Clive Barker has always been a master of world building horror which stems from his exquisite, twisted, and often blood-stained worlds that he creates through his many short stories, novellas, and novels.
Many of his literary creations have been projected onto the masses via the cinematic lens. His short stories and novellas have been elaborate in their complexity and scope to be made into feature films. Sadly, no one has adapted of his novels for the screen but this may be that novels such as Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show, and Damnation Game are so vast and complex in their scope, that the might be better served for episodic television (there has been whispers of HBO and Director David Gordon Green bringing the puzzle box to the small screen, but that’s another story).
Here are the nine films (so far) that have been adapted from the written works of Clive Barker. Here’s to a spirited discussion of disagreements, but I hope I’ve done Mr. Barker proud.
9. Rawhead Rex (1986)
What can I say about this mess of a movie? This movie is the first movie adapted from a short story of the same name. Rawhead Rex is the second story in Volume 3 in Barker’s Books of Blood book series.
A farmer somewhere in Ireland unearths a large stone from his field unleashing a sizeable creature that begins to wreak havoc through the town. In the meantime, an American writer Howard Hallenbeck (David Dukes) is in the town doing research on various religious landmarks and iconography. He comes across a strange looking stained-glass window in a local parish and asks the verger Declan O’Brien (Ronan Wilmott) about it. He directs him to the Reverend Coot (Niall Toibin) who tells Hallenback that he will get O’Brien to provide him the parish’s records and he will have them in a few days. O’Brien, seeing strange visions upon looking at the stained glass, realizes that the creature is the god Rawhead Rex has returned. O’Brien goes insane, destroys the parish’s records and other documents within the church to prove his worth to his new god.
As the carnage of Rex grows throughout the town, Hallenback makes the connection of the stained-glass window with the creature and finds the icon inside the altar that will destroy the creature.
Although this was Barker’s second screenplay (the film Underword aka Transmutations was his first), the mention of this movie incited audible groans from Barker (at 07:23) :
Director George Pavlou, who also directed Underworld, does a competent job, the acting is decent, and the storyline is interesting at times.
And then there’s the creature..
Rawhead Rex looks straight out of a really horrible Hammer film that no one would ever put their name on for fear that they would never get another job and would make Roger Corman laugh at first sight. This hairy-backed abomination man in a rubber suit with the glowing red blinking eyes and the two rows of moving teeth makes Rex funny rather than scary. It’s no wonder that Barker groaned at this.
In a 2010 interview, Barker talked of a remake and described Rawhead Rex as “a nine-foot phallus with teeth”. Although the short story is not one of his best, if any of Barker’s films based on his literary works should be remade, this should be the one.
Arrow video made a special edition Blu-ray release of the film in 2018
8. Book of Blood (2009)
This supernatural erotic horror mystery film is based on two of Clive Barker’s short stories Book of Blood and the sequel On Jerusalem Street (a postscript) from the first and the six volumes of The Books of Blood respectively.
A stranger named Wyburd (Clive Russell) sees a disfigured man Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong) at a diner. Wyburd convinces Simon to get into his truck. Simon complies, passes out, and awakens strapped to a gurney in a dark room. Wyburd tells Simon that he works for a man who looks for unique skins. Wyburd exposes Simon’s skin which has numerous words and phrases carved into his skin. Wyburd gives Simon a choice of a slow or a quick, clean death dependent on if Simon tells the story of his skin to Wyburd.
Simon tells the story of Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward), a professor of the paranormal who seeks out Simon who has clairvoyant powers. Intrigued and attracted to Simon, Mary conducts experiments of observation on Simon in an abandoned house that once belonged to an occult leader. Simon is attacked by various apparitions which scrawl numerous words and phrases not only on Simon’s bedroom walls, but on Simon’s skin. Tired of the numerous assaults and observations, Simon escapes the house.
Wyburd, unmoved by Simon’s story, kills him quickly, skins Simon, and places his written flesh in a suitcase. Wyburd then checks into a hotel room where Simon’s skin wreaks revenge on Wyburd. Mary tracks down Wyburd to his hotel and reclaims Simon’s skin.
