Sommerleigh Pollonais, Horror Head Writer
If Stephen King’s work is a steak dinner, and Dean Koontz is your favourite chicken combo, then Clive Barker’s adaptations is a sushi platter. Not everyone likes it, most are afraid to even try it, and then there are those who after taking a bite discover they just found something truly exquisite.
Like sushi though, he’s not for everyone. Barker’s brand of horror pulls no punches and is an unapologetic blend of sex and gore. But while he may not be as prolific a writer as King and Koontz, and his work isn’t as, for want of a better word, mainstream, Clive Barker has made his own indelible and unique mark on the world of horror. With a reboot of Hellraiser in the works, and HBO developing a television series based off the novels as well, now is the perfect time to take a look back at some of the best adaptations from the macabre mind of Clive Barker.
Here are my TOP 5 CLIVE BARKER MOVIES:
#5 The Midnight Meat Train
Based off the story of the same name in Volume One of Barker’s Books of Blood, the story follows a photographer travelling on the city’s subway when he discovers not just a serial killer, but an entire secret and horrific world hidden in the tunnels of our own.
Visually one of the sleekest looking film adaptations of his work, director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus) delivers with tons of gore and mayhem befitting Barker’s work. Bradley Cooper (Guardians of the Galaxy/A Star is Born) is a solid leading man, but other than that, there isn’t much here in terms of character development. That said, the ending sticks closely to the novella, and keeps you rooted horrifically in the darkest world of the old gods. So props to them for not taking the easy/happy way out.
#4 Lord of Illusions
Adapted from Volume Six of the Books of Blood (most of his films are adapted from this series, so you’re gonna see it pop up throughout) and one of my personal favourites, this is one of those movies that sadly sailed under the radar of many a genre fan.
When a private investigator played by the awesome Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap/Star Trek: Enterprise) is hired to watch over a corpse, he soon finds himself in a battle with demons, magic, and other threats straight from the depths of hell. Clive Barker directed this one himself, and it’s a fantastic blend of film noir, fantasy and horror. Bakula is great as the PI with a supernatural history (kinda like John Constantine) and while the CGI doesn’t hold up (it never really does) the solid narrative, intriguing mystery, and old school Hollywood aesthetic easily makes this one of his best to date.
Adapted from Barker’s novella Cabal, Nightbreed is not only a cult favourite, but a film that has regained some of its former glory (thankfully) due to the director’s cut finally being released.
It is the tale of a troubled young man who is drawn to a place called Midian where a variety of peaceful monsters are hiding from humanity. Throw a serial killer into the mix and Nightbreed, even with all of the studio interference, is a must see for any fan of Clive Barker.
Not sold on it yet? Well how about the fact it’s directed by its creator (Barker of course), it’s scored by none other than Danny Elfman (Batman 1989, Beetlejuice and many more), and the king of body horror himself, David Cronenberg (The Fly, Scanners), plays the serial killer? C’mon, you know you wanna check this out now!
Adapted from his novel, The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser is easily Barker’s most recognisable adaptation. It is a story of a young woman who visits her father and his new wife only to become entangled in the hellish landscape unlocked by her new mother-in-law in her quest to free her dead lover from Pinhead’s grasp. Whew! That’s a mouthful!
Roger Ebert famously disliked this movie and claimed it lacked imagination. While I totally respect Ebert, I have to disagree with his assessment of Barker’s feature debut. Even with a limited budget, the sights and sounds of Hellraiser leave an indelible mark on all who’ve seen it. The acting is solid for what is arguably a slasher film. And Pinhead, who was never even meant to be a main character, has become an icon of horror in his own right. However you may feel about the sequels, the original Hellraiser remains one of the most memorable of Barker’s films ever made. But, as famous as this movie and its main villain is, there is one other that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Most horror fans can spend hours arguing which film in a filmmaker’s body of work is the best, but I honestly think there is no fan of Clive Barker’s books who wouldn’t agree that Candyman is the best adaptation of them all.
A woman researching urban legends learns the tale of The Candyman, a mythical figure who is summoned by saying his name five times into a mirror. She ends up discovering the hard way that Candyman is as real as they come, and he wants her to “be his victim.”
Based off Volume Five of the Books of Blood called “The Forbidden”, Candyman isn’t just another monster like Jason or Freddy, but holds the distinction of also being a monster you somewhat sympathise with.
Director Bernard Rose took this novella and turned it into one of the most iconic pieces of horror cinema ever created. And the modern changes made to the story (setting it within one of the most dangerous ghettos of that time in Chicago, Cabrini-Greens, instead of the original location of contemporary Liverpool, England) was just one of the wise choices made that caused this film to resonate not just with viewing audiences, but with critics alike.
Tony Todd’s voice, Virginia Madsen’s vulnerability and strength, the allegories of race and class divisions in America, that haunting score by Philip Glass and, of course, Clive Barker’s mix of the beautiful and the brutal, all helped create the kind of horror movie that makes horror fans proudly exclaim to those who think horror movies are not worth watching, “you couldn’t BE more wrong!”
Whether the remake turns out to be, and whether it is just as good as the original or not, doesn’t even matter. Candyman will now and forever be an iconic horror movie and easily, the best adaptation of Clive Barker’s work to date.
So what’s your favourite Clive Barker film adaptation? For my Top 5 Horror/Thriller Films Based on Dean Koontz Books you can click here. And for more than 150 horror movie lists and film reviews you can click here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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