You’re probably thinking the same as me: is it possible for someone to scare the guy who has given us the most frightening stories in the last decades? It’s not unlike someone saying that there’s a filmmaker making better suspense movies than Hitchcock’s. However, although it may sound impossible there is one, and his name is Clive Barker, whose short stories, novellas, and novels have been thoroughly competing to get the title of “Master of Horror”.
We love pointing at great figures who have innovated and revolutionized their field, and Stephen King, without a doubt has managed to do so with horror. He set a formula and a particular style of narrative that many have unsuccessfully tried to adapt and copy. That’s why he’s kept his spot as one of the greatest horror authors of all times, because most authors just looked up at him and followed his steps, but Clive Barker’s case is precisely the opposite. Yes, he’s been inspired by King, but instead of copying his successful formula, he looked even back and got inspiration from literature classics only to create his unique and modern style.
Barker emerged during the eighties, let’s say, the golden age of contemporary horror. It was the time where most of the classic horror films were made (including, of course, some of the most successful adaptations of Stephen King’s novels), setting the perfect atmosphere to bring something fresh and new to horror circles. It was his first collection of short stories, The Books of Blood (published in 1985), the one that catapulted him to the top. His concise yet detailed stories had just the right amount of horror elements to scare even the greatest daredevils out there, including King, of course, who stated, “I have seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker.”
These tiny yet powerful doses of horror are characterized by Barker’s attention to details and plot construction. He’s constantly dealing with subjects like sexuality, obsession, and pain, creating a tension between the readers and their most concealed feelings. Aside from this, and perhaps more importantly, his style stands out for the imagination it holds and its impressive settings. Barker’s stories are generally set in well constructed, complex, and detailed fantasy alternative realms that mix so perfectly and subtly with the real world that it gives you the impression that you’re not actually reading fiction but a real narration.
This particular style, which he calls “dark fantasy” (or simply “fantastique”), doesn’t only focus on the horror elements needed to provoke that fear we all long for with this genre, but on talking to a deeper level of our unconscious and appealing to our instincts and more primal side. He portrays our own nature by debunking all those ideas of the battle between good and evil, common in this genre. He shows us how they’re not necessarily opposed, or beyond that, that all those things we’re taught to understand as evil (like monsters, or demonic creatures) have, in fact, a more human side (even more than most of us), and it’s that realization the one that can scare us the most, knowing that at the end of the day, we’re the ones we should be worrying about.
There’s no doubt that in order to create such complex and well-written literature, one must be well familiarized with the great classics. In an interview with Brett Alexander Savory for The Internet Review of Science Fiction, he stated that among the writers that have always inspired him are obviously Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Jean Cocteau. If you think about it, besides Poe there are not that many horror authors among the classics, and that’s what makes his stories so innovative and the reason why he changed for good the old system and formulas of the horror genre. His approach from many different perspectives and traditions has nurtured the field like no other author has done before. And for that very good reason, I think that, in fact, he was at the time and probably still is, as Stephen King said, “the future of horror.”
If you want to know more about any particular book or film he’s created, take a look at his official website and prepared to be scared in the most unimaginable ways.
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Images from some movie adaptations of his books.