I first read Algernon Blackwood years ago. I was just starting to get into weird fiction, and I read the Penguin edition of his stories right after reading a similar volume of Arthur Machen’s best tales. I always felt like I rushed through the Blackwood book, and I’ve been meaning to give him another go for years. I recently decided to read his John Silence stories. John Silence is an occult detective predating Carnacki,Duke De Richleau and Doctor Orient. The book pictured above is the first John Silence collection. It contains 5 tales. There is a more recent collection put out by Dover with an introduction by S.T. Joshi and an additional story. This is all pretty old stuff though, and it’s all public domain, so I just downloaded an e-book for free. Here’s what I thought of the stories:
APsychical Invasion This is the worst story in the collection and a terrible introduction to the book. It’s a boring haunted house yarn. It was like a shit version of Bulwer Lytton’s The Haunted and the Haunters, itself a boring story.
Ancient Sorceries This was the only story in the collection that I had read before. I remembered that it was about cat people, but I had forgotten that these cat people worshipped the Devil. I enjoyed this one, but it isn’t really a John Silence story. Silence merely listens to the tale as it’s recounted by one of his patients. He plays no part in the events described.
The Nemesis of Fire This is another haunted house story, but it’s a lot more interesting than the other one. It involves an ancient Egyptian fire spirit. It was alright.
Secret Worship This is another story in which John Silence only plays a small role. It might also be my favourite in the collection. It’s about a man returning to the strict boarding school/ monastery where he spent his youth. The place has fallen into ill repute, and this guy has to discover why the hard way.
TheCamp of the Dog This one is pretty bad to be honest. A werewolf is on the loose in a campsite. There’s never any mystery as to what is going on and the way the characters respond to the crisis is completely unbelievable. A man sees his daughter attacked by a werewolf on an uninhabited island, hundreds of miles from civilisation. He has a gun but doesn’t shoot the werewolf dead immediately. Come on… On top of being unbelievable, this was way too long. It was a real stinker.
A Victim of Higher Space The last story, and the only one not contained in the original 1908 collection, is about a man who passes into other dimensions. It was like a horror version of Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott. It was alright.
Honestly, this collection was pretty crap. Only two of the six stories are enjoyable, and it’s not a coincidence that those two tales are the ones that aren’t really about the eponymous occult detective. John Silence is a know-it-all cunt, and I’d like to box him in the mouth.
I’d be willing to give Blackwood another chance, but not for a while.
I did not expect to be able to do this, but for the third consecutive year I am able to boast that I read and reviewed more books and wrote more posts and words than in any year previous. I spent a disgraceful amount of time reading in 2020. The pandemic kept me home for uncomfortable amounts of time, and I took to the books to stave off madness.
First off, let’s deal with the really good stuff. Some of my favourite posts of the year were on the rarest of paperback horror novels. I wrote a post detailing how I got my hands on Brenda Brown Canary’s chilling The Voice of the Clown and another on the history of Nick Blake’s infamous Chainsaw Terror. I was super excited to publish an interview with Garret Boatman, author of Stage Fright. I was even more excited when shortly after that interview’s publication Valancourt Books rereleased Stage Fright as part of their Paperbacks from Hell series. Can you imagine my elation when I got a copy of the rerelease and saw a mention of my blog in the introduction? Perhaps the most satisfying post for me to to write was my article on the sinister origins of Clive Barker’s Candyman.
Perhaps the most important book I read this year was Stephen King’s Danse Macabre. I didn’t actually enjoy it very much, but it led me to read some other great stuff. I also read a bunch by Thomas Ligotti and Clive Barker, but I didn’t group their books into single posts. I’m not finished with either of these guys yet.
I try to keep things varied, but my regular readers will have noticed a recurring antagonist in the horror novels I reviewed this year. Yes, 2020 was undoubtedly the Year of the Worm here on Nocturnal Revelries. I managed to read separate books called Worm, Wurm, Worms, The Worms, Blood Worm and a couple of books titled Slither that were both about… worms. I’m not quite done yet, but 2021 will probably see fewer posts on this niche genre.
I also got more criticism in 2020 than ever before. I’m getting more traffic than I used to, and I guess my content isn’t for everyone. I’ve signed on a few times to find abusive comments. I’m only ever amused when this happens, but I suppose I should make it clearer that the purpose of this blog is not to convince anyone to read any particular books. This site is more a book journal for me to keep notes on what I’m reading. I post it online because some people are interested. Maybe that might seem a waste of time to some, but it keeps me occupied.
It turns out that this is the 300th post on Nocturnal Revelries. I’m pretty pleased that this blog is still going at this rate after almost 6 years. I’ve read some cool books, expanded my horizons and even made a few friends along the way. I did posts like this for the past few years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) if you’re interested in this crap. Thanks to everyone who checks in every now and then. Remember, I try to do a new post every Sunday. You can contact me on twitter or email me. Let me know if you have any suggestions for further reading or if you want to chat about strange tomes.
