Books of Blood
|Cover artist||Clive Barker|
|Series||Books of Blood|
|Publisher||Sphere Books (UK)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
Books of Blood is a series of six horror fiction anthologies collecting original stories written by British author, playwright, and filmmaker Clive Barker in 1984 and 1985. Known primarily for writing stage plays beforehand, Barker gained a wider audience and fanbase through this anthology series, leading to a successful career as a novelist. Originally presented as six volumes, the anthologies were subsequently re-published in two omnibus editions containing three volumes each. Each volume contains four or five stories. The Volume 1–3 omnibus contained a foreword by Barker's fellow Liverpudlian horror writer Ramsey Campbell. Author Stephen King praised Books of Blood, leading to a quote from him appearing on the first US edition of the book: "I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker."
Books of Blood Volume 6 is significant for its story "The Last Illusion" which introduced Barker's occult detective character Harry D'Amour. The detective went on to appear in more of Barker's writings, the Hellraiser comic book series from Boom! Studios, and the movie Lord of Illusions (based on "The Last Illusion" and adapted by Barker himself).
Clive Barker's tagline for Books of Blood was: "Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red." The opening story, "The Book of Blood", introduces the premise of the anthology series by revealing that a fake psychic is attacked one night by genuine ghosts and spirits who decide to make him a true messenger by writing stories into his flesh. This makes him a "Book of Blood" and the narration then invites the reader to read these stories. The UK editions of Volume 6 close with a story, "On Jerusalem Street", that features a man who pursues the fake psychic in order to skin him and take his Book of Blood. Thus, a framing story is created around the anthologies.
The stories range in genres. Some are traditional horror, some are described by Barker as "dark fantasy," some are comical, and "The Last Illusion" is notable for being a mixture of horror and noir while also introducing the occult detective Harry D'Amour. A common thread is that most of the stories feature everyday people in contemporary settings who become involved in violent, mysterious, and/or supernatural events. Barker has stated in Faces of Fear that an inspiration for the Books of Blood was when he read Dark Forces in the early 1980s and realised that a horror story anthology didn't need to have narrow themes, consistent tone or restrictions to be considered a proper collection. Instead, the stories could range wildly in genre and tone, from the humorous to the truly horrific.
Volumes I-III are sold as "The Books of Blood". Volume IV is sold as "The Inhuman Condition". Volume V is sold as "In the Flesh". And Volume VI is sold as "Cabal", which either includes four or five additional short stories, depending on the edition which you are able to find.
For some editions, Clive Barker illustrated the book covers.
Story list and synopses
"The Book of Blood"
The first story of Volume 1 acts as an introduction to the premise of the Books of Blood anthology series. This, along with "On Jerusalem Street", the closing story presented in UK editions of Volume 6, acts as a frame story for the series. The story mentions that the afterlife involves "highways of the dead" that sometimes intersect with the living world. A psychic researcher, Mary Florescu, has employed a quack medium named Simon McNeal to investigate a haunted house. Florescu knows McNeal is a fraud but is desperate to believe in the supernatural and also lusts after the young man. McNeal fakes visions as he has done many times before, pretending to hear names and stories told to him from beyond the mortal world. This time, ghosts and spirits decide to make McNeal a true messenger for them. As Florescu watches, the ghosts attack McNeal, carving names and "minute words" into his flesh, leaving him alive and otherwise uninjured but now with his body covered in stories – the stories of this anthology series. Florescu, attracted to McNeal, decides to nurse the young man and eventually transcribe his tales, thinking of him as a "Book of Blood" and her as his only translator.
