogger Aaron Weisbrod makes with the quotability: "to me, true horror is an abandonment of all hope." My sentiments exactly!
Fellow DBS guest-blogger (and writer of the new Western horror comic Strangeways) Matt Maxwell pens a thought-provoking essay on the thin line between horror and other genres, especially sci-fi. I'm generally someone who doesn't much care about or for genre boundaries--I have no problem viewingEyes Wide Shut, Heavenly Creatures, Deliverance, Lost Highway, and maybe even Casino as horror movies, though they're each other kinds of movies as well. Maybe that's why passages from Matt's essay like this one threw me:
John Carpenterís adaptation of The Thing is a perfect example. The original film was a somewhat tense science fiction outing featuring an alien vegetable creature preying upon the team of Arctic explorers who had unwittingly unleashed it. A sober story of humans banding together to fight a common enemy lurking amongst them. Contrast this with Carpenterís version, and youíll see that Carpenterís vision is pure horror. Instead of calmly working together, pipes clenched in square jaws, Carpenterís Arctic explorers are on the verge of self-destruction at any moment, driven by desperation, paranoia and isolation.
Is the idea here that if the characters aren't straight-laced enough, it's not science fiction? I think that's a needlessly proscriptive way of drawing the line between these genres--if as is often said science fiction is simply regular literature with some speculative elements thrown in, then couldn't--indeed, shouldn't
--it encompass the entire range of human behavior and emotion, including extremes of fear? Then there's the part that argues that Lovecraft isn't scary...hoo boy. But hey, read it and decide for yourself.
One final note from DBS: flying monkeys, ladies and gentlemen.
Elsewhere in the horror blogosphere, the October marathons continue: Des at Without Me You're Only You is blogging one horror movie per day, most recently Night of the Hunter. I've got to say I was gobsmacked by this bit:
I will be the first one to say that religious horror only works if you are religious. Exorcist is only scary if you think that the devil could do something similar to you.
I've seen this kind of argument made before before
, and to me it's so easy to refute that it almost defies debate. I assure you that you will be hard pressed to find a more thoroughly lapsed Catholic than yours truly, yet The Exorcist
--yes, The Exorcist!
--still scares the freaking crap out of me. I don't need to believe in Catholic theology to find it frightening any more than I need to believe in shape-shifting alien plant monsters to find The Thing
frightening, or extradimensional Elder Gods to find Lovecraft frightening, or haunted videotapes to find The Ring
frightening, and on and on and on--why, then, the insistence that religiously themed horror requires faith and devotion to work?
Also running a blogathon is Stacie Ponder at Final Girl--she's not necessarily watching a flick every single day, but her very sharp twist on the blogathon concept is that every movie she does watch is one she's never seen before. (Today's was Fade to Black.) And tomorrow (today, actually) she plans on watching all of the Friday the 13th movies, I believe. Paging Steven...
One of my many blogfathers (I'm like Freddy Krueger that way), the inimitable Pop Culture Gadabout himself, Bill Sherman, has done quite a bit of blogging that will be of interest to horror fans lately. Here's his take on sexploitation director Barry Mahon's children's movie The Wonderful Land of Oz, including a picture that's maybe the creepiest thing I've seen in weeks and a musing on what happens when schlockmeisters like Herschel Gordon Lewis make movies sans their fallback devices of gore and smut; here's his wrap-up post for his series of reviews of this TV season's Lost-inspired "Dark 'N' Creepy" shows; and here's his take on Clive Barker's "Son of Celluloid", focusing on the weight carried by its heroine's weight.
And speaking of Barker (aren't I always these days?), this interview from Rue Morgue via Suicide Girls is a year old now, but it's new to me, and it's still a pretty up-to-date look at the direction Barker's going these days. Within you'll find the most explicit statement of intent I've yet seen regarding his new Midnight Picture Show production shingle, the goal of which is apparently to produce a library of movies collectively known as The Films of Blood (!); a rundown of some of the recent movies that got Barker interested in horror filmmaking once again; and an examination of the disconnect between Barker's "hard-horror" and "Sacrament/Galilee/Abarat" audiences. If you're sick of hearing me talk about the guy and would rather hear it straight from the horse's mouth, this is well worth the click.
Finally, we are now three days away from the release of the best horror comic of all time:
Don't say I didn't warn you...
Book Three, Chapter Four
It's strange to re-encounter the characters in these stories only to discover, in many cases, that they're now younger than I am. When I first read these books, in high school, these jaded hedonists and criminals, these sexually omnivorous pleasure-seekers and self-medicators, they all seemed so much older and so much more experienced. Now I'm on the ill-fated voyage with the bitterly self-absorbed holiday-makers of "Scape-Goats," and I find myself one year their senior. I don't even think of them as adults anymore, because since I'm still a kid, anyone younger than me must be as well.
At least now I have some context into which I can put the 26-year-old oversexed backstabbers on the good ship "Emanuelle"--they're rich hipsters, trust-fund kids. They're at home enough on this yacht that they--I say "they" rather than "Barker" because this is the first story in the collection narrated beginning to end in the first person--don't even bother explaining whose it is or where they're from. It doesn't really matter, though, since the point of the story is that they're all going to end up swept away by the tide of time. Rather literally, in fact.
I think this is another very fine story, owing mostly to the way it focuses on the emotions of futility and resignation, too rarely tapped in a genre that is tailor-made to make use of them. In that way it's the spiritual sister to "Pig Blood Blues," right down to the animal imagery in both story and title--"Scape-Goats"' doomed sheep are every bit as memorable in their passivity as the pig was in its aggression.
What you really have here is four irredeemably solipsistic people--even Frankie, for all her insight into the callowness of herself and her companions, can't seem to will herself out of it; for pete's sake, she fucks a guy because she can't be bothered to deny him--who are forced from being the only things in their respective worlds that matter into things that don't matter at all. To do this Barker relies on images of some of nature's great levelers--erosion, putrefaction, the fog, the sea, the sweep of history. The brief moments of initiative and even savagery that the characters display seem even more pointless when contrasted against these insurmountable forces. It's only when it can't possibly make a difference anymore that Frankie shows a flash of true feeling for another person; it's only then that this beautiful young woman, who's paraded her nakedness and her sex before us like they couldn't be more inconsequential to her, becomes truly attractive; it's only then that the loss hurts us, and becomes hard to forget.
Book Three, Chapter Five
NB: I wrote and attempted to post this entry yesterday, but technical difficulties with the site prevented it from going up until this morning. Sorry folks. Blame the Cornell engineering grads who run this thing. Go Big Red!
