Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Power of Three - 7th Installment

As the holiday season draws to a close, and we return to the grim reality of two more months of winter only now without the Christmas trimmings, we return in The Power of Three to the grim reality of horror stories without the solace of a festive theme. So here are three more for your delectation. Again, we’re a day earlier than usual (because tomorrow there’ll be the distraction of preparing for the last boozefest of 2010), but hopefully that won’t lessen the impact. As always, this trio has been drawn by lot. There are no connections between these tales that I’m aware of. However, this week’s choices were fortuitous, in that they are all classics by any standards.

Rawhead Rex by Clive Barker

A monstrous humanoid, an ogre in the traditional medieval style, is released from an underground chamber, and rampages through the rural backwaters of Kent, killing and devouring people (and in some cases, sexually abusing them first). When all else appears lost, the father of one of its victims stands up to it, determined to send it back to Hell.

For my money, one of the best horror stories ever written. Gruesome, violent and sadistic; reminiscent of some of the most frightening childhood fairy tales, yet totally original in that the monster is superimposed on a modern community, which, having abandoned the spiritual side of life, has no idea how to deal with such a problem. It’s also riddled with ancient mystery, is magnificently well-written, and, if that isn’t enough, carries a subtext concerning the decline of rural society and its values. A true horror masterpiece, so disappointingly adapted on celluloid that Clive disowned the resulting movie (pictured) which is good news for us, because that means we can concentrate on the story instead.

First published in BOOKS OF BLOOD, VOLUME 3, 1984.

Imprisoned With The Pharaohs by H.P. Lovecraft

When a magician visits Cairo on holiday, he is captured by a group of villainous Arabs and abandoned in the depths of a remote temple, where he is menaced by all kinds of evil forces invoked by the pagan entities lurking under the Egyptian desert.

Obsessed with the mysteries, intrigues and romances of ancient cultures, HP really lets rip in this timeless tale from the ‘pulp’ era. Originally ghost-written for Harry Houdini, who was hoping to pass it off as a real life experience, this sumptuously written novelette becomes a tour de force of terror as our trapped hero is pursued relentlessly through eldritch vaults and chambers by nameless horrors which we can only be glad he can’t see in the obsidian blackness. A supernatural masterpiece, which stands alongside any of Lovecraft’s other works, both in terms of its opulent style and its nightmarish imagery.

First published in WEIRD TALES, 1924.

Root Cause by Ramsey Campbell

A new librarian is posted to a run-down corner of town, where his growing sense of unease owes not just to the presence of hooligan gangs, but to an increasingly eerie atmosphere, which he begins to suspect may have roots in the distant past.

Yet another beauty from the lord of the urban unreal. Paranoia abounds as a typically Campbell-esque protagonist – lacking confidence and stature, unrated by his peers, frustrated and frightened by a world he no longer recognises – feels himself increasingly marooned in a place where bad things have always happened and in fact still do. As so often with Ramsey, a malevolent history is constantly trying to break through into the mundane present, so it isn’t just a mental aberration we are dealing with here. The mystery element is an additional joy – we really want to know what the problem is with this place, and we aren’t disappointed. Despite all the tension and terror, Ramsey neatly ties everything together in the end.

First published in NIGHT VISIONS 3, 1986.

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