Gangs of Flesh Encore

Since Halloween is a just about a fortnight away, this entry shall concern the writings by a man who expertly shows-not-tells worlds filled with the disconcerting, the disfigured, the pained, the fantastical, and the sometimes doomed a la Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond.


I started my literary travels into the world of Clive Barker over ten years ago with his novella The Hellbound Heart.  I went through an Anne Rice phase a decade prior, never felt drawn to reading Stephen King (though I’ve seen a handful of film adaptations of his works), only read Dean Koontz’s Hideaway to compare/contrast it to the movie version, then somehow found myself wanting to read the source material for Hellraiser (which Barker himself directed in 1987). 

Pinhead scared me when I was younger more than Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Michael Meyers, but in my late twenties, I wanted to read about him and his fellow Cenobites.  I loved The Hellbound Heart and was prompted to rent every Hellraiser movie I could find at Blockbusters near me.  My mom and I watched them together and we both agreed that the first two had the best makeup effects and Hellraiser: Inferno (Scott Derrickson, 2000) was the last one that was halfway good.  When I created my first Tumblr account a few years later and spent hours pouring through gifs, screenshots, and other posts devoted to Pinhead, I no longer found him frightening.  On the contrary, I’d felt that if I imagined him loitering around my shadow that I could go anywhere and nobody would mess with me.  I did not test this hypothesis, just so you know.

I’ve done the Page 99 Test with my Neil Gaiman books and a few of my sports books, and tonight I wanted to do the same with my Clive Barker books.


The ones that pass the test do so perfectly (akin to the Gaiman ones). 

First, The Hellbound Heart — these words happen to begin the eighth chapter and continue just a smidgeon to page 100 in the edition I have:

There was thunder that night.  A storm without rain, which made the air smell of steel.
Kirsty had never slept well.  Even as a child, though her mother had known lullabies enough to pacify nations, the girl had never found slumber easy.  It wasn’t that she had bad dreams; or at least none that lingered until morning.  It was that sleep itself–the act of closing the eyes and relinquishing control of her consciousness–was something she was temperamentally unsuited to.

Second, The Damnation Game — the dialogue exchange and the middle of the page highlight the story’s overall tone, though it’s been so long since I’ve read it that I may be off the mark a bit.


Third, Cabal — this passage passes with an A+; if you’ve seen the film, read the book, or both, you know what I mean.


Fourth, The Scarlet Gospels — the second half of the page exemplifies Barker’s exceptional way with detailing the shocking, the gruesome, and human visages that no longer look “human” as normal.



Here are a few of my favorite parts of The Damnation Game (I noted them when I read it the first time):

“They had methods of interrogation, he knew, even with dead people.  They’d lay him in an ice room and examine him minutely, and after they’d studied him from the outside they’d start looking at his inside, and oh! what things they’d find.  They’d saw off the top of his skull and take out his brain; examine it for tumors, slice it thinly like expensive ham, probe at it in a hundred ways to find out the why and the how of him.  But that wouldn’t work, would it?  He, of all people, should know that. You cut up a thing that’s alive and beautiful to find out how it’s alive and why it’s beautiful and before you know it, it’s neither of those things, and you’re standing there with blood on your face and tears in your sight and only the terrible ache of guilt to show for it” (86-87).

“‘Among those records was there still a copy of Buddy Holly singing ‘True Love Ways’? They’d played that so often it must have been worn thin; they’d danced to it together in this very room—not danced exactly, but used the music as an excuse to hold each other, as if excuses were needed. It was one of those love songs that made him feel romantic and unhappy simultaneously—as though every phrase of it was charged with loss of the very love it celebrated. Those were the best kind of love songs, the truest” (104).

“It wasn’t love she felt for him. That was too big a burden of feeling to carry.  It was at best infatuation, mingled with that sense of impending loss she always tasted when close to somebody, as though every moment in his presence she was internally mourning the time when he would no longer be there” (327).

Here’s Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” in case you’re curious about what it sounds like:

If you’d like to reminisce or read more about film adaptations of Barker’s writings, hop on over to this post at Reel Time Flicks for an excellent perspective.

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