This is the first story in the collection of which I had no recollection whatsoever. When I got a few pages into it I recognized that it was included in the trade paperback collection of Barker's Tapping the Vein, his old Marvel/Epic series of short-story adaptations (The Comic Books of Blood, in other words), which I recently flipped through, but other than that, nothin'. My guess is that's because it's noticeably less gruesome than most of the other stories--probably the least bloody so far (though there is one nasty moment, it's relatively run-of-the-mill in terms of its specifics). It's Barker's transgressive gore that makes the biggest impression the first time around.
But my forgetfulness shouldn't be taken as a sign that the story's no good. It's Barker's take on the doppelganger and it's another sad one, with an elegiac ending overlaid with a wry, mournful sense of humor. (It's also one of Barker's most explicitly gay stories at this point in his career.) And interestingly, the doomed character this time around is pretty interesting, at least as far as his profession goes--suffice it to say he's no accountant. But he doesn't have a very rich inner life; indeed, his surface pretty much is his life. As his will to live is sapped he lets his physical appearance go to hell without a care. His last confrontation with his destroyer reveals that it's actually better at being human than he is, in some ways. I think that's the real horror here: Our hero starts out worrying that he's a failure, and by the end all doubt has been removed--but his failure runs much deeper than he'd imagined. The loss of his life, his looks, even his soul is almost no big deal compared to the loss of his ability to spend a lifetime kidding himself.
Book Four (The Inhuman Condition), Chapter One
"The Inhuman Condition"
Here's another one I didn't remember--I guess we're moving into uncharted territory, memory-wise. Again, this one isn't terribly gory or brutal. It is weird, in terms of its horrific logistics: Though you don't know it at first, this is a story about spells, and I very much doubt you've come across this method of enchantment before. You can sense the pleasure Barker derived from coming up with something truly novel throughout this collection, and in this case you get the sense that that pleasure is almost enough in itself to sustain the entire story.
"Inhuman" contains (as you might expect from the title) some memorable additions to Barker's bestiary, but I found the humans involved much more compelling. The heroes of the story are a group of petty criminals who assault the homeless when they're not committing burglaries, but Barker coaxes out from them genuine feelings of friendship and even of love that lesser writers would gloss over among this type of thug, insisting instead that societal ills or innate evil keep them on their path. Barker seems to say that they do this because they're friends, even if they'd never articulate it that way themselves. Take this passage, which takes place when Karney (the main character) reveals to his cohort Brendan the supernatural origin of their friend Catso's demise:
Karney caught sight of a telltale fullness at the edge of Brendan's eyes. [Brendan's] anger was camouflage--barely adequate--for a grief he had no mechanism to prevent. In Brendan's present mood neither fear nor argument would convince him of the truth.
This is also one of the rare stories where things turn out okay for the main character--indeed, his station in life has the potential to markedly improve, though what we know of his nemesis throughout the rest of the story indicates that the newfound knowledge he has might come at quite a price. The execution's a little pat--I think this is one of the rare places where Barker's prose fails him: "He came to the mysteries on the page's of Pope's forbidden book as to an oasis. Drinking deeply, he looked forward with rare exhilaration to the pilgrimage ahead."...I don't know, just strikes me as a bit hokey--but I like the notion; it presages the conclusions of many of Barker's later novels, in which hope emerges from horror a lot more regularly than it does here.
Book Four (The Inhuman Condition), Chapter Two
"The Body Politic"
This story reads sort of like what you'd get if Clive Barker were the frontman in a Stephen King cover band. As such, it's probably the most apples-to-apples comparison you can get between Barker's short stories and King's. Fans of King's short story collections Night Shift and Skeleton Key (and boy am I ever one! As I always say, King's at his best when he's under 100 pages or over 1,000) know that one of his favorite devices is the run-of-the-mill thing that suddenly goes killer: trucks, rats, mold, a laundry machine, fog, a wind-up monkey, a mirror, etc. Often these things achieve a murderous sentience and threaten apocalypse through sheer force of numbers alone. And that's exactly what you have here: It's Maximum Overdrive with human hands instead of vehicles and appliances.
With the experiment controlled for the villain variable, noteworthy differences emerge. The most prominent, obviously, is the tone. King writes everymen; sure, when he's writing 'em, every man is more likely to be a writer from New England than in our own, but it's basically a John Cougar Mellencamp world, with all the just-folks dialogue and idiomatic expressions that entails. Barker couldn't be less interested in that sort of writing; nearly all of his characters, regardless of their station in life, think in lyrical, dreamily self-absorbed snippets of philosophy.
Another prominent divergence is in the conclusion. King's short stories tend to have endings where even if he doesn't come right out and say where things will head after the final sentence, you've got a clear picture--either back to the status quo or, more likely, slowly onward toward apocalypse. (I remember marveling at just how many of his short stories end in the worst way possible.) Barker's a lot less concerned with endings--this one twists and turns from one possibility to another before ending up going a different route entirely. Indeed, many of his novels all but eschew the concept of an ending entirely--Imajica, Coldheart Canyon, and I believe Weaveworld (it's been a while) have their climaxes followed up by another 50-100 pages that are much more than just a wrap-up or epilogue, but like an entirely new arc for the novel. "The Body Politic" is actually closer to a King ending than you usually get from Barker's work, but it's still notable how random and unpredictable both it and what might follow from it are.
Finally, there's the Evil Thing itself. King's Evil Things are almost always external in nature--everyday items, threats from space, supernatural horrors. When Barker did his King-style story, he made the Evil Thing a part of the human body. The enslavement of the mind to the needs of the body is a prominent theme in Barker's work, in evidence in a variety of different ways everywhere from "Dread" to Book Four's "Age of Desire." Here Barker makes literalizes this theme as much as possible, and the results are genuinely frightening. (I'm sure I'm not the only person who spent a few seconds mimicking what it would be like if my hands had a life of their own, only to quickly freak out over how creepy it felt and stop!) And, of course, very very gory--this entire story is pretty much a catalog of self-mutilation, and while the damage done to the bodies involved isn't as spectacular or inventive as Barker's capable of due to the logistics involved, it's actually all the more horrifying for its very ease of imaginability.
And I think the quote I chose as a title for this post is a key one, too--yes, the killer hands are symbolic of all the body-horror issues Barker's always poking at--but yes, they're also plain old killer hands. So much of the joy of horror stems from the simple pleasure of coming up with really scary monsters that do really scary things. I think in all these verbose blogathons going on there's a risk of losing sight of that--mainstream critics of horror movies, for example, seem to see losing sight of that as a point of pride; pick any review of any zombie movie and you'll see what I mean--but Barker refuses to let that terrible delight go. King at his best is the same way--take his novella "The Mist," from Skeleton Crew, which he says he wrote simply for the thrill of creating big monsters with giant tentacles that eat people. There's an awful lot to be said for pure monsters, because they're scary.
All in all, King fans can consider this one their Clive Barker gateway drug. Unpleasant side-effects guaranteed or your money back.
