We had all kinds of cold, wet days at the Jersey shore this weekend – perfect reading weather if you can resist Memorial Day weekend distractions like your favorite band coming to town. I cannot. Friday we traded cold ocean breezes for frosty, over-enthusiastic and completely unnecessary movie theater air conditioning. The Great Gatsby was one of the few books I loathed in high school. Even with a hip hop soundtrack that was so out of place it almost added interest, Gatsby is among the most so-what-and-who-cares stories ever spewed from a typewriter, but my sister has a lifelong crush on Leo so we had to go.
Saturday we froze again, all night, but it was not without reward. The Gaslight Anthem played the Stone Pony’s outdoor summer stage. The show was sold out, but since we couldn’t make the Sunday one we mooched from the Asbury Park boardwalk, where you can hear the bands perfectly. I even stomped on my sister’s toes and threw her into fellow moochers to make it feel like an authentic rock show. Despite a few passing showers, high winds and a chill so deep my muscles felt sore the next day from shivering, the band sounded feel-good, bluesy fantastic. Plus the pinball arcade took pity and gave us the very best cup of day old, lukewarm coffee sludge I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming. Oh, and we saw a vertical, two-toned rainbow between The Hold Steady and TGA. See?
Now that I can cross Gaslight Anthem off my summer BINGO board, it’s on to my first chilling read in a few months. I was ready for a good horror a la Stephen King circa 1975, but that’s not fair to anyone who’s not young Stephen King. Clive Barker’s Coldheart Canyon is dark and gory titillation at its most indulgent. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on the reader.
Romania. Land of dark legends and the Devil’s wife. It’s a place that doesn’t allow you to forget where you come from, but why would you want to? Coldheart Canyon begins in a remote village in the 1920s as world famous silent movie starlet Katia Lupi returns to her home village seeking something as dark and unusual as the land she comes from. To bring back to her Hollywood mansion, of course.
As a foreign beauty in the silent era, the world is at Katia’s lovely feet. Not even priests can see past her beauty to the cruelty beneath. Her lovesick manager is eager-to-please putty at her feet, determined to find something truly unique. And he does. In the basement of the Romanian priests’ fortress, he stumbles on a room lined wall to wall with tiles hand painted with horrifying detail. That’s Part One.
Part Two jumps to the late 1990s as aging action star Todd Pickett releases his worst movie yet. Studio execs are starting to call attention to the lines in his face so he naturally does what every desperate, moneyed person in CA dependent on his looks would do. He goes in for some tweaks. Unfortunately, he leaves in bandages after a reaction to the chemical peal burns half his face off. His only choice now is to go into hiding before his fans get wind that the macho man had some work done. The doctor insists it’ll heal eventually. For now, his manager finds the perfect place to retreat to: A haunted mansion in a canyon no one goes to. What could possibly go wrong?
Hard as Todd tries to drink and pill pop his way into a stupor, the strange beauty he meets creeping around the canyon won’t allow it. He cares less and less about his fading career as this woman first puts a whip in his hand and later pulls him away from an orgy packed with familiar faces from the red carpet’s distant past. Katia wastes no time bringing him down to her tiled basement where Todd experiences one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets. Beneath her mansion is Devil’s Country, part fountain of youth and part addiction for the flesh, mind, spirit and soul.
I want my kingdom to be a place where people could take their pleasures freely, without judgement or punishment.
The first half of Coldheart Canyon is entertaining though it reads more like a sexy paranormal mystery than horror. For a story about vapid people in a vapid place doing vapid things, the story becomes a victim of its own material. As someone who can only read so many descriptions of a woman’s body parts, I lost interest at the halfway mark and slogged through the rest. Maybe that was the point, that an unending existence in the same place with the same people with only sex to do is a fate worse than death, even for those who dedicated their lives to feasting on physical beauty.
The saving grace of the story is Tammy, an unhappy overweight suburban housewife superfan who flies to LA to get to the bottom of her dear Todd’s disappearance. Tammy is the polar opposite of everything that Todd and Katia represent. She’s intelligent and strong, and for some reason determined to save Todd. I continued to the end solely to find out what happens to Tammy and was not disappointed.
For an author who’s tried his hands at a number of movies (Hellraiser and Candyman), Barker’s jabs at the industry were about as trite as they come. I expected more – more chills and more surprises. The tag line “A Hollywood Ghost Story” is misleading. It’s set in Hollywood and there are ghosts, but the story is really about a generic A-list star’s fall from the highest point to … well, read the book if you want to know.
I’d pass this book on to someone looking for a juicy read that’s not all lovey dovey. Film lovers may get a kick out of the name dropping, but don’t expect depth. Do power through the last half or it’ll take a lifetime to finish.
Here’s a few more reviews if you’re on the fence: