Thursday, February 18, 2016

Secret Movie

Ancient Images (1989) by Ramsey Campbell: Probably the sleekest, most thriller-like novel in the prolific Ramsey Campbell's catalogue, Ancient Images is a story of detection with occult elements that begin to dominate as the novel progresses. 

It's 1988 in London, England. Metropolitan TV film editor Sandy Allan witnesses the baffling, apparent suicide of her friend and mentor, a film historian who had just announced that he'd secured a copy of a long-lost 1938 Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi British horror film. But the film isn't in Sandy's mentor's ransacked apartment. 

In order to help deal with her trauma, Sandy uses the mentor's notebook to reconstruct a list of people to contact about the film. She takes holiday time and with the help of an American film writer sets out to see if she can track down another copy of the film.

Her quest takes her across much of England. Many of the actors and production staff remain alive 50 years later. Not so much the director, who died in a car crash mere days after the completion of filming.  

Campbell does such a fine job of describing the fictional film that one starts to wish it were real -- if so, it would be one of Karloff and Lugosi's finest on-screen team-ups. Along the way, Campbell deals with anti-horror, censorship crazes in Great Britain in both the 1930's and 1980's. The English peer responsible for the initial quashing of the film invoked the good of the British people back in 1938 as to why this horror film -- and horror films in general -- shouldn't be allowed in Great Britain. In 1988, the 'Video Nasties' censorship hysteria is in full-blown inferno.

But Sandy won't be dissuaded, despite increasingly weird goings-on, the mysterious death of her cats Bogart and Bacall, and a growing sense of being followed. Campbell has noted that Sandy is perhaps his least tortured, most 'normal' protagonist. This aids in the generation of suspense -- she's not the sort of Campbell character who would believe in even the possibility of the supernatural. All those times she thinks she sees something at the edge of vision -- well, they can be explained away. Can't they?

Its likable, uncomplicated protagonist and its detective-thriller architecture make Ancient Images Campbell's most accessible book to non-horror readers, in my humble opinion. It's a terrific ride with a tense climax. Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Good to know. I think I read this one as a teenager but don't recall for sure. One of the few vintage Campbells I actually *don't* own today!