A few months ago, I did a post on some novels by Harry Adam Knight. Harry Adam Knight wasn’t a real person. It was a pseudonym used by John Brosnan and his friend Leroy Kettle. When writing that post, I discovered that Brosnan and Kettle had collaborated on more horror stuff under another name, Simon Ian Childer. I enjoyed the HAK books so much, I had to track down the SIC stuff. (Both of these books have been out of print since the 80s though, so they’re a bit harder to find.)
Tendrils Hunter Publishing – 1986
A plague of “worms” wreaks havoc on some small English towns while the only scientist who understands the situation enters into a complicated relationship with a journalist. Published one year after Squelch, the final entry in John Halkin’s Slither series, the first half of Tendrils feels very much like a slightly grislier version of Halkin’s books. After a while, the “worms” are revealed to be the tendrils of a far larger subcthonic entity that has been lying dormant since causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. This was a nice touch, but ultimately not enough to make Tendrils a novel worth writing home about.
I read this book and wrote the above summary in July. I thought I had written a more in-depth piece of literary analysis, but I guess not. It’s a pity, because I don’t remember much about this book. It was ok, but very forgettable. I have read so many books about worms this year that I’m finding it difficult to distinguish this one from all the others. It only took me a couple of days to read it though, so it can’t have been painfully bad.
Worm Grafton – 1987
Tendrils was alright, but it wasn’t quite as good as the Harry Adam Knight books I had read. I thought that the authors may have decided to use the Simon Ian Childer pseudonym for works of less literary merit. On top of this, I have read more than my fair share of horror novels about worms this year. I didn’t have particularly high hopes when I started into Worm.
Honestly, this was one of the most enjoyable books I read in 2020. From the repulsive surgery of the opening chapter to the awfully satisfying ending, this book was fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, this pretty low brow stuff, but God damn it was fun. (Low brow as it is, there’s an implicit critique of British colonialism in the book’s plot that I quite enjoyed. The author was Australian, but Brosnan is a good Irish name. Good man Johnny.)
A giant carnivorous worm is found inside the body of a patient in a mysterious private hospital, and it’s up to Detective Ed Causey to figure out what’s going on. This is a crime noir adventure with flesh hungry worms. Fuck yes.
Brosnan wrote this one by himself, and it has everything I enjoyed about his other books; interesting characters, really gross bits and competent story telling. A few weeks ago, I read and reviewed John Halkin’s Blood Worm, another novel about giant worms eating the civilians of London. It was so terrible that it made me want to read less trashy 80s horror fiction. Reading Worm had the exact opposite effect. Finding a gem like this makes wading through the shit worthwhile. This one is the rarer of the two SIC books, so grab it if you find it.
I don’t know why Brosnan and Kettle used two different pseudonyms to write novels that belonged to the same genre, but I discovered that a later edition of Worm was put out under the Harry Adam Knight pseudonym. All of their books are pretty good though, and I am going to seek out Brosnan’s other novels. Fortunately, most of the stuff he put out under his own name is available as e-books.
Danse Macabre – Stephen King Berkley 1983 (Originally published 1981)
Stephen King’sDanse Macabre is a history of horror. It focuses on the 30 years prior to its publication in 1980. I have read most of the old classics of Gothic horror, and in recent years I have turned my attention to more modern stuff. When I started to read King’s book I assumed that I would be familiar with most of the stuff he was discussing.
I was wrong.
In an opening chapter King discusses Frankenstein, Dracula and Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I felt good. I had read all of these. King claims that nearly all modern horror stories can be traced back to these archetypal novels. I wasn’t convinced. These are certainly important books, but claiming that all horror can be traced back to them seems like a bunch of farfetched college-boy bullshit.
Then there’s some very long chapters on horror movies, TV and radio drama. I like horror movies, but I found these parts really, really boring.
After slogging through that stuff, I finally got to the section on horror fiction. I was expecting a broad overview of the field, but King limits his discussions to 10 books published between 1950 and 1980. He chose these books because they “seem representative of everything in the genre that is fine.” To my dismay and great shame, I had only read one out of these 10.
I put Danse Macabre down and sought out all the books King listed. It took me all of August to read them. It has taken me until the end of the year to finish writing about them. Here’s the list and some brief thoughts. Click the title of each book for my full reviews.
Strange Wine – Harlan Ellison This book was enjoyable, but I find it peculiar that King chose it was the only short story collection to discuss. It contains maybe 3 horror stories. King discusses Bradbury’s Something Wicked, but Bradbury’s Dark Carnival or October Country collections are far more horrory than that novel and this collection by Ellison. It really seems to me that King included Strange Wine on this list because Harlan Ellison was his friend.
