Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and fellow horror lovers, to the first of December’s two bonus Carry on Screaming posts. You can read previous posts in the series by clicking on the ‘Carry on Screaming‘ category.
Books of Blood volume 1 by Clive Barker
Volume One of Clive Barker’s seminal Books of Blood contains the stories: ‘The Book of Blood’, ‘The Midnight Meat Train’, ‘The Yattering and Jack’, ‘Pig Blood Blues’, ‘Sex, Death and Starshine’, ‘In the Hills, the Cities’.
With the 1984 publication of Books of Blood, Clive Barker became an overnight literary sensation. He was hailed by Stephen King as “the future of horror”, and won both the British and World Fantasy Awards. Now, with his numerous bestsellers, graphic novels, and hit movies like the Hellraiser, Clive Barker has become an industry unto himself. But it all started here, with this tour de force collection that rivals the dark masterpieces of Edgar Allan Poe. Read him and rediscover the true meaning of fear.
Title: Books of Blood volume 1 | Author: Clive Barker | Series: Books of Blood #1 | Publisher: Sphere | Pub. Year: 1984 | Pages: 208 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: None | Rating: 5 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased
Clive Barker burst onto the horror scene in 1984 with the publication of the six ‘Books of Blood’ collections of short stories. It’s a different kind of horror to the books I’ve covered so far in ‘Carry on Screaming’. Barker’s stories are certainly gory, but nothing like the crazed excesses of Herbert, Smith or Hutson. He is closest in tone to fellow Liverpudlian Ramsey Campbell, but was rightly praised as a fresh new voice in horror. His work in these stories still isn’t really like anything else out there. It’s darkly imaginative, incredibly graphic, psychologically chilling and shockingly honest. Barker’s fiction got much longer and more focused on fantasy than horror later in his career. I much prefer his early work, which still feels powerful and original.
This first volume contains six stories which are very different from each other. It’s hard to say which is my favourite. With the exception of the opener ‘The Book of Blood’ which I’m not so keen on, they’re all excellent.
‘The Midnight Meat Train’ is an atmospheric and disgustingly graphic blend of New York crime tale and Lovecraftian horror. ‘The Yattering and Jack’ is a delicious black comedy about a demon and the man it torments. ‘Pig Blood Blues’ combines convincing characters with an utterly grotesque concept. If I described the plot you’d think it sounded ridiculous, but it works perfectly. ‘Sex, Death and Starshine’ is a ghost story with a heavy dose of body horror. It contains one of the most disturbing sex scenes I’ve ever read. Finally, ‘In the Hills, the Cities’ is a masterpiece of imagination. It’s breathtaking in its scope and completely chilling.
That one slim book could contain so much terror is an incredible achievement. That it’s the first of six such volumes is kind of mindblowing. Just like ‘The Rats’, ten years earlier, its publication marks the start of a new era in British horror. The nasties of 70s and early 80s continued, but Barker paved the way for a more psychological, emotional kind of horror. Later writers like Neil Gaiman owe him a huge debt.
I’m adopting a slightly different rating system for my Carry on Screaming review, because, let’s face it, vintage horror novels are about more than just the quality of the actual book.
Book: 5 out of 5
Cover: 5 out of 5 – The cover of my edition is a bit toned down, but the full version (which I’ve included above) is fantastic. It’s gruesome, inventive and memorable, like the stories in the book. It’s also by Barker.
Nastiness: 4 out of 5 – This is a different kind of horror, but still plenty nasty.
Sauciness: 2 out of 5 – Whilst there is a fair bit of sex, it’s not exactly saucy.
Cover promise vs delivery: 5 out of 5 – As both the author and the cover artist, Barker nails it. Twice.
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 21/25
Because it’s Christmas, I’m serving you up three portions of vintage nastiness this month. Next up, this!