"The Midnight Meat Train"
Office worker Leon Kaufman has recently moved to New York City, a place that he long idolized as "The Palace of Delights". Since arriving he has become disillusioned and recognized his former illusions as just that, seeing the dirt and depravity in a city like any other. A man named Mahogany is killing people in subway trains, identifying as a "butcher" in pursuit of "fresh meat." Kaufman falls asleep on a late-night subway train to Brooklyn and awakens to discover Mahogany has killed people in the neighboring car and the train conductor is cooperating with him. After Kaufman kills Mahogany in self-defense, the train arrives at a secret station where ancient, withered humans board and consume the bodies. The creatures, the "City Fathers", are the secret rulers of New York for centuries, the people who founded and initially built the city. They eventually present Kaufman to the incomprehensible "Father of Fathers", who has lived here since before the first humans of America. One of them pulls out Kaufman's tongue stating that he will "serve in silence", and recruiting him as their new Butcher tasked with bringing them fresh meat. Kaufman passes out as the conductor announces the next destination as "home". Kaufman is later awakened by the conductor in a secret, pristine subway station and helped off of the train as cleaning crews come on to cover up the events of the previous night. The conductor states that he has a lot to learn before he begins his job that evening, and presents him to the cleaners who look on him with a sense of reverence. He exits the station onto the streets in the early morning as the city is waking up and coming alive, falls down to his knees, kisses the ground, and swears his loyalty to the city.
A film of the same name was released on 1 August 2008. The film greatly expands the book in a number of ways, most notably with the introduction of additional characters such as Maya, Leon's girlfriend, and additional events outside the main plot. Bradley Cooper and Vinnie Jones star in the film.
"The Yattering and Jack"
Jack Polo is a gherkin importer who is haunted by a minor demon called the Yattering. The demon is commanded to haunt Jack by Beelzebub, because one of Jack's ancestors reneged on a pact made with the demon lord. The Yattering is frustrated when its determined efforts to drive Jack insane are answered with good cheer and apparent obliviousness. Unknown to the Yattering, Jack is purposely ignoring the demon in order to simultaneously frustrate it and maintain his own sanity. The Yattering subjects him to increasingly severe torments, including killing his cats and terrorising his family, but these efforts all fail. Eventually Jack tricks the Yattering into violating its orders, allowing Jack to take advantage of a loophole and make the Yattering his slave.
In contrast to the other stories, this one is presented as a comedic tale. Barker wrote a screenplay adapting of this story for an episode of the horror TV series Tales from the Darkside (Season 4, episode 7; Nov 8, 1987).
"Pig Blood Blues"
Former policeman Redman starts working in a borstal, where he uncovers a deadly secret involving a boy named Lacey. Lacey claims that a missing boy named Henessey is not missing, but is present as a ghost. As Redman investigates, he finds that a giant pig in a sty on the grounds may be possessed.
"Sex, Death and Starshine"
Terry Calloway is directing Twelfth Night in a run-down theatre. He is having an affair with his leading lady, Diane Duvall, and hopes her soap opera fame will bring in a big audience but also considers her a poor actress. A mysterious masked man, Mr. Lichfield, expresses dissatisfaction with Diane's casting as Viola. On the day of the final rehearsal, Lichfield states that his wife, Constantia, will play the role on opening night. Diane removes Lichfield's mask to reveal him as an animated corpse. Lichfield kisses Diane, and she slips into a coma. Constantia takes over the role of Viola. Following Diane's "recovery", Terry has sex with her and realizes she is now undead, just before she kills him.
The play opens to a packed house. After the performance, the actors realise the audience consists entirely of ghosts and reanimated dead. The theatre trustee, newly-dead Tallulah, burns down the theatre and every living player is killed. Several of the actors and Terry then join Mr. Lichfield and Constantia on the road, becoming a repertory company of the undead.
"In the Hills, the Cities"
In an isolated rural area of Yugoslavia, two entire cities, Popolac and Podujevo, create massive communal creatures by binding together the bodies of their citizens. Almost forty thousand people walk as the body of a single giant as tall as a skyscraper. This ritual occurs every ten years, but this time things go wrong and the Podujevo giant collapses, killing tens of thousands of citizens horribly. In shock, the entire population of Popolac goes mad and becomes the giant they are strapped into. Popolac wanders the hills aimlessly. By nightfall many of the people who make up the giant die from exhaustion, but the giant continues walking.
Mick and Judd, two gay men vacationing in the area, come upon the smashed bodies of the Podujevans in a ravine awash with blood. A local man tries to steal their car to catch up with Popolac and reason with it before it collapses and destroys the people who compose it. The man explains the truth of the situation to Mick and Judd, but they do not believe his story. They seek shelter at a remote farm, where Popolac blunders into the farmhouse, killing Judd accidentally. Mick and the elderly couple who own the farmhouse are driven mad with fear. Mick wants to join Popolac. He climbs up the tower of ropes and bodies, and is carried away as it walks into the hills.