Let's kick things off today with The Best Horror Comic Of All Time (TM): Tom Spurgeon links to The Book Standard's interview with Charles Burns, writer-artist of the absolutely stunning graphic novel about a sexually transmitted mutation in '70s Seattle teens, Black Hole, which comes out today! Among other topics, Burns answers the question "Why horror?"
I know that I could have told the story just totally straight. I mean, I could have told a similar story. But I wanted to have something that kind of pushed it to an extreme. So I worked with the idea of how, in adolescence, youíre going through these transformations not only physically, but also emotionally, intellectually, trying to learn what it is to be an adult. I wanted to have something that would push those transformations further, make them even more extreme, and make that kind of alienation that they experience more literal.
Also on the interview beat, Really Scary interviews Michael Rooker
, star of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
, which is getting a deluxe 20th Anniversary DVD
. The buzz bit of the interview is some sequel talk (echoing the rumor I heard that Scorsese and DeNiro wanted to do a new Taxi Driver
flick--ought to be interesting to compare the two if they ever come to fruition), but I also liked this bit about how Henry
stacked up to other '80s horror fare:
I saw a lot of horror films when I was younger. That was because my mother was a big horror fan. She loved those movies and I grew up watching them. But the ones from the 80ís were all Hollywood-ed up. A lot of Friday the 13th type stuff with a lot of setups. You knew who was coming and what it was going to look like, that kind of thing. All the violence is really pretty cold or snide and shot in a very slick manner. A lot of movies were like that, not only horror movies but all of the action movies. So the horror genre just followed suit. In Henry, we didnít. We didnít have the money. My God, we barely had enough money to pay for the light bulbs with the tinfoil around them.
And because it wouldn't be ADDTF without a Barker link: The Onion's A.V. Club
dug through its archives and highlighted its 2001 interview with Clive Barker
. Conducted just prior to the release of Barker's Hollywood novel Coldheart Canyon
, it elicited an interesting response regarding Barker's absence from directing for what has now been a decade:
But I don't think I'll direct any more movies. I think it's a young man's game, I really do. You've got to really, really, really love cinema, to almost an obsessive degree, to put up with the bullshit. I love books to that degree: I'll put up with any amount of bullshit to get my books out. And I love paintings to that degree. But I don't love cinema to that degree.
Obviously, things have changed--check out this interview from Rue Morgue
to see which movies Barker cites as a reason for his change of heart.
Here's something I didn't see coming: Pete Mesling at Fear Fodder links to a Hollywood Reporter article revealing that composer Howard Shore has left Peter Jackson's King Kong due to creative differences with less than two months to go before the film's release. Yowch. Shore's work on The Lord of the Rings was absolutely brilliant (surely I'm not the only genre fan who noted the similarities between the Ring's theme and the main title theme from Shore's Silence of the Lambs score?) and his working relationship with Jackson and his team seemed ideal, so this is surely a much more grievous blow than everyone's letting on.
On the TV beat, Jason Adams has a pretty comprehensive listing of Lost-related mocked-up websites, some legit, some apocryphal. If you've got a few hours to kill, click over there and go crazy.
Speaking of rabbit-hole web-based fiction, there's lots of news on the Dionaea House front. First of all, the site is being updated again--in character as always. Second, there's a new tie-in blog, located here. And third, real-world Dionaea House creator Eric Heisserer reports to his Yahoo! group that the film adaptation of the project "has been greenlit":
We're in final talks for a director, some principal cast has shown interest, and if a couple more planets align, we'll start shooting in January. As in this coming January. They're aiming for a Halloween 2006 release.
I think the quality of this film will hinge even more than it usually does on the director that's chosen; it could easily be made into WB-horror product, or on the other hand become a home-grown answer to J-horror. We'll see.
Finally, once again, as a public service:
Book Four (The Inhuman Condition), Chapter Three
Another story I didn't remember at all, and (not coincidentally, I'm guessing) another story that's very, very low on gore--the lowest so far, I believe.
This is the first time Barker betrays his roots as a playwright--man, is this thing stagy. The story centers on three couples: an evangelist and his wife, heading toward a blow-up; the evangelist's assistant and the eccentric daughter of the owner of the motel where the traveling preacher is staying, radiating instant heat; and the ghosts of a murderer and her slain husband, back at the motel where she killed him thirty years ago for one last shot at reconciliation. It'd make a heckuva one-act.
It's actually easier to picture the story as acted out on stage, with lighting tricks used to give a spectral feel to the ghosts in their '50s get-up, than it is to immerse yourself in its world the way you do with a normal Barker story. I sorta wish I'd reread it in college and had the presence of mind to adapt it for the stage myself. Personally I think some work would have to be done to beef up some of the characters, who feel much more stock than Barker's usually do--would you be surprised to hear that the preacher is emotionally and physically abusive, that his wife is a pill-popper, and that the slain husband has only one thing on his mind? And it's barely horror at all, ghosts and bullet wounds aside. But Barker would return to the fields of bodice-ripping romance far more fruitfully in the future--Galilee, to a certain extent Coldheart Canyon--so there's some fun to be had in this amateur production before the curtain's rung down.
Book Four (The Inhuman Condition), Chapter Four
The emphasis in this particular short story is definitely on the "short" half of the equation--it's a grand total of six pages long! That makes it quite an anomaly in The Books of Blood, which stories tend to be of semi-novella length. This one's written more like a really fucked-up fable or parable: Titan of industry Gregorius wearies of his search for God and decides the Devil might be more accessible; he therefore spends his fortune constructing what amounts to the Tower of Babel for depravity in order to lure Satan out of hiding, only to be consumed and transformed into a veritably Satanic figure himself by his labors.
It's a funny little tale--springing Mussolini's pet architect from an insane asylum so he can oversee design the palace of horrors is one of its clever touches. But it's a weird story too. You can see where Barker could have teased this thing out into a bona fide story through its resonances with previous tales: the mind-boggling ambition of Gregorius' dwelling echoes that of the villagers in "In the Hills, the Cities," while the amoral rich man himself is reminiscent of the ill-fated Trump type in "Jacqueline Ess." So why did Barker keep this one so short and shorn of realism? Beats me, really. In a weird way the tone presages that of his later children's books, The Thief of Always and the Abarat series. I guess this is kind of a children's story for grown-ups. Very grown-ups.
Book Four (The Inhuman Condition), Chapter Five
"The Age of Desire"
28 Days Later but not contagious and with rape-murder instead of plain murder--that's probably the easiest way to describe this story. You horror connoisseurs out there will also deduce that it's similar to David Cronenberg's Shivers, which can pretty much be described as 28 Days Later, just as contagious, with plain rape instead of plain murder. "The Age of Desire" preceded 28 Days (and even presaged its use of monkeys) and followed Shivers by what, almost a decade, and it fits in nicely between them. It's one of Barker's strongest short stories, no question.
