Through 1987-88, British editors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman solicited writers of their acquaintance to share their thoughts on the "best" horror had to offer, from the dawn of time. The result was Horror: 100 Best Books (Xanadu Publications, 1988). The selections were listed in chronological order, with the following weighing in at #76. The synopsis is by the editors.
In 1942, Clipper Bradwin, a promising young army officer from a wealthy family, plans to marry a socially prominent heiress. The lavish ceremony, which takes place at an exclusive Southern military academy, is disrupted by the mysterious ringing of a silent bell, an apparent earthquake, and the bridegroom's sudden attack of sabre-wielding homicidal mania. Although Clipper, his bride, and his demagogue father are killed, his brother Champ and young mother-in-law Nhora survive. Two years later, Champ returns shattered from the War in the Pacific to Dasharoons, the huge family plantation, accompanied by Jackson Holley, a mysterious English doctor. The tragic events that follow are traced back to unpleasant experiences Jackson and Nhora had while younger at the hands of an obscure African tribe, and a race riot-cum-massacre in which Champ's father was dishonourably involved. Farris weaves a powerful and complicated story, and delivers the best modern treatment of the lamia and voodoo themes in horror literature. The novel reflects the author's interest in Africa, the military, social history and America's power elite, as also examined in his Catacombs (1982), Son of the Endless Night (1985), and Wildwood (1987).
No frills: All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By is a unique horror novel; the strongest single work yet produced by the field's most powerful individual voice.
The title countermands the phony melodramatics of drippy gerunds or the exhausted syllabary of horror's titular cliches: dark or blood or night this or that.
"This house was built on the bodies and blood of Africans," notes the half-breed prophet of the resurgent goddess Ai-da Wedo -- a "ravishing serpent woman who waxed and grew powerful as a consequence of É sexual desire." This house is Dasharoons, wellspring of three generations of Bradwins, a sprawling Southern estate still going strong at the close of America's age of slavery. Farris' strongest theme is cultural collision, represented in the collaboration of pedigree that is Little Judge -- half Bradwin, half high priest of ancient African sorcery. Farris' juxtaposition of a partially-sunken Mississippi riverboat with a voodoo temple (secreted in the swamplands that are slowly swallowing the vessel) is the fulcrum image of this complex saga of deadly erotic obsession and racial karma debt repaid.
Far from "feel good" horror that restores order to the world by the final chapter, Farris prefers to concentrate on the evils people wreak upon themselves. The restoration of balance is not always a good or pretty thing, and the ultimately poisonous mingling of disparate cultures in All Heads Turn offers not even temporary respite -- regardless of allegiance, all of the characters are doomed. Apart from being a rare racial horror novel, the fatal magnetism of the Ai-da Wedo and of Nhora Bradwin for Jackson Holley and the cursed Bradwin clan make All Heads Turn the finest modern sexual horror novel yet written.
Most fiction employing Haitian or African magic boils down to elementary vengeance-via-voodoo, or a procedural "how-to" story about little more than its own occult research. The novel's plot is a finely tangled viper's nest of incidents into which Farris has not only deftly braided the voodoo, but dovetailed two fascinating bloodlines united by a common past. The horror elements and the character narrative are inextricably interdependent.
The succinct prose artfully forms instantaneous brain pictures for the reader. Clipper's aborted wedding turns hallucinogenic as the stuffy formalities skew into a surgically dispassionate slaughter. Farris never wallows in artificially inflated detail or masturbatory excess, yet his writing is always unflinching, specific, precise. He is not terrified of good sex between adults, or confused by it, as most of his contemporaries seem to be. The veracity of his erotic passages serves well this book's unusual story, which redefines "love" and presents to us a compelling aberrancy as pure as a genetic mutation. The closing scenes, symmetrically recapitulating the wedding which opens the book, are surreal and hypnotic. The web pulls taut and knots tight. The end is unforgettable, the blackest of fade-outs, a conclusion whose potency does not pale with repeated readings.
Farris claims that he "hated every page" of All Heads Turn while it was in-work, and that "up until the last night [of writing], I had no idea how it was going to end." That night, ironically, preceded his marriage to his second wife, and today he notes the book as his personal favorite among his own novels. "There's nothing that I've seen or heard about that's remotely like it," he says.
Likewise, when Farris is on high-burn, no one can match the skill with which he puts words together. All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By is conclusive proof. Period.
-- David J. Schow