Friday, January 9, 2009

Ancient Images

Ramsey Campbell is one of the few writers who can be deservedly called Grand Masters of the genre. Stephen King, Richard Matheson, probably Peter Straub…it’s a short list. Despite, my admiration for him, there are several of his novels that I missed the first time around, either because it slipped by unnoticed (even at the height of the horror boom, Campbell seemed under publicized here) or they came out while I was taking a break from horror. Thus, I often have the pleasure of reading a “new old” Campbell novel. The latest of these is Ancient Images.

The premise of Ancient Images is one that grabbed me in particular. A film researcher discovers a lost horror film from the 30s, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi called Tower of Fear. (I really found myself wanting to see this imaginary movie, since Karloff and Lugosi are favorites of mine) A young film editor friend watches the researcher die in a strange manner before the film, which disappears, can be shown, and begins a quest to find it. The more she searches, the more strange events occur, until she finally reaches the village of Redfield, where she learns the movie was a little too close to the truth to be allowed to exist. In Redfield, she finds human sacrifice, and a supernatural attachment to the land. There is quite a bit of history of English film censorship along the way. The ending does seem slightly forced, but the book flows well. I’ve always thought Campbell’s work fell on the boundary between “quiet horror” and “splatterpunk” and there are elements of both here.

This book is one of Campbell’s best. I found it very reminiscent of Arthur Machen, which is a high compliment. There are also elements that recall the movie The Wicker Man (English version). Fortunately, nothing that brings to mind the remake of Wicker Man, so you don't have Nicholas Cage running around in a bear suit. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 1989, but is sadly out of print. Used copies are easy to come by, and I would suggest anyone who wants to read horror done well to check it out.


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