First published back in November of 1984, British author Clive Barker made his name within the deeply competitive world of horror with the publication of the first three books of his macabre short stories collection ‘The Books Of Blood’ all in one collective volume. Written in his spare time, he was not expecting them to really sell at all, let alone did he predict the phenomenal public response that followed. The release exploded within the horror literature scene, hailing Barker as an exciting and imaginative newcomer. Stephen King, already deemed an undisputed master in the genre, went as far as to pronounce Clive Barker to be “the future of horror”. The first volume (containing books I-III) won both the British and World Fantasy Awards, as the public lapped up the gore soaked pages. After this initial success, Barker followed with a final three books (again in one combined volume), creating a collective masterpiece of horror. His two omnibuses were later split down and reissued into the six individual volumes. Barker was further invited to illustrate the covers of the later reissues with his dark and twisted artwork.

Instead of reviewing the original publication of the books in their three-volume omnibus format, I have instead reviewed the books separately, as six individual volumes, which is the format I first read the stories in all those many moons ago.

As such, here we have the second volume from this collection of six dark and disturbing books. Released in these separate books back in 1984 by Sphere, this second volume went under the extended title ‘Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood: Volume II’, containing the following short stories:

Dread - 34 pages
When fellow philosophy student, Quaid, wondered into the pub and into Steve Grace’s life, everything changed.  Their friendship was a curious one.  Grace admired Quaid’s undeniable intellect.  But his obsession with the very concept of human dread was bordering on unhealthy.  But Grace wasn’t the only one to be swallowed up by Quaid’s odd draw.  The delectable vegetarian student Cheryl Fromm had become emotionally entangled with the man.  But what was Quaid getting out of the relationship?  Only when Grace was shown the photographs of Quaid secret experiment with dread did it all begin to become clear.  Fromm had become Quaid’s test subject.  Locked away in a room, with nothing but a bucket to piss in and a slab of meat for company, every step of Fromm’s horrendous ordeal had been captured.  And only when she overcame her dread and consumed the spoiled meat did Quaid declare that the experiment had been a success.  But his experiments with dread had only just begun.  And Steve Grace was next in line.  But some people have their limits…

With this nasty little opener, Barker plays with the psychology of his two conflicting principle characters, creating a morbidly intriguing tale of phobias and the breaking of one’s psychological boundaries.  The deep questions lurking behind the story fight for attention from the start, cutting away at the readers nerves with the inherently nasty vibe behind the tale.  As the story progresses, so the abysmally downbeat atmosphere smothers the reader, until the intensity of the plot is brought to the breaking point.  The dramatic finale feels well-deserved and bone-jarringly impactful, all the way to the last sickening sentence.  Gritty and grim…this is a fierce first story to the volume. 

The short was later adapted by Fred Burke into the Eclipse Books graphic novel ‘Dread’ (1992) where it was illustrated by Dan Brereton.  A further adaptation was made in 2009, this time into the full length movie of the same name.  The screenplay was written and then directed by Anthony DiBlasi.  The short later featured within the anthologies ‘The Dark Descent’ (1987), ‘Horrorscape’ (1993) and ‘Spook City’ (2009).

Hell's Event - 23 pages
London is teaming with a crowded mass of spectators, all lining the streets wanting to get a glimpse of the runners as they embark on this spectacular charity race.  Joel Jones had had a rough night; his body is not feeling up to it.  But his coach, Cameron has spurred him on.  After all, the race is for charity, nothing more and nothing less.  But as the race gets underway, slowly but surely, Joel’s rivals begin to fall.  And elsewhere, in the quiet backstreets of London, MP Gregory Burgess is making a deal with Hell.  It’s all riding on the race…Hell’s event.  But whatever you do, just don’t look back…

‘Hell’s Event’ is by far and away one of Barker’s most peculiar set stories from the ‘Book Of Blood’ collection.  The race itself is portrayed with a bustle of mounting excitement, with the commentators bringing out the thrills and spills of the race through London.  Barker’s initially more intriguing side-story of  Burgess’s mysterious meeting with Hell and the cloned familiars that accompany him, is what really starts drawing the reader into the tale.  However, the storyline has much more to reveal.  And after the mystery of the meeting with Hell is unveiled, so the horror-twist behind the race is thrust upon the reader, with the looming threat of Hell constantly at the runners’ heels.  It’s as bizarre as it is creative.  But utterly compelling throughout.

The story was later adapted into the graphic novel 'Tapping The Vein - Book 4' (1990) where it was illustrated by Steve E. Johnson, Alan Okamoto and Jim Pearson.

