Book Review : Clive Barker - Books of Blood Volumes 1-3 (1988)
One point about criticism I'm constantly trying to make is: you need to have opinions on things people have already seen or read. Who the hell is going to trust me when I tell them to read Laird Barron if my perspective on... let's say Hellraiser didn't enhance their enjoyment of the movie. How will they know that I know anything about horror otherwise, you know? This is one of the reasons why I accepted This is Horror's Bob Pastorella challenge to run a Peter Straub retrospective, last year. Because we need things to debate over and bond over.
This year, we chose to review the works of British horror writer Clive Barker and our first stop is the Books of Blood, volume 1 to 3. Let me tell you, these short stories have been somewhat of a revelation. That shit was thoroughly good.
Reading the Books of Blood is like hanging out with your breakneck cousin when you're twelve, you know? It opens you to a world of possibilities you haven't considered before. I went like: holy shit, you can do THAT in a story? In the Hills, the Cities, most often quoted as one of the standouts in the collection, will challenge your very sense of reality. This tale of feuding cities who's citizens form giant creatures with their bodies will have you reevaluate things you once thought were simple, like the ties that bind you to a place and your very sense of purpose. Say what you want about a giant made out of LIVING BODIES, but it will make you think differently, because you never even thought of that before.
My favorite story in the collection was probably Pig Blood Blues, set in a Victorian-like youth detention center where a young man named Hennessey has mysteriously disappeared. Clive Barker crosses many boundaries between man and animal, human consciousness and carnivorous nature and authority and chaos in there. His imaginary is always transgressive, but Pig Blood Blues is one of the stories where he confronts you to your illusions of structures and boundaries the most. Another story that does that quite efficiently is Dread, where the antagonist is straight out trying to deprive his victims of their illusions of safety, which has fascinating conclusions.
Another very famous story in this collection is The Midnight Meat Train, which was made into a movie starring Bradley Cooper and the immortal Vinnie Jones. It was another clever and spectacularly gory one that explored the soulless, carnivorous nature of our environment. It also quite ambitiously attempted to mythologize the very concept of cities, which I thought was bold as fuck. Hell's Event is another one I quite enjoyed. It's a quite simple one that threatened my sense of reality with unnamed monsters. If Clive Barker has understood something better than most is that if you offer a peek on the other side without saying anything, it's often more terrifying than if you start explaining.
That leads me to my second favorite story in the Books of Blood, titled Son of Celluloid. It's one of the most atypical and bizarre short stories in the collection, which reminded me of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive's sequences with the strange cowboy. It's another story that completely annihilated my sense of boundaries. In Son of Celluloid, a group of moviegoers' emotion start feeding a supernatural being possessing a dead man behind the screen which lead to violent consequences. That story is so bizarre and fluid, it made me terrified of my own emotional reaction to it, which must've been the point.
There was so much I liked about the Books of Blood. The first thing that popped to my mind when reading it, though was that it reminded me of Laird Barron's work. And it turns out I was absolutely right. When I asked him the question, he said: "I was heavily influenced from Books of Blood and Hellraiser As with Poe, I didn't realize how much until I'd written enough to look back over." So, there you have it. If you like Laird Barron, there's definitely something for you in Clive Barker's Books of Blood and vice versa. His writing is stylish, luxuriant, transgressive and terrifying in all sorts of ways you can't imagine. Expect me to get batshit crazy over Clive Barker's work in 2018, because I will.