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About the Author
Neil Gaiman is an award-winning author of books, graphic novels, short stories, and films for all ages. His titles include Norse Mythology, The Graveyard Book, Coraline, The View from the Cheap Seats, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neverwhere, and the Sandman series of graphic novels, among other works. His fiction has received Newbery, Carnegie, Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and Eisner awards. The film adaptation of his short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” and the second season of the critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated television adaptation of his novel American Gods will be released in 2018. Born in the UK, he now lives in the United States.
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Prisoners of the Inferno
It's Mickey Rooney," Carducci said, as soon as Jack arrived at his table. "Mickey fucking Rooney. No shit."
The memorabilia dealer's head was twitching in urgent indication and Jack looked back up the length of the convention room in the direction of its spasms.
Flanked on both sides by good-looking young blondes who, even sitting, had a good five inches on him Mickey fucking Rooney was indeed seated at one of the autograph tables against the top wall. Jack was surprised that he hadn't noticed him when he came in, but then he tended to ignore the signing tables at these bimonthly events usually manned only by second-string TV stars from the sixties and seventies and head straight for the regular dealers' tables.
"What's he asking?" Jack said.
"About the same as the kid from Rin Tin Tin," Carducci said in a can-you-believe-it voice. "Twenty-five if you buy a picture, fifteen for a bring-your-own. You should get something."
Jack shrugged noncommittally. "Not my area," he said.
"Not my area," Carducci mimicked. "Get over yourself. He's fucking golden age, man! He banged Dorothy, for Christ's sake."
"No, he didn't," Jack said, having no real idea one way or the other.
"All right, Ava Gardner, then. Are you a collector or not?"
"Oh, I'm a collector all right," Jack said. "But apparently not as well informed a one as I'd thought."
"Yeah?" Carducci said, cocking an interested eyebrow.
Jack lifted his hand to show his friend the item he'd just bought. "How come I haven't heard of this?" he said.
Carducci was an old hand at the poker face but he actually twitchedin surprise when he saw what Jack was showing him, and when he reached out to take the front-of-house still for a closer look, he held it almost reverently and was silent for a couple of seconds.
"Where the fuck did you find this?" he said eventually.
Jack had found it while flicking through the four-dollars-per box of eight by tens at some newbie's table. He hadn't expected to come across anything worthwhile and had hardly been paying attention until he'd felt his hands pause.
His practiced fingers, faster than his eye, had frozen in position like they'd just hit a seam of gold in a slate mine and Jack looked down to see what the fuss was about.
The still was sepia rather than simple black-and-white and judging by the yellowing on the borders and the few tiny cracks here and there in the emulsion obviously an original. And from at least the mid-nineteen-thirties. Maybe even precode. Jack lifted it out from among the various worthless dupes of anonymous westerns and forgotten melodramas to look at it more carefully.
The image displayed was of an actress presumably the lead, though she wasn't anybody Jack recognized who'd gotten herself into a bit of bother. She was in the process of being bound to an upright cruciform pillar in some kind of ceremonial chamber a pretty fucking big one to judge by the hordes of out-of-focus extras in the far background and was staring in left-of-frame shock at something unseen that was heading her way. Something that meant business, if the look of anticipatory horror on her face was anything to go by.
Her dress had been ripped away from her at both shoulder and thigh but it didn't have the artfully disarranged look you'd expect from a set dresser's tease. It looked much more urgent than that, looked like something or someone had torn at the cloth in a genuine frenzy to get to the flesh beneath. And the girl's open mouth and wide-eyed mix of expectancy and fear could have given even the great Fay Wray a run for her money.
The image's weirdly erotic charge was undeniable, of course, and was certainly part of what Jack liked about it. But it wasn't just that. It had that thing. That thing Jack loved, the sense that what he was being allowed to look at was something other than simply a photograph of a bunch of overpaid people playing dress-up. That was always the secret to the movies he loved. It didn't even have to be in the genre in which he pretended to specialize. It was as deliriously present for him in the art deco dreams of Fred and Ginger as it was when Lon senior strode down the opera steps in a skull mask and two-strip Technicolor. And this picture had it. In spades. A teasing glimpse from a forgotten world, a world that felt at once utterly real and yet utterly unreachable.