Not all of these books were amazing, but most of them were really, really good. I had been planning on reading a few of them beforehand, but God knows how long it would have taken me to get around to them at my own pace.
When I had finally finished these ten books, I picked Danse Macabre back up, ready to read King’s thoughts on my previous month’s reading.
Stephen King was an English teacher, and much of this book comes from lecture notes he gave at some writing college. He starts talking about the Apollonian and Dionysian natures of the characters in these novels. Dionysus, my bollocks. Also, if you look at this book’s publication date, it seems to have been written at the height of King’s cocaine use. Cocaine apparently gives its users a sense of grandiosity or inflated self esteem. This might explain how King thought it was acceptable to fill his book with such rambling pseudo-academic hogswash.
Danse Macabre is the most influential book that I read this year. It led me not only to read the books discussed therein but also several other books by their authors. Honestly, I really like Stephen King, and the novels discussed in here are great, but I found this book pretty boring. I far preferred reading the stories than King’s thoughts on them. I guess I don’t have much time for people sharing their opinions on books…
I would advise to stay away from King’s non-fiction, but I actually read his On Writing in February and thought it was great. I was seriously trying to do more creative writing, but then covid hit and I used it as an excuse to quit.
I figured it was about time to give this Ramsey Campell fellow a read. Here’s his first 3 novels.
The Doll Who Ate His Mother Legend Paperbacks – 1989 (Originally Published 1976)
When I was looking at Campell’s bibliography on wikipedia, I saw a note beside the title of this novel that said, “(1976; revised text, 1985)”. I try to avoid reading anything about the plots of novels before I read them and so instead of risking a spoiler by figuring out which version of the text was better, I read both the 1976 and 1985 versions of the text side by side. Doing so was a bit of a waste of time though as the two versions are identical aside from one small paragraph near the conclusion of the book dealing with how one of the characters dies. I reckon the updated ending is a bit more cohesive in the context of the story, but it’s nothing huge, and if you’ve only a copy of the original version, I wouldn’t be rushing out to replace it for that single paragraph.
The story is pretty good. It’s about a sick freak who abuses animals and steals limbs off corpses. There’s a bit of black magic thrown in too. I enjoyed this book the whole way through, and it left me happy to read more by Campbell, but I chose this as my introduction to Campbell because of its inclusion in Stephen king’s Danse Macabre. It’s a fine first novel, but I’m not sure if it really deserves to be on the same list as The Haunting of Hill House and Something Wicked This Way Comes. I think its inclusion there might have had more to do with Stephen King wanting to include something more modern (or British perhaps) on his list of influential horror. Still though, this was a good read.
The Face that Must Die Star – 1979
The first thing I noticed about this book was that it felt very a bit like a sequel to The Doll Who Ate His Mother. It’s about totally different people, and there’s no supernatural element to this one at all, but the writing style and setting were so similar that it almost felt like a continuation. These two novels would make good episodes of some kind of horror series set in Liverpool.
The Face that Must Die is the horrible story of an insane serial killer who likes slicing people (especially if they’re gay) up with a razor. I don’t feel much need to say anything else about this novel. It’s pretty straightforward and very dark. There’s nothing to laugh about in this book, but there is some interesting insight into mental illness. In a sad and lengthy introduction Campbell explains that his mother suffered with severe mental health problems at the end of her life, and these problems seemed to give him ideas to fuel a serial killer. This book is fucking grim, but I liked it.
Like The Doll Who Ate His Mother, there are also two different versions of this novel. I read the “definitive” 1983 version, the author’s restoration of the original text.
The Parasite Tor – 1989 (Originally Published 1980)
Of the three Ramsey Campbell novels I have read so far, The Parasite contains the scariest scenes. There’s a couple of parts in this book that actually left me feeling frightened. I occasionally suffer from sleep paralysis, and some of the stuff the protagonist goes through felt very familiar. Reading this before bed gave me nightmares.
This is the story of a film critic who starts developing psychic powers. Along with these powers, she also gains a mysterious bald stalker. Her newfound abilities start ruining her life, and by the end of the book she finds herself in the middle of a Lovecraftian nightmare of cosmic proportions.
The story itself is great, but the telling is scattershot. There’s a bunch of unnecessary characters, journeys and description. The Parasite is almost 340 pages long, and I reckon it would be a better book at 250-300 pages. In an afterword Campbell acknowledges as much himself. He even admits to including “some occult history and related bullshit to attract the Dennis Wheatley brigade”. Haha, in truth, I became very attentive when I got the the occult history paragraphs, but they’re not hugely important to the story. It was kind of cool to make the antagonist a member of the Golden Dawn.
Also, one of the most tantalizing parts of this story is a booked called Astral Rape by Hugh Willis. It’s first mentioned alongside some real occult texts, and I had already tried to track down a copy before Campbell made it clear that the book was fictional. I’ve had to file it alongside The Necronomicon and Megapolisomancy in the Library of the Unreal.
