A short while back in his review of Dread, this site’s own Suspiriorum commented on how there were so few films based on Clive Barker’s novels and short stories. I’d never really thought about it before, but, when one considers the amount of material the author has published in the form of both novels and short stories, it’s actually quite surprising how little of his work his work has actually been adapted for the big screen. I mean, sure, there are the Hellraiser and Candyman franchises, but, save for Rawhead Rex, Nightbreed, and Lord of Illusions, we’ve