As a horror fan, I have a history with visionary director and writer Clive Barker. When I was in my teens, I was a huge fan of his books and he introduced me to many horrific ideas that Stephen King usually didn’t get into. Barker’s world was often a torrid world, where H.P. Lovecraft travelled the paths of the venus in furs to dark pleasure dungeons and horrific body modifications, to the majesty of a town fighting as a human transformer (it’s better than I make it sound), eventually finding his way to some surprisingly interesting teen stories with his Abarat books. Don’t get me wrong, King gets into sexual issues in his books. But Barker’s stories are often about where sexual desire originates or how it can go wrong, but you know, horror.
But I did walk away from Clive Barker eventually. God knows that the nuance of the plot of The Great and Secret Show has sort of escaped me for the present, fifteen years after reading it. But I remember this: They kill the bad guy, and then bring him back to life in the sequel Everville. I said it to Heroes, and I’ll say it to Clive Barker: Get new bad guys! If I read an 800-page book about stopping someone, don’t bring him back in the next one! It still sticks in my craw a little. It took forever to kill that guy! And then he was just back! I know, I know, he had a different body or something. But yeesh. Narrative back-tracking is the worst.
But Barker has an amazing imagination, and he’s great at back story, imagery, original conceptions of the every day, and bringing sexuality to the fore of story in a very interesting and unique way.
Which brings us to his latest book, The Scarlet Gospels. The story unites two of Barker’s most famous creations, the Cenobite Hell Priest from Hellraiser— we call him “Pinhead,” but don’t call him that to his face– and private eye to the macabre, Harry D’Amour. Pinhead is attempting a magical coup in Hell and Harry is sort of trying to stop him, sort of not, he just gets dragged in with some weird friends of his, the Harrowers– because people name their groups sometimes.
I really, really wanted to like this book. And it has all the hallmarks that Barker brings to the table, amazing imagination where Hell is a living city that still fulfills all your ideas of hell, amazing imagery of death, love, from the divine to the macabre, and a lot of ideas that could only have come from Clive Barker. The book is a quick read and if you are even a passing fan of Pinhead, he brings him back to the character from the first Hellraiser movie in the way that we’ve all dreamed about since Hellraiser 4 had us all slamming our foreheads in embarrassment.
But maybe Clive had more to do with the Hellraiser sequels than I thought, because this book is terrible, just awful. The characters are all sub-Baywatch in development and maturity. Their constant sex banter reminds me of some of the horrible things idiots said in fifth grade. At the beginning of the book, when Pinhead has two people rut like dogs for their lives, it was just embarrassing. Iggy Pop wanted to be our dog in 1977 and it was something different. Now, it’s just a sexual cliche. And the whole book is like that. There’s a scene where everyone is trudging through entrails that seems like something those same fifth graders would enjoy. And on top of everything else, entrails aren’t water! It wouldn’t work like that! Remember in Parenthood when Steve Martin is pandering to some children by slipping around in guts? The whole book is like that!
And Pinhead is not that interesting. He’s an eternal being who claims to have seen it all, but still seems to get little S&M kicks from extremely juvenile ideas and, gack… I guess the issue is that in Hellraiser, Pinhead is a monster and we don’t see him that much. But in The Scarlet Gospels, we get his juvenile, stilted perspective. If you watched Over the Top for the story about father and son or cried during Catwoman, you might like this book. But you should know that you are an imbecile.
I wanted to like you, The Scarlet Gospels. I really did. But without any kind of character development, you’re just not good.