Steve, a young university student, becomes acquainted with an older classmate named Quaid, an intellectual who has a morbid fascination with dread. Quaid reveals to Steve that he kidnapped a vegetarian classmate of theirs and imprisoned her in a room with merely beef for sustenance, only releasing her when she finally overcame her dread of eating meat to prevent starvation; she eats the meat even though it has spoiled. Steve becomes Quaid's next candidate for his experiments, held captive in a dark, silent room, forcing him to relive a childhood period of deafness that terrified him. Steve is driven insane by this forced sensory deprivation and eventually escapes. Steve then happens into a homeless shelter where he is mistaken for a drug-addicted vagrant and is given new clothes and shoes, but these don't fit him well. He is mad, pale with shock, and his lips are red and chapped from dehydration. Later, Steve steals a fire axe from the shelter and breaks into Quaid's home. Quaid's experiments, all along, were to try to help him understand the nature of fear in order to cure his own coulrophobia, but he is ironically butchered by Steven, whose ghastly appearance, ill-fitting clothes, and over-sized shoes have given him the appearance of a clown.
Every one-hundred years, during an annual London marathon, Satan sends one of his representatives to compete against (unsuspecting) human runners. If Satan's minion wins, he gets to rule the Earth. An athlete taking part in the event, Joel, realises the actual stakes of the race when the other runners begin to fall, savaged by some unseen beast. A satanist politician, Gregory, has made a bargain with Hell on the outcome of the race. Before he can win, Joel engages in a struggle with Hell's runner, who bites off his face. As they struggle, the last surviving human runner makes it to the finish line and Hell loses once again. Gregory is punished for his overconfidence by being gruesomely slain.
"Jacqueline Ess: Her Will And Testament"
Jacqueline Ess is a housewife who attempts suicide after becoming bored with her life. She recovers only to find that she has an ability to change people's body shapes with her mind. She accidentally kills her therapist and then causes her husband's death by willing their bodies to tear apart or fold in on themselves. One man becomes obsessed with her and tracks her down. Jacqueline eventually becomes a prostitute, her abilities giving her the power to give men the ultimate sexual experience, albeit one that is fatal. She has by now lost control of herself and has to be watched while sleeping in case she unconsciously mutilates her own body. The man eventually makes love to Jacqueline and they willingly die together by her power.
This story is also published in the book I Shudder at Your Touch as well as in "Behold! Oddities, Curiosities & Undefinable Wonders"
"The Skins of the Fathers"
After his car breaks down in Arizona, a man named Davidson witnesses a bizarre parade of monsters. He learns creatures mated with a woman in a nearby town six years previously and now wish to reclaim the child she bore. Davidson reaches the town, where a posse of gun-toting locals are eager to slay the monsters. After a violent confrontation, Davidson and a few survivors become trapped in quicksand which then hardens when they are half-buried. Trapped, they are left to die in the burning desert heat.
The idea of a group of people sinking in quicksand which then hardens around them was later used by Barker in the film Lord of Illusions.
"New Murders in the Rue Morgue"
Lewis is a 73-year-old man who goes to Paris after his friend, Phillipe, is arrested for butchering a young woman. After insisting that an orangutan committed the murder, Phillipe commits suicide in his cell. Lewis does not believe the story until he sees the primate firsthand. The beast is dressed like a person, completely shaved, and wields a razor. Lewis learns Philippe, a notorious eccentric, raised the animal himself as a strange experiment based on Edgar Allan Poe's classic story.
"Son of Celluloid"
An escaped convict dies behind a film screen. Over the years following his death, a cancerous tumor gains sentience from the strong emotions of the cinema's audiences and torments the few people that remain after one show. The sole survivor of the massacre is seen some time later, having tracked down the murderous entity which has roamed the country after possessing the body of a young girl. She then kills the creature with acid.
The ancient monster Rawhead, a nine-foot malevolent humanoid, is magically imprisoned underground. One day, the monster is accidentally awakened in a village in Kent. He goes on a rampage, killing and eating several townsfolk, then corrupts the local verger who helps him slay the vicar, Coot. Local Ron Milton, father of one of Rawhead's victims, uses a talisman to stall the beast until he is overpowered by the remaining enraged villagers. The talisman depicts a pregnant woman, Rawhead's antithesis and the only thing he fears.
