Books of Blood
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Books of Blood Omnibus, Volumes 1–3
|Cover artist||Clive Barker|
|Series||Books of Blood|
|Publisher||Sphere Books (UK)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
There are six books in total, each simply subtitled Volume 1 through to Volume 6, and were subsequently re-published in two omnibus editions containing three volumes each. Each volume contains four or five stories. The volume 1–3 omnibus was published with a foreword by Barker's fellow Liverpudlian horror writer Ramsey Campbell.
They were published between 1984 and 1985. 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.
Although undoubtedly horror stories, like most of Barker's work they mix fantasy themes in as well. The unrelentingly bleak tales invariably take place in a contemporary setting, usually featuring everyday people who become embroiled in terrifying or mysterious 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 collection need not have any narrow themes, consistent tone or restrictions. The stories could range from the humorous to the truly horrific.
For some editions, each book's cover was illustrated by Clive Barker himself.
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.
Several of the stories have been adapted into films, "Rawhead Rex" (1986); "The Forbidden" (filmed in 1992 as Candyman); "The Last Illusion" (filmed in 1995 as Lord of Illusions); "The Body Politic" (filmed in 1997 as Quicksilver Highway); "The Midnight Meat Train", filmed in 2008; "The Book of Blood" and "On Jerusalem Street (a postscript)" (combined and filmed in 2008 as Book of Blood), and "Dread", filmed in 2009. "The Yattering and Jack" was adapted by Barker himself in 1986 for the US series Tales from the Darkside. In 2020, a new feature film was announced and it will be released on Hulu by October 7, with Brannon Braga directing and executive produced by Seth MacFarlane.
Story list and synopses
"The Book of Blood"
This is the frame story for the entire Books of Blood series. A psychic researcher, Mary Florescu, has employed a quack medium named Simon McNeal to investigate a haunted house. Alone in an upstairs room, McNeal at first fakes visions, but then the ghosts attack him for real and carve words in his flesh – comprising the rest of the stories as a literal, living "Book of Blood."
"The Midnight Meat Train"
After New York office worker Leon Kaufman falls asleep on a late-night subway train, he awakens to discover that the next car over has been turned into an abattoir where other passengers have been butchered. Kaufman encounters the killer, a man named Mahogany, and kills him in self-defense. The motorman, unmoved by Mahogany's death, brings the train into a secret station where strange, malformed humanoid creatures board and eat the bodies. It is revealed that the creatures, the "City Fathers", have been the secret rulers of New York for centuries, and show Kaufman an immense being further inside the catacombs. They then pull out Kaufman's tongue to ensure his silence, recruiting him as the new "butcher" devoted to bringing fresh meat to the City Fathers.
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. Nevertheless, the main plot premise of the story is retained. 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.
Unusual for Barker's early work, this story is unabashedly comic. It was made into an episode of the horror anthology TV series Tales from the Darkside (Season 4 - 1987/88, episode 7; broadcast Nov 8, 1987) with Barker writing the screenplay from his own story.
"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 rather is present in the form of a ghost. As Redman investigates, he finds that things are not what they seem, and that a giant pig in a sty on the grounds is possessed by Henessey's soul.
"Sex, Death and Starshine"
Terry Calloway is directing Twelfth Night in a run-down theatre. Terry relies on the soap opera fame of his leading lady, Diane Duvall, to bring in a big audience; however, this is compromised by his affair with Diane and her poor acting skills. A mysterious man with an obscured face, Mr. Lichfield, introduces himself and expresses dissatisfaction with Diane's casting as Viola. On the day of the final rehearsal, Lichfield confronts Diane and 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 while Diane is put in intensive care. Following her "recovery", Terry realises during sex that Diane is undead, just before she kills him.
The play opens to a packed house. When the house lights are extinguished after the performance, the actors realise that the audience consists entirely of ghosts and decaying corpses. The theatre trustee, newly-dead Tallulah, burns down the theatre. Every living player in the production is killed. Several of the actors and Terry join Mr. Lichfield and Constantia on the road as 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.
This story has been made into a film, with Jackson Rathbone playing Steve. The film's story diverges from the short story and introduces new characters, but retains some basic concepts and aspects of the story's outline. 
Every one-hundred years, during an annual London marathon, Satan sends one of his representatives to compete against the (unsuspecting) human runners. If Satan's minion wins, he gets to rule the Earth. An athlete taking part in the event, Joel, begins to realise 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. Joel does not win due to a struggle with Hell's shape-shifting runner, a demonic familiar who bites off his face. However, during this struggle, the last surviving runner jogs past them to the finishing line. Hell loses out 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 – somewhat less accidentally – her husband, simply by willing their bodies into tearing apart or folding 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 always proves 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 powers.
This story is also published in the book I Shudder at Your Touch.
