Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Book Review: Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell

A fifty year old missing horror movie resurfaces after the persistent effort of a historian, but on the screening night he dies and the film goes missing again. Sandy Miller, his good friend takes on herself to solve the mystery by going after the film, on the same trail that he pursued. She finds out that the movie was suppressed by someone powerful to prevent anybody from viewing it. But it is too late when she realises that the horror movie is just the tip of iceberg and behind it there are sinister plans of terror and bloodbath by an ancient evil alive for centuries. 

I am not a regular reader of horror. I like reading short stories of the genre- from Poe, Doyle, Lovecraft and had even read a great one from Maupassant titled Horla. But I had mostly disappointing experiences from novels. I like Dracula for it's artistic merit and great narration rather than the horror element. I have tried Stephen King, Joe Hill and a few others, but horror novels always failed to bowl me over. 

I realized its reason while reading Necronomicon, a story collection by Lovecraft. I like the tension in the atmosphere, I like the built up, I like the human drama that unfolds when the paranormal strikes the characters, but the ultimate reveal always disappoints me. The appearance of the monster or whatever evil the novel puts forward, is never sufficient to terrorize me. 

That was why, I went into Ancient Images, a novel by acclaimed British writer Ramsey Campbell without much enthusiasm. The only interest I had was the mystery of the missing movie which starred Karloff and Lugosi, two actors who featured in some movies that I watched before. There was a time when I dabbled in watching riffs of bad movies through MST3K and Rifftrax. Bela Lugosi was a regular in old British horror (he had famously portrayed Count Dracula in some), but I loved him in Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space. 

In UK there were periods when horror movies were looked down upon. Horror movies, however well made they were, used to be considered low brow entertainment. They were censored and kids couldn't watch them. Movies with scary content were termed Video nasties and posession was illegal for some time. The novel alludes to several such historical tendencies in its plot. 

But the real strength of this novel is the atmosphere. The paranoia that the protagonist feels, the constant feel of being spied, the constant presence of danger behind every curb and after every turn, most of this she suspect about, but we as readers are already let in on the danger by the author after feeding us on two small chapters that makes us aware of the horrors that lay ahead for her in her road. We are turned to blood hounds, always smelling danger and always on the lookout of potential evilness. 

The most difficult task for an author in a long horror novel is the sustenance of tension without depending on gore. Only a master can sustain reader's interest and attention through pages and pages of investigating new characters while revealing tiny bits of plot every while and keep them guessing where the evil will strike next. Ramsey Campbell is definitely a master of horror and I would like to read more from him. 

EBook received from Netgalley in exchange of an honest review. 

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