Despite its shortcomings, The Parasite was really good at times. If Campbell considers this his worst novel, I will be more than happy to check out more of his stuff in the future. Oh, and like the other two novels reviewed here, there are two versions of this book. They’re the same apart from the endings. I read both endings. I don’t have a favourite.
I have more of Campbell’s novels on my shelf, but I think the next thing I read by him will be his early Lovecraftian short stories. I’ve been meaning to get back into that kinda thing.
Strange Wine Warner Books – 1979 (First Published 1978)
Despite being discussed at length in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, Harlan Ellison’s Strange Wine is not a horror collection. Ellison seemed to dislike the idea of being pegged as a genre writer, and this book is an interesting mix of horror, science fiction, humour and fantasy.
Every story has an introduction, and I found these a little grating at first. Ellison is fiercely opinionated, and there were a few moments that caused me to roll my eyes and think “What an asshole!”. These moments would soon be followed by Ellison acknowledging that he was an asshole, and this self-awareness made him a lot easier to read. If you spend any time reading about this guy, you’ll find stories of him being a jerk, but at least he was able to make fun of himself.
Some of the stories in here are great, but some of them are not great. The introduction to one of the stories, “The New York Review of Bird” is more entertaining than the tale itself. “From A to Z, In the Chocolate Alphabet” is an interesting literary experiment, but honestly, it’s not much fun to read. The stories that contain the most horror might be “Croatoan” and “Hitler Painted Roses”, but that’s debatable. I think my favourite story in the collection was, “Mom”, the tale of a Jewish mother coming back to haunt her son. It’s not a scary one, but I thought it was pretty funny. “Seeing” is also great. It’s about a space prostitute with mutant eyes. It’s really violent.
Her scream became the howl of a dog. He could not speak, because he had no part left in his face that could make a formed sound come out. He could see only imperfectly; there was only one eye. If he had an expression, it was lost under the blood and crushed, hanging flesh that formed his face.
In Danse Macabre, King discusses Strange Wine, but he also mentions another of Ellison’s collections called Deathbird Stories. Initially I planned to read only these collections for this post, but then I realised that Ellison’s most esteemed stories are scattered throughout a bunch of different collections. Perhaps his best known story is called “I Have no Mouth and I must Scream”, and I thought I had better read that before anything else. It’s the title story of this 1967 collection, and this is where I went next.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream Pyramid Books – 1976 (First published 1967)
This collection is decent. It only has 8 stories, and they’re all pretty good. The title story is about a group of people kept alive by a malevolent super computer. This is super bleak dystopian sci-fi. I liked it a lot. There’s lots of aliens in here and some stories about space-psychics and space-ants. While this kind of stuff may seem more sci-fi than the stuff I usually review, there is a darkness to much of it that shouldn’t be understated. Ellison seems to have been one of those writers who writes fantasy to make statements about reality. (His view on reality wasn’t too cheery.) Maybe the tropes here are a little different to my usual fare, but the themes are spot on. (Also, this is my blog and I’ll review all the god-damned sci-fi I want.)
The first story is the best. That final line. Brutal.
Deathbird Stories Dell – 1980 (First published 1975)
I wasn’t quite as impressed with this collection to be honest. Some of it is great, but I thought there was a lot of filler. The first story, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” was inspired by the murder of Kitty Genovese. It’s gritty as fuck but thoroughly effective. The other story that stood out as a horror story was “Bleeding Stones”, a tale about some church gargoyles coming to life and attacking mankind. It’s not very scary, but it is brutally violent. I enjoyed it. Some of the other stories in here were a little too trippy for me. I felt like I was missing the point of some of them entirely. What the hell is “At The Mouse Circus” about?
By the time I got to the end of this book, my patience for Ellison was wearing thin. (I read all three of these books in close succession.) This is unfortunate as the last 2 stories in here are probably the best ones. “Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54′ N, Longitude 77° 00′ 13″ W” is a bizarre tale about the Wolfman going inside his own body with the help of Victor Frankenstein. It’s less silly and more complicated than it sounds. In “The Deathbird”, Ellison rewrites the story of the Garden of Eden and describes man’s final encounter with evil. This was a seriously impressive piece of writing.
I think Ellison was a fantastic writer. He wrote a lot though, and not everything he wrote was amazing. There’s no mass market “Best of” collection out there containing just the gold, but Subterranean Press put out an “Award Winning Stories of” in 2014, and I think I might read that next. (I don’t think I’ll bother writing about it on here though.) I wrote this post because Ellison was included in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, but I reckon Stephen King only included him there because the two were friends. Ellison was great, and I’m sure his vicious style of writing had an impact on many horror writers, but the above are not books of horror stories. I don’t mean that as a deterrent. You should definitely read some Ellison if you haven’t already. Of the three I read, I think I’d recommend I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream as the best starting point, but they all contain some pretty amazing stuff.
