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

Son Of Celluloid - 35 pages
With the luck of his own personal god on his side, Barberio had managed to escape from prison without a scratch on him.  But since the audacious escape he had fallen foul of a sharp-eyed cop.  And now he was bleeding badly from the leg.  Not only that, but unbeknown to him, the cancerous tumour in his stomach was slowly but surely killing him.  And so when he clambered into what he thought would be a safe place to hide, in a creep space behind an old cinema’s projection-wall, Barberio’s life finally expired.  But the tumour inside of him lived on.  Fed by the potent emotions of all those hundreds of eyes staring at the big screen, the cancerous tumour grew.  And now, with Barberio’s corpse left undiscovered, one of the cinema patron’s has gone missing.  His girlfriend who has been waiting for him alerts the last remaining members of staff to his disappearance.  But the night has only just gotten started.  And the manifested Son of Celluloid has only just begun to feed...

Written as a grotesque homage to cinema, Barker’s ‘Son Of Celluloid’ is structured into three sections – the opening ‘Trailer’, ‘the Main Feature’ and the final ‘Censored Scenes’.  With the ‘Trailer’ section setting down the principal backbone for the tale, Barker is able to hit the ground running with the ‘Main Feature’, pouring on a head-spinning mix of strange cinematic hallucinatory-visions and gore-tastic splatterpunk fury.  Barker crams in the wildly over-the-top horror fun with plenty of blood drenched madness until the twisted monster is revealed in all its grotesque glory.  The early finale is as wonderfully twisted as the second ‘Censored Scenes’ concluding finale.  One of the most spectacular and twisted additions to the ‘Books Of Blood’ series.

The story was later adapted by Steve Niles into the Eclipse Books graphic novel ‘Son Of Celluloid’ (1991) where it was illustrated by Les Edwards.  The short also featured within the anthologies ‘Silver Scream’ (1988) and ‘A Taste For Blood’ (1992).

Rawhead Rex - 47 pages
Just outside of the quaint rural town of Zeal, Thomas Garrow is mystified as to why the three-acre field he had just inherited had been left to fallow for so many years.  He has no intention of seeing it continue to go to such waste.  But as he ploughs the fields in preparation for the new crop, Garrow discovers a vast slab of stone buried deep within the dark earth of the field.  He knows that he will have to get the stone out if he wishes to continue ploughing the field year after year.  And so he gets to work, digging out the vast block of stone.  And after hours of hard work, as he nears the end of his task, he finally realises the horrific errors of his ways.  In a noxious cloud of fetid gas, the great beast reaches out from its stale tomb, having been woken after hundreds of years.  Towering over the farmer with its powerful nine-foot body, Garrow has seconds to live before the gaping mouth containing the beast’s vicious teeth rips through the flesh of the farmer, killing him in one horrific bite.  At last, after so many hundreds of years, the beast is once again free to take back what it knows rightfully belongs to it.  It’s time for Rawhead to reap its revenge on mankind.  And in doing so it will feast and devour and dominate, until there’s nothing left to kill…

Oh yes this is a violent one.  Here we see Barker donning his ‘splatterpunk’ hat, truly going hell for leather with a pulpish monster-on-the-rampage romp with a surprisingly dark undertone running through it.  The inclusion of the Vicar Coot character adds a truly inspired tone of blasphemous desecration to the proceeding tale.  Indeed, Barker plays around with a brutal beast-on-the-rampage plot with this added blasphemous element to keep the tale going on two throat-grabbing levels.  The beast – Rawhead Rex – is described to such fear inducing perfection.  The storyline is action filled, gory, fast-paced and bursting at the seams with visceral scenes of vivid splatter.  Barker shows absolutely no mercy in the short.  Anyone could be the next victim.  And almost everyone is.  Quite simply put, it’s one hell of a read.

The short was later adapted by Steve Niles into the Eclipse Books graphic novel ‘Rawhead Rex’ (1993) where it was illustrated by Les Edwards.  The short also featured within the anthologies ‘The Mammoth Book Of Monsters’ (2007) and ‘Creatures’ (2011).  A full length film adaptation was also made in 1986, which was directed by George Pavlou.

