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Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story


Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story

Sure, Hollywood's a scary place --- but I've come to expect weirder
things from Clive Barker, the man who brought us HELLRAISER,
WEAVEWORLD and BOOKS OF BLOOD. Perhaps he's starting to feel his
age: His latest novel, subtitled "A Hollywood Ghost Story," seems
obsessed with the fear of death and the American cult of celebrity
and youth.

A touchingly intimate Acknowledgments section offers one clue:
Barker began writing the novel a week before his father died.
"Inevitably," he writes, "the long shadow of that event dimmed the
joy of writing, at least for the first six months or so, slowing it
to a crawl." Regrettably, the joylessness he must have felt while
writing has cast its pall over the first two-thirds of the

"Crawl" might be too harsh a word, but the book does start
lethargically. Exposition consistently trumps action, and the pace
seems tortured, ponderous, as if everything were taking place
underwater. There are too many "indeeds" and "actuallys," too many
instances of telling rather than showing. Nothing remotely
supernatural or creepy happens in the first 170 pages. Thirty-five
pages are spent recording the illness and death of a pet dog --- a
sweet and well-written episode, but one that gets a
disproportionate amount of attention considering its relevance to
the plot. Things pick up dramatically around page 500 --- but
crikey, it's page 500!!

At the center of the novel is a beautifully conceived and
meticulously described fantasy world painted on small tiles that
originally covered the walls of a room beneath an ancient Romanian
fortress. Superstition says that the Devil's wife, Lilith, created
the room. The tiles depict a mysterious hunt and a forest filled
with numberless scenes of Hieronymous Boschian depravity. Barker's
litany of the violent contortions and sexual abominations shown
there --- ravens flying out from between the legs of hanged women;
Harpies skinning a man and wearing his epidermis as a costume;
cataclysmic transformations of people into demons; girls
ecstatically/painfully being impaled by centaurs --- is stunning,
but static. And no sooner is this intriguing world described than
we leave it behind for banal, vapid Hollywood.

In L. A. we meet Todd Pickett, a no-longer-20-something movie star
in the Pitt/Cruise mold; his agent, Maxine, something of a harpy
herself; and Tammy, the head of Pickett's fan club, who seems
pathetic at first but winds up being the most compelling character
in the novel. Then Barker adds what amounts to distracting scenery
in the form of Sigourney Weaver, Nicole Kidman, Catherine Deneuve,
and the like. Ironically, his use of real Hollywood people as
characters in the novel make it feel even more artificial. (The
scene in which Deneuve and Tammy exchange dialogue at a party, for
example, is simply not convincing.)

After a botched face-lift, Pickett moves into a mansion in a canyon
in the hills to recover in secrecy. It happens to be the former
home of one Katya Lupi, a silent-film goddess who ran with
Valentino's crowd. Among Katya's extravagant movie-star possessions
is The Hunt, transferred tile-by-tile from the Romanian fortress
and reinstalled in her basement.

Katya herself soon appears and seduces Pickett into a dark realm,
where the fountain of youth runs from a wellspring of evil. The
Hunt has preserved her beauty and strength. Its power is addictive,
and the mansion is surrounded by the ghosts of old movie stars
hooked on supernatural youth, to whom Katya has denied their fix.
They hang around in case she relents, meanwhile frenziedly mating
with wild animals to produce litters of offspring the likes of
which only Barker could imagine.

Pickett, while entranced by the thought of eternal youth, gets
really hooked on Katya. His friends' efforts to save him are what
finally cause the two bizarre worlds --- Hollywood and The Hunt ---
to collide in an over-the-top phantasmagoria that is pure classic
Barker. Next time, I hope he skips the bitter-reality stuff and
goes straight to the slimy, sex-obsessed monstrosities he writes
about so masterfully.

Reviewed by Becky Ohlsen on January 21, 2011

Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story
by Clive Barker

  • Publication Date: October 1, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Horror
  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060182970
  • ISBN-13: 9780060182977