Infernal Parade by Clive Barker
This is an unfortunately disappointing collection of microstories from Clive Barker, an author who helped define my reading experience in mid-1980’s junior and high school. The six very loosely connected stories that make up the 88 pages of Infernal Parade (2017) were originally provided as exclusive companions to collectables made by McFarlane Toys in 2004. I believe these are part of a larger macroverse of characters published in Barker’s 2014 novella, Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordial.
Weaveworld and Books of Blood, the “Hellraiser” movies based on The Hellbound Heart, and The Damnation Game were formative to my development of interest in horror and fantasy literature. As one might imagine, stories written to go with toys may not fare as strongly without the toys themselves. And these don’t.
Tom Requiem is the first character we meet, a murderous liar who is hanged and buried. His “savior” pulls him from his grave and informs Tom that he:
will be dressed in a costume befitting a shaman, and you will go out into the world to lead an Infernal Parade. The world has grown complacent, Tom; and fat with its own certainties. It’s time to send some fears into the hearts of men.
Barker was never subtle with his character naming convention. Note that Tom’s last name is defined as a religious ceremony for the dead, while next up we meet Mary Slaughter. You’d be right if you guessed that she’s a killer … of babies, nonetheless. She was killed by Tom and is now assigned to keep watch over him and take part in his Parade. Her own ‘children’ are a collection of swords that can dance and perform at her direction — kind of like a perverted wizard Mickey Mouse.
It’s Mary’s final comments that provide the best clue into the whole raison d’etre for the Infernal Parade itself:
It’s a Godless world up there. The sooner they see a glimpse of the Infernal Parade, the sooner we can get them back in the pews, praying for the sanctity of their souls … If only they knew … how little that meant …
Each of the remaining stories contains characters who are recruited to join the Infernal Parade, but each subsequent microstory is self-contained, and none delve further into the mythology of this parade of horror.
In “The Golem, Elijah,” Little Luis runs away from home and the family he hates. He meets the armless Nefer the Coffin Maker who introduces him to the art of Golem-creation. Luis creates his own Golem out of ash, blood and spit and instructs it to kill his family. Is Luis not also of his own family? The Golem ultimately kills his maker and Tom Requiem finds him roaming the land like a Frankenstein, angrily bemoaning his lonely existence. The monster who killed his creator is recruited for Tom’s parade.
In “Dr. Fetter’s Family of Freaks”, Private Detective Ralph Dietrich is hired by Doctor Hubert Fetter to find his lost family of freaks — a man with two heads, something less than a dwarf, and a few others. The freaks are less lost than they are attempting to escape from the horror show Dr. Fetter has manufactured. And ultimately, Detective Dietrich becomes one of the freaks himself, and joins the Parade.
“The Sabbaticus” has the best potential for a longer form work. Karantica, “once mighty, is now deserted” was a city tyrannically ruled by violent religious leaders. Judge Phio sees another way to rule, though; one that balances the rule of law with compassion and thoughtfulness. Naturally, this rebellious endeavor could not be ignored by the religious leaders who release the so-called Sabbaticus, a lizard creature that goes on a rampage across the city, slaughtering children in horrific ways. This story has a nice, though obvious, twist that I won’t divulge, and the Sabbaticus also becomes a starring member of Tom Requiem’s parade.
“Bethany Bled” is a story of unrequited love. A marquis lures a peasant girl into carnal activities with promises of love. When she tires of his vacant assurances of marriage, she resorts to witchcraft to bind the marquis’ passion with her own true love. Bethany becomes cursed by her desire to be loved and is tortured and killed within a medieval Iron Maiden that becomes her instrument of entertainment for the Infernal Parade.
This Subterranean Press release will appeal to only the most ardent and passionate Clive Barker fans.
I think I’ll stick to his longer and earlier work!