The Dark (UK: NEL, 1980)
Tagline: "From the blackest pits of hell..."
Here we are once again in the court of the master,
James Herbert, the guy who pretty much invented
(unintentionally) the nasty subgenre, making
publishers a ton of money and giving lots of writers
reasons to write creepy-crawler books, and giving
us readers lots of books to paw over...and giving
me the opportunity to look at them and call this Horror's Guilty
Pleasures. No need in me introducing Herbert (check my review of The
Rats) because if you read this kind of stuff you should know his work
and if you don't...well, shame on you. Through the years and many,
many bestselling novels, Herbert has changed his approach to horror
somewhat, couching it and combining it with the thriller genre and
producing an interesting hybrid style known as chillers, though now and
again he still reaches back to his roots. And that's what we're interested
in here: his early work. The Dark was Herbert's seventh novel and is one
of the last in what might be called his classic cycle which began with
The Rats, carried through this book, and closed out with Shrine or
Domain a few years later.
Herbert opens this one with a series of gruesome set pieces featuring
his usual assortment of frustrated working class types, sexual deviants,
and the disenfranchised, instantly grounding us in the urban despair of
Willow Road. And for these people it all culminates in a night of violence
and horror as a spreading patch of parasitic darkness invades them.
Two brothers are shot as is their father. A little girl sets her house on fire
and watches as her parents burn. A woman knives her husband to
death. Enter Chris Bishop, psychic investigator. A man who believes in
de-mystifying the supernatural and looking for scientific explanations for
hauntings and the like. After a lecture on psychic sciences he is
contacted by Jessica Kulek who wants his help. Her father, Jacob, is a
renowned parapsychologist. He believes the tragedies on Willow Road
have a common cause: Beechwood house, a manor where thirty-seven
cultists committed mass suicide nine months earlier. What was in them,
Kulek believes, was harnessed at the point of death by the leader of
their sect, Boris Pryszlak, who also committed suicide. Bishop knows the
details of all that well enough for he was hired by the family who owned
the house to investigate occult dealings on the premises. He was the
guy that found the bodies of the cult.
And now, after seemingly gestating, the horror is rising up again:
"Even as he watched in amazement and dawning horror, a young girl's
body was blown apart by a shotgun; men and women sat patiently around
a table while a wild-eyed executioner slit their throats one by one; a
mallet-wielding maniac joyously crushed human skulls as if they were
And it just keeps rolling, gaining strength:
"A heavyset man lumbered toward them, his clothes open to display his
genitals. In his hand he held a long, pikelike object, its length black and
tapering gradually to a fine point. He held the point against the back of
the man uppermost in the tangled heap, pressing it slowly down until it
punctured the skin and a tiny drop of blood oozed out. The naked man
paid no heed to his injury, continuing to press into the man beneath him.
The heavyset man plunged downward and the long black point sank from
view, the pike descending into a fountain of red liquid...impaling the
naked man and the man beneath him and the woman on the bottom."
As skeptical as he is, Bishop knows that Jacob Kulek is right: the dark is
real, it is the embodiment of the primal fear, savage aggression, and
instinctual violence of those that committed suicide and with each mind
it infects and each death it brings about, it feeds on these primeval
passions, filling and empowering itself, growing larger and more lethal.
The owners of Beechwood house come up with a novel solution: they
have the house torn down, but that only releases the dark into the world
at large. Pretty soon it is roaming London, creating scenes of carnage
and bloodthirsty savagery. Acid is poured down a woman's throat. A
man drenches a family in gasoline and lights them up. A football
stadium erupts into butchery. An underground train plows through
human wreckage. Subhuman things long awaiting a world of darkness
rise from the sewers to take the city from their human cousins. As rape,
assault, and wholesale murder plague the city, as corpses sprawl in the
streets, people hide from the darkness and London is a city under siege.
There's only one possible solution: light that will dispel the dark.
Pros: Great story, great characters. Gruesome and perverse and
spooky. Creepier than most of these books simply because the dark is
unstoppable, not something physical that can be fought as such.
Cons: Can't think of any.
Overall: A worthy addition to any horror collection. This one ranks right
up there with Herbert's best and has a dark, brooding feel to it like The
Five bloody skulls out of five.
For our next Guilty Pleasure we go slumming:
"Something began to seep from the poisoned ground..."