"All I've ever wanted to do is darken the day and brighten the night."- CLIVE BARKER
So which do you dig on more, Clive Barker's books or movies? Tough call right? After-all, few living legends in the world of horror can lay claim to Barker's particular skill-set. Dude's the preeminent literary crossover, as adept at adapting his own novelistic source material into not just tightly truncated screenplays, but often into a thrilling motion pictures as well. Hell, I think Stephen King only essayed such a feat one time only (MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE), which should give you an idea of the degree of difficulty. As a young artist and novelist who tried his hand a pair of short horror flicks, the Liverpudlian Barker really got his first taste of the film biz when his book TRANSMUTATIONS was adapted into the 1985 b-horror joint called UNDERWORLD. Since then, Barker has gone on to pen a number of scripts, direct four of his own features, and continue to churn out original tales of inspirational horror fiction. But enough of the blandishment...let's show Mr. Barker how we treat his kind around here. With the highest regards, it's Dissection time!
Sheeeee-it! You'd be hard-pressed to argue against HELLRAISER as being Barker's best, most lasting and influential movie to date. I mean, he not only wrote and directed the original tale of Gothic horror fantastique, stamping his own personal authorship on the adaptation from novel to film, the result has also endured over the last three decades as a bona fide horror franchise, with the apotheosis of Pinhead and the Cenobites ranking among some of the all time horror villains. Granted, much like the PHANTASM franchise, part 2 in the series takes the original to unparalleled levels of insanity, but you can't have the second without the first. And Pinhead? The makeup wearing emo-sadomasochist with a pincushion for a face? Come on, not only one of the most original horror baddies we've ever had the (dis)pleasure of laying eyes on, but dude's orders of heinous homicide over the years are nothing short of legendary. And as infamous as his murderous mien remains, even more iconic is Pinhead's frightening appearance. The tight leather bondage, the scars, the sallow complexion, and of course, more used needles than a goddamn Phil Hoffman party.
Interestingly enough, HELLRAISER could have easily never been. You see, it was only a direct result of the disgust Barker felt after seeing his first two novels, TRANSMUTATIONS and RAWHEAD REX, adapted into abysmal b-horror films, that made him want to assume total creative control moving forward. HELLRAISER happened to be the next project on the docket, and as they say, the rest is history. Imagine if TRANSMUTATIONS (UNDERWORLD) and RAWHEAD REX actually satisfied Barker's novelistic intent...perhaps he never would have made a film that has not only long been cemented in the annals of horror cult-classics...but also launched a fertile film biz career to boot. And make no mistake, a cult classic HELLRAISER surely is. So defined and well drawn is Barker's underworld of purgatorial punishment, so uniquely unnerving, so bleak and brutal that, whether or not you even like the film, it's damn difficult to forget about. Not easily shakable is a great quality in a horror flick, and HELLRAISER is so specific in its look, mood, tone and ambience that it remains monumentally memorable even 27 years later. One for the ages indeed!
As a slapdash compendium of his first two short films from 1973 and 1978, in 1998 Barker released the straight-to-video anthology CLIVE BARKER'S SALOME & THE FORBIDDEN. And yeah, of the four films he's directed, this is by far the worst. I mean, the fact he hasn't directed a single stitch of film or video in the 16 year since should tell you everything right there. But even more of an indictment is the way Barker showed regression, not progression, in the three years following the solid LORD OF ILLUSIONS. Sure, he didn't simply tack the two 70s shorts together and call it a day...he did go back and try to update, expand and congeal the SALOME and THE FORBIDDEN into a single, solitary third leg of the anthology. Unfortunately, too much of a fractured step backwards it felt for Barker after gifting us with a trio of legit originals. Too dated, too outmoded, and frankly, too stale and uninspired to compare with the standard he set for himself early on. Let's keep our fingers crossed that Barker's directorial career doesn't end here!
Mr. Barker has exhibited a number of trademarks over the years, none more important though than his utter and complete authorship. Here's a dude so protective of his written word, his long-form novels, that he isn't about to let some unproven or effete intermediary come in and fuck up his work. Instead, like all good auteur filmmakers, Barker not only adapts his own screenplays, he often directs them as well. Or rather, he's not going to a direct a script that he didn't write himself. Which is admirable to say the least!