"Rawhead Rex" has a structure similar to Alien or The Thing from Another World, but uses a rural setting. The story was later turned into the film Rawhead Rex (1986), which Barker wrote but then disowned after being dissatisfied with the direction and overall production.
"Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud"
Ronnie is a rule-abiding Catholic falsely implicated to be the leader of a pornography cartel. He is murdered by enemies then manifests as a ghost. Animating the shroud covering his body in the morgue, he takes revenge on the rest of his enemies. In a gory finale, he enters the mouth of the man primarily responsible for his ordeal and turns him inside out.
The story is written as a black comedy, revolving around the visual gag of a real ghost actually taking on the form of a floating bedsheet.
A yacht is stranded on the beach of a deserted island located at a point in the Atlantic Ocean where converging undersea currents bring all the human bodies of sailors drowned at sea. The hundreds of bodies littering the ocean floor, unfortunately for the stranded crew, aren't as dead as they should be.
A young gay prostitute is hired by an archaeologist. During the course of the night he stumbles into the bathroom to discover a Roman-esque statue of a man lying in the bath. Over the next few weeks, he has the sense of being haunted by a doppelgänger. At the same time, his mind and body transforms; he becomes cold and lifeless, no longer needing to eat or sleep. He finally discovers his doppelganger, the statue from the bath, at his father's grave, crying in sorrow, as he is unmoved. It becomes clear that the doppelganger has become more convincing as a human than he is, and he wanders away, allowing it to continue living in his persona.
(Published and sold as "The Inhuman Condition")
"The Inhuman Condition"
A young man named Karney and his friends beat up a vagrant for fun. Karney steals a strange knotted piece of string he finds on the vagrant. A keen fan of puzzles, Karney undoes the knots that evening, not knowing that in doing so he is releasing a succession of demons who proceed to kill off his friends. The demons seem progressively more advanced, appearing to evolve with each knot. When he realises what he has done, Karney has to seek out the vagrant for help.
"The Body Politic"
In a bizarre version of a revolution, it appears that all our hands have their own consciousness and are not happy at being ordered what to do by their owners. The hands of a factory worker named Charlie plan to lead the revolution. Charlie's hands even have their own personalities, with Left being more cautious and Right being very determined and even proclaiming himself a Messiah. Right – against Charlie's own wishes – chops off Left, who scuttles away to summon other hands to do the same before returning to rescue Right, starting an unfortunate revolution for the population.
This book was later adapted and used, in part, for the film Quicksilver Highway.
A woman named Virginia is unwillingly taken on a tour of the U.S. by her unfeeling husband, a preacher named John Gyer. They stay at a motel which is visited by the ghosts of Buck and Sadie, a married couple who stayed there. In the same room, 30 years before, Sadie murdered Buck and was subsequently put to death for the murder. Buck and Sadie find that Virginia has the ability to both see and hear them. Meanwhile, a scuffle ensues when John discovers their driver, Earl, has been giving Virginia pills to help her deal with her anxiety issues. While looking for Earl to confront him about the pills, John finds the married driver in bed with the daughter of the motel owner, Laura-May. Virginia ends up getting her hands on the same murder weapon used by Sadie 30 years prior, which Laura-May has kept as a souvenir. Virginia uses the gun to try to kill Buck's ghost, who managed partial materialization in order to attempt to rape her, but the bullet goes through him and finds its way into John's throat, killing him. Virginia contemplates suicide, but Sadie's ghost advises her to plead insanity. Whilst being taken in by the local sheriff, someone asks her why she did it. Virginia answers "the Devil made me do it" whilst gazing at the moon with "the craziest smile she (can) muster".
One of the shortest stories relates the tale of a wealthy middle-aged businessman, Gregorius, who becomes depressed when he believes God has deserted him, and he comes up with a plan to build a Hell on Earth to summon Satan, believing that God will then sweep him (Gregorius) out of Satan's clutches and into his heavenly fold. In his vast Satanic Cathedral, Gregorious soon loses sight of his original intention of attracting God's attention, and he is captured after torturing hundreds of people to death in the well-equipped torture chambers. It is deliberately left ambiguous whether Gregorius went insane, or if he really did succeed in tempting Satan into taking residence in his own personal Hell.