Jacqueline Ess: Her Will And Testament - 33 pages
Jacqueline Ess had finally had enough with the day-to-day drudgery of her boring life.  And so one day in late March, she takes one of her husband’s razor blades and opens up her wrists.  But her attempted suicide fails, and she now has to recover from her mental and physical scares.  To help her through these obvious difficulties, her husband Ben sends Jacqueline off to see a shrink.  And it’s during her session with this Dr Blandish that she first learns of her newly acquired abilities.  Somehow unknown to her she can remodel the flesh of others, with just the power of her mind.  And the poor therapist learns of this the hard way, with breasts bursting out from his chest, killing him with the devastating eruption to his flesh.  Ben is next in line; his body twisted and broken, until he is nothing more than a crushed mound of dripping flesh and bone.  Leaving behind her old life, Jacqueline soon becomes a highly sought after prostitute.  One who, with her incredible powers, is able to provide the most sublime sexual experience ever known.  And it is this that draws thirty-eight year old Oliver Vassi to her.  He becomes obsessed.  And knows he must have her to himself, forever.  But with Jacqueline’s unique powers comes a price.  One that will eventually catch up with her and ultimately end her life once and for all...

Barker’s sexually deviant short jumps straight into the weird and downright twisted frolics from the word go, getting stuck into our principal character’s crazy newfound ability within the very first few pages.  From here on the storyline spirals into a strangely warped sequence of events that brings together Jacqueline and her obsessive lover Oliver Vassi.  Once Vassi is on the scene, the short jumps into the first-person-perspective, by way of a three part testimony from Vassi himself, that is inserted into the preceding storyline.  As the perversity of the situation falls in upon itself, so the short spirals towards its unavoidably tragic conclusion.  The short offers an early glimpse of the Barker that will later come to fruition, with his twisted imagination for redefining, reshaping and sabotaging the flesh.  An incredibly twisted and deviant tale.

The short later featured within the anthologies ‘I Shudder At Your Touch’ (1991) and ‘Darkness’ (2010) as well as appearing in ‘The Essential Clive Barker’ (1999).

The Skins Of The Fathers - 32 pages
Deep in Arizona, in the middle of nowhere, Davidon’s car has packed-in.  As Davidson tries to locate the problem with the car, slowly but surely the sound of a nearing carnival can be heard in the distance.  Squinting into the horizon, Davidson can see the strange and out-of-place procession advancing.  And as their forms become clearer, so he quickly learns that demons really do exist.  Demons that have a long history within this territory.  The people of the nearby town of Welcome are none too pleased about the presence of such beasts.  And as is always man’s answer to the unknown such as this, a violent revenge is planned on the creatures that it seems have taken a local’s boy…

For ‘The Skins Of The Fathers’ Barker really goes to town with his outlandish imagination, crossing his demons with a hot and oppressive wild-west setting.  Once the second major thread of the storyline is revealed, it quickly becomes apparent to the reader how the tale is likely to continue.  And indeed it does just that, but with the added bonus of some pretty wacky over-the-top demonic creations mixing their bestial seed with the good old human population.  The tale soon comes screaming to a halt as Barker throws down a brilliantly inspired ending that is literally flooded with intentionally-suggestive imagination.  Not the most compelling of reads from start to finish, but certainly a damn good short with plenty of twisted menace to it.  Much of the short bears a strong resemblance to that of Barker’s novel ‘Cabal’ (1988) as well as including a truly inspired scene of bodies trapped in solidified quicksand that was later re-used in Barker’s loose film adaptation of ‘Lord Of Illusions’ (1995).

The story was later adapted into the graphic novel 'Tapping The Vein - Book 2' (1989) where it was illustrated by Fred Burke.

New Murders In The Rue Morgue - 27 pages
After receiving a desperate telegram from his friend Catherine Laborteaux pleading that he come to Paris at once, seventy-three year old Lewis Fox drops everything to come to the aid of his dear friend.  Upon arriving in the wintery streets of Paris, Lewis (the real-life descendant of Poe’s supposedly fictional detective - C. Auguste Dupin) meets with the distraught Catherine to be told that her son, Phillipe Laborteaux is being charged with murder.  A savage butchering of a young red-haired woman that she is convinced he did not do.  Lewis promises to help his close friend, and so goes to the police to speak with Phillipe.  But what he finds is a man who has given up all hope in life.  A broken man who wants nothing more than to die.  A man who speaks of a horrifying past that has returned to the streets of Paris.  A past thought to be the work of fiction, that is now slicing through flesh and spilling its victims’ blood once again...

Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story ‘The Murders In The Rue Morgue’ (1841), Barker’s inspired return to the bizarre tale of ‘Jack The Ripper’ style murders at the hands of an orang-utan in the streets of Paris is as wildly contrived as the original was.  Indeed, the duplication and shadowing of the twisted murder-mystery plot is as much a homage as it is a delightfully ingenious new spin on the story.  Merging fact with fiction, Barker plays with the past and present, reaping a new set of tragic murders onto the picturesque Parisian backdrop.  The setting is instantly captivating, the handful of characters fleshed-out and bleeding with woe.  The whole story retains somewhat of a Poe-esque atmosphere, whilst incorporating a new layer of bloodshed and a very dark adage of black comedy.

The story was later adapted by Steve Niles into the Eclipse Books graphic novel ‘The Life Of Death’ (1993) where it was illustrated by the very talented Hector Gomez.

The book runs for a total of 150 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Books Of Blood’ instalments:

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