First published back in July of 1985, British author Clive Barker followed the enormous success of the first three volumes of his ‘The Books Of Blood’ collection with a second omnibus book containing a further three volumes.  Later that same year, as with his initial omnibus, this second collection of books was split down into the three separate books by Sphere.  Subsequent printings of these individual volumes saw a change in the cover artwork from John Knight’s artwork to that of Clive Barker’s.

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 forth volume from this collection of six dark and disturbing volumes.  This volume was released in the US under the name ‘The Inhuman Condition’.  The book contains the following short stories:

The Body Politic - 47 pages
For months on end Charlie George had been waking up with an uncomfortable ache in his wrists and hands.  His wife, Ellen, had tried to convince him to go and see the doctor about it.  But Charlie thought it pointless.  Being a packager by trade, his hands were bound to become tired after a long day of using them.  But deep down he knew it was more than just that.  Charlie had become to sense a change taking place with his body.  For a start his wife had begun to take added delight in the way his hands were performing during their intimate moments together.  Further still he’d catch his finger beating out rhythms on the table tops without his prompting.  And recently they’d taken to holding hands with absolute strangers – without his decision to do anything of the sought.  It’s as if they had a life of their very own.  And as such Charlie thought that he was probably heading for an inevitable nervous breakdown.  And when he woke in bed one night finding his hands clenched around his wife neck, strangling her, he knew it was time to take action.  But all of a sudden his hands wouldn't let him.  It was finally time for their uprising.  For them to separate from their oppressors.  To cut themselves free and live life for themselves…

Weirdly inventive and delightfully sinister in its dark imagination, Barker quickly gets underway with the ‘Twilight Zone’ type of inventive horror scenario that feeds this unforgettable short story.  As the uprising of the hands around them starts to unfold, the short tale really starts to pick up its pace, with murder and mayhem as a promise around every corner.  It’s dark and twisted in its wackiness.  And its black comedy undertones stick with it until the utterly grin-inducing end.  The inclusion of a strong bond between Charlie’s Right and Left hand, which draws out basic personality traits in these faceless appendages, simply adds another crazy level to the already pretty darn surreal tale.  This is one of the more memorable and comically enjoyable additions to the series.

The short was later adapted for the two-story movie 'Quicksilver Highway', which was directed by Mick Garris.  The short also featured within the anthology ‘The Mammoth Book Of Body Horror’ (2012).

The Inhuman Condition - 47 pages
After relieving himself in a darkened tunnel, a downtrodden vagrant named Pope finds himself suddenly surrounded by a gang of taunting youths.  The ringleader, a malicious piece of work named Red, orders his thuggish mates, Brendan, Catso and Karney to alleviate the homeless man of whatever possessions he may have.  After rooting through his pockets, Catso finds a bottle of vodka which he duly confiscates.  And once the gang have well and truly beaten the defenceless man senseless, Karney snatches a strange ball of knotted string which had fallen from the battered and broken man’s person.  Intrigued by the sheer complexity of the knots involved, that night Karney sets to slowly unravelling the knotted ball, as if it were an elaborate puzzle.  But, as each stage of the ball is conquered by Karney’s dexterous fingers, so one-by-one his thuggish friends meet with increasingly gruesome fates.  The knot held dark and terrible secrets that were just waiting to get out.  Demons that were just waiting to be released…

Here we see Barker’s early vision with the unlocking of demons from a puzzle which would later be reworked into the concept of the Lament Configuration from Barker’s novella ‘The Hellbound Heart’ (1986).  The concept is relatively simple, but executed to perfection in this dark and sinister short.  Having no real protagonist as such, with the character of Karney being the closest there is to one, the story already sets off on a guttural downbeaten track, with deserved comeuppance and hard retribution at the heart of the tale.  From here the suspense quickly builds, until the eventual revelation of what Karney has been unwittingly unleashing onto him and his friends is made apparent.  A fair number of elements from the short are later seen emerging in the first few ‘Hellraiser’ movies, with the homeless tramp as a mainstay for Barker’s edgy vision of possessing these unspoken terrible secrets.  This is nothing short of a dark, twisted, heart-thumping horror masterpiece that will later set in motion a magnificent new sadistic mythos in the ‘Hellrasier’ franchise.