This lurid tale was co-written and directed by John Harrison (Tales from the Darkside: The Movie). Although it has some moments and the acting is adequate, it doesn’t have much cohesion as the ones further up on this list as it seems to focus more on the sex between Simon and Mary and not the supernatural horror that hounds them both.
7. Lord of Illusions (1995)
Loosely based on the short story ‘The Last Illusion’ in Volume 6 of ‘The Books of Blood’, Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) is hired to investigate a case where he stumbles upon a fortune teller named Quaid (Joseph Lattimore) who tells D’Amour that “The Puritan” is coming as he is dying from an attack from a man named Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman). As he furthers his investigation, he finds out from a former cult member Jennifer Desiderio (Shelia Tousey) that “The Puritan” is also called Nix (Daniel von Bargen). It is also revealed that Nix is coming back after thirteen years of death and burial.
D’Amour’s trail leads him to an illusionist by the name of Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor). He attends one of his shows with Swann’s wife, Dorthea (Famke Janssen). Swann’s show goes awry as the sword illusion goes wrong, killing him. It is later revealed by D’Amour that Swann faked his own death and Swann attempts to kill D’Amour out of jealousy of Dorthea and D’Amour’s coupling as Dorthea confesses to D’Amour that her marriage to Swann is out of convenience and gratitude for saving her from Nix as a young child. D’Amour convinces Swann to track down and put an end to Nix and his cult of followers.
Written and directed by Clive Barker and currently the last film he has helmed, this film starts out well but then it falls apart and ends abruptly. It seems that Barker wanted to get into the mainstream with this detective noir combined with magic and the supernatural, but it doesn’t seem to work. This film seems like a precursor to the action adventure horror blockbuster The Mummy (United Artists distributed both of these films), but Lord of Illusions doesn’t have the effects and big budget that The Mummy possesses. Scott Bakula is too young and pretty for Harry D’Amour and Famke Jannsen’s talent is wasted as Dorthea is one dimensional. Barker’s straight-on horror films do much better on this list.
The film has subsequently been released on BluRay by 101 Films.
6. Quicksilver Highway (1997)
This television anthology movie has storyteller Aaron Quicksilver (Christopher Lloyd) telling two stories. One is Stephen King’s The Chattering Teeth while the other is Clive Barker’s The Body Politic. Since this is a Clive Barker list, I will be focusing on the latter and not the former.
The Body Politic is based on the second short story in volume 4 of the Books of Blood. The short story consists of a man and how his hands want to rebel against his body. The man’s left hand gets its freedom in a gory and gruesome way with help from his right hand. Once freed from the body, the one hand convinces other hands to do the same in gaining freedom.
The television movie is written, directed, and co-produced by Mick Garris; an expert in adapting many Stephen King stories and does a great job adapting and directing the Barker short story.
The film adheres to the short story with a few deviations: Doctor Charles George (Matt Frewer), is a very successful plastic surgeon who has it all: A successful practice, expensive car, big house, and an attractive an attentive wife, Ellen George (Cynthia Garris). All is well except for Doctor George’s hands start to have a mind of their own and devise a plot for freedom and revolution. A cameo by Barker as an Anaesthesiologist is a nice touch and adds to the humour of the film.
Garris combines horror and comedy very well in this made for television movie that was originally intended to be a television series for Fox. Although the material is a bit dated, it still holds up rather well.
5. Dread (2009)
Based on the short story of the same name, film student Stephen Grace (Jackson Rathbone) befriends fellow student Quaid (Shaun Evans) and, as a team, partake in a student film project about what people fear. Frustrated and angry, Quaid takes the project to the next level by abducting Stephen’s love interest and film editor Cheryl Fromm (Hanne Steen) and one of the previous interviewers Joshua Shaw (Jonathan Readwin). Quaid conducts experiments of isolation and sadism on each of them much to Steven’s anger and despair.
Written and directed by Anthony DiBlasi, this film adheres very closely to the short story, but with several unexpected twists in the finale. This was one of the films I didn’t know about until I did this list, and, with the well-written screenplay, deft directing, and great casting, I’m glad to have experienced of viewing Dread.
4. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Based on the second short story in volume one of The Books of Blood, Leon Kaufman (Bradley Cooper) is a photographer who photographs the dark and grimy underbelly of New York City. Rejected by Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields), a prestigious gallery owner due to the lack of risk in his photographs, Leon becomes emboldened by this challenge. He ventures into the subway late at night where he is confronted by Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a butcher at a meat packing plant during the day, murderer in the subways at night. Leon’s late-night excursions in the subway system have traumatic effects, straining his relationship with his girlfriend Maya Jones (Leslie Bibb). As Leon searches for the perfect shot, Maya and Leon’s friend Jurgis (Roger Bart) attempt to track down Mahogany in order to make sense of Leon’s odd behaviour and to stop Mahogany’s killing.
The acting is superb with Bradley Cooper playing the obsessed lensman and Leslie Bibb playing the antagonised but determined girlfriend. The biggest nod goes to Vinnie Jones as the silent tongued, hammer wielding butcher. He is, without a doubt, a killer fit!
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Nightmare Cinema) and produced by Clive Barker and Anthony DiBlasi (Dread), The Midnight Meat Train is, despite being a bit cartoonish and having some bizarre elements (what the hell is Mahogany cutting off of his chest? And what the hell are the pills he’s taking?), a gory good time.
3. Candyman (1992)
Based on the short story The Forbidden which is the first story in volume five of The Books of Blood, Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a semiotics student in Chicago, becomes intrigued by the Candyman lore especially the part of looking in the mirror and saying his name five times in order to summon him with Candyman killing the person who calls for him with a hook that is a substitute for his severed right hand. Helen, in a conversation with two cleaning ladies, divulge that Candyman killed a woman by the name of Ruthie Jean and that Candyman resides in the Cabrini-Green projects in the south-side of Chicago.
Accompanied with her colleague Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Walsh (Kasi Lemmons), they venture into the housing project to find more information. They meet Anne Marie-McCoy (Vanessa Williams) who provides more testimony on Ruthie Jean’s murder.
At a dinner engagement, Helen and Bernie gain more insight from Professor Philip Purcell (Michael Culkin) as he tells the story of Candyman who was the son of a slave that sold shoes after the Civil War. After falling in love with a white woman that he was hired to paint and has a child with her, a lynch mob cuts off Candyman’s right arm and smears him with honey, leaving bees to sting him to death. His body was then burned, and his ashes scattered around the land where Cabrini-Green was built.
Helen returns to Cabrini-Green where she confronts the real Candyman (Tony Todd) who tells her that because she discredited his legend, he must shed “innocent blood” to perpetuate his story.
Written and directed by British director Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved, Frankenstein (2015)) and Clive Barker as Executive Producer, this urban tale, which was switched to Chicago from Liverpool where the short story originates, is dated and indulges in the stereotype of the virginal white woman Helen and the demonisation of Candyman, who happens to be black. Despite this, it is a satisfying and well-done film. I’ll be very curious what director Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions will do with the reboot as the demographics of Cabrini Green has changed.
We highly recommend the 2019 BluRay release from Arrow Video.
2. NightBreed (Director’s Cut) (2014)
I chose the Director’s Cut as this was this was the original vision of the film (this film was first released in 1990). Based on the novella Cabal, Director and Writer Clive Barker leans more into monsters and fantasy rather than horror as Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) dreams of a desolate graveyard in the middle of nowhere called Midian where monsters are accepted. Boone is seeing a psychotherapist named Phillip Decker (David Cronenberg) at the urging of his girlfriend Lori Winston (Anne Bobby) to find out why Boone is having these ‘bad’ dreams. During one of their sessions, Decker confronts Boone and tells him that he has killed numerous people (when, in fact, Decker is the true killer) and gives Boone pills that wind up being LSD. Drugged and guilt-ridden, Boone steps in front of a truck in an effort to kill himself.