Inside such parameters, even more through-lines are noticeable. Clive is constantly interested in hellish alternate realities, ones often hidden in our own world. Themes of pain, suffering and despair played out through visual horror-fantastique are ever-present in both his writing and his directing. Additionally, social themes regarding feminism, equality, environmental protection and the like can also be found in his work. Hell, these sub-textual cues are more present in his films than Doug Bradley!
It's kind of tough to excavate a buried diamond from a resume consisting of only 4 directorial plots, but since Barker's 1990 sophomore effort NIGHTBREED grossed only a whopping $8.8 million in the states (his lowest grosser to date), allow us to consider it as the definitive rare find among his CV. Real shit, I'm pretty sure this is my personal favorite Barker flick. Seriously, what's not to love right?! You have the great Doug Bradley leading a forgotten race of deformed-mutant-monsters in an existential death match against humanity's worst and most depraved.
Based on his wonderful tome entitled "Cabal", NIGHTBREED is not only a sturdy example of a thrilling FX driven monster-movie, it's also unique in the way it poses the mutants as protagonists and the humans as their primary immoral foe. We come to root for the wellbeing of the other, as it were, which forces us to look in the mirror at our own human selves and the injustice and intolerance we're all subjected to. As is the case with most of Barker's work, there's a larger social commentary back-dropping what, on the surface, plays like an extremely effective horror yarn replete with stunning visuals. In other words, the message of the movie isn't wielded like a cudgel in order to beat a theme into a viewer's head...instead, there's a subtlety and a nuance to the way macro-themes are addressed that still allow you to enjoy the entertainment.
Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't cast some love at David Cronenberg's inspired role of villainy in the picture as well. What a brilliant idea of Barker's to cast fellow body-horror contemporary, allowing Cronenberg to go bat-shit-bonkers in his antagonistic acting part. Fantastic! Couple his craziness with the exquisitely decorated subterranean sets...the first rate makeup/FX work and dazzling Danny Elfman score, NIGHTBREED holds up almost 25 years later as a hallowed horror hit. Go peep that shit if for whatever reason you've not already!
In addition to the long-gestating announcement of a HELLRAISER remake, which Dimension has reportedly allotted a workable $14 million budget for Barker to develop, Clive has a new project he's poised to write and oversee called JACQUELINE ESS. Currently in preproduction, the flick has the ever-radiant Lena Headey attached to star, with Jovanka Vukovic (THE GUEST, THE CAPTURED BIRD) making her directorial feature debut with the material. Speaking of, peep the intriguing logline:
A woman develops the ability to transform other people's bodies."
Whoa now! A lot to work with there, especially with Barker's brain masterminding the story. However, it looks like he co-wrote the script with Vukovic as well as feature first-timer Christian Francis. I guess we'll see how well the three heads unify to create one cogent voice, or if, as in the past, Barker's flicks are better suited when he's the sole author...the auteur. But then again, he isn't directing JACQUELINE ESS, so I'm sure there's plenty of warped wiggle room between Barker's baleful brain and that of his younger collaborators to create something truly terrifying. Either way, I think I can safely say we're all beyond stoked to see Barker back in the horror realm...in whatever capacity. Not for nothing, dude's been in total absentia from the scene for the last 5 years!
Among the small legion of horror hall of famers, Clive Barker continues to set himself apart. Creatively, the man marches to the beat of his own drum, never conforming to industry standards or generic trends. As a novelist turned filmmaker, Barker's strength not only lies in his originality as a storyteller, but also in having the foreknowledge of when to protect his own material. After seeing shite like TRANSMUATATIONS and RAWHEAD REX go south, Barker bucked up and took total creative control over the his new medium of adaptation. HELLRAISER lives on in infamy as one of the most popular and successful horror franchises of all time, with its primary heavy Pinhead forever trapped in the smoldering ashes of Hall of Fame Horror Hell. That'd be good enough for anyone alone. So when you factor in NIGHTBREED, LORD OF ILLUSIONS, and the inspiration behind CANDYMAN, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, DREAD, BOOK OF BLOOD and others...all extra icing on the cake that is a 40 year career. With JACQUELINE ESS and a potential HELLRAISER redo on the docket, let's hope Barker still has more memories worth layering!