Revelations - 56 pages
On their way across America, the renowned preacher John Gyer together with his wife Virginia and his assistant Earl, take a much needed break from the heavy-weather and pull into the Cottonwood Motel not far outside of their next destination of Pampa.  The very same lifeless Texas motel which thirty-years ago Sadie Durning shot dead her cheating husband Buck.  Four months later the unrepentant Sadie Durning had the electric chair for her crimes.  But the restless ghosts of the deceased couple have returned that very night to see where it all went wrong.  To see if somehow it could all have been different.  But, whilst the rain hammers down outside, in the adjoining room to the returned ghosts of the Durning’s, Virginia is feeling that she’s finally had enough of her uncaring and utterly overbearing husband.  And Earl is becoming somewhat distracted by the owner’s daughter Laura May.  Drama and bloodshed is about to play out in the Cottonwood Motel once again…

Barker clearly had a satirical grin on his face when he put together this strange marriage of Jerry Springer style drama with a morbidly supernatural spin, which  ultimately results in an unavoidable decent into bloodshed.  The smugness of the obsessive preacher on his crusade to spread his apocalyptical word is delightfully cut down and destroyed by Barker.  Indeed, Barker toys with the concepts of justice and resentment for the main part of tale, pulling together an intricate short story where comeuppance and revenge go hand-in-hand with violence and the perversity of the afterlife.  It’s a fabulous read, with plenty going on, and emotions running high from start to finish.

The story was later adapted by Steve Niles into the Eclipse Books graphic novel ‘Revelations’ (1992) where it was illustrated by Lionel Talaro.

Down, Satan! - 6 pages
Gregorius is a very rich and powerful man.  Over his lifetime he has accumulated a grotesquely vast wealth, with little else in life he could possibly want for.  But it wasn’t enough to keep him happy.  Far from it.  For one night he wakes to find himself godless.  And that scares him more than anything.  So, with the help of his advisor Warren Dickerson, Gregorius decides to build a very real hell on earth, in order to confront Satan and have God obligated to step in and bring his eternal soul back into the bosom of his heavenly fold.  And so he sets to work, having the insane architect Leopardo design his elaborate new hell, within the uncaring locale of North Africa.  And once the colossal and ungodly temple has been built, Gregorius will sit alone within the blasphemous construction, waiting for the arrival of the devil.  And the wait is long…

By far and away the shortest of the stories in the entire Books of Blood collection, ‘Down, Satan!’ takes little to no time in setting down the elaborately contrived premise for this oddly menacing tale.  There’s no room for characterisation, just the working facts of the bare-boned storyline.  That and the guttural darkness that slowly creeps up through the tale, consuming the tale in a blanket of insanity and hellish damnation.  The end result is a truly magnificent decent into an ungodly hell, vividly described with its haunting corridors and burning pits of fire.  Barker purposefully toys with a somewhat ambiguous ending, leaving the reader alone in a brutal descent into a hellish madness. 

The story was later adapted into the graphic novel Tapping The Vein - Book 5 (1992) where it was illustrated by Tim Conrad.  The short also featured within the anthology ‘Tales From The Rogues’ Gallery’ (1994). 

The Age Of Desire - 54 pages
Away from prying eyes in the private seclusion offered within Hume Laboratories, scientists Dr Welles and Dr Dance had been working on their own personal experiment.  They had dubbed it Project Blind Boy.  Exploratory research tapping directly into the sexual imagination – the libido.  And they had devised an agent that went well beyond the effects of the average aphrodisiac.  A chemical that kept the desire mounting and multiplying.  Driving the testee into further and further degrees of sexual excitement.  But now their first human guinea pig, Jerome, had somehow escaped.  After viciously killing, raping and mutilating the female Dr Dance, their test subject had gotten out of Hume Laboratories and into the wide open city outside.  His libido unstoppable, Jerome would rape, kill and murder until his insatiable lust quite simply burnt him out.  Until then, Inspector Carnegie together with officers McBride & Dooley would be hot on the trail of the rampaging murderer.  It’s just a matter of time before something gives…

The short is (quite obviously) immersed from head to toe in sordid sexual cravings that have been magnified and ramped up until the constant pursuit of  sexual gratification has become a pulpishly deviant journey into a despicable abyss.  Barker doesn’t pull any punches when getting down and dirty with the escalating sexual exploits that our crazed test subject is engaging in.  With the cops always beating at his heels, the short begins to come across as a particularly warped ‘cop thriller’ until we return once again to the guttural nastiness of the premise.  Barker’s clearly not afraid to explore the dark and dirty world of sex spun out of control.  It’s just another angle to take one of his twisted tales in – and Barker simply gets on that horse and takes the reader into the gaping mouth with his oh-so-twisted imagination once more.

After being scheduled for release by Eclipse back in the 1990’s, the graphic novel adaptation by P. Craig Russell that was illustrated by Timothy Bradstreet finally found publication after eighteen long years into the Desperado hardback release ‘Age Of Desire’ (2009).

The short also featured within the anthologies ‘The Mammoth Book Of Erotica’ (1994), ‘Between Time And Terror’ (1995), ‘Speaking Of Lust’ (2001) and ‘Legacies’ (2010).

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Books Of Blood’ instalments:

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