Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us B is for Barker!
Clive Barker burst onto the horror scene in 1984 with the publication of his first three short story collections Books of Blood, Vols. I-III, followed in 1985 by Volumes IV-VI. Stephen King declared him “the future of horror” and he won both the British and World Fantasy Awards. The stories were a mixture of horror and fantasy that were often as sexually transgressive as they were graphically violent. And no sooner had he become a name ranked up there with King, Ramsey Cambell, and Dean Koontz, was his work being adapted into film.
He wrote the screenplays for both Underworld aka Transmutations (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986) — both of which were directed by George Pavlou. But it’s safe to say that neither had the same sort of impact on horror cinema that Barker had had in print. Transmutations is practically unwatchable and Rawhead Rex has some nicely offensive bits, but is overall really only for diehard fans. Barker himself was so dissatisfied with the end results he lobbied hard to be given the directorial reins to his next film project, Hellraiser (1987) — based on his novella The Hellbound Heart — and created not only a profitable franchise (there are nine films at the moment with Dimension Films currently working on a remake of the original, with Barker scripting), but he also introduced one of the most iconic and distinctive movie monsters of the past thirty years, Pinhead (played to sadistic perfection by Doug Bradley — a role he would play in all but the latest and most appallingly bad of the sequels).
While many of the following sequels have their positive aspects, unless you’re a true fan of Pinhead and the Cenobites, you can probably leave them untouched. The first two films, however, are well worth one’s time.
The film was a fantastic metaphor for acceptance and fighting against intolerance, but thanks in part to a mishandled marketing campaign and interference in the final theatrical cut, the film failed both critically and at the box office. However what did make it to the screen was still better conceptually than most of the monster movies of the nineties and Barker strove to emphasize that the human characters who were more monstrous than the creatures that lived in hiding underground.
Luckily, in the past year, missing footage of the Nightbreed shoot was discovered and a restored Director’s Cut of the film is soon to be released by Scream Factory! (street date October 28, 2014). This is not to be confused with the Cabal Cut of the film that made the rounds at horror festivals over the past couple of years. That was essentially a fan-made workprint that has yet to receive an official release.
Lord Of Illusions (1995) is a personal favorite of mine. Based on the short story “The Last Illusion,” it is a horror-noir tale that follows occult private detective Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) — who has since appeared in two novels and other short stories — as he stumbles upon a fanatical cult awaiting the resurrection of their leader, Nix (Daniel von Bargen). This is a movie loaded with potential that went unrecognized at the time of its release. Of course, it didn’t help that the studio interfered with the final theatrical cut, neutering it of most of its effectiveness and turning the final act into nonsensical chaos.
Since Lord of Illusions, Clive Barker has concentrated on other mediums, continuing to write and paint, but in 2005 he created the film production company Midnight Picture Show with producer Jorge Saralegui, and has produced four films so far: The Plague (2006), The Midnight Meat Train (2008), Book of Blood (2009), and Dread (2009).