"The Age of Desire"
A private laboratory runs experiments on volunteers to investigate the libido and try to develop a chemical aphrodisiac. One of the experiments goes wrong, when a man suddenly goes insane with lust. His perpetual state of arousal erodes his respect for morality or the law. He rapes, murders, and mutilates one of the scientists and then escapes to cause wanton mayhem, eventually burning himself out and dying.
(published in the United States as In the Flesh)
Helen is a university student doing a thesis on graffiti who selects a run-down estate as a focus for her study. She notices disturbing graffiti that references an urban legend called the Candyman. Further inquiries lead her to believe this is connected with recent murders and mutilations, although the locals are reluctant to discuss the incidents. She eventually encounters the Candyman himself.
This story was later adapted and made into the successful film Candyman.
A man named Jerry is trying to talk a local shady businessman into financing the redevelopment of an old swimming pool complex. However, the pool has some mysterious inhabitants in the form of nude teenage girls who flee should Jerry or his would-be financial backer encounter them. A swimming pool in the centre is unlike the other pools in the building, in that it is full, glows with a strange light, and appears to be inhabited by some misshapen life-form. Curiosity leads Jerry to return to the place, which somehow causes him to wake up one morning to see that he has been transformed into a woman.
A young woman named Vanessa Jape happens across a secluded compound in which a group of elderly scientists and scholars use their great minds to determine the outcome of major world events. After living here for many years in seclusion, their decisions have degenerated and are now based on games of chance. When Vanessa and the men seek to flee the compound, they experience a car accident; all the elders are killed with the exception of one who refused to go along. Vanessa returns to the compound, forced to participate in the games of chance with the survivor until replacements can be found.
"In the Flesh"
A prison inmate named Cleve gets a new cellmate, a mysterious young man called Billy, who admits that he committed a crime with the sole intention of coming to this particular prison. Billy believes he has been summoned there by his grandfather Tait, a supposedly powerful sorcerer who was buried in the prison after his execution for murder years before. Billy's efforts to summon Tait's spirit cause Cleve to be haunted by dreams of purgatory for murderers, where killers are obliged to spend some portion of their after life in a replica of the scene of their crime. Later, Billy vanishes from his cell. His grandfather's coffin is exhumed and found to contain Billy curled up next to his grandfather's corpse. Once released, Cleve finds his travels to purgatory have left him able to hear when others have thoughts of murder. He becomes disillusioned with humanity and becomes a heroin addict to suppress his newfound powers. Cleve later commits a murder himself and is shot dead by the police. He spends an indeterminate amount of time in his own purgatory, then discovers escape is possible via reincarnation.
(several of these stories are also published in Cabal)
"The Life of Death"
Following a brush with cancer and a subsequent hysterectomy, a woman named Elaine becomes fascinated by a church that is being demolished. She encounters a cheerfully morbid man with skeletal features named Kavanagh, who shares her fascination. The demolition soon reveals a tomb of plague victims that had been fermenting for centuries, and Elaine breaks in at night to view the bodies. Later, when her friends begin to die off and the police come after her, Elaine takes refuge with Kavanagh, who she firmly believes is really Death. Kavanagh, a human serial killer and necrophile, strangles and rapes Elaine. As her soul flees her body, Elaine feels a sick sort of glee when she realizes that Kavanagh is now the carrier of the plague she contracted in the tomb, and will spread it far and wide.
"How Spoilers Bleed"
Several European mercenaries, led by a cold-hearted man named Locke, have bought land in the jungles of South America that is inhabited by a tribe of Amazonian natives. When the tribe refuse to leave, one of Locke's cohorts impulsively fatally shoots a native child accidentally. The elder of the tribe puts a curse on the men which, one by one, strikes them down with a gruesome condition that makes their bodies incredibly delicate; a mote of dust can slice their skin open, the soles of their feet crack when they stand. After his men die off, Locke returns to the tribe to beg for forgiveness. However, when he gets there, the tribe has been massacred by some of his other colleagues. Locke begins to suffer the symptoms of the deadly curse just as he realises there is now no way of having it removed.
