All the magicians on Earth are being hunted and murdered in various gruesome fashions by the Cenobite Hell Priest demon nicknamed Pinhead. After acquiring all the powerful magic talismans, books, incantations and works ever created in the possession of these disciples, Pinhead returns to Hell to execute his final plan of action which he has been so patiently building up to. Private Detective Harry D’Amour and blind medium Norma, accompanied by three of their friends, find themselves at the centre of Pinhead’s plans and are forced to follow him into the depths where even Hell’s occupants have no idea what horrors lay before them.
I feel ashamed to say I’ve never read any of Clive Barker’s novels despite seeing a few movie adapations of his books and screenplays. Having only recently, in these past few years, got back into reading, his imaginative, if nightmarish, work is something I’ve wanted to check out and after reading his latest book, The Scarlet Gospels, I’m keener than ever to succumb to the horrors that lie in wait.
Clive Barker has a way with words that they can be read with such ease yet create complex scenarios in one’s imagination. A perfect example of this is the prologue of The Scarlet Gospels where a group of surviving magicians belonging to the high circle resurrect one of their deceased in order for him to help them battle his killer, Pinhead, before he comes to take all their lives. The scenes described in the prologue are brutal and paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind of the kind of evil on display – something which one would never want to experience. These terrifying scenes of intense horror die down into a detective thriller as Barker’s other noteworthy creation, Harry D’Amour, goes about his days as a Private Investigator and getting himself into some supernatural scrapes, which doesn’t appear to be unusual for this man. The novel unfolds with great pace and activity until both D’Amour and Pinhead come face-to-face and D’Amour is forced to follow his adversary into Hell.
I don’t really know what I thought Hell would be like but I imagined it would be a world of utter pain and torment. Hell described in The Scarlet Gospels conjures up images akin to Middle-Earth combined with Rome, and the subsequent journey D’Amour and company have to make through Hell could have been lifted from a fantasy novel with Uruks replaced by Demons. This latter half of the book is very much a fantasy adventure tinged with evil and overblown theatrics and fight scenes. The horrors that are described in the prologue are a distant memory and as a reader and horror fan, I felt a little let down. Even though I’m not familiar with Barker’s literary work, I am familiar with his cinematic creations, and thus I expected something more powerful, ruthless and savage than was described in these pages, particularly as The Scarlet Gospels marks the final chapter of Pinhead. I hoped for fireworks of bloodthirsty proportions but instead had to make do with something rather meager that fizzled out rather than went out with a bang.
Regardless of my disappointment, The Scarlet Gospels is still worth checking out, particularly for horror fans and completists. Having explored the ending, I now want to read the beginning and I hope I can assume to be safe in the knowledge that the unadulterated horror I desire will be found there.
The 360 page novel is aimed at those aged 18 and over due to its violent and horrifying content that involves rape and people being ripped apart by hooks and chains. A strong stomach is needed, particularly in the first 50 pages where more people than I dare to count fall victim to atrocious, painful deaths. Barker’s creations, in particular Felixson, are so disturbing that you’d have to be a horror fan to enjoy and appreciate them. Barker’s description of these creatures is very thorough and the reader can visualise the abnormalities, mutations and disfigurements with very little effort. Just make sure not to read before bed!
The Scarlet Gospels works as a standalone novel, particularly if, like me, you’ve never read any of the previous books (though you might want to check out the Hellraiser film if you haven’t already, if only to get prior knowledge of Pinhead and his work). However, those expecting a grisly and intense finale to match the ruthless ambition described at the beginning of the book may be sorely disappointed.