Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Height of the Scream by Ramsey Campbell (1976)


The Height of the Scream by Ramsey Campbell, containing the following stories: The Scar; The Whining; The Dark Show; Missing; Reply Guaranteed; Jack's Little Friend; Beside the Seaside; The Cellars; The Height of the Scream; Litter; Cyril; Smoke Kiss; The Words That Count; Ash; The Telephones; In the Shadows; Second Chance; and Horror House of Blood (Collected 1976): 

British horror master Ramsey Campbell's third collection of short stories came out the year he turned 30, with a dozen years of published work under his belt. In his introduction, Campbell notes that he's become more self-aware when it comes to the psychosexual dimensions of his work.

This certainly shows in the stories, which are generally a lot more up-front about both sexuality and the horrific potentials of sexuality and gender unobscured by metaphoric horrors. "Cyril" and "The Telephones" are the most blatant of these sexualized horrors: the latter story is almost entirely concerned with anxieties about sexual preference.

There are more conventional horrors here as well, though everything appears as through a Campbellian glass darkly, rendered in his peculiar and disquietingly descriptive prose, in which everything we see seems subjectively distorted by metaphor and simile. Or objectively weird. Campbell's prose style is almost fully formed now. To see the world this way all the time would drive a person bonkers.

There are a couple of misfires, including the title story, which doesn't manage to wring much horror out of some form of telepathic ability. In the strongest stories, though, such as "The Scar," with its rundown, urban-decayed take on the idea of the Doppelganger, or "Horror House of Blood," which deconstructs the standard haunted-house story, Campbell's skills are fully evident and engaged with not only scaring the reader, but with destabilizing, if only for a brief time, the reader's construction of the world. Highly recommended.

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