"Twilight at the Towers"
A British spy named Ballard stationed in Berlin meets with a KGB counterpart named Mironenko. After their meeting, Mironenko disappears. As Ballard investigates, he witnesses a vicious mauling, which in turn, leads him to discover that he and Mironenko are both werewolves, trained by each agency to defeat the other. Both governments raid their meeting place, causing Mironenko to transform fully. Ballard runs and wakes up in a fellow operative's house. Ballard's rival, Suckling, arrives and kills the agent, only to be killed by the transformed Ballard. Ballard seeks Mironenko, and finds him reading to a group of werewolves from the Holy Bible. The passages he's chosen strongly imply that Mironenko believes God wants them to rule over humankind.
"The Last Illusion"
The story begins when an illusionist named Swann is killed backstage by one of his own tricks, with several swords falling on him. Before his death, Swann gives his wife Dorothea a letter stating she must cremate his body immediately before enemies take action. Believing there are unseen dangers at play, Dorothea hires Harry D'Amour to guard the body, having read in newspapers that the private investigator encountered seemingly supernatural forces during a case in Brooklyn. D'Amour learns the illusionist once made a deal with demons in order to possess actual magical power. With the assistance of Swann's underling Valentin, secretly a demon himself, D'Amour protects Swann's body and cremates it. A demon called Butterfield tells D'Amour that he is now marked as an enemy of the forces of Hell.
This story was the debut of Harry D'Amour, who would appear in other Clive Barker writings and eventually encounter Barker's popular creation the Hell Priest (Pinhead). This short story was later adapted by Barker himself into the 1995 film Lord of Illusions.
"On Jerusalem Street" (a postscript)
Only included in some UK editions of the Books of Blood, "On Jerusalem Street" is a sequel to "The Book of Blood" from Volume One, creating a framing story. Wyburd is hired to obtain the stories of McNeal, the Book of Blood, for a collector. He captures and skins Simon McNeal. Later, the skin bleeds and won't stop, finally drowning Wyburd. He ends up on the highways of the dead, where he tells his own story.
With the publication of the first volume, Barker became an overnight sensation and was hailed by Stephen King as "the future of horror". The book won both the British and World Fantasy Awards.
Neil Gaiman reviewed Books of Blood for Imagine magazine, and stated that "For those of you who wonder how far it is possible for an author to go, you need look no further, as hands attempt to rule the world, frogs succeed (sort of), and there's something unpleasant behind every door."
In other media
Eighteen of the stories in the Books of Blood were adapted by Eclipse Books in the comic series Tapping the Vein as well as other titled adaptations.
Film and television
Several of the stories have been adapted into films, "Rawhead Rex" (1986); "The Forbidden" (adapted into the 1992 film Candyman); "The Last Illusion" (adapted into the 1995 film Lord of Illusions); "The Body Politic" (adapted as a part of the 1997 anthology film Quicksilver Highway); "The Midnight Meat Train", adapted into the 2008 film of the same name; "The Book of Blood" and "On Jerusalem Street (a postscript)" (combined and adapted into the 2007 film Book of Blood), and "Dread", adapted into the 2009 film of the same name. "The Yattering and Jack" was adapted by Barker himself for a 1986 episode of the American television series Tales from the Darkside. The feature film Books of Blood directed by Brannon Braga and executive produced by Seth MacFarlane was released on Hulu on October 7, 2020.
- "The Official Clive Barker Resource : Revelations - News Stephen King Award - Speech". Clivebarker.info. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
- "Dread Poster Creeps Online". DreadCentral.com. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2009.
- Gaiman, Neil (August 1985). "Fantasy Media". Imagine (review). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd. (29): 45.
- Rose, Bernard (13 March 1993). "INTERVIEW / The sweet smell of excess: Bernard Rose has an oral fixation: Kevin Jackson talked to him about the appetites behind his new horror film, Candyman". The Independent. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
- Lovell, Glenn (29 October 1992). "Black Slasher 'Candyman' Draws Fire Over 'racist' Depictions". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 3 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Revelations – The Official Clive Barker Online Resource – Includes a full bibliography, filmography and frequently updated news.