The Cormorant – Stephen Gregory Valancourt Books – 2013 (Originally published 1987)
This horror novel was reiussed by Valancourt books in 2013, so I knew it was going to be pretty good. It’s about a man who inherits a cormorant, a big dirty bird, from his uncle. I’ve done quite a few evil animal books this year, but I anticipated this one being quite a bit better. It won a Somerset Maugham Award, and I had seen it being compared to Poe’s writing. In ways it was classier than my standard fare, but it also contained more crass swearing and disturbing pervy bits than any of the horror novels about beetles or worms that I’ve read in 2020.
This is suspenseful, creepy, sometimes funny and breathtakingly dark. I’m not going to try any harder to convince you to read it. For the rest of this post, I am going to talk about the plot and give away big spoilers. If you haven’t read it already, fuck off and come back when you’re done.
The narrator repeatedly alludes to his previous career as a teacher, and although he claims to feel that he was never cut out for that job, his actions suggest otherwise. His final acts of vengeance against the cormorant prove that he is extremely efficient at teaching lessons.
The whole way through the book I was expecting him to turn violent against the bird. When he finally snaps, he does so with grace, determinacy and cunning. He hits the unruly bird on the wing with a fire poker, shoves it in a box and then gives it a golden shower. Take that, you filthy beast!
I have nothing else to say other than that the bathtub scene was weird and probably unnecessary and that the ending is unbearably grim. I really enjoyed The Cormorant, and I’ll definitely check out more of Gregory’s stuff when I get the chance.
Earlier this year I read Slither (1980), Slime (1984) and Squelch (1985) by John Halkin. Although these books are about different characters and all take place in separate realities, they are regarded as a trilogy due to their titles and almost identical plots. Each book is about a wave of killer creepy crawlies (worms, jellyfish and butterflies respectively) wreaking havoc on Great Britain. These were not great books, but I found them mildly entertaining. Halkin also wrote Blood Worm, another horror novel about killer bugs, in 1987, and while it’s not considered part of the Slither series, it is frequently mentioned alongside it. I had to read it.
It was terrible.
A bunch of killer beetles start killing and eating people in London. The beetles are extremely dangerous, but the beetle grubs are far grosser. These grubs join together in huge numbers to create giant worms that feed on human flesh. Together, the beetles and blood worms seem to do more damage than the bugs in the Slither Trilogy books. They lay London almost entirely to waste. (I recently noted that the Slither Trilogy seemed like a rip off of James Herbert’s books, and the destruction of England’s capital city in Blood Worm makes it seem even more Herbertian.) Also, the main character in Blood Worm is an ex-soldier, not somebody was was involved in television. Aside from these 3 differences, this book is essentially the exact same as Slither, Slime and Squelch, just a bunch of uninteresting characters in unhappy marriages getting killed by bugs.
Blood Worm is a shit book. It’s uninspired drivel. Halkin wrote a few other horror novels, but they’re not about worms, so I’m not interested. One is called The Unholy, so maybe I’d read it to compare with this book, but I’m sure it’s absolute shit too.
Back in the days of internet chatrooms, I made friends with the drummer of a band called Ricin. Ricin were from St Helens in Merseyside, and they described themselves as a mixture of Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. During an MSN messenger conversation, this guy told me the frightening tale of Purple Aki.
Purple Aki is a big scary lad whose skin is so dark it supposedly looks purple. This imposing figure appears out of the shadows telling young men to let him feel their muscles. He gives relentless chase to anyone who dares refuse, and when caught these escapees are offered a choice, “Pop or slash.”
The stories of ol’ purple i used to hear was that he offered a choice of pop or slash, either get P slashed on one ass cheek and A on the other, or get ya ass popped.
Even then (2004ish) there was enough information on the internet to confirm that Purple Aki was no mere urban legend. Akinwale Arobieke was actually serving his second stint in prison at the time. He had been charged with multiple counts of indecent assault, harrassment, witness intimidation, threatening behaviour and even manslaughter.
I’m not from Merseyside, but there was something about the Purple Aki story that fascinated me. In 2006, Liverpool Magistrates’ Court for a Sexual Offences delivered a Prevention Order against Aki banning him from touching, feeling or measuring muscles and asking people to do squat exercises in public. There is nothing funny about sexual assault, but there is something a bit funny about a man being banned from touching muscles. Social media was really taking off at this point, and amoungst other things, Aki appeared in series of hilarious but poorly animated videos on youtube. The Purps was becoming a meme.
4 years ago I signed into facebook to find that one of my closest friends had posted a link to a BBC documentary on Aki. I was pretty disappointed. Instead of a lighthearted review of the Purple Aki meme, this show told the sad story of a genuinely scary and dangerous creep. I think a lot of people see this guy as a big joke, but he really is quite a horrible person.
