Despite being a horror literature fan for years, I had somehow never read anything by English author Clive Barker. I'd heard his name here and there, but had never really paid him any attention until recently when I ordered a few of his books on a whim, Books of Blood Vol. 1-3 among them.
I've read the first three entries in the Books of Blood series and, well, color me a Clive Barker fan. Within this collection is some of the grisliest horrors I've ever encountered -- scares not meant for the light at heart. As I've said, I've read horror for years and thought I had been case hardened... not so, apparently. Barker truly got under my skin with at least 2/3 of these stories. Some of these stories made me physically sick -- on the verge of vomiting or crying -- and others made me hesitant to turn the light out at night. That is not hyperbole. I've yet to read a horror author with such an expansive imagination or tight grip on what makes for truly successful visceral horror.
For the sake of time and my sanity, I am going to review each story in only a sentence or two, followed by a ranking. I'll try to come up with something unique to say about each story, which should not be too hard in most cases. Here we go...
Books of Blood, Volume 1
Book of Blood: The title story sets up the collection quite nicely, letting the reader know he or she is in for a grisly, gory ride through the night where monsters roam and usually win. It's a memorable story all its own, immediately memorable and chilling. 5/5
The Midnight Meat Train: This is one of the stories that made me almost throw up, and I'm not sure if I would read it again. However, the writing here is incredibly strong and Barker takes the serial killer trope in interesting, fresh directions. 4.5/5
The Yattering and Jack: This story is equal parts funny and scary. Wholly original stuff. Is it a movie? 5/5
Pig Blood Blues: This is the first story in the collection that concerns a wide(r) casts of characters, and is a fun, enchanted tale of possession and sacrifice. The ending is among the darkest here. It drags a bit in places, but overall it's a great tale. 4/5
Sex, Death, and Starshine: Clive Barker's history as a screenwriter really comes through in this ghostly, sexy tale of a theater cast that goes on long after the final curtain has descended. Again, this story drags in places, thus earning it only 4 stars. 4/5
In the Hills, the Cities: Among this collection's most well-known, and for good reason. It's among the grisliest tales here, and the way Barker writes about two warring cities fighting one another is unlike anything I've ever read before. Warning: this story is one of the homoerotic in the bunch, so if you're not into that you might want to skip this one. 5/5
Books of Blood, Volume 2
Dread: Quite easily my favorite story in the entire collection. I really don't want to say anything about this one except it really lives up to its title. A masterwork of slow-building horror. 5/5
Hell's Event: Volume 2 is probably my least favorite Books of Blood volume, and its slight downward spiral starts here. Occasional funny stuff can be found, but it's mostly stale and boring. 2/5
Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament: A seductive woman has special powers of the mind she can control and use to her own gain. Like a lot of the stories here, this one is equal parts creepy and sexy but I couldn't really get into it for some reason... 2.5/5
The Skins of the Fathers: This story is a bit of a breath of fresh air after the previous two stories -- which are not bad, but aren't very noteworthy either -- and I really enjoyed it. The abusive father and the chilling ending stick out the most in my mind. 4/5
New Murders In The Rue Morgue: A boring update on an old Edgar Allen Poe story. Pass. 1/5
Books of Blood, Volume 3
Son of Celluloid: A dying man's cancer joins with the emotions in the air at an old movie theater, coming together to form a murderous monster made up of famous movie scenes. It's trippy and doesn't make a whole lot of sense upon retelling, but just read it. This story is a prime example of Clive Barker's extensive imagination. 5/5
Rawhead Rex: A small town is under siege of a blood-thirsty supernatural being that has come back to life. Need I say more? 5/5
Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud: A fair-minded family man is brutally murdered and comes back to take revenge. This one is a fitting, modern follow-up to "Rawhead Rex" and is one I immediately reread. 5/5
Scape-Goats: The deserted island setting of this one brings to mind Stephen King's "Survivor Type" only with a lot more corpses... 5/5
Human Remains: This one isn't quite as good as the stories the precede it in this volume, but it's still fairly interesting and scary. 3.5/5
So... yeah. In case you didn't get the point, Clive Barker is a scary writer and you should check him out as soon as possible. These stories are dark, oppressive, and don't let in much light, thus making them phenomenal Halloween reads.