"The Skins of the Fathers"
After his car breaks down in Arizona, a man named Davidson witnesses a bizarre parade of freakish monsters. It turns out that these creatures mated with a woman in a nearby town six years previously, and are intending on reclaiming the child, which they promptly achieve. Davidson reaches the town, where a posse of gun-toting locals are eager to set out to slay the monsters. Everything goes wrong, however, and Davidson and just a few other survivors end up with a horrific fate; they sink in quicksand which then hardens when they are half-buried, and are left for dead in the burning desert heat.
This was used as a scene in the film Lord of Illusions, which was in turn based on "The Last Illusion", a story in volume six.
"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. Phillipe eventually commits suicide in his cell after babbling about an orangutan who committed the murder he had been arrested for. Lewis does not believe it until he sees the primate – dressed like a human, completely shaved, and wielding a razor – for himself. The beast had been raised by Philippe, a notorious eccentric, 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 a show. The sole survivor of the massacre is seen some time later, having tracked down the murderous entity which was roaming the country after possessing the body of a young girl unaccounted for after the events. She covers the creature with acid, killing it completely.
An ancient, malevolent monster, magically imprisoned underground, is accidentally awakened in a village in Kent. Rawhead, a nine-foot humanoid with a huge, toothed head, goes on a rampage, killing and eating several townsfolk. He corrupts the local verger, who surrenders to the violent, depraved impulses that Rawhead represents, and who helps the monster slay the vicar, Coot. Rawhead sets the village alight, and is eventually overcome by Ron Milton, father of one of Rawhead's victims, who uses a talisman to stall the beast until he is overrun by a mob of 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 disturbing rural setting. The story was later turned into the film Rawhead Rex (1986), which Barker has disowned despite having written the screenplay for it as well.
"Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud"
Ronnie is a straight-laced Catholic man who is set up to look like the king of a pornography cartel. He kills some of his enemies, but is murdered by their cohorts. Awakening as a ghost, he possesses the shroud that covers his body in the morgue, and in the shape of the shroud takes revenge on the rest of his enemies. In a gory finale, he enters the mouth of the man responsible for his ordeal and turns him inside out.
Despite containing graphic descriptions of acts of extreme violence, the story is written as a black comedy, revolving around the visual gag of a real ghost looking like someone wearing a bedsheet over his or her head.
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.
"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)
A university student named Helen is doing a thesis on graffiti, and selects a run-down estate to focus her study. She notices disturbing graffiti in an abandoned building that makes references to an urban legend known as the Candyman. Further inquiries lead her to believe this is connected with recent murders and mutilations in the neighbourhood, although the locals are seemingly reluctant to discuss the incidents. She eventually encounters the Candyman himself, gaining notoriety by becoming his latest victim.
This story was later adapted and made into the 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.
After breaking down in the middle of nowhere, a young woman named Vanessa Jape happens across a secluded compound in which the world's greatest minds, a group of elderly scientists and scholars, are responsible for determining the outcome of major world events. They have lived in the complex for many years and by this point their decisions have degenerated to being made solely via games of chance. Chaos ensues when Vanessa and the men seek to flee the compound. They end up getting in a car accident, and all the elders are killed with the exception of the single one who refused to go along. Vanessa is forced to participate in the games of chance with him 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, a supposedly powerful sorcerer who was buried in the prison after his execution for murder years before. Billy's efforts to summon his grandfather Tait's spirit cause Cleve to be haunted by dreams in which he travels to a form 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. In the end, 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 that his travels to the murderer's purgatory have left him with the ability to hear other people's thoughts, as long as they revolve around killing people. He becomes disillusioned with humanity and becomes a heroin addict to suppress his newfound powers. Cleve later commits a murder himself to feed his habit, and is shot dead by the police. He spends an indeterminate amount of time in his own murderer's purgatory, before discovering that individuals can escape 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 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, due to his mysterious personality and skeletal features, to be Death. It turns out Kavanagh is only a serial killer and necrophile; he strangles and rapes Elaine. As her soul flees her body, Elaine feels a sick sort of glee when she realizes that Kavanagh will now be 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"
Private investigator Harry D'Amour takes a strange case where a magician named Swann has been killed under mysterious circumstances. D'Amour is recruited by Swann's wife to watch over his body so he can be cremated in line with a letter written before his death. Almost immediately, D'Amour is drawn into a battle with demons from the underworld seeking to claim Swann's body due to a deal he made with them which gave him the magical powers he possessed. With the assistance of Swann's underling Valentin, who is secretly a demon himself, D'Amour fights off the demons desiring Swann's body and manages to cremate it, but not before Swann performs one last magical act.
This story was later adapted by Barker himself into the 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 told as a sort of wrap-around tale. Wyburd is hired to obtain the Book of Blood for a collector. He captures and skins Simon McNeal. Later, the skin starts to bleed and won't stop, and Wyburd eventually drowns. He ends up on the highways of the dead, where he tells his story.
- 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)
- "Dread Poster Creeps Online". DreadCentral.com. 22 September 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2009.
- Revelations – The Official Clive Barker Online Resource – Includes a full bibliography, filmography and frequently updated news.