…my favourite piece of Purple Aki information: Purple Aki rose to prominence in South Liverpool in the late 80s. Now another person who rose to prominence in South Liverpool in the late 80s was a horror writer, and he wrote Hellraiser. Does anyone know his name? Clive Barker. Yes, very good, Clive Barker. Now at the time, Clive Barker was writing a novel, a very successful novel, went on to be turned into a film, and the main villain of that novel was based on Purple Aki. The film, the character, the book ‘Candyman’ is based on Purple Aki. I kid you not. Absolutely, you can look this up online. it’s absolutely true. It’s totally true.
And it is in fact also true that if you say Purple Aki three times… you’re a bit racist.
Now I know this is obviously a joke, and while some of it is simply untrue (there was never a book called Candyman), the main claim he is making seems fairly plausible. When I did as Wiley suggests and looked up this claim online, I could not find any definitive proof that the Candyman was based on Purple Aki.
While Clive Barker has not said that he based Candyman on Akinwale Arobieke, it does make sense. This happened in Liverpool and Barker is originally from Liverpool. Plus, Akinwale Arobieke does look alot like Candyman.
Of course wild stories still circulated – such as the one about him being the inspiration for Clive Barker’s ‘Candyman’ character, but mostly he has just faded into the local culture as a figure part bogeyman, part figure of fun…
Aki had surely been conjured up somewhere in the deepest recesses of the Scouse id. Plenty of people assumed he was an urban legend, a bit like the Candyman in Liverpool-born author Clive Barker’s short story.
The above are just a few of the mentions I found of Candyman and Aki together, and all of these comparisons were made before Wiley’s video was posted on youtube in 2018. Somebody straight up asked about the link on Clive Barker’s twitter account a few years ago, but there was never any response. I decided to investigate further.
Purple Aki. A name that’s whispered in the parks and playground of Merseyside. A threat made to kids. A name I’ve known all my life. Watch out or Purple Aki will get you. A bogey man that nobody was really sure even existed.
Benjamin Zand, Host of BBC’s ‘The Man Who Squeezes Muscles: Searching for Purple Aki’
I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom. Without these things, I am nothing. So now, I must shed innocent blood. Come with me.
Our names will be written on a thousand walls. Our crimes told and retold by our faithful believers. We shall die together in front of their very eyes and give them something to be haunted by. Come with me and be immortal.
Your death will be a tale to frighten children, to make lovers cling closer in their rapture. Come with me, and be immortal.
The Candyman – Candyman (1992)
Don’t pretend you don’t see the similarities.
If you haven’t read Clive Barker’s story or seen ‘Candyman’, the following paragraphs contain spoilers.
The Candyman character made his first big appearance in Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’ from the 5th volume of his classicBooks of Blood collection. I have read that this story was based on a short, very arty film Barker made when he was 19 that was also called The Forbidden, but as far as I can tell, the only thing the story and the film have in common is their title. The film is a Faustian tale of an artist. I have very low threshold for arty films, and I only watched a few minutes before giving up, but it was made in 1978 when Aki was only 17, so I’d be fairly certain it had absolutely nothing to do with him.
In the short story, Helen, a university student writing her thesis on graffiti, finds a big painting of a scary looking dude on the wall of an abandoned apartment. Beside this picture somebody has scrawled “Sweets to the Sweet.” This is in a neighbourhood where a bunch of murders are rumoured to have taken place. People are hesitant to talk of these murders, and it turns out that this is because the individuals who discuss them seem to draw the ire of the murderer. The local who tells Helen about the killings ends up having her child murdered because of her transgression, and Helen ultimately gets killed because she tells her friends. The Candyman needs people to talk about him for him to exist. The rumours feed his existence. This is made perfectly clear in the last lines of story as the protagonist is being burned alive and watching her husband approach the fire:
She willed him to look past the flames in the hope that he might see her burning. Not so that he could save her from death – she was long past hope of that – but because she pitied him in his bewilderment and wanted to give him, though he would not have thanked her for it, something to be haunted by. That, and a story to tell.
All throughout the story Helen’s marriage is presented as strained. By letting her husband know the Candyman has taken her, she is likely securing him as another victim for her killer. Her death is not solely to get revenge on a cheating spouse though. She’s giving the Candyman the power to exist; her murder is as much a seduction as it is an act of violence. This is a twisted tale in a very Barkerish (Barkernian?) way, but at it’s heart, it’s very much a story about the power and operation of urban legends.
The thing is though, the Candyman in ‘The Forbidden’ looks nothing like Purple Aki:
He was bright to the point of gaudiness: his flesh a waxy yellow, his thin lips pale blue, his wild eyes glittering as if their irises were set with rubies. His jacket was a patchwork his trousers the same. He looked, she thought, almost ridiculous, with his bloodstained motley, and the hint of rouge on his jaundiced cheeks.
