Because we love you, and love to torture our horror writer Tom O'Reily, we've had him follow up on his original foray into Clive Barker's Books of Blood to bring you The Books of Blood part 2: the 90s!
In terms of horror movies, the 90s had nothing on the 80s. Graphic, gruesome violence gave way to an over-reliance on computer generated special effects, and gritty slashers were swallowed up by moody overblown gothic art pieces that were more melodrama than scares. And that was before Wes Craven’s double-edged sword, Scream, determined the path for the second half of the decade. The Books of Blood were not immune to these trends. However their usage was kept to a minimum and overall, the 90s treated Barker's short stories much better than the lackluster offerings in the 80s.
BoB Volume Five (In the Flesh for us Yanks) featured “The Forbidden,” a short story about a masters degree candidate named Helen that was researching graphitti in the poorer neighborhoods of London. As Helen gets drawn further and further into the lives and misery of the neighborhood, she comes face to face with their own local bogeyman: The Candyman. Things do not go well for her as she pays the price for gaining such forbidden knowledge.
Our stock and trade at the Cavalcade is bad movies and making fun of them as much as humanly possible. So, please understand that I do not say this lightly: Bernard Rose’s adaptation of the Barker short story is nothing short of brilliant. Rose managed to take the short story as starting point and circumvented the “Saturday Night Live” problem by adding the supernatural element. In the original story, the Candyman is completely human and creates his legend through killing children with tainted candy and the occasional brutal murder. The hook-handed fiend we’ve come to know and love is almost a total film creation. Rose wisely incorporated Barker’s dialogue for the Candyman character which helped elevate this film in terms of adaptations. Candyman is the first film outside of Hellraiser that captures the evocative language that is one of Barker’s trademarks.
It also doesn't hurt to have Tony Todd’s voice delivering those lines, with Virginia Madsen leading the rest of the cast in trying to survive the supernatural forces that impinge upon what their idea of reality. These are two crucial elements in Barker’s work. His stories are almost always set in a rock-solid reality. It’s just that the characters (and readers) were not aware that reality is much deeper than the surface they see.Also, his stories are about adults. It’s refreshing to watch horror films that are not about teenagers that can barely survive high school, let alone a psycho killer. Add to these elements an iconic film score by Phillip Glass, the appropriate levels of gory violence, and it's no surprise that Candyman still unnerves eighteen years later.
Lord of Illusions (1995)
BoB Vol. 6 (Cabal) featured “The Last Illusion” which introduced readers to supernatural detective Harry D’Amour. Harry is hired by the widow of the world famous illusionist Phillip Swann to watch over his body before it can be cremated the next morning. It is not so easy a job as the demons that Swann dealt with to gain his remarkable skills have come to collect their due.
Six years after Nightbreed, Barker convinced Hollywood producers to give him another stab at adapting his own work. Lord of Illusions is a fascinating horror film for a number of reasons. First, Barker tossed out almost everything from his own short story. Harry is still our main character and a detective but the plot and interactions with the other characters are completely changed as is the villain, Nix was an entirely new character made for the film. The film uses many of the themes from the story such as the difference between illusions and actual magic but everything else is a new story. The level of awareness it takes for an artist to be willing to throw everything out to create a story that is better suited to a different medium is impressive.
Second, Barker attempted to make a hybrid cross between a horror film and film noir and even though the film was not a success, the formula was. The plotline of the film follows standard film noir tropes: beautiful dame with secrets hires gumshoe, gumshoe investigates what she tells him but soon uncovers real truth behind the mystery, gumshoe deals with cops, and gumshoe solves whole mystery and/or ends up with girl. All of these conventions are present in Lord of Illusions; however, instead of fighting over “the stuff dreams are made of,” everyone’s trying to avoid the devil (or at least the nearest approximation) ending the world. Barker’s combination of the genre’s is impressive and worthy of close study. I especially enjoyed the noir look in the graveyard meeting with Scott Bakula and pre-X-Men Famke Janssen.
Third, the villains are wonderful. Barry Del Sherman as the androgynous Butterfield! The man creeps his way through the film with a set of tools that would put Dr. Beverly Mantle (Dead Ringers) to shame. His raizon d’etre is to resurrect his mentor and main threat of the film, Nix. Daniel Von Bargen plays the half-Charles Manson/half-Saruman, all-apocalypse-inducing bad guy with a world-weariness that makes him another in a long line of multi-faceted Barker monsters.
Despite its strengths, there is no denying that the film is a mutt-genre wise. This, and what Barker describes as watered-down theatrical release, made for a poor showing at the box office. Luckily, the DVD release features Barker’s director’s cut which has never disappointed this reviewer. To date, this is the third and final film Barker personally adapted.
“The Body Politic” (Quicksilver Highway) (1997)
Muscle memory allows one to do repetitive activities without thinking. It makes one wonder if knowledge lies in one’s brain or in the body. Barker answers this question directly in BoB Vol. 4 (The Inhuman Condition) in “The Body Politic.” As it turns out, every part of the body has its own consciousness, including one’s hands. And if you think they’re content to do every little thing you need, you are in for a shock. Well, a relatively minor shock in comparison to when the hands start lopping each other off at the wrist and scuttling away to freedom away from their “tyrannical” bodies! Think Evil Dead 2 mixed with the Bolshevik Revolution. Once again, Barker’s gallows humor presents itself in a fun little story.
Quicksilver Highway was yet another attempt to recreate the magic of Tales from the Crypt's short horror fiction, celebrity guests, and an amusing host. Alas, not even Christopher Lloyd in a wig worse than Doc Brown’s could get this show on its feet. But we did get one telemovie/pilot which featured one story by Stephen King ("Chattery Teeth") and Barker’s “The Body Politic.” The adaptation starred Matt Frewer with his rebellious appendages and was fairly straight-forward. Aside from some hilarious images of what look like an army of Thing Addams' taking over the world in cheesy, cheap 90s CGI, it’s fairly forgettable. But if you’re a completest, there are copies available on Amazon (linked to the right).
And with that half-hour episode, Barker fans would have to wait twelve years for the next Book of Blood story to reach the movie or video screen. Hopefully, the next and final installment of this series will not take that long. Join the Cavalcade next time for The Books of Blood part 3: Adventures in Direct-to-DVD Land!