Clearly the fact that the sex-crazed condition of the story's "monster"-slash-protagonist isn't contagious sets "Desire" apart from both its filmic counterparts. Curiously, Barker toys with the potentially millennialist implications of his scientists' aphrodisiac-on-steroids throughout the story--hence the title, just by way of a for instance--only to deflate them almost (almost--you have to pay careful attention to the story's climax to see why just "almost") completely by the story's end. "I'm dying of terminal joy," thinks the afflicted. The sensual overload of his condition is unsustainable; that Barker can't quite bring himself to destroy the world with it may make this something you'd never expect out of the author--a cautionary tale about immersion in the physical at the expense of the mental.
That's usually Cronenberg's territory; both artists are preoccupied with the dominion of the body over the mind, but the Canadian's a lot more frightened of it than the Englishman, who usually all but embraces the transformative possibilities of acknowledging that biology is in fact destiny. It's only in accepting this, Barker seems to argue, do we stand a chance of ever gaining control of that destiny. On the other hand, "The Age of Desire" warns us that the mind cannot be overthrown completely without dire consequences. "The dream of Casanova" is really just a tarted-up nightmare.
Book Five (In the Flesh), Chapter One
"In the Flesh"
As I read through this book it strikes me as being the most archetypically Barkerian, especially in relation to his later, novel-length works. The real accessibility of myth, the link between sexuality and transformation, the exploration of forbidden realms--much more so than the straight-up cruelty of, say, "The Midnight Meat Train" and "Dread," this is the territory Barker will spend much of his later career in.
The title story of the collection introduces us to the first of Barker's many cities on the edge of forever. The irony is that the bulk of the story takes place in a prison. Most horror authors would milk the setting for claustrophobia; Barker's not most horror authors, obviously, and instead opts to make expanse and emptiness the source of this story's uncanny unpleasantness. Naturally he makes physical transformation the passport to this particular city, and since he's still getting his sea legs with the dream-city concept you can tell these grotesque metamorphoses (an extremely appropriate choice of word, I assure you) are where he's really enjoying himself here.
He's having fun writing this story, and it makes it a lot of fun to read--so much so that we'll forgive him the O.-Henry-by-way-of-The-Outer-Limits ending, as a matter of fact. I mean, heck, the story even has a callback! (See the above quote--if The Books of Blood were The Dark Side of the Moon, this would be "Breathe (Reprise).") The characters are well-drawn and likable, even (this is a relative rarity for Barker, who's priorities usually lie elsewhere) relatable, the scenario is absorbing, and the fate of all involved is horrible, but unique. As is so often the case with The Books of Blood, the uniqueness is paramount, even to the damned.
Book Five (In the Flesh), Chapter Two
This story is the basis for the 1992 film Candyman, written and directed by Bernard Rose and easily one of the finest Barker adaptations to see the light of film. What's kind of amazing is how much of the movie is new: the American setting, the race-hate angle, the ethnicity of both the slum residents and the Candyman himself, the wrong-man plotline, even the "we dare you to say his name five times!" thing--none of these elements appeared in the original short story. Granted, analogues for many of the film's novel points can be found in the story itself: class for race, pure urban-legend perpetuation for the name-in-the-mirror bit (I actually think I prefer the book's strategy; it's purer, if less catch-phrase memorable)--but it's still a rare delight to see an adaptation that changes so much work so well.
I find the story to be another of Barker's best, in no small part because there's almost no way to figure out where you're going to end up from where you begin. When the villain appears it's out of left field and extremely abrupt, and with only a handful of pages to go till the end of the story. It's a great way to mimic how the protagonist, university graffiti researcher Helen, must feel--suddenly swept away by the irrational, helplessly hurtling toward an unexpected and unimaginable fate.
Much of the story's strength comes by way of contrast: the seedy, falling-apart-at-the-seams ghetto versus Helen and her boyfriend Trevor's posh post-grad dinner parties, Helen's guileless inquisitiveness versus the residents' nearly pathological reticence, the laughing rationality of faculty b.s. sessions versus the lyrical madness of the Candyman's lethal seducer's speech. Another source of strength is the structure, which has an awful lot in common with the one to follow, "The Madonna": a dedicated professional hungry for success and trapped in a comfortably dysfunctional relationship stumbles across an exemplar of urban decay that houses a secret beast which transcends the squalor of its surroundings even as it destroy those who come in contact with it. Once again, it's worth noting how relatable Barker's main characters are becoming: the desire to do something worthwhile coupled with the sinking feeling that you're shit out of luck is something we've all experienced, right? Barker uses that desire as a key for his characters to unlock doors that under normal circumstances they would never dare open. (He's described his use of sexual desire in this way as well.) And once again, if death's behind that door, Barker insists that it's worth it. Are you convinced that he's right?
First things first: I've posted links to all my reviews of the stories in Clive Barker's Books of Blood in one handy spot. Click and (hopefully) enjoy.
Next, Black Hole, Charles Burns's horror-comic masterpiece, is out, and there are reviews and profiles here there and everywhere. Courtesy of Tom Spurgeon comes this Philadelphia Inquirer profile of Burns and his work (registration required; try username email@example.com and password 123ABC), in which Art Spiegelman brings the yuks:
"He's not at all the kind of guy who's walking around saying: 'I can't wait to cut somebody's throat,' " says Art Spiegelman, creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning comic Maus. "But the times we've stayed over his house, I've made sure to double-bolt the door."
Next, courtesy of comics critic Paul Gravett's new website
comes this overview of Burns's work
, with particular emphasis on body horror and (naturally) Black Hole
And courtesy of I don't know who comes this mildly critical New York Press review of Black Hole
, which astutely compares it to Dan Clowes's also excellent, if far more impenetrable, study of sexualized horror, Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron
This book is the real deal, fright fans.
Speaking of neat books, I liked the sound of The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time (reviewed by Rod Lott at Bookgasm). If you've ever thought it'd be cool to have "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Call of Cthulu," "The Monkey's Paw," "The Great God Pan," "The Lottery," "Dracula's Guest" and so forth all collected in one place, it sounds like you could do a lot worse than to buy this anthology.
On the "old news" beat, All Too Flat maestro Ken Bromberg sends word of a zombie attack on the American Idol auditions at UT Austin this past August. I watch American Idol regularly so I will not indulge in the metaphorical Idol-fan bashing that could be done here; I leave that to you the reader.
Moving to the movies, Bill Sherman takes a look at David Cronenberg's The Brood; among other things, he points out the thematic links between Cronenberg's work and Clive Barker's. He's a man after my own heart.