I mentioned that ‘The Forbidden’ was published in the 5th volume of The Books of Blood, but just prior to that, it had been published in a zine called Fantasy Tales. The subheading of the story in the zine is “A Terror Tale from the Books of Blood!”, so I assume the zine and book versions of the story are identical. The only difference is that the zine version includes an illustration by artist John Stewart. This is an artist’s impression of Barker’s creation, but it’s worth including here as it looks nothing like Akinwale Arobieke.
Physically, I think it’s safe to say that this incarnation of the Candyman has little to do with Aki, but the story of ‘The Forbidden’, at its heart, is far more concerned with urban legends and the way they operate than the specific details of any one bogeyman. It’s not impossible that the story of Aki may have contributed to how Barker thinks about these concepts.
Both the 5th volume of Books of Blood and the aforementioned issue of Fantasy Tales were published in 1985, so ‘The Forbidden’ was probably written in that year or the year prior. Purple Aki was likely on the prowl at that stage, but he certainly wasn’t as notorious then as he would later become. It wasn’t until 1986 when Aki chased a kid in front of a moving train that he first ended up in the media spotlight. Did Clive Barker know about Aki prior to this? Well, I don’t know if he was in Liverpool at the time he was writing Books of Blood, but he was definitely in England, so it’s certainly not impossible. Also, Barker is gay, and I have heard that Aki has long been infamous in Liverpool’s gay community. This is pure speculation, but it doesn’t seem ridiculous to think that Barker might have heard of Aki before writing ‘The Forbidden’. Even if he had though, it really doesn’t seem that the Candyman in the story is based on Aki.
The movie Candyman was released in 1992. It’s pretty similar to the short story, but it gives a backstory to the Candyman and by doing so makes the tale less about the power of urban legend and more about a specific entity. The Candyman in the movie has a lot more in common with Aki than the one from the short story.
I found an article that claims that while Candyman is not based on a true story, it does incorporate some popular urban legends into its story. The first of these is Candyman’s hook for a hand. Stephen King writes at length about the urban legend of the hook handed maniac in his Danse Macabre, calling it “the most basic horror story I know”. The hook was in the original short story too, but the film added the ol’ “say his name 5 times and he’ll appear” thing. (The Candyman himself is the first to mention his name in the story.) I remember hearing a similar story about saying “Bloody Mary” 5 times into a mirror when I was kid. I think most people did. There’s definitely some urban legends being incorporated here, but is Purple Aki one of them?
Tony Todd, the actor who plays Candyman is a big Black guy. He’s 6’5″, the exact same height as Aki. He also looks nothing like the yellow creeper in the story. Was he cast because of his physical similarities with Akinwale Arobieke?
Well, the height thing is probably just incidental. Bigger is usually scarier when it comes to villains. As for his race, that’s more complicated.
Candyman’s Blackness is crucial to the backstory of the movie. In the film, he’s some kind of revenant or ghost who was originally killed by white guys because he was having an affair with a white woman. Despite this, his own attacks are generally focused on poorer Black families. He shouldn’t really have any motivation to kill these people, but I guess poor, unprivileged people are more likely to believe in urban legends. There’s other interesting stuff going on with race here too. At the beginning of the movie, Helen’s best friend and colleague won’t join her in attempting to summon Candyman. This Black character is not poor and underprivileged, but she seems to sense the danger quicker than her white counterpart. I don’t know exactly what kind of statement this was supposed to make, but I’m pretty sure the people making this movie were trying to be anti-racist.
Regardless of how well it does so, this is a movie that sets out to address racial inequality. The message is that racism is bad. I really, really doubt that the films writers, producers and actors would have been receptive if Clive Barker had shown up one day and said “Let’s make Candyman Black so he looks like a scary nonce I heard about back in Liverpool LOL!”
And while the movie is based on Barker’s ‘The Forbidden’, Bernard Rose is credited as the movie’s writer. I assume he is the one who changed the setting from Liverpool to Chicago and made Candyman Black. Barker had nothing to do with the casting of the movie. He was the “executive producer”, but as far as I know, that doesn’t mean he had a huge amount of creative control on the making of the film. Even if he did, I don’t think he would use it to sneak Purple Aki in.
I am not at all convinced that Purple Aki was the basis for any version of the Candyman. It seems unlikely that Aki’s reputation was big enough in 1984 to convince Barker to try to incorporate him into ‘The Forbidden’. As for the similarities between Aki and the movie Candyman’s appearances, I’m pretty sure they’re coincidental. This doesn’t seem to be a case of life imitating art either. While Candyman feeds off of his rumours, I’d be very surprised if Aki was delighted about the stories that are told about him.
