Reincarnation in horror…

While on vacation, I stumbled across one of Brian Lumley’s early novels, Khai of Khem, a fantasy adventure story set in pre-historical ancient Egypt. One of the major plot points of the story is the idea that Khai has, in essence, already lived a reincarnated life in the future, and his knowledge helps him fight his foes. That reminded me of a few other horror tales in which reincarnation is a major plot point, and it seemed worth a post to discuss them!

Interestingly, most of these stories are really horror/fantasy tales, with a manly adventurer having lives in both the modern world and the fantasy world. I’m not sure why this would be; perhaps reincarnation is a convenient tool to connect the modern reader to the fantastic protagonist (“It could happen to you!”).

Anyway, the tales. Those that I could find and recall are:

  • Khai of Khem (1981). This Brian Lumley novel is a fast-paced story about the titular Khai, an Egyptian whose family is murdered by a deformed, perverse Pharaoh. Khai vows revenge, and he engages in many perilous (and sexual) adventures to accomplish his quest. Along the way, his spirit is tossed into modern times by the Pharaoh’s minions, and his friend must travel to reclaim him. The book is quite entertaining, though it contains a little too many graphic and violent sexual descriptions for my taste.
  • People of the Dark (1932). Khai is clearly Lumley’s take on the classic sword-and-sorcery of Robert E. Howard, but Howard has his own take on the reincarnation tale. The first line is a grabber: “I came to Dagon’s cave to kill Richard Brent.” John O’Brien plans to ambush Richard to eliminate his rivalry for the love of Eleanor. But when he arrives at the cave, he finds that he has been there before — in a past life long ago. John relives his time at the cave as Conan the barbarian, and his interactions with the past incarnations of Richard and Eleanor. All three must face the horrors of an evil subhuman race which lurks within the caves.  But what does this imply for the present age?  This is by far one of my favorite Howard stories.
  • The Night Land (1912).  I discussed this William Hope Hodgson tale in a previous post.  The narrator dreams of a future life in which the stars have burned out and humanity hides within sanctuaries for protection from malevolent beings which lurk outside. It’s a flawed tale, but the concept and the imagery is amazing.

At least a couple of horror movies have been made on the subject of reincarnation, as well:

  1. Dead Again (1991).  This Kenneth Branagh thriller involves a private detective (Branagh) who tries to determine the identity of a mute amnesiac woman (Emma Thompson).  They soon learn that their fates are tied together through a horrifying event in a past existence…
  2. Reincarnation (2005).  A woman takes an acting role in an on location reenactment of a murderous rampage that happened many years before.  She begins to suspect that she has a connection to those past events.  This Japanese film was part of ‘Eight Films to Die For’ 2005.

I can’t particularly recommend these films, because: (for 1.) it was enjoyable but not great, and (for 2.) I haven’t had a chance to see it!
This whole discussion reminds me that I’ve got my own reincarnation story that’s been floating around for years in my head; maybe I’ll get motivated to write it!

This entry was posted in Fantasy fiction, Horror, Robert E. Howard. Bookmark the permalink.

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