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

The Forbidden - 37 pages
Helen Buchanan had come to the Spector Street Estate to photograph the vast array of urban artwork on offer for her university thesis ‘Graffiti: the semiotics of urban despair’.  With camera in hand, the young university student sets to exploring the decaying inner-city estate, snapping the large expanses of graffiti as she goes.  Her exploration takes her into an abandoned building, devoid of life except for drug use and general squalor.  But it’s the sudden change in the graffiti that captures her attention.  References to the Candyman adorn the walls, as if in a respectful homage to some mythical figure.  Hearing from one of the downtrodden residents in the estate named Anne-Marie, Helen learns of the vicious killings that have taken place on the estate.  Savage murders caused by a hook-handed maniac.  A man the locals have dubbed the Candyman…

Creepy, eerie and drenched in fear – from the outset Barker lays down an intense and utterly grimy urban setting, bursting at the seams with a lurking threat that seems just out of reach for the first half of the short.  Utilising the concept of urban mythology that has a solid stake in reality, Barker surges forth with a powerfully atmospheric and utterly gripping story that gets under your skin from the outset and just keeps on clawing at your nerve endings.  Once the atmosphere and intensity is brought to a nail-biting peak, Barker does what he does best, and unleashes all hell in the form of one of the most foreboding and mesmerising antagonists to have been formed in a short story.

The short was later adapted into the film ‘Candyman’ (1992) which starred Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd and was directed by Bernard Rose.  Two subsequent sequels were made, but neither were a patch on the first film or indeed the original haunting short story.

The short also featured within the anthologies ‘The Best Horror From Fantasy Tales’ (1988), ‘Space Movies’ (1995), ‘The Reel Stuff’ (1998) and ‘The Unexplained’ (1998), ‘Vintage Science Fiction’ (1999) and ‘Spook City’ (2009) as well as being included within ‘The Essential Clive Barker’ (1999).

The Madonna
- 38 pages
Jerry Coloqholin has had to pull a hell of a lot of strings to make this venture a very real possibility.  If he can just get Ezra Garvey to back the redevelopment of the decaying swimming pool complex, then he could finally have a project that would work out for him.  Inside the dilapidated building, Garvey’s interest in the structure and the possibilities it lends appears to be very positive.  But then, whilst Jerry is elsewhere trying to gain entry into the main pool area, Garvey glimpses the fleeting figure of a naked young girl.  From that moment on, an obsession with the girl takes hold of the shady businessman.  But lurking in the depths of the pool resides more than just a naked young girl.  Submerged in the stagnant water of the pool, strange creatures can be seen submerged in its murky depths.  And a secret older than legend is waiting for Jerry’s return…

Perhaps one of the most atmospheric of Barker’s shorts, ‘The Madonna’ is a truly remarkable piece of eerie and imaginatively dark fiction.  Inside the abandoned wreck of the swimming pool complex, the reader is instantly submerged in a clinging humidity that wraps itself around the story, enveloping the tale in an almost palpable atmosphere.  The handful of characters that Barker brings into the tale are each well-defined and suitably open to the seductive terrors that are about to embrace them.  The utterly Lovecraftian revelations are as compelling as they are momentous.  And there seems almost no end to the horrors being brought to the table.  That is, until Barker throws in one final twist that draws the bleak story to a final downbeat conclusion.

The story was later adapted into the graphic novel 'Tapping The Vein - Book 4' (1990) where it was illustrated by Stan Woch, Mark Farmer and Fred Von Tobel.

Babel's Children - 27 pages
Forty-one year old Vanessa Jape had always found herself being drawn to unknown destinations.  Places of mystery, where no signs announce their existence.  And that is why she found herself driving along an unmarked road to god-alone-knows-where on the island of Kithnos.  A road that, she ends up abandoning on foot, becoming lost until she happens across an incredibly secluded and out-of-the-way stone-walled compound.  Somewhere she hopes to seek some assistance in getting back to her car and hopefully her hotel.  But, on the quiet alleyways within the silent stone setting, Vanessa can feel the eyes of many on her.  And then, from out of nowhere, the strange monks advance with their guns drawn.  Unaware what she has stumbled across, she is locked up nevertheless, whilst the man in charge checks out her vague story.  But, that night, whilst resting in her cell, she has a strange visitor.  A sun-baked and aged old man who whispers through the cells bars.  He is one of a number of withered residents of the compound who are all captives here.  One of many who have an unbelievable story to tell.  A story and the responsibility to run the world…

The unusual location for the short at first seems like it will play along similar ‘out-and-back’ lines as a few of the other tales in the series.  However, this is far from the case.  The tale turns out to be of a very different nature to much of the ‘Books Of Blood’ series, with barely any element of horror finding its way in the storyline, but instead, toys with an air of mystery mixed with ideas of insanity and a farcical use of misguided power.  The short is compelling in its mystery, with so much kept from our protagonist (and therefore the reader) until a fairly good way into the story.  The general atmosphere and delivery of the short feels more like something Algernon Blackwood or indeed Ambrose Bierce would have conjured up.  It is certainly a lot slower-paced than the majority of other shorts in the ‘Books Of Blood’ collections.  But is nevertheless a compelling and intriguing read, based around a delightfully farcical idea, which ultimately produces the loose horror element to finish off the tale with.

The short was later adapted by Fred Burke for the Eclipse Books graphic novel re-release of ‘Revelations’ (1993) which was illustrated by Hector Gomez.  The original 1992 release included only the title story.

In The Flesh - 46 pages
Thirty-year-old Cleveland Smith wasn’t too happy about having a new bunkmate at Pentonville prison.  Upon returning to his cell he finds twenty-two year old William Tait sitting there, already in residence.  Tait wasn’t the same breed of criminal as Cleveland.  He was relatively new to the system.  The ways that prisons worked.  The hierarchy.  And he seemed particularly curious about many aspects of the prison, in particular the old hanging shed and the graves of those that were once condemned to these gallows.  A curiosity that was beginning to get the backs up of a number of the inmates.  But Cleveland was watching out for his new cellmate as best he could.  Dispensing advice.  Giving him warnings.  But when Tait confides the real reason why he’s now locked up in Pentonville, Cleveland can hardly believe what he’s hearing.  A man who purposefully goes out of his way to be landed in here.  A man who plans to locate his long dead grandfather, Edgar Tait, who he believes was executed and buried here.  A man whose influence is slowly but surely creeping into the dreams of his fellow cellmate…

Barker’s ‘In The Flesh’ is a piece of absolute literary genius.  Its place in the ‘Books Of Blood’ collection is perhaps the most fitting of all the stories.  Its unnerving depth and chilling exploration of the darker sides of the afterlife are as haunting as they are utterly compelling.  This sinister short is so very in-tune with the overall atmosphere and mood of the collection.  The casually misguided characters all lightly developed upon, but largely left to become mere tools in the greater vision of a surprisingly involved premise.  And good god does the horror kick in once the plot has been unveiled through Billy Tait’s confession.  It’s twisted and bleak, with just the right amount of depressive horror to get under the reader’s skin and really gnaw away at your bones.  One of the definite highlights of the whole short story collection.

The short also featured within the anthology ‘Nightmare’ (1993).

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Books Of Blood’ instalments:

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