If Billy Wilder had made Sunset Boulevard as a German Expressionist silent film, it might have been a lot like this engagingly nutty melodrama from the author-director of such stylish horrorfests as the Hellraiser movies and the genre-classic Books of Blood.
The story opens in the 1920s, when Willem Zeffer, manager to European-born silent film vamp Katya Lupescu, impulsively purchases and transports to America a roomful of painted tiles that graphically depict bizarre sexual encounters set in the context of an unending “hunt.” The lurid “masterwork” thereafter becomes a magnet that draws numerous Hollywood notables to Katya’s mansion in the eponymous Canyon (named for her own heartless sadism). All this unfolds while Barker follows the misfortunes (some 60 years later) of contemporary action-film hunk Todd Pickett, who recuperates at the mansion from botched cosmetic surgery, and the president of an “appreciation society” devoted to Todd, unlovely, unhappily married Tammy Lauper, who follows her hero to this impossibly jaded hell on earth. All the familiar Barker mannerisms appear in profusion: witty satirical jabs (this time at Hollywood’s culture of glamorous excess) blunted by lax, sloppy prose and pretentious diction (“disorientate,” “bizarrity,” etc.); credible and appealing characters (especially Todd, who’s made sympathetic in a long early sequence describing the death of his beloved dog); and supernatural fireworks featuring strange combinations of human, animal, and unknown life forms (you can almost feel Barker’s hand grasping at the mantle worn for centuries by Hieronymus Bosch). Before all hell finally, predictably breaks loose, most readers will have tuned out (the novel is enormously too long). Still, Barker possesses one of contemporary fiction’s wildest and finest imaginations, and the “backstory” of the hunt pictured on those tiles—of a nobleman who inadvertently offends Lucifer and must thereafter spend eternity making reparation—has the power and allure of ancient legend.
If you can tolerate Barker at his most fantastical and effusive, you won’t want to miss Coldheart Canyon. Other readers might want to go back to Jacqueline Susann.