Everybody is a book of blood.
Wherever we’re open, we’re red.
If you are a horror fan, the name Clive Barker needs no introduction. But if you’re just getting started diving into the genre, or if you’re more of a movie person, you may not realize that you’ve already dipped your toe in his waters.
Do you love Candyman? That’s a Books of Blood story (The Forbidden.). Did you see The Midnight Meat Train? That’s Books of Blood. How about Lord of Illusion or Hellraiser? More Books of Blood stories. There’s also the Book of Blood (2009) movie, and the 2020 feature set to premiere October 7 via Hulu—which is left open-ended, allowing for a Books of Blood series.
I first read the Books of Blood when they were released in the mid-80s. There are six books in total, which were later published as omnibuses combining 1-3 and 4-6. Vol. 1 is widely considered the best of the lot, though Barker is such an imaginative writer, they all have their gems.
Books of Blood, Vol. 1 marks the literary debut of the icon and is absolutely worth reading (or revisiting), especially if you want to prep for the Hulu original film. As the O.G. master of horror, Stephen King, once said, “Barker scares even me. What he does in the Books of Blood makes the rest of us look like we’ve been asleep for the last ten years. Some of the stories were so creepily awful that I literally could not read them alone; others go up and over the edge and into gruesome territory.”
Gruesome, indeed. Barker doesn’t shy away from gore, and he stops at nothing in describing it down to the last shuddery detail. Often too “gross” for my taste, but he does make quite an impression with his word wizardry. There is also sex. A lot of sex. Gay, straight, demon… you name it! Barker’s prose dances between bleak and playful, alien and relatable, and intimacy and aloneness.
The first story, aptly titled The Book of Blood, sets up the collection to follow. It is about a psychic researcher, Mary, who employs an imposter medium named Simon to investigate a haunted house. Alone in an upstairs room, he at first fakes visions, but then a horde of restless spirits attack him for real and carve words in his flesh—comprising the rest of the stories as a literal, barely living, “book of blood.”
There are five more tales to follow. Midnight Meat Train is a bizarre and gripping mix of horror and science fiction, while The Yattering and Jack is a comedic account of a man bargaining for his soul against a wily demon (it was made into an episode of the horror anthology TV series Tales from the Darkside in 1987, with Barker writing the screenplay). As for a favorite story, most horror readers cite In the Hills, In the Cities, which has never, oddly enough, been adapted for the screen. In this unique folk-horror fairytale, we take a peek inside a corner of the world where, every 10 years, massive communal creatures are made by binding together the bodies of a city’s citizens. Some forty thousand people walk as the body of a single giant, leaving tragedy in their wake.
This is classic Barker in all his gory glory. Books of Blood, Vol. 1 is full of lurid, carnage-soaked imagery and action involving vividly-realized characters, both mortal and immortal. Definitely worth the read.