THEN: Some movies hit so hard, that you forever remember the moment you first experienced it. For me personally, HELLRAISER opened my eyes to its beautiful atrocities. To see a man created bit by bit from the blood of others, it was a haunting experience. As gruesome as this feature was, it never felt terribly exploitive or horrendous, it did however revel in the darkness of the Cenobites world. Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his ghoulish gang of demonic beasties introduced the intended victims to a puzzle box. Inside this box they found a world of pleasure, but we didn’t see much of that in this series. No, when you saw the shafts of light in the blackness and heard the chains rattling, you were pretty much f*cked.
The madman behind this feature was a writer by the name of Clive Barker. Before his decent into the horrors of HELLRAISER, he had a story credit for UNDERWORLD in 1985 and he wrote the screenplay for RAWHEAD REX in 1986. Both directed by George Pavlou. Barker was displeased with what they did to his work - if you saw RAWHEAD REX you’d understand why. However, once Pinhead arrived in 1987 to offer the comforting phrase, “We’ll tear your sour apart,” it appeared that we may have something truly special in horror. There was something impressive about his ability to blend fantasy with the nightmarish images he crafted.
Barker's next feature was the criminally under appreciated NIGHTBREED. Based on Barker’s own novel “Cabal,” the artist once again delved into some pretty bloody stuff. The story revolved around a young man named Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) who discovers a mythical place called Midian, a haunted world where monsters live. Another high point in this creature feature was offering the role of Dr. Philip K. Decker to legendary director David Cronenberg. While this flick was a box office failure at the time of release, it has lived on to become a cult classic. In fact, in 2014 fans were finally able to own NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT which opened up the world of the monsters in a glorious way.
After the monetary failure of NIGHTBREED, Barker took a little time off. After all, the man was still writing, painting and proving to be a regular, horror inspired, renaissance man. And then, in 1995, he returned with yet another strangely compelling horror feature, LORD OF ILLUSIONS. Based on his short story ‘The Last Illusion’ from the “Books of Blood Vol. 6,” the filmmaker delved into the world of magic with an edge. The cast included leading man Scott Bakula, as well as Kevin J. O’Connor and Famke Janssen. It’s been quite awhile since I delved into this particular flick, and while it didn’t have the impact his earlier films did, it’s one that might be worth conjuring up for a magical bit of fright.
Without a major hit since HELLRAISER, Clive continued to write and have work adapted from his own novels. What may be the most popular adaptation was with director Bernard Rose and the adult and bloody urban legend of CANDYMAN. The 1992 featured Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd who terrified as a haunted soul, one that you might not want to call out his name in front of a mirror. The film received positive reviews and Tony Todd continued to play the character for a few sequels, although none of them were as nuanced and scary as the first. CANDYMAN is arguably one of his best, if not the best, adaptation of Barker’s work, and it is one that is worth delving into for repeat frights.
Aside from CANDYMAN, HELLRAISER and its sequels, there have been a number of adaptations from Barker’s catalogue. There was the made for TV Saint Sinner in 2002 - this one I honestly hadn’t even heard of until looking back at Barker’s career. Then in 2006, Masters of Horror had two episodes based on his stories. In 2008 Bradley Cooper took a ride on THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, where he faced off against Vinnie Jones. And in 2009, both BOOK OF BLOOD starring Jonas Armstrong (BBC America’s Robin Hood), and DREAD, which featured Jackson Rathbone. While not wholly successful, I did find both films to be better than expected.
While we kept focus on Barker’s work in feature films here, this talented man has had quite a fascinating life. He is a playwright, artist, director, novelist and he has a unique collection of photographs which will please some of our readers, while others probably not so much - you can check out "The Erotic Artwork of Clive Barker" here, but be prepared for some explicit full frontal male nudity. He has had a successful career with such novels as “The Damnation Game”, “The Hellbound Heart”, “Weaveworld”, “Cabal”, “Imajica”, “Mister B. Gone”, “The Scarlet Gospels” and his successful series, “Abarat.” And that doesn’t even include his collection of shorts. Clive Barker is a fascinating horror icon, one that has survived serious health issues and one that continues to give fans something macabre. Let’s not forget all the coolness behind Tortured Souls, a series of six action figures and a novelette starring the same characters as the toy collection.
NOW: In 2015, Barker became a member of the board of advisors for the Hollywood Horror Museum. And while we are seeing yet another HELLRAISER with the upcoming HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT, the famed writer is not currently credited on the film’s IMDb page. He was for a time attached to write the script for a reboot of the film, yet another feature that is lingering in its own personal development hell. Currently, he is listed as a producer on TORTURED SOULS: ANIMAE DAMNATAE and JACQUELIN ESS, and an executive producer on WEAVEWORLD and PIG BLOOD BLUES. He is also scheduled to direct TORTURED SOULS, which certainly seems the right fit for a man who created Cenobites.
Clive Barker has had a very unique career in genre. He is imaginative and possibly a little crazy, but that is probably what makes his nightmarish creations so fascinating. If you’d like to see what he has coming, or just immerse yourself in his world, you can check out The Official Clive Barker Website here. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter. Either way, the man has a huge social media presence, and it is a wonderful way to live in his world. While I’m not always big on remakes, it would be nice to see Barker return to Pinhead’s realm once again. Or better still, what about another chapter to NIGHTBREED… I know, not going to happen, but I can dream about it. Thank you Clive for all the wondrous horrors you have shown us, we are all better for it thanks to the darkness you’ve shared.