Also at the movies, Carl Swift at The Black Lagoon examines The Blair Witch Project. I've noticed that this movie--the scariest film I've ever seen, incidentally--seems to be undergoing a well-deserved and long-overdue critical rehabilitation of late, which is a very very good thing indeed for lovers of great horror; it's far too important a film to be relegated to insignificance. (For example, more than almost any other film, it prepped American imaginations for the J-horror movement, I think.)
Finally, fantasy smackdown! Philip Pullman of His Dark Materials fame has taken aim at C.S. Lewis's beloved Narnia series (in the Observer, as quoted by the BBC, courtesy of CinemaEye, courtesy of Bookgasm--phew!) on the eve of the live-action film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, calling them "a peevish blend of racist, misogynistic and reactionary prejudice." I don't really get the racist angle--isn't that canard usually reserved for Tolkien?--and I've never read Pullman so I don't have much of a dog in this race, but I must admit I'm far a big fan of Lewis's fantasy series. This may be because I first read it as a lapsarian grown-up rather than a kid with all the devoutness that childhood usually entails, but I think, regardless, that a) it would always have paled in comparison to Tolkien's work and my love thereof; b) its attempts to shoehorn its entire plot and world into Christian allegory leads to hamfisted and unforgivable storytelling lapses, most notably the fate of Susan in The Last Battle. Feh. And on a semi-related note, I don't really remember the huge epic battle sequences that the filmmakers seem to have discovered in TLtWatW if the trailers are any indication, do you? Hmm, I wonder if they may have drawn inspiration from any other recent successful fantasy films...
Book Five (In the Flesh), Chapter Three
This story is the feminine yin to "Rawhead Rex"'s masculine yang, as literally as is possible: While Rawhead represents everything unstoppable and monstrous about masculinity--the evil men suspect they contain, basically--the Madonna, her handmaidens, and her children represents everything alien and horrifyingly fecund about femininity--the evil men suspect women contain.
As he does in "Jacqueline Ess," Barker associates monstrous femininity with fluidity: Jacqueline's body roiled like a sea, while the Madonna's amorphous form makes its home in a humid, sweating abandoned public pool and sauna complex, its children cavorting in the waters. There's something about water that clearly strikes Barker as frightening to men--even in a story like "Scape-Goats," where the water triumphs over everyone, it's ultimately a woman who's able really to accept the pull of the tide. And you'd probably be hard pressed to count how many times male characters "drown" in the eyes and bodies of their female beloved throughout these stories. So when "The Madonna"'s male protagonist--one of Barker's struggling professionals, whose frustration has thus far seen him make pacts with gangsters and rape his own girlfriend rather than admit defeat either in his career or his love life--becomes female, is it any surprise that his acceptance of this fact is directly accompanied by an embrace of death through drowning?
And yet, the transformed man's girlfriend (not as estranged one would think, or hope) is the one who voices the most explicit rejection of his newfound status.
"I saw...," she said. Her voice was guttural; thick with barely suppressed abhorrence. "Am I going mad?"
"Then what's happening?"
"I don't know," he replied simply. "Is it so terrible?"
"Vile," she said. "Revolting. I don't want to look at you. You hear me? I don't want to see."
He didn't attempt to argue. She didn't want to know him, and that was her prerogative.
What to make of this exchange? I mean, if your significant other woke up next to you one morning with a different set of primary and secondary sex characteristics, this would probably be your reaction too, but this is Barker World we're talking about, where the acceptance of the extraordinary is a commonplace. What are we being told here? What is it about her that makes her reject her man's womanhood, with far more vehemence than she rejected him for forcing himself on her two nights before? Is it a coincidence that Barker sets this scene in the bathroom, where she's turned on the shower and let the water run, but simply sat outside, head in hands, without stepping inside to immerse herself?
Book Five (In the Flesh), Chapter Four
The least like a horror story in the whole anthology, "Babel's Children"'s deadpan handling of a completely absurd and bizarre situation reflects Barker's roots in magic realism. After all, The Books of Blood are lousy with characters who, perhaps after some initial reticence, leap into acceptance of the extraordinary as easily as hopping across a puddle to keep their feet from getting wet. You can remove the horrific element of the extraordinary and still come up with a story that's resolutely Barkerian, albeit one that shows Barker's non-horror roots more clearly than the blood-soaked ones.
Another of those roots is undoubtedly Kafka, as this story is about an absurdity at the heart of human existence on Planet Earth in the time Barker lived there. The notion being explored is that the colossal structures of government, economics, religion, philosophy, military power, and so forth have all been erected on a completely nonsensical foundation. It's sort of like "Hell's Event" without the Hell--who needs an infernal opponent in a race to decide arbitrarily the fate of humanity when we can simply race against ourselves?
Is this great political science, even of the satirical variety? I don't know. They cynics among us usually say that thinking it's all random and meaningless (and please note I don't believe the two are synonymous) exculpates the very real people whose very real decisions keep other very real people in penury and misery; the determined laborers for the greater good among us would agree, and further argue that it exculpates us from not taking it upon ourselves to fix things. But horror is about hopelessness, and even a non-horror Barker story like this one must remain true to that spirit; the absurdity cannot be challenged or defeated. The scary part is that what's true in Barker World might well be true in our own.
One final note: Ever since reading Barker's description of sex as a means by which he gets characters to do things they normally wouldn't--a logistical mechanism, in other words, to get the protagonists past the point where the audience of the movie would be yelling "don't go in there!" at the screen--I've been paying special attention to other things he uses in a similar fashion; lately, professional ambitions (usually of the frustrated variety) seem to do the trick. In this story Barker gives himself the most can't-miss device in this vein imaginable--he simply declares, from the very start of the story, that his main character's a thrill-seeker, a woman who insists to the point of perversity on taking the road less travelled. The gag is that in an absurd universe, all roads lead to exactly the same place: nowhere. The second gag is that "nowhere" is another word for Utopia, but whether we'll ever arrive there Barker pointedly refuses to say.
Book Six (Cabal), Chapter One
"The Life of Death"
First, a quick note: People who purchase the American edition of this volume will find the first story in it to be not a story at all but "Cabal," a more or less full-length novella. As this story (which is pretty great, incidentally) is not included in The Complete Books of Blood as published in one volume three or so years ago, I won't be tackling it here; perhaps at some point I'll do a Blog of Blood post-script that will include it and the subsequent novella The Hellbound Heart, the inspirations for Nightbreed and Hellraiser respectively. But for now, on with the show.
