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Story Time Review by
Christopher Treagus
Coldheart Canyon
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COLDHEART CANYON: A Hollywood Ghost Story - 2001
By Clive Barker
ISBN: 0060182970

Not Just Any Other Haunting

When I first learned of Clive Barker's newest release, COLDHEART CANYON: A Hollywood Ghost Story, I entered with some skepticism. For Barker is not known as the teller of ghostly tales. His is a much more visceral style, as any who have seen the least of his works, the Hellraiser series could certainly attest. The ghost story is often written with but a suggestion of horror, and more subtlety of imagery than Barker is normally familiar. Look at the earliest stories of Peter Straub, for an example. Then compare with Barker's WEAVEWORLD, THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW, IMAJICA, and any of the numerous volumes of the BOOKS OF BLOOD. Clive Barker glorifies in showing us grizzly scenes of horrible, fleshy monsters, the kind of which nightmares are made. How then, I wondered, would he deal with a horror that had no flesh at all, and in many cases, was barely even there.

As I delved into COLDHEART CANYON I very soon found out. For Clive Barker does not write about ghosts at all. He writes of phantoms. And this is like no other tale of haunting that I am aware. Most ghost stories are eerie, and fill one with the dread of possibilities, and the uncomfortable reminders of untimely death. Clive Barker's novel is truly disturbing. I found myself on several accounts wanting to tear my eyes away from the page so as not to have to see any more of his horrors revealed, yet some kind of sick fascination held me there. These phantoms are not the sad, tormented or vengeful spirits wrongly brought to death in which ghostly tales are so familiar. These are entities that justly deserve their unfortunate ends, and have brought it even willingly upon themselves. Any torments they suffer are fully justified, and this makes it even more horrible for the unsuspecting victims that wander - or, in some cases, are lured - into their domain.

COLDHEART CANYON is set as its subtitle would indicate, in Hollywood, California. The stars that have ever inhabited the area ever since film's inception have ever been like ghosts, flitting across the screen, even when they yet lived. There lives were but shallow reflections upon the world in which everyone else lived, even the worlds that they so often portrayed. And such, they have given themselves over to vice, and the desperate need to preserve their youth and manufactured identities - or so this story tells us.

The action of the novel focuses mostly on two such lost souls. Todd Pickett is a current day action star, along the lines of Bruce Willis, Arnold Shwarzenegger, and perhaps even Brad Pitt all rolled into one. Katya Lupi was a silent film star much renowned in her day, yet now all but forgotten.

Todd, realizing that he is aging and running the risk of losing his career along with his good looks, undergoes plastic surgery. But there is an unfortunate side effect that ruins his features, at least temporarily. He must find a secluded place to hide from the paparazzi and press, even his own fans, until he recovers. Which brings him to Coldheart Canyon: a desolate and abandoned old home in the hills outside Hollywood. It was here that Katya Lupi once dwelled, and in fact, as Todd is soon to discover, still does.

But Katya is not the only forgotten resident of the canyon. There are others. And each is just as horrible, and depraved as the next. For Coldheart Canyon was not just Katya's home, but a nest of inequity and sin. In her day, she had been famous for hosting parties of the most perverted and depraved kind, in which all the elite of Hollywood would attend. And long though their time has passed, something of them has yet remained.

Todd's arrival here, however, is no coincidence. The phantom Katya has lured him, and wants to make him join her legions of dead stars. It is then up to the president of Todd's fan-club, Tammy Lauper, to find him, and return him to the living - if, that is, she can make it past the phantoms and survive the canyon herself.

COLDHEART CANYON is a captivating story. It is a triumphed over the countless other tales of haunting that exist in a genre overfilled with them.

For this, I applaud Clive Barker. His ghosts are far more viscous, ruthless, and terrifying than most others I have read. However, this does not mean the book is without flaws.

The foremost was one of personal taste for me. Barker goes into loving detail about all of the sexual perversions of the stars that once and still filled Katya Lupi's home. Though I would not consider myself a prude, this to the point that I found myself having to turn away in distaste, I never knew ghosts could be so sexual, but in Clive Barker's universe, all things are possible. I certainly would never want to come across one of these phantoms, not for fear of death or harm, but for concern of what else it might do to me.

The other flaw, as I see it, is the character of Tammy Lauper. Though she is characterized well, I could find very little redeeming about her. She is not a bad person, but perhaps a pathetic one. As the president of Todd Pickett's fan club, she has dedicated her entire life to practically worshipping him. She is so hopelessly in love with him, that when she hears that he is missing, she immediately embarks upon a search for him. Leaving her home, husband, career, for this cause. She becomes a necessary element to the plot as the one who is possibly the only hope for Todd Pickett's survival, yet, every time she has a confrontation with one of the phantoms, I found myself rooting for them, regardless of how horrible they were. I wanted her to die in some horrible manner just so I wouldn't have to keep reading about her.

In many ways, Barker may have succeeded in his portrayal of Tammy Lauper, for she is not meant to be a perfect person, and we do fully understand her motivation. Yet, as a hero, I found her lacking. I needed something more to cheer for with her. Flat out, she wasn't likable. A character may be flawed, but we need to be able to forgive the characters these flaws the way we would forgive the flaws in a friend, if this character is going to be able to carry a book: Especially if they fill the role of hero.

COLDHEART CANYON is a disturbing novel. No doubt, it is a fine work of horror. I can say without fear of contradiction, that I was unsettled by it. And this is what Clive Barker has always excelled at. It is better than some of his other recent work, such as SACRAMENT or GALILEE but the problem with the Tammy Lauper character is a major distraction for me. Though I was fascinated with it to the end, in many occasions reading through parts as one may observe the ghastly remains of a car wreck as they drive by, I can only give it 4 Book Wyrms.

(What the hell is wrong with 4 BookWyrms? -Feo)


This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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