Confession Of A (Pornographer's) Shroud - 32 pages
It had been three weeks since Ronnie Glass had been tortured to death.  At thirty-two years of age Ronnie had thus far spent his life being a clean, god-fearing Catholic man.  Husband to his equally straight-laced wife, Bernadette, he had two loving daughters, Samantha and Imogen, and a good honest job as an accountant.  But he’d made a wrong decision along the way.  Against his better judgement he’d gotten involved with the likes of Dennis ‘Dork’ Luzzati, Henry B Henry and Michael Maguire.  Three relatively small time crooks dealing in the more perverted forms of pornography.  And when he found out about his unknowing involvement in their smutty little business, he wanted out and straight away.  But it wasn’t going to go like that.  Before he knew it, his name was plastered over all the papers.  ‘The Sex Empire of Ronald Glass’ emblazed everywhere he looked.  His life was destroyed in one fell swoop.  And so revenge came calling.  They’d pay for the wreck they’d made of his life.  Dork and Henry B were easy.  But he quickly found that murder wasn’t in his nature.  And his vengeful murder spree came crashing back on him when the tables were quickly turned.  Now he was the dead one.  But not quite dead.  Underneath the shroud that the morgue attendant covered his cold body with, Ronnie Glass’ ghost remained.  And now it was time to finish off the business he’d started...

Revenge, revenge, revenge and some more bloodthirsty revenge.  The principal theme behind the short is pretty darn gritty.  But wrapped up in this brutal plot is a weirdly dark black comedy, with our principal character returning to finish his vengeful work in the delightfully perverse cliché of a bedsheet-covered ghost.  The storyline is rich in colourful anger and violence, along with the grubbiness of the gang’s sordid business and the repeated input of torture.  But the dry (and perversely dark) wittiness remains ever-present throughout.  And as the short snowballs towards its gore-drenched finale, the reader can almost picture Barker grinning from ear to ear with the sheer gruesomeness of this wickedly perverse tale of revenge and comeuppance.

The short also featured within the anthology ‘Mists From Beyond’ (1993).

- 25 pages
They thought their day couldn’t get much worse when their yacht, ‘The Emmanuelle’, became grounded on the grimy pebbled beach of an unknown and completely isolated island in the North Atlantic Ocean.  However, for Frankie, Angela, Jonathan and Ray, their unexpected grounding on the small island was going to get a whole lot worse.  And it all started to descend into a living-hell when they discover three sheep; alone, abandoned and penned in at the very centre of the abysmal island.  Three sheep that were left there for a reason.  Three sheep that were left as an offering to the dead…

Utterly Lovecraftian from the very outset, Barker’s short paints a vividly grim picture of an island that is completely immersed in decay, setting the reader on edge almost immediately with a thick and oppressive atmosphere.  Written from the first-person perspective of Frankie, the short quickly adjusts itself into a brief but callous blend of Lovecraft’s ‘Dagon’ (1919) meets the craved violence of Golding’s ‘Lord Of The Flies’ (1954).  And just as the madness reaches its unnerving peak, so the story shifts to unveil an all new menacing and nightmarish reality.  And with that, the short ends on a bleak and altogether downbeat note.  As horrifying as it is unsettlingly surreal.

The story was later adapted into the graphic novel Tapping The Vein - Book 3 (1990) where it was illustrated by Bo Hampton.  The short also featured within the anthologies ‘Sea-Cursed’ (1994) and ‘Splatterpunks II’ (1995). 

Human Remains - 42 pages
Gavin was a young prostitute.  Whether he offered himself to a wealthy widow or a bored businessman, as long as the money was there, he didn’t care.  And it was always easy work to get for him, because he had the looks.  And so, one night when he was once again out on the game, he easily picked up the very nervous Kenneth Reynolds, who very quickly escorted Gavin back to his apartment.  An apartment that housed many intricate sculptures.  But before the two of them could get intimate, an incessant thumping noise starts to reverberate around the building.  And then all of a sudden, Reynolds has been attacked by an unseen assailant and upon investigating, Gavin finds a poorly formed statue of a man fully submerged within Reynolds’ bath.  A life-sized statue that gradually steals Gavin’s identity.  A statue that slowly becomes more human than Gavin ever was…

Barker’s ‘Human Remains’ is certainly more atmospheric and down-beaten than it is in-your-face splatterpunk horror.  It does still have its bursts of adrenaline, such as with the vicious fight between Gavin and the thuggish pimp Preetorius, but the pace is predominately far more sluggish.  However, the vast majority of the tale is instead spent submerging the reader in the clinging coma of a suggestive mystery, laced with a wealth of utter misery.  When the storyline gradually comes around to exposing the (not too surprising) doppelganger twist, the very restrained pace of the tale simply slides itself further into a downward spiral of depressive misery and ultimate acceptance of complete loss.  Compelling in its own dark and depressive way, this more subdued tale just gets under your skin with its guttural misery.

The story was later adapted into the graphic novel Tapping The Vein - Book 1 (1989) where it was illustrated by P. Craig Russel.  The short also featured within the anthologies ‘The Mammoth Book Of Vampires’ (1992), ‘Spook City’ (2009) and ‘The Vampire Archives’ (2009).

The book runs for a total of 182 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Books Of Blood’ instalments:

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