I have yet to reread the final story in this volume so I don't want to say for sure, but I think that pound for pound this may well be the strongest volume in the series. It certainly starts off that way, as in "The Life of Death" Barker is writing at a very high, very direct, very powerful level. I really like the way he teases out the central metaphor of the story--that a woman recovering from a physically and mentally traumatic hysterectomy has, essentially, become pregnant with Death--in such a way that, for all its obviousness and potential heavy-handedness, it instead feels perfectly natural and even alluring to be drawn into. As she regains her strength, so too does the prose liven up and become hot-blooded:
She was pleased with what she saw. Her breasts were full and dark, her skin had a pleasing sheen to it, her pubic hair had regrown more lushly than ever. The scars themselves still looked and felt tender, but her eyes read their lividness as a sign of her cunt's ambition, as though any day now her sex would grown from anus to navel (and beyond perhaps), opening her up, making her terrible.
It was paradoxical, surely, that it was only now, when the surgeons had emptied her out, that she should feel so ripe, so resplendent.
"When the surgeons had emptied her out"--so callous, so (I'd imagine, and I'm fortunate that I will never know) dead-on. And so much of our central character's "ripening" revolves around the peculiar eroticism (already noted in "Dread"
) of a woman voraciously eating. There are devourers aplenty here, as there are in nearly every story in the collection.
And this is another tale in which so many passages demand to be called out:
"I only ever saw one dead person. My grandmother. I was very young at the time..."
"I trust it was a pivotal experience."
"I don't think so. In fact I scarcely remember it at all. I only remember how everybody cried."
He nodded sagely.
"So selfish," he said. "Don't you think? Spoiling a farewell with snot and sobs." Again he looked at her to gauge the response; again he was satisfied that she would not take offense. "We cry for ourselves, don't we? Not for the dead. The dead are past caring."
And from thanatos to eros, or more accurately to the union of the two:
He was bending over the body, whispering in its ear as he rearranged it on the tangled sheets. Then he unbuttoned himself and unveiled that bone whose inflammation was the sincerest form of flattery.
Ha! Damn. I bet he waited for MONTHS to work that into something.
But perhaps my favorite part of the story is not the insightful writing, not the sensuously bleak setting and events, not even the way it expertly toys with reader expectations as to what, exactly, is happening--it's that line I quoted in the title of this post. "I like places where the dead are." I'm going to try to avoid spoiling anything by making comparisons between the character who says that and the author who gave put those words in his mouth--would Barker find such a comparison apt, even flattering? beats me--but I wonder if here, in the final volume, Barker hasn't gotten right to the point. Has he answered the question asked in "The Forbidden"? Do we tell, and listen to, these horrible stories because a part of us, knowing how our own stories will end, likes where they're going?
I'm pleased and priveleged to announce that today I am a Very Special Guest over at the indispensable horror/fantasy/SF blog Dark But Shining. I've penned them a little essay on the video for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and why it belongs in the horror pantheon. Yeah, you heard me! It's gonna be a while before you see it around these parts, so go over to DBS and check it out. Heck, go over to DBS and don't check it out--it's a great site whether or not they've let me be a part of it for a day!
Book Six (Cabal), Chapter Two
"How Spoilers Bleed"
We're now heading down the home stretch; we're also heading up river--"How Spoilers Bleed" is Clive Barker's Heart of Darkness. It's about what happens when avaricious Europeans head into the jungle, though the jungle in this case is found in Brazil rather than the Congo (or Vietnam and Cambodia, for that matter). It's the the nastiest, angriest story in the collection, and that really is saying something.
This time around, it isn't the gore that makes the story so nasty (although there are one or two spectacular gore scenes, the first of which is, thanks to its easy understandability, maybe the most brutal in the series). No, this time around it's the characters who radiate awfulness. All the characters--that's a first, believe it or not. Greedy, callous, deceitful, despairing, and ultimately genocidal, they're just plain rotten. And it's no coincidence that that's the word that comes to mind--Barker makes rottenness itself the central horrific metaphor in the story, in large part I would guess because these terrible men practically demand it.
The really remarkable thing about the story is the way the rottenness infects the prose as well. Barker's horror writing generally cuts like a machete, and as appropriate as that might be in a story about the catastrophic exploitation of the rain forests and their inhabitants, here he decides to wield his prose like a blunt instrument instead, crushing decency and beauty any time it threatens to bloom just as easily and viscerally as main character Locke crushes a mosquito between his fingers when we first meet him. Consider Barker's description of the rain forest itself, generally considered to be one of the most breathtaking environments on Earth:
This burgeoning diversity was a sham, the jungle pretending itself an artless garden. It was not. Where the untutored trespasser saw only a brilliant show of natural splendors, Locke now recognized a subtle conspiracy at work, in which each thing mirrored some other thing. The trees, the river; a blossom, a bird. In a moth's wing, a monkey's eye; on a lizard's back, sunlight on stones. Round and round in a dizzying circle of impersonations, a hall of mirrors which confounded the senses and would, given time, rot reason altogether.
Their noisy progress, the Jeep engine complaining at every new acrobatic required of it, brought the jungle alive on every side, a repertoire of wails, whoops, and screeches. It was an urgent, hungry place, Locke thought: and for the first time since setting foot on this subcontinent he loathed it with all his heart. There was no room here to make sense of events; the best that could be hoped was that one be allowed a niche to breathe awhile between one squalid flowering and the next.
In Conrad's time the notion of a corrupting jungle may well have been part and parcel of the Western sense of superiority to the Third World; I wonder if that's still the case here. By the time of Barker's writing modern liberalism had transformed even the most squalid "developing" area or brutally inhospitable wilderness into a pre-fallen paradise, simply by virtue of there being no Westerners there to fuck it up yet. Suggesting (even through an odious interlocutor like Locke) that the undeveloped wilderness can be ugly is a transgressive act--as taboo, in its way, as were films like Deliverance and The Texas Chain Saw Massacare
, whose visions of the supposedly glorious frontier roots of America answered the likes of Easy Rider
's "we blew it" with the response "it was already blown long ago."
The natives in Barker's story are another integral part of the tale's unique nastiness. In all likelihood they come across better than those in Conrad's. For one thing, Barker's European spoilers do not "go native"--quite the opposite, really. Barker treats the natives as monsters, yes, but of course that means they get treated fairly well: terrible but wonderful, corrupting yet pure in their corruptness. They reflect the jungle itself in this way:
They seemed, in their silence, like another species, as mysterious and unfathomable as mules or birds. Hadn't somebody in Uxituba told him that many of these people didn't even give their children proper names, that each was like a limb of the tribe, anonymous and therefore unfixable? He could believe that now, meeting the same dark stare in each pair of eyes, could believe that what they faced here was not three dozen individuals but a fluid system of hatred made flesh. It made him shudder to think of it.
