If you love Candyman, and you should… if Hellraiser haunts your dreams, and it ought to… if you just can’t resist Nightbreed, no matter what the world says…
… Clive Barker must have a hold on you.
Even to those who do not also read his books, Clive Barker is a distinguished member of horror film nobility. The creation of the Hellraiser franchise alone would have cemented his reputation for eternity, but his legacy on the screen continues to grow a quarter century later. Modest but well-received short story adaptations, such as Book Of Blood (2008) and Dread (2009), pop up now and again. A more ambitious production, Ryuhei Kitamura’s The Midnight Meat Train, suffered from a short run and a lack of box office revenue, but the subsequent praise of more and more independent horror critics suggests the slow onset of cult status. Bradley Cooper’s recent rise in popularity is certain to pull in a few stragglers as well.
What you may not know is how diverse the author’s catalog of written work really is. This is mainly because his dedicated horror tales are far more popular for film adaptation than his more subdued and elegant work. Screenwriters and directors who aspire to the fantastic and otherworldly, take note. It’s not all about body horror and transgressive eroticism with Clive Barker. Not that any of us are complaining about that, but there are books and books of an entirely different flavor, ready-written and waiting for the right set of hands to bring them to the picture show.
Currently, the big topic of the hour is the gradual solidification of the Barker-produced remake of the original Hellraiser. The most recent sources indicate that Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer are the chosen team of director and writer. First of all, thank goodness that the New French Extremists have apparently passed (or been passed over) on this project. My own greatest fear was that Alexandre Aja, Pascal Laugier, or perhaps even Gaspar Noé might get this project and make it unbearable, even to stalwart Barker fans. Having the author on board as producer will presumably help to retain the underlying sexiness of all the nasty stuff. Second, Lussier and Farmer are hot right now. They are also hard at work on a third installment of the new Halloween franchise, which Rob Zombie ran hard into the ground but which could still be salvaged now that Zombie has gone back to creating his own stuff. Lussier and Farmer have expressed their ambition to strike a balance between Zombie’s raw new vision and John Carpenter’s original sensibilities. Of course they would say that to stave off the angry villagers, but their recent success with My Bloody Valentine and Drive Angry – a sure bet for popcorn ass-kicker of the year – proves that they are truly up to it if they keep their heads on straight.
Barker’s novel The Hellbound Heart has plenty of unexplored angles which a thoughtful screenwriter could explore in all the right ways for a new generation of the author’s fans. However, a story like this, charged as it is with both the grotesque and the lurid, requires a delicate sense of balance. Barker himself directed Hellraiser extremely well, and has generally proven himself a much better self-adapter and filmmaker than… let’s say Stephen King. Loving Rawhead Rex or Nightbreed is more of a challenge, but they look like Sunset Boulevard up against King’s directing and screenwriting work on Maximum Overdrive or Pet Sematary, respectively. Fortunately, King has finally found a director who can consistently translate his work into great movies without merciless alteration of the text. Consider Frank Darabont’s impressive work with The Mist, The Green Mile, and The Shawshank Redemption. Ever since Rob Reiner hung it up after Stand By Me and Misery, really good King adaptations have been few and far between. Barker has not found his Frank Darabont – that is, a director who really really gets him – but let the search continue. Bernard Rose, director of Candyman gets bonus points for coming closest. Combining the urban myth punch of Barker’s story “The Forbidden” with the real-life terror of Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green projects… pure genius.
The mention of Clive Barker’s name is sure to evoke strong feelings in those familiar with his work. Curiously, though he is inextricably linked to stylish and horrific movies, his body of work extends a good deal beyond the overtly nightmarish. Following early successes like The Hellbound Heart, Cabal, and Books Of Blood, Barker reinvented himself as a fantasy writer whose interest in scaring readers took a backseat to weaving bizarre tales of wonder. Books like Weaveworld, Everville and Imajica allowed him to flex some entirely new muscles, and it really worked. Surprisingly, Barker’s straight-up fantasy work has been, to my knowledge, unexplored by screenwriters.
Barker’s first novel The Damnation Game is mired in development hell, and may stay there. A wonderfully frightening version of the classic Faust legend, it is nonetheless so graphic in every conceivable way that faithful adaptation into a visual medium would probably be way too much. Perhaps one of his less extreme works might be worth trying out for the movies. My first choice would be Galilee, barely edging out The Hellbound Heart as my favorite of his books. A sort of mythological romance which pits a powerful American family against a clan of demigods in exile, Galilee is a wonderfully unique piece of work brimming with intrigue, sex, and exotic atmosphere. I would love to see this movie, and if nobody more suitable comes forward I may try to adapt it myself. Surely that threat will frighten some of you into action.
Clive Barker has lent his eyes and hands to virtually every medium, from page to the screen to the stage to the canvas to the console. However, film fans know him particularly as a horror master. He still has so much material for gifted fantasy filmmakers to unearth that perhaps we could dispense with further Candyman sequels and retire the Hellraiser juggernaut with contented hearts, and enjoy a Clive Barker renaissance clad in all new colors.
Roll call! Fellow Nightbreeders, Candymen, Evervillagers, Great and Secret Freaks … whatever you Barkerites name yourselves. What underappreciated Barker treasures would you like to see put on screen? And what kind of directors have the chops to make it happen? Should Clive keep directing his own, or does a fiendish up-and-comer deserve a turn in the chair?