There was a title running across the border beneath the image. Prisoners of the Inferno, it said. Which rang no bells at all, other than the generic. Even then it sounded more like a title from the pulps of the same period than it did a movie. Jack wondered if it might have been a serial rather than a feature, though there was nothing in the rest of the minimal text to suggest that it was.
He took a carefully casual glance at the dealer and at what else was displayed on his table and the wall behind it. He could see in a second that the guy knew nothing. There was a Topkapi one-sheet that was way overpriced and a City of the Dead lobby card that was hilariously under. Some bandwagon jumper who was pricing his shit by voodoo and what other idiots told him.
Deserved what he got, then, didn't he, Jack thought and, surrounding his find on either side with two stills from Gorgo (neither featuring the beast), he waved the three of them at the guy as if he was considering doing him the favor of taking this crap off his hands.
"Three for ten?" he asked like it was no biggie, and the money already in his hand like it was a noâ??brainer.
The dealer looked at the box, looked at Jack, and looked at the cash. Didn't look at the stills. So there went his last chance to say there'd been a mistake. Amateur.
"Okay," he said, prefacing it with a put-upon sigh and treating Jack to a petulant grimace of the you're-killing-me-here variety.
Jack smiled politely, handed over the money, and walked away. The dealer didn't even notice him putting the Gorgo pictures back in the box.
Carducci repeated his question, with emphasis.
"Where the fuck did you find this?" he said.
"In the idiot's come-on box," Jack said, nodding back in the direction of the other guy's table.
Carducci stared across the room with a devastated look of missed opportunity on his face, like it was the day before prom and he'd just seen the prettiest girl in class say yes to the one guy who'd actually had the balls to ask her.
"Fuck," he said quietly and regretfully.
"So?" Jack said. "What do you know about it?" And Carducci looked back at him.
"You have heard of it," he said. "Just not under that name. It was recut and retitled The Cabinet of Doctor Coppelius and "
"Oh, fuck you," Jack said, half disappointed and half relieved. "You are so full of shit. Coppelius never existed. It's a ghost film. A hoax."
He remembered the story well. Some buff with a website and too much time on his hands and, it had to be admitted, more than passing skills at both Photoshop and bullshit had started a little viral frenzy nearly a decade ago. He'd been smart enough to bury it in an otherwise-accurate filmography rather than write a big splashy piece on the home page. You'd had to be interested enough to be there in the first place (which, for any demographer, pegged you instantly as statistically likely to be an underachieving white male between twenty-five and fifty) and then choose to follow a couple of links. Even when you got there, there was no flashing sign or anything. It was just another item in a fairly exhaustive listing-with-credits of "Poverty Row Horrors Yet to be Released on Video." Among the perfectly legitimate and verifiable titles, the webmaster what was his online name? Cap'n Cadaver? Something equally ludicrous, anyway had inserted a quiet little entry for a film which nobody'd ever heard of but which the capsule critique made sound like a nasty little treasure:
The Cabinet of Doctor Coppelius US/UK 1932 71 minutes. Dominion Pictures. Alice Lavender, Catherine Hobson, Kurt Crandall, David Batchelor. Dir: Thomas Rheimer, Scr: Patrick Adams, Pr: Carl Bowman, Conrad Fisher. Less expressionist than the Caligari nod in the title might suggest, this low-budget programmer offers instead the kind of unblinking gaze at body-horror that wouldn't become common until after Franju's verité approach many years later. Crandall's mad doctor hilariously obsessed with Flecker's noted line from Hassan, "For lust of knowing what should not be known," which he intones several times with an almost Barrymore level of hammy gravitas teams with Batchelor's alcoholic toymaker to construct a "cabinet of transmutation" that transforms several cast members into life-sized dolls who wreak impressively vicious mayhem on several unsuspecting day players. Lavender, in her only movie, impresses as the plucky gal reporter swept into the lunacy.
Jack had let himself be drawn in to a couple of message board back-and-forths but the Cap'n Colonel Carrion, was it? Corporal Carnal? had stopped posting after several people had called him on his crap, and without a whipping boy to target, the activity on the boards had petered out.