Now, for the first time since their appearance, one of the assembly moved. He was an ancient, fully thirty years older than most of the tribe. He, like the rest, was all but naked. The sagging flesh of his limbs and breasts resembled tanned hide; his step, though the pale eyes suggested blindness, was perfectly confident. Once standing in front of the interlopers he opened his mouth--there were no teeth set in his rotted gums--and spoke. What emerged from his scraggy throat was a language made not of words but only of sound, a potpourri of jungle noises. There was no discernible pattern to the outpouring, it was simply a display--awesome in its way--of impersonations. The man could murmur like a jaguar, screech like a parrot; he could find in his throat the splash of rain on orchids, the howl of monkeys.
The sounds made Stumpf's gorge rise. The jungle had diseased him, dehydrated him and left him wrung out. Now this rheumy-eyed stickman was vomiting the whole odious place up at him.
What follows owes as least as much to Camus and The Stranger
as it does to Conrad and Kurtz. That's as good a way as any as seguing into the fact that the real monsters here, obviously, are the Europeans, the spoilers. They're physically diseased, first of all: One has dysentery, another a case of syphilis advanced enough to render his dick an afterthought. (There are worse diseases in store, alas for them.) They are also, of course, murderers, about as cold and unfeeling as you please. Barker goes to great lengths to hammer home their sheer hideousness in virtually every facet of their lives. I mean, what can be said of a sentence like this--
It was one of Locke's few certain pleasures, and one he never tired of, to watch a local woman, face dead as a cold manioc cake, submit to a dog or a donkey for a few grubby dollar bills.
And when one of Locke's liasons is about to reach its sordid climax...
The woman with the squint was about to accede to a particular peccadillo of Locke's--one which she had resolutely refused until drunkenness persuaded her to abandon what little hope of dignity she had...there came a rap on the door.
A little boy has come to tell Locke his colleague is in the hospital, dying.
"Well, let him. Understand me? You go back, and tell him, I won't come until I'm ready."
Again, the boy shrugged. "E meu dinheiro?" he said, as Locke went to close the door.
"You go to hell," Locke replied, and slammed it in the child's face.
When, two hours and one ungainly act of passionless sex later, Locke unlocked the door, he discovered that the child, by way of revenge, had defecated on the threshold.
Do you see what I mean? Awful, awful. Before it all ends there's a dead pig that reminds us of Lord of the Flies
and an ending that, interestingly, is the closest to the Bradbury
tradition we've yet seen. But I think the most striking thing, which is really only registering with me now, is that what we don't
see is a glimpse of the transcendent, which can usually be found in even the worst of Barker's horrors. It's as though the transcendent was rotted right out of this story. It makes me wonder, once I'm able to recover from the reading, who the author was really trying to scare.
First up today, some long-overdue linkage: Matt Maxwell responds to my quibbles over his differing (and in my view, overly proscriptive) definitions of science fiction and horror. The difficulty in a debate like this is that so much of it boils down to what the Dude would refer to as "just, like, your opinion, man," but I think I can locate where the disagreement really stems from:
Science fiction, and I'll add the caveat "to myself", doesn't and can't bring the scares like horror can. It's not trying to, for the most part. Even the at best unsettling "Hey you old fogeys, what happens when we start jacking ourselves into computers and hacking off our limbs and replacing them with blenders" cyberpunk fiction of the mid-80s doesn't scare. Can't. Won't....And sure, science fiction could address the span of human emotion, but it largely chooses not to. Then again, horror often doesn't soberly consider the intersection of technology/politics/society.
Caveat acknowledged and reiterated on my own behalf, but this feels like saying something is a certain thing definitionally because it tends to be that thing practically. Even if we were to grant that sci-fi doesn't aim to scare (which I don't) or that horror doesn't aim to elucidate intellectual issues (which, again, I don't), isn't defining them based on this recalcitrance like saying "comics aren't about things other than superheroes" simply because most
about superheroes, at least as far as comic shops go?
I don't know; I tend to be very generous with my genre definitions. I don't see why Alien is less of a work of science fiction because it's like Jaws or a haunted-house story, for example; on the horror front, you're talking to a guy who classifies Deliverance and Eyes Wide Shut in that genre. This is not to say that I'm willing to include just about anything within genre boundaries--I'm pretty skeptical, for instance, regarding Aaron Weisbrod's case for the spy comic Sleeper as horror (though I'm largely sympathetic to his larger argument that horror need not, and frequently is not, located in monsters). I said something similar back when Steve Bissette said that Maus and Jimmy Corrigan were horror--basically, while almost all great horror is bleak, not all things that are bleak are horror. This debate with Matt is sort of the flipside of that: Sci-fi is different than horror in that is defined largely by concept, not by tone. So within that larger framework, can't you do pretty much anything?
Anyway, on with the quick hits!
Returning to my beloved Black Hole beat, here's Time.com's Andrew Arnold's very lengthy, very effusive review of the book, tying it directly into the Halloween spooky-media season--a smart move for publisher Pantheon and anyone else who wants to see this book get into as many hands as possible.
Speaking of BH's Charles Burns, Rod Lott at Bookgasm reviews the new anthology The Colour Out of Space: Tales of Cosmic Horror, which boasts a Burns cover. It also sounds pretty cool based on the stories included, from Lovecraft, Bierce, Blackwood, Machen and all the usual cosmic-horror supsects. (Sorry, Matt!)
Back here on Earth, sometimes real life is more horrifying than fiction: I'm sure you've all come across the story of the Delaware woman who hanged herself from a tree and was subsequently mistaken for a Halloween direction. I don't have much to add other than "Jeeezus." If this weren't being reported in virtually every major news outlet around I'd suspect, as did Infocult's Bryan Alexander, that it was an urban myth, but the fact that it took place in America as opposed to a European or Asian nation where English is not spoken and therefore facts are more difficult to confirm leads me to conclude it's probably legit. Life imitates a horror-movie set-piece.
Finally, it can't touch RetroCrush's 100 Scariest Movie Scenes countdown, but it's still pretty cool: this thread at College Bargain assembles a virtual parade of scary images from film and TV. They're not all winners (the Crypt Keeper?) and some linkrot has set in, but there are a whole bunch of astutely chosen images up there, certainly enough to make your heart skip a beat once or twice. I'm most impressed by how off-the-beaten-path they got: I'm happy to see iconic images like the demon face from The Exorcist (added bonus: I showed the selection to a friend, who immediately confirmed that the Special Edition's added glimpse of the face went on too long and killed the effect) and such, but including the masked Burger King mascot, the dogman from The Shining, Bilbo's freakout from The Fellowship of the Ring, Large Marge, the chicken-chop from Willy Wonka, the Scarecrow from Batman Begins (I hated the movie, but even so I could see the horrific genius in the whole "Would you like to see my mask?" moment), and the woman in the bathtub from the TV-movie version of The Shining--a face-meltingly scary moment in an otherwise tepid production--shows a heterodox and sharp horror mind at work.
Oh, you want to know what my favorite image was?