The effort fails and he winds up in the hospital where he overhears Narcisse (Hugh Ross) who wants to go to Midian. In a gory confrontation that culminates with Narcisse trying to reveal his true face to Boone, Boone escapes to Midian with Decker and the local police in pursuit. Boone is attacked and bitten by Peloquin (Oliver Parker), one of the monsters of Midian. Boone escapes Midian and is confronted by Decker and the police. The confrontation ends with Decker betraying Boone. The police then riddle Boone with bullets, killing him.
When the coroners take a break from the autopsy of Boone, they find that Boone’s body has disappeared from the morgue. Upon further discovery from Lori and Decker, they realise that Boone is not dead, but is one of the Midian monsters they call the Nightbreed. Upon Decker’s insistence and manipulation, the locals and the police go to Midian and an epic battle ensues between the humans and the Nightbreed.
Thanks to Mark Miller, the co-head of Clive Barker’s production company Seraphim Films, we have the privilege of having what is called The Cabal Cut. Laboriously piecing together pieces from a workprint of the film that was considered lost, Miller created a far superior vision of the film as the storyline adheres to the novella much better and the ending is more coherent than the 1990 theatrical cut. Watch both and feel free to disagree.
Despite some of the sentimental sap that oozes out of the storyline between Boone and Lori from time to time, the performances are extremely good with Craig Sheffer as the handsome but complex leading man, Anne Bobby as the determined and headstrong girlfriend, Hugh Ross as the comic sidekick, and David Cronenberg as demented deadpan killer.
Check out the new 2020 BluRay release from Arrow Video.
1. Hellraiser (1987)
I tried like hell (no pun intended) not to pick Hellraiser as the top movie. Despite this not even being my favourite Hellraiser movie (Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 is more my speed), and it being a tough list to sort out, I had to give it the top nod.
Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart, Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) purchases a mysterious puzzle box that he plays around with in an abandoned house. When he solves the puzzle box, he summons a group of “explorers” called the Cenobites who introduce him to various carnal pleasures. Fishhooks on chains emanate from the puzzle box, tear into Frank’s flesh, and drag him into their inter-dimensional hell.
Some time later, Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson), Frank’s brother, and his wife Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins) move into the abandoned house in order to save their strained marriage. Finding Frank’s artifacts in the house, Julia recalls her affair with Frank.
A mishap moving a mattress causes Larry’s hand to bleed profusely in the room where Frank and the puzzle box resided which is now vacant. The blood from Larry’s wound causes a resurrection of Frank from the floorboards. The following night, a skinless corpse-like Frank is discovered by Julia. Frail and helpless, Frank convinces Julia to find him blood to “make him whole again”. Julia, still infatuated with Frank, agrees to help. Julia proceeds to bring back unsuspecting men back to the house for Frank to feed upon.
Kristy Cotton (Ashley Laurence), Larry’s daughter from a previous marriage, spies on Julia bringing men to the house. When Kristy confronts Julia, she is met by the skinless Frank who tries to have his way with her. Confused and distraught, she finds the puzzle box, attacks Frank with it and then throws it out the window to retrieve it as she escapes the house.
Overwhelmed with delirium, Kristy passes out on the street and awakens in a hospital room. As she plays with the puzzle box in the room, she summons a creature called the Engineer who she escapes from but then summons the Cenobites who want her soul. She tells them that Frank Cotton escaped from their clutches and she knows where he is. The Cenobites agree but if she cheats them in the pursuit, they’ll tear her soul apart.
The film does deviate from the novella, but I think that the deviations make the film better than its source material. I wish that the Engineer was similar to the novella rather than looking like a rubber worm with legs and teeth.
This was the first film I saw that was ‘world building’. This film is truly a horror classic and broke ground for many other copycat films such as Dark City, Cube, and Event Horizon. Despite some of its low-budget stylings such as the Engineer looking like it does and the horse-head winged skeleton creature at the end of the film, this film has a lot of bang for, in Clive Barker’s words, “the sucker’s deal” of a one-million-dollar budget. The film holds together, ages well and blows my mind every time I view it.
We highly recommend the BluRay boxset from Arrow Video.
Brannon Braga (The Orville) has directed ‘Clive Barker’s Books of Blood’ anthology feature that will be released on Hulu. Seth MacFarlane is one of the producers on this series.