"No," Carducci said to Jack, with the fervency of a true believer and there'd certainly been some of them, including a handful of hipper-than-thous who claimed to have actually seen a print in revival houses in the seventies. "Not a ghost film. A lost film. I mean, really lost. Makes London After Midnight look like something that gets played every other day on TCM."
Jack took the picture back, pretending not to notice how reluctant Carducci's fingers were to let it go. "All right," he said. "Even if that's true, I never heard this Prisoners of the Inferno title mentioned in any of the forums. Why was it recut? Why was it retitled? How do you know it's the same movie?"
"Oh, it isn't the same movie," Carducci said. "They cut it a lot. The Coppelius version never killed anyone."
The website was still there nothing ever really goes away on the net but it was pretty damn dormant. The last update, according to the home page, was a long time ago and the last entry on the forum even older. Jack was more than half convinced that he was wasting his time when he posted a fairly long open inquiry on the thread about Coppelius. He mentioned the original title, even said he'd recently come into possession of an image from the film, but decided not to scan the picture and upload it. For all he knew, he had the last surviving artifact of a truly lost thing and he wasn't going to give it away to bootleggers, even if he doubted that anyone other than him was ever going to visit this site again.
He'd put the still in a Mylar sleeve and perched it in front of his Mr. Coffee so that he could keep looking at it while he nuked himself an excuse for dinner. His computer pinged at him and he wandered from the kitchenette to the main room. He had mail.
The subject heading was Prisoners of the Inferno.
He'd expected no response at all, certainly not this fast and certainly not by eâ??mail. He'd had to fill out a user profile to post on the site and the eâ??dress was a required field but, come on, who sends an eâ??mail instead of just posting on the thread?
The text wasn't as carefully worded as his own, and nowhere near as long-winded.
Very direct in fact. Just six words.
Do you want to see it?
Unlikely to be popcorn, then, Jack thought as he pressed the doorbell on the gone-to-shit bungalow in the middle of a tract at the ass end of Van Nuys.
The door was opened by a woman. She looked about sixty, and like she'd decided not to fight it; muumuu, carpet slippers, can of Molson. She looked at Jack for less than a second, then turned her head and shouted back into the house, "Walter!"
There was no reply. The woman walked away from the door without saying anything to Jack and he wasn't sure whether to step inside or not. After a moment, a heavyset man in an islands shirt appeared from a door toward the rear of the house. "JRosen101?" he called to Jack without bothering to come to the front door.
Jack nodded. "Jack," he clarified, stepping inside.
"Walter," the guy said. Thirty, maybe older. Hard to tell because the fat of his face kept it wrinkle free. "Come on." He sounded a little put out, as if Jack was late or something, keeping people waiting.
The room at the back was tiny but had been set up as a minitheater with four easy chairs facing a small free-standing screen. Jack was surprised to see an honest-to-God movie projector behind the chairs he'd expected to be watching a DVD-R at best but it was too small for 16mm and too ancient for Super 8.
"Standard eight?" Jack asked, kind of delighted.
Walter shook his head as he gestured for Jack to take one of the chairs. "Nine point five," he said.
"You're kidding," Jack said. He'd heard of 9.5mm a home format introduced in the early twenties by Pathé but essentially crushed by Kodak's 8mm just before World War II but had never seen either films or hardware. Carducci claimed to have a 9.5 print of Hitchcock's Blackmail buried somewhere in his storage space, but then, Carducci claimed to have pretty much everything buried somewhere.
Another man came into the room. The Stan to Walter's Ollie, he was five-five and rail thin and sported a pair of black horn-rimmed glasses. Jack wondered if he'd already been in the house, or maybe had a key to the front door.
"Hey, Lenny," Walter said without enthusiasm and glancing at his watch. Jack waited for an introduction that didn't come.
"I'm Jack," he said as Lenny sat down.
"I know," Lenny said. "Did you bring it?"
Jack drew the Mylar-housed still from the computer bag he'd brought it had been either that or a Trader Joe's tote, nobody had briefcases anymore and Lenny took a cursory glance at it.
"Very nice," he said and then, half-turning to Walter, who was threading up an oversized reel into the projector, "The one Forry had? You think?"