Book Six (Cabal), Chapter Three
"Twilight at the Towers"
Now here's something out of left field--a spy-thriller/Manchurian Candidate/werewolf mash-up! Well, they're not strictly werewolves per se, this being Clive Barker and everything, but lycanthropy is the myth being toyed with here. As I'm of the firm believe that we're one rock-solid high-production-value maverick horror movie and/or comic away from werewolves becoming the next zombies, genre prognosticators are advised to pay close attention here.
It's a real testament to Barker's abilities at this stage in the series that he can graft this kind of horror into this kind of genre thriller (something he really hadn't touched at all up until this point) and have it make so much thematic and plot-driven sense that you end up wondering why no one ever thought of it before. Shifting allegiances, hidden identities, the demands of the self vs. the demands of society--Barker horror and Cold War espionage have a whole lot in common, don't they? To arrive at this conclusion Barker sets up an enjoyable and engrossing mystery that, in the end, leaves you cheering for the monsters. I suppose you could criticize the story for its (much less enthusiastic than many similar cases') embrace of the '80s-chic notion that the free West and Communist East were six one way, half a dozen the other, but I think that would be churlish and point-missing. The point is that monsters, good and bad, are everywhere,
Book Six (Cabal), Chapter Four
"The Last Illusion"
From a very successful blending of genres to a, well, less successful one. "The Last Illusion" is the story upon which Barker's final directorial effort, Lord of Illusions, was based. Lots of changes were made in the adaptation--I haven't seen it in years, but I remember it involved a cult leader with some sort of mask and a Euro Satanist guy who looked like a member of KMFDM. That I haven't seen it in years probably says something about my feelings toward the underlying story, since (I don't know if you've noticed) I'm a pretty huge Clive Barker fan and could reasonably be expected to have the whole movie memorized.
Part of the problem here is the main character, Harry D'Amour, a down-on-his-luck private dick who's come to specialize, much to his own chagrin, in cases involving the supernatural. D'Amour was intended to be the star of an entire series of adventures, but then, it was black-widow killer Julia who was intended to be the franchise monster of Hellraiser, not Pinhead; characters take on lives of their own, and the impact and length of those lives are dependent on the audience. (Barker, perhaps in order to rectify this discrepancy, has implied that D'Amour will be involved in the destruction of Pinhead in some future short story/novella, by the way.) He's a likable enough guy, especially because so much of his life has been determined by his greatest failure--he lost a client to Hell, or as Barker calls it, the Gulfs--but this isn't exactly new territory for private-eye fiction; "forget it, Harry--it's the Gulfs," you know what I mean? (It also doesn't help that he was played in the movie by Scott Bakula, who to me looks much less suited to be a leading man than he is the guy who holds up the tube of anti-fungal ointment in an athlete's foot medication commerical.)
But the real problem--the reason why not just "The Last Illusion" but also "Hell's Event" just don't work as well as the rest of Barker's Books of Blood tales--is that the monsters, the demons and their summoners, are fundamentally square. Rather than representing freedom, ecstasy, transformation, transcendence, they've got the same venal motives as corrupt government officials or Mafia capos who find their monthly payoff short by a couple grand. They've got nothing to offer but punishment for transgression, rather than a reward for it. Barker reworks his concept of Hell considerably in Hellraiser and the novella upon which it's based, The Hellbound Heart--in those stories, Hell offers pain and pleasure, indivisible, too much for the human mind to handle but still, perhaps, worth a peek. As articulated in The Books of Blood, though, Barker's then-vision of Hell and its denizens works much better when the joke's on them, as it is in "The Yattering and Jack," where Hell's pettiness and adherence to rules is played for laughs. Make it serious, though, and no amount of creatively bizarre demons (there are plenty here) or inventive ways to dispatch them (plenty again) can distract you from the fact that when you're reading a Clive Barker story, you wanna be able to root for the beasts--or at least find them more interesting than their victims. Oh well.
Book Six, Chapter Five
"The Book of Blood (A Postscript): On Jerusalem Street"
"Why do you talk about yourself in the third person?" he asked McNeal, as the boy returned with the glass. "Like you weren't here...?"
"The boy?" McNeal said. "He isn't here. He hasn't been here in a long time."
He sat down; drank. Wyburd began to feel more than a little uneasy. Was the boy simply mad, or playing some damn-fool game?
The boy swallowed another mouthful of vodka, then asked, matter of factly: "What's it worth to you?"
Wyburd frowned. "What's what worth?"
"His skin," the boy prompted. "That's what you came for, isn't it?" Wyburd emptied his glass with two swallows, making no reply. McNeal shrugged. "Everyone has the right to silence," he said. "Except for the boy of course. No silence for him." He looked down at his hand, turning it over to appraise the writing on his palm. "The stories go on, night and day. Never stop. They tell themselves, you see. They bleed and bleed. You can never hush them; never heal them."
A postscript indeed, "On Jerusalem Street" does not appear in the American edition of Books of Blood Volume Six
, titled Cabal
here in the States; nor does it appear in the collected edition of Volumes One through Three that's available. Before I read it in my Complete Books of Blood
last night, I'd never seen it before. So my Halloween treat comes two nights early, I suppose.
The story's all of four pages long, and reintroduces us to McNeal, the ill-fated fraudulent medium from the story that kicked off the collection. As this story ends that collection, held as it is by the fiction itself to be readable in its entirety on McNeal's flesh, you can guess how the story ends for McNeal. How it ends for the man by whom McNeal is ended did come as something of a surprise to me, though it probably shouldn't have. It's one final act of catharsis for Barker, who by this point had spent (I'm guessing) around four years at least pouring forth these ghastly stories. It shouldn't come as a shock that he'd want somebody else to know how it felt to be drowned in these books of blood, making literal what had been only metaphorical for him, and for the reader too of course.
Is there any grand concluding statement to be found in the final story? I think so, actually:
It was a great relief to tell the story. Not because he wanted to be remembered, but because the telling relieved him of the tale. It no longer belonged to him, that life, that death. He had better business, as did they all. Roads to travel; splendours to drink down. He felt the landscape widen. Felt the air brightening.
Surely Barker's talking about himself here, as storytellers are wont to do. But he's also talking about nearly all his characters, nearly all their lives and deaths. Haven't they spent each of their stories casting off their belongings--the obligations of responsibility, of morality, of sanity, of gender, of humanity, of body, of mind, finally of life itself? Freed of those possessions, doesn't the landscape widen for them, even if they have to die to see it?
What the boy had said was true. The dead have highways.
Only the living are lost.
The pleasure of Clive Barker's Books of Blood
is that, lost though we may be, we are given by them a glimpse of a possible destination, and the encouragement, no matter how frightened we may become, to wander on our way.
from left: Papagena the Kitty, Clive Barker, Sean T. Collins; Beverly Hills, California, April 28th, 2001
Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.