Another crucial difference to note is that while Candyman’s Blackness is part of what makes us feel sorry for him, Purple Aki’s Blackness is part of what makes people laugh at him. Let’s be realistic. If he was a white guy, he’d be just another pervert. I’ve watched a bunch of videos of people describing him, and several say things like, “I’m not being racist; he’s just purple.” That is racist though. Even if his skin was a bit purple, why mention it? Nobody calls Charles Manson “Beige Charlie”. Are there really so many Akinwales of note in Liverpool that people have to classify them by their colour?
There is a part of me that feels sorry for Aki. He grew up without a family, and being a big gay Black lad in Liverpool in the 1980s doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. While he doubtlessly has been the victim of racism, he is also a sex offender and a child predator, so let’s all do the right thing and just call him ‘Pedo Aki’ from now on.
I’ve reviewed three of Barker’s books on this site in the last year, The Books of Blood, Cabal and The Hellbound Heart. I enjoyed all of them, but never had much to say. I feel like this post is finally giving Barker the level of attention he deserves. I’ll be reading more of his stuff in the future. Also, I saw there’s actually a reboot of the Candyman film franchise coming next year. I haven’t watched any of the sequels yet, but I might give the new one a go.
A few months ago I read a book called The Worms by Al Sarrantonio on a whim. I really liked it, so I decided to read more of his stuff.
Moonbane Spectra – 1989
A bunch of evil werewolves from the moon land on Earth and start attacking humanuty, eating most but turning plenty of us into werewolves too. After witnessing the transformation of his son and death of his wife, a sensitive poet finds himself tagging along with a crew of scientists on their way to a military base to perform some kind of drastic rescue mission, the nature of which the scientists are hesitant to discuss. All I’ll say is that it involves a really big rocket and some REALLY big bombs.
Honestly, if you don’t want to read this after hearing that and seeing this book’s cover, you’re a lost cause. Rockets and moon-wolves. Cool!
Toybox Leisure Books – 2003 (Originally published 1999)
I had heard that Sarrantonio was a better short story writer than a novel writer, so I decided to check out his first story collection, Toybox. The person who told me that Sarrantonio’s stories were worth reading also mentioned a great likeness to the work of Ray Bradbury. Aside from Fahrenheit 451 and a couple of short stories, I hadn’t actually read anything by Bradbury when I started this. It often takes me a while to get through short story collections. I read one or two stories from different collections when I’m between novels. While I was dipping in and out of Toybox, one of the novels I read was Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. This clarified for me what my friend had meant with his comparison. I soon thereafter read a couple of collections of Bradbury’s creepier stories, and this further confirmed my impressions. Sarrantonio’s short stories are very, very Bradburyian. Nearly all of them involve children, Halloween and carnivals. Some of the stories in this collection use almost identical premises to Bradbury tales. ‘Father Dear’, one of the stories in here is about a kid whose dad keeps him inside his house and lies to him about everything. There’s a Bradbury story called ‘Jack in the Box’ about a kid whose mom does almost the exact same thing. Whatever though, it’s hardly a bad thing to be compared to Ray Bradbury. (I’ve been loving the Ray recently.) I enjoyed Toybox plenty. ‘Pumpkin Head’ and ‘The Corn Dolly’ were probably my favourites in here, but it’s all pretty good.
Skeletons Bantam – 1992
This is an epic post apocalyptic novel in which the last remaining good guys on Earth are drawn together by dreams/psychic visions. (I mean epic in the literal sense here too.) It’s basically the same thing as Stephen King’s The Stand except the disease and bad guys in this book are the same thing. They’re skeletons. The skeletons of every human (and animal) that ever lived have risen from their graves and they are really angry with humanity.
There’s 4 narratives running throughout the book. The bulk of the story centers on a Cambodian politician stuck in Russia and an American girl who is unable to speak making their ways across their respective continents to meet eachother. The rest of the tale is told from the perspective of the risen Abraham Lincoln and Roger Garbage, a music industry cokehead who the skeletons keep alive for the purposes of arranging the biggest rock festival ever.
The novel is absurd, and there’s many little inconsistences and plot holes throughout the story, but there’s a scene in this book where the Beatles (in skeleton form) get back together to perform, so I found it pretty easy to ignore the problems and just go with it. I’m pretty sure this is supposed to be read for fun, so there’s no need to dissect it like a college professor. Although it’s about skeletons, the length and scope of the work make it more a fantasy than a horror novel, and while I enjoyed it well enough, it was probably my least favourite of the books I’ve read by Sarrantonio. (It’s not bad. I just really like short books at the moment.)
I can’t say that I was truly blown away by any of the books I’ve read by Al Sarrantonio, but I was entertained by all of them. They’re imaginative, fun and well written. I’ve read 4 of his books in the last 4 months, so I’ll give him a break for a while, but I look forward to reading more of his books in the future.