The Scarlet Gospels

I started writing this review back in June 2015 and abandoned it because I was so disappointed.  I decided to finish it today just to get it out there.  I think I am more interested in the introduction to the review than the review itself. Anyway, maybe there is something here worth talking about.

Throughout each of our lives we have first time experiences which define our future expectations. We spend the rest of our lives chasing those experiences in the hopes of having that same feeling back again if just for a moment. Sadly it is a rare to get those things backs even for a moment.  Try to remember how it felt the first time you fell madly in love or the awe at seeing something like The Grand Canyon or the castle at Disney World. Things like the birth of your first child, your first orgasm, or even your first drug experience all imprint on a person’s life in a way the second, third, and future repeats of the experience never can.  Life is filled with uncountable experiences that once you live through them ever other similar experience is always compared.  In some ways it a tragic reality of human existence that one of the things that makes us unique, our ability to have and remember experiences, causes us to try and relive those experiences often to our disappointment.

What I find lately is that I am constantly disappointed in things. I have this great experience with movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those experiences were so good and so strong that I have spent hours and hours watching movies all in the hope in recapturing the wonder and amazement that I felt while watching those films even though I know now that it is unlikely that I will ever feel that again. What becomes tougher to accept as we get older is that the person that had those defining experiences is not that same person looking to have them again.  That person was young. That person was naive. That person didn’t have decades of life to compare to the things that were happening to them.  We are not the same at 40 as we were at 20. This speaks to the old saying that “youth is wasted on the young”.  We come to realize that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Clive Barker's The Scarlet GospelsI am kind of sad that nothing impresses me these days. Not movies that I have been waiting for or vacations that I take, or books that I read. Everything lately has been a “been there and done that” situation.  It is making it harder and harder for me to get excited about reading novels.  I get so damn disappointed when a book fails to have a satisfying ending.  This is exactly what happened by the time I got to the end of The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker.  This book was supposed to be Barker’s return to the Hellraiser mythology and the ultimate and final Pinhead story.  Fans of The Hellbound Heart have been hearing about this book for years and, at least for me, expectations were high.

My first exposure to Clive Barker came when I rented Hellraiser as a kid.  The film came out in 1987 so it must have hit the rental shelves sometime around 1998 which would have made me around twelve to thirteen years old.  It was like nothing I had seen before. It was gory ans sexual and took the material seriously.  It wasn’t jokey like the Freddy films or just ridiculous like Jason of Friday the 13th.  No, this movie was dark and kid of ugly but in a mesmerizing way.  I have often said this film started my horror obsession and chasing my first experience with the film has been one of those things that always seems to disappoint.  I don’t think I ever found another film that affected quite like this one did.  Even the more hardcore and disturbing films I came to watch later never stuck with me like Hellraiser did.  Again it is one of those moments in time that you can never repeat no matter how hard you try.

Of course as time passed I watched all the sequels, mostly bad, read the original book, pretty good, and found the comic series that has some really great moments.  If it was Hellraiser I devoured it.  As things go, however, the quality of the franchise fell quickly and the disappointment came back.  When Barker announced he was writing a new Hellraiser book and it was to be the ultimate Pinhead story I could not wait.  Finally it came out and I burned through it as quickly as possible.  Boy did it start out exactly like I wanted with the dark horror I was looking for but suddenly things changed and it became something else.  Something boring.  By the end I was left feeling unfulfilled.  Instead of a study of the denizens of hell and the ultimate battle for power we got some kind of road story with a bunch of humans kind of following in Pinheads wake.  The story had none of the raw energy of the original book and film.  The original book deals with the nature of desire and the demons (figuratively and literally) that can be released when desire is allowed to grow unchecked and there was none of that here.  So much of what seems interesting is completely glossed over and the least interesting parts of the book, mainly the humans, are given most of the word count.  A Hellraiser story should never be dull but this was, for the the most part, exactly that.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some good to be had.  The opening prologue was excellent and set high expectations for the book.  The depiction of Lucifer was superbly original and more of that story/backstory may have helped the book rise above what it become.  Overall, however, it just left me flat and wishing for more.

Barker nearly died before the publication of this book and his health problems over the past decade or so have been so unfortunate but I still find it hard to excuse how this book came out.  It actually reminds me a lot of what happened to The Dark Tower series after Stephen King had his accident.  In that case everything that came after the author’s struggle seems to be missing the edge found in previous books and I feel the same about The Scarlet Gospels and Clive Barker.  Something was missing but the author wrote the book anyway and the result is less than spectacular.

Like a junkie I keep chasing those transformative experiences I’ve had with books and film while at the same time knowing that nothing can ever be the same as when I was young and more of a blank slate.  The more I realize that I will never have those feelings back the sadder I get.  It’s not like I dwell on those feelings or anything but it sure is disappointing.  I hope that one day someone ha new sights to show me.


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