Ramsey Campbell’s “Ancient Images”

Just finished reading “Ancient Images” by Ramsey Campbell. It’s a slow burner which is heavy on the atmosphere but light on the action; a well told fright tale, with shades of “The Wicker Man”, but the ending is a little anti-climactic. A young film editor, Sandy Allan, goes to a friend’s house to see the film he unearthed which is reputed to be a lost film by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Upon her arrival she finds her friend’s residence in a mess, the film gone, then looks out the window just in time to see her friend leap off of the rooftop across the way. Offered time off from work to mourn, she decides to look for the film to vindicate her dead friend who is being lambasted by a bitter film critic for trying to dig up such a nasty old film, which the critic claims doesn’t really exist anymore anyway.  On her hunt to find the film, Sandy finds that many of the people associated with the film either died under questionable circumstances or totally disassociated themselves from it after the fact. Her  journey eventually leads to Redfield, a country town not unlike Summerisle from “The Wicker Man”: a seemingly quiet community with dark pagan secrets and killer scarecrows.

Promotional still from the Universal film

Promotional still from the Universal film “The Black Cat” (1934), featuring Boris Karloff (left) and Bela Lugosi (right).

Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi made many classic Horror films together for Universal Studios in Hollywood, during the 1930’s, when this missing film is supposed to have been made; why they would have gone to the English countryside to make what was basically an independent film with a no-name director is beyond my comprehension, and when would they have found the time? This premise doesn’t sit well with me and the execution of the book is lackluster for this grandmaster of the Horror genre; worth a read if you’re already a fan, but if you haven’t read Campbell already, I wouldn’t start here.

“Ancient Images” 1990 Charles Scribner’s Sons / SFBC

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