I might be a longtime horror fan, but that doesn’t mean I’m fearless when it comes to this stuff. I shy away from plenty of subjects and subgenres that make me uncomfortable. For a while, Cliver Barker’s work has fit into that category. I’ve seen Hellraiser and Nigthbreed and maybe a few other adaptations of his work, but the sheet hopeless darkness of them just didn’t fit with what I wanted to see at the time.
And then a few of his books popped up on the free table at my local library and I figured it was time to embrace my fear and dive in. I decided to start with the short story book The Inhuman Condition which was published in 1987. I was blown away by this book, initially thinking it wasn’t as dark as I assumed it would be and then realizing Barker saved the harshest story for last.
The book opens with the title story, about a kid named Karney who hangs with a bunch of criminals. One night, while they nearly beat a homeless guy to death, he discovers a series of knots in the victim’s things that he just can’t get out of his head. Drawn to puzzles, Karney pocketed the knots and started working on them, becoming obsessed in the process. As he continues working on them, he forsakes nearly everything else even when finishing one of the entwined conundrums leads to the death of a friend. I was immediately absorbed by this story and disgusted with Karney and his friends, but also found myself sucked in by the idea of having this puzzle that needed solving. I’ve often thought that, with a bit of a different brain chemistry, I’d never be able to leave the house because I’d be constantly playing solitaire. I’d probably stop if my friends started dying, but who knows?
“The Body Politic” comes next which is an awesomely weird story about hands liberating themselves from their owners to lead a kind of revolution. I’m sure there’s plenty to dig into upon further readings of this one, but I was completely drawn into a crazy concept that fully came to life in my mind.
In “Revelations” a traveling minister’s wife realizes that the motel they’re staying in is haunted by a couple of ghosts. Decades ago, the woman grew tired of the man’s brutish behavior and blew a hole in his chest. Now their presence and the evangelist’s continued obsession with righteousness threatens to make history repeat itself. This one reminded me of Stephen King’s Revival, a book that I probably still think about at least once a day.
The very short, “Down, Satan!” featured a rich man driven to create hell on Earth in an attempt to bring the devil around in some convoluted attempt at winning favor with heaven. His motives don’t make much sense, but isn’t that to be expected from the ultra-wealthy?
Finally, “The Age of Desire” centered on a drug that would completely unlock sexual inhibitions, leaving the infected unable to think rationally about how another person might feel about their unwanted advances. This was the hardest for me to personally stomach because of the repeated sexual assaults therein. At the center, though, “Desire” builds on familiar territory with a scientist continuing an experiment that served no greater purpose for humanity. This one reminded me of Larry Fessenden’s Tell No One in that regard.
As with the best horror, Barker’s stories made me confront elements of life and society that I’m wildly uncomfortable with. I might not be overly familiar with his work, but I get the feeling that he revels in that idea and does it quite well without going too far to the point where I had to put the book down. I’m definitely in for more and even hope to give Hellraiser another watch and also check out the director’s cut of Nightbreed for the first time.
Book-wise, I’m on to William Peter Blatty’s Exorcist sequel Legion while also still making the long jounrey through King’s The Stand which I just might finish by the end of the decade.