Tuesday, February 07, 2023


Well, it can't all be Dungeon23 content!

I got this book for Chrimble and have been thinking about it ever since. I think I'm ready to put those thoughts down in words. Maybe. Ish.

Published over 11 weeks in sci-fi-mostly anthology comic 2000AD in 2009, Cradlegrave looks very much like an entry in the "Hoodie Horror" genre, and it sort of is, but the cover is a bit misleading. I'll go into more spoilery discussion below, but if you want a brief non-spoilerific review: it's an effective and interesting modern(ish) horror story, with clever writing and excellent art, and it is much recommended.

And now, the meaty bits...

Aside; Hoodie Horror: Former Prime Minister and pig-botherer in chief David Cameron appealed to the middle-classes with his vision of "Broken Britain" in which THE POOR -- gasp! -- were waiting, with hoods and knives, to rape, stab, and steal from good honest hard working Britons and, of course, only a Conservative government could prevent this, mainly by freezing or starving the poor to death, a shameful policy that continues to this day.

This vision spawned a brief mini genre of horror film in which hooded youths became the faceless monsters in the dark, lurking on their estates, ready to pounce. These films were sometimes supernatural, more often not, but were almost always conservative in tone, disgusted and horrified by Britain's "underclass". Eden Lake (2008) is perhaps the most famous example, Harry Brown (2009) the most offensive, and Attack the Block (2011) is a notable inversion or retort, to which we will return.

For more on the genre, there are excellent brief introductions here and here.

So, Cradlegrave then. What we have here is a horror story set on a housing estate somewhere in sunny Lancashire. Ravenglade is the official name, but the locals call it "Cradlegrave" because no one ever escapes; you are born there, you live there, and you die there. Social mobility is a myth told by the rich. Our protagonist, Shane, returns from a stint in a Young Offender Institution intent on making a fresh start and not falling into old habits with old friends, only to find that there is something rotten at the heart of the estate. Something alien.

"Lovecraftian" is the obvious description, and it is superficially so, with a horrible gribbly thing spurting out "black milk" like Shub-Niggurath itself, and even a nascent cult forming around the creature, but I suspect old Howard would have recoiled from the portrayal of the youths as misunderstood rather than irredeemable scum. Like Attack the Block -- I said we'd return -- Shane and his friends are petty criminals who drink and smoke and take drugs, but -- crucially -- that doesn't make them bad people. Their lifestyle is very much presented as a response to the deprivation of their surroundings, almost an adaptation to things they cannot themselves control. There is no judgement; this is all bad, but it's the way it is, and it's not always their fault.

In fact, the real horror turns out to be the nice old couple down the road, Ted and Mary, who just wish for things to go back to the way they were in happier times, before the estate -- and, one suspects, the people -- sprang up around them. Literal "old ones", but perhaps not in the way Lovecraft would have intended. Mary is, or has been physically co-opted by, some sort of entity and begins corrupting the estate; Ted helps her at first, but when it becomes clear that the thing in the bedroom is no longer his wife, escapes in the only way he can. As the corruption spreads and what little social order there is breaks down, it is up to Shane to take action, which he does through a firebomb, reprising the crime that put him in prison in the first place.

It's a bleak, dark story. Edmund Bagwell's art is both mundane at depicting the realities of life on the estate and gruesome when presenting the alien body horror of Mary's transformation and how she, um, "interacts" with the locals. There is little sense of hope. You get the feeling that the estate falls under Mary's sway as much because it's something to do as any overt alien influence. Shane escapes and leaves the horror behind, but while he perhaps "wins", it's clear that not only does the horror continue in his absence, but his fresh start was a, um, non-starter. And of course the larger social issues remain unresolved; you can lob a Molotov at a monster, but you can't burn down decades of deprivation and lack of social support, you can't burn down a class system that is stacked against the poorest and most vulnerable.

(Unless you're French, probably.)

The only way to win is to burn everything down and run away. That's bare bleak, bruv.

Cradlegrave is a greasy, prickly, unpleasant little horror story, and I mean all of that as a compliment. It's deep and fascinating and I wish it was more well known. While Hoodie Horror is perhaps of its time, I think Cradlegrave still has things to say -- alas the poor are still demonised under the Tories -- and is still effective and relevant, like all the best horror stories.


  1. I know I've read this, but my recollection is one of being unsatisfied, so might have to give it another go.

    I think it was the Ramsey Campbell endorsement that had me pick it up.

    1. The plotting is wonky; there's a very slow build, and the closest thing to an antagonist is introduced and despatched in a few pages, so from that perspective it's a bit unsatisfying.

    2. Gave it another go, and it's better than I remember.

      Totally agree about the supposed antagonist - felt a bit like they were tacked on, and maybe because I thought their introduction would take us into 'Dead Man's Shoes' territory.

      The slow build was okay - I enjoyed it - but the climax seemed a bit rushed. Possibly choices were made because it was a limited serial?

    3. I don't know how 2000AD commissions stories, but it does feel like it was supposed to be longer, and got truncated.

      Or maybe it was set for 11 episodes but no one was paying attention to how writer John Smith was getting on, so the pacing went wonky.

      Smith is known to be a bit... eccentric in his writing style at times, so it's possible he just went for a wander as he was writing it, and only just got back on track on time.