"Probably," Walter said, dimming the lights from a remote.
"Stolen," Lenny said. "He was so trusting."
"Hey," Jack said. "I got this at "
"No, no, no," Lenny said, interrupting him. "Nobody's accusing you. I mean, you paid for it, right?"
"Yes, I did," Jack said, refraining from saying how little it had cost him.
"Then it's yours," Lenny said in an annoyingly kind tone. Like Jack needed his fucking blessing.
Walter had sat down. "It's starting," he said, which was Walter for Stop talking.
The print was of the later cut, as Walter he assumed it had been Walter had told him when he'd replied to Jack's reply and eâ??mailed him the address. Interestingly, though, the main title card the one that actually said The Cabinet of Doctor Coppelius was in a font that didn't quite match the cards before and after it, which lent some credence to the idea that the film had once been called something else.
The dupe was a little washed-out the blacks not really black and the actors' faces occasionally slipping into an unpleasant featurelessness against too bright backgrounds but was otherwise in remarkably good shape.
The movie itself was worryingly slow paced, even for Jack and he was a guy who could sit through the flattest Monogram six-reeler without checking his watch even once and the acting was as alternately amateurish and histrionic as the website critique had suggested. Jack had begun to worry that, as was depressingly often the case, the mystery and intrigue surrounding a thing's loss was far more entertaining than the found artifact itself, but once he'd let himself relax into the film's willfully leisurely pacing, he realized he was starting to enjoy it.
The lead girl Alice Lavender, the girl from his still helped a lot. She was just adorable as the feisty little heroine trying to impress both her crusty editor and her policeman boyfriend by cracking the story surrounding the mysterious deaths. And the life-sized dolls produced from the toymaker's Cabinet and sent forth to murder and mutilate anybody dumb enough to piss off Doctor Coppelius were quite successfully creepy. Their skin, post-transmutation, had a pale inhuman smoothness and there was stitching rather convincing stitching on their faces and limbs. Their eyes were completely black the blackness, unfortunately, put in with a traveling ink-out like they'd given Tom Tyler in one of the Mummy sequels but the fact was that, when the actors stood still long enough for the blobs not to move, the effect was surprisingly powerful.
What was really fascinating and torturously enticing was how obvious it actually was that the movie had been cut and had had new scenes added, with both the cuts and the additions serving to dilute whatever power the original may have had. Some of the nastier doll-demon murders simply stopped midcarnag and jumpcut to the next scene, for example, and there was a higher than usual quota of those annoying bits where an Irving the Explainer figure went to quite ridiculous lengths to explain how what might have appeared to be supernatural was actually a combination of engineering wizardry and showmanship gone all evil-genius.
The most egregious and frustrating alteration came at the climax. The movie built to the capture of Alice's character by Coppelius and his toymaker and her insertion into the Cabinet. Thrillingly, unlike every other transformation, the camera followed her in. The Cabinet was bigger on the inside. Much bigger. So much so that it soon became clear that the inside of the Cabinet wasn't the inside of the Cabinet at all. The Cabinet was a portal to Hell and its unlucky entrants were quite literally prisoners of the inferno. This was where Jack's still had come from, this sequence in which the fetishized binding of the girl took on an overwhelming and shaming erotic power. And then, just as she was being dragged from the pillar toward the disturbingly elaborate doll-making machinery, another of those obvious cuts happened and the whole sequence was revealed as being merely the nightmare of the kidnapped girl before she was put into the Cabinet. And then, of course, the door burst open and her policeman boyfriend rescued her.
Jack knew that it hadn't been a dream in the original and that Prisoners of the Inferno must have culminated not only in the activation and operation of the machinery but in the reopening of the Cabinet and the disgorging of whatever doll-demon Alice had been turned into. He ached to see it.
It was starting to rain when they came out, and Jack found himself standing on the curb next to Lenny, both of them looking up at the sky with the vaguely hard-done-to expression common to nonnative Angelenos whenever the weather wasn't perfect. As if Southern California had misled them, brought them here under false pretenses, strung them along like a lover who waits till after the wedding to mention that occasional little problem with bipolar disorder.
Lenny caught Jack's eye. "Did you like it?" he asked.
"Yeah," Jack said. "I did. Overall. How about you?"
"Not as good as the real thing," Lenny said, almost distractedly, as he pulled his jacket over his head like a makeshift hoodie and ran for his car.
Carducci had a small store in one of the commercial alleys off Hollywood Boulevard. Some nice stuff, but mainly repros and shit for the tourists. Kept the prime material for the conventions and the auctions.
"Oh, right," he said, when Jack swung by to ask him about Walter. "Fat guy, Hawaiian shirts? Lives with his mother in some piss-poor shack the top of Van Nuys?"
Jack deadpanned him. "Didn't you just describe every one of your customers?" he said. Couldn't help it.
"Oh, really?" Carducci said, looking Jack up and down blankly, like the sneer was implicit. "Who died and made you Johnny fucking Depp?"
Jack grinned, letting it go. "What about his friend Lenny?" he said. "Little guy? Horn-rims?"
"He was there?"
"Yeah. Like he had bragging rights. Thought he might have been, you know, the boyfriend or something."
"Stay the fuck away from that guy," Carducci said. "Seriously. Grade-A creep."
"What? Like a prick?"
"No. Like a fucking creep. As in creeps me out. For real. Him and his whole nasty little crowd. Used to hang around with Kenny Anger and LaVey. Seriously. They're not into this stuff for the same reasons we are. Got their own agenda. Not nice people."
Carducci's reads on people were usually pretty good, so when Jack got the phone call from Lenny a couple of days later, he wanted to be guarded and careful. But he couldn't be, not when he knew that Lenny creep or not could have only one reason for calling, that he was going to offer access to a print of the real thing, to Prisoners of the Inferno. He wondered if this was how newly hooked junkies felt when they got the first follow-up call from their dealer. Because that's what he was, Jack realized. Hooked. Hooked from the moment he'd stared at the still for the first time and felt that intoxicating rush of being allowed to gaze at the forbidden.
He had no doubt that it was going to cost him this time. Wasn't that how it always worked with junkies and their dealers? But he didn't care. He'd empty his fucking savings account if that's what they asked. He wanted to see more. He wanted to see, he wanted to know. For lust of knowing what should not be known, he thought, remembering Doctor Coppelius's knee-jerk little mantra.
But Lenny didn't mention money at all.
"You seemed...intrigued," he said, as if that were perhaps payment enough.
"Well, yeah," Jack said. Because he, you know, was. The fuck else was he going to say?
Lenny didn't reply. Like he was waiting for Jack to ask, and enjoying the wait.
"You said, not as good as the real thing," Jack said eventually, but still got nothing in return. "The other night." Just the sound of Lenny breathing. "In the rain." He didn't know why the fuck he mentioned the rain.
"I'm going to give you an address, Jack," Lenny finally said. "It's a private address, and I don't want you to write it down. Is that all right?"
Jack said that, yeah, that was all right and Lenny gave him the address and Jack repeated it and Lenny said he'd see him in half an hour and hung up.
It took only twenty minutes no traffic for a change and Jack circled the block a few times so as not to look too eager. It was a shitty apartment building on Franklin, one of those four boxes on top of four more with railed walkways running past all the front doors like the place had wanted to be a motel but had been too stoned to build a fucking lobby.
Jack rapped his knuckles on the third door of the upper level because the bell didn't work quelle surprise and Lenny opened it and ushered him inside. An old man sat in a Laâ??Z-Boy with a blanket over his legs and smiled at Jack with a vague delight, like he couldn't ever remember anymore if he'd met someone previously but had learned to err on the side of presuming he had. Really old. Like he'd cracked a century or was about to.
"Hey there," said Jack, returning the smile. And that seemed to be it for the socializing because Lenny already had his fingers on the handle of the door to the apartment's only other room. "In here," he said, waiting till Jack was practically bumping into the door before gently pushing it open and stepping back to let Jack enter.
Lenny didn't follow him in. "We'll give you some privacy," he said and, even as he was closing the door, Jack saw him half turn toward the old man. "Shall I make you a pot of tea, David?" he said, just before the door clicked shut.
The room wasn't dark at all, though the light from the three grime-encrusted bulbs in the ceiling housing was a dull and bilious yellow. It had been intended as a bedroom, Jack assumed, but it now served another purpose and was untroubled by either furniture or people.
It wasn't empty, though.
There was no projector this time, because no projector was needed. Jack hadn't been brought here to see a film. Lenny hadn't been talking about a print, uncut or otherwise. When he'd said they had the real thing, he meant the real thing.
He meant the Cabinet.
It stood in the center of the room, looking surprisingly substantial for something that was supposed to have been built over seventy-five years ago for a low-budget movie. Good condition, too, with only some rust stains here and there on its patterned brass filigree to show the passage of time.
If Lenny locked the door to the room from the other side, Jack couldn't hear it. Not above the waltz-time minor-key melody that began to sound from somewhere inside the Cabinet, mechanical and painful, like it was escaping a music box built from razors and bone.
The Cabinet door creaked slowly open.
And Alice Lavender stepped out.
She was beautiful still, unchanged from what those audiences must have seen nearly eighty years ago. Unchanged by age, at least. But the Cabinet had done its work and her transmutation was long complete.
The doll girl, pale stitched face expressionless, black marble eyes glinting only with reflected light, came toward Jack with a mechanized grace, her head tick-tocking rhythmically from side to side and her slender limbs clicking audibly with each automaton step.
The fingers of her left hand ratcheted open one by one as she extended her hand to Jack.
Not in threat.
In dreadful invitation.
The transition from the initial darkness of the Cabinet's interior to the infernal light glowing endlessly from vast and distant furnaces was seamless. Jack was one place, and then he was another.
He couldn't tell when Alice had let go of his hand.
"Welcome," said the Doctor as he turned his own hands to show Jack his palms and the terrible implements that bloomed from their stigmata. "Time to play."Hellbound Hearts volume copyright © 2009 by Clive Barker, Paul Kane, and Marie O'Regan
"Prisoners of the Inferno" copyright © 2009 by Peter Atkins
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I think "Sister Cilice" is worth three times the price of the whole book. It's a very good collection that inherited the same strong genes of "The Hellbound Heart," the novella that started it all.
An exploration if the mytholigy hinted at by the hekkraiser films, abd presented first in Ckive Barjers nivella, 'The Hellbiund Heart'. From suggestions of ithe worjs if the mad tiynaker Lemarchand, to lanberynthine passages and profane rituals te storied assembked present a myriad discussiin of th lost, the insatiabke, and the damned, as they seek and find te winders if hell, or have them thurst unwittingky upon them. Some thunk they know what the are seeking, most fubd more then the bargin for. Nine end thier brush with hell the same way they begin..
Hellbound Hearts is an anthology celebrating Hellraiser creator Clive Barker and the world he created with his novella The Hellbound Heart. This is a collection of tales inspired by Barker with some well-known and some not-known authors such as Neil Gaiman, Steve Niles, Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Mick Garris, Richard Christian Matheson, Sarah Langan, Mark Morris, Nancy Kilpatrick, Peter Atkins, Tim Lebbon, Nancy Holder, Yvonne Navarro, Kelley Armstrong and Nicholas Vince - edited by Paul Kane and Marie O¿Regan. The collection also features a foreword by Barker himself, who also painted the spooky, original cover.This book is a treat for any horror fan. These are all twisted, gory and scary stories - that I will admit to having to watch some happy tv before hitting the sack because I was that spooked. Although not all the authors were known to me - I found it a good introduction to their work. I enjoyed all the stories - some more than others. This is the type of book where you can pick and choose the story you want or just read the whole thing through - but it¿ll definitely have your heart racing, glancing over your shoulder every couple of minutes and terrified of things that go bump in the night. I loved every second of it.
What a creepy fun filled read and just at the right time of the year. This book is full of great short stories by wonderful authors. Stories full of Cenobites and creatures made from your worst nightmares. Neil Gaiman's graphic piece was just awesome and Kelly Armstrong's The Collector gave me chills.I really enjoyed this collection of tales inspires by Clive Barker's novella The Hellbound Heart. The stories were so good that halfway through the book I got the urge to re-watch the Hellraiser movies and have since put them on my Netflix queue.If you are looking for a scare this Halloween season, I would highly recommend this book.