The Venus Complex is something of a small horror masterpiece on its own terms. It’s a little unfair then that every review of this book that’s going to come out, and this one is obviously not going to be any different, is going to make mention of the author’s long association with the genre.
Horror fans will no doubt know that Barbie Wilde was the female Cenobite in the fantasticHellraiser II (she was also in The Grizzly II, but there’s a fair chance that not as many people know that movie). They may even know that her connection to the legendary horror franchise was recently supplemented with a short story for a Hellraiser anthology. Her love of horror is obvious.
The association with the genre, particularly with something as famous as Hellraiser should be enough to get you to at least glance through The Venus Complex. The second part, her deep love and understanding of the genre, will become obvious once you delve into one of the most compelling, intense horror stories to come along in quite some time.
There’s a considerable, growing addiction to madness that is expressed in this book. Told in the form of journal entries by the novel’s protagonist, Michael, the story expresses beautifully something that seems to be a rapidly disappearing art form within horror. This would be the art of subtlety. Michael is an art historian as The Venus Complex opens. A terrible accident is on his mind in the first entry, and in trying to understand what happened that night, in trying to return to the world he no longer feels like he’s really part of, something terrible begins to happen.
Constructing Michael’s frightening, fantastically told breakdown in journal form was a smart move on Wilde’s part. Any other narrative approach to the book would have still given us her ability to find just the right level of details to make her imagery chilling, shocking and deeply affecting. It probably would have even still given us a character that is suddenly making noise in the kitchen downstairs.
Wilde effortlessly realizes Michael as someone who could very easily exist in the real world. We would still get most of what gives The Venus Complex the distinction of being something that should be at the top of every literary horror enthusiast’s wish list, but we wouldn’t get everything. The Venus Complex is full of brilliant, flawless touches throughout Michael’s transition from extremely disturbed, to the kind of serial killer that would eat a guy like Dexter Morgan alive. Perhaps the most brilliant of Barbie Wilde’s inspired touches was the decision to make the book a series of progressively darker journal entries. The progression of Michael’s mindset from first entry to last gives us a wealth of graphic visuals, cold, sadistic humor, equally unsettling sexual touches, and the overall portrait of a truly horrifying figure.
And the most horrifying part of The Venus Complex is perhaps the fact Barbie Wilde makes this figure tragic, doomed-from-the-start to be swallowed whole by his insanity, and all-too-real in every single journal entry.
The Venus Complex is the work of someone who loves and understands the inner workings of truly effective horror, can write with exceptional talent, and combines both of these things into one of the best depictions of steadily mounting evil this side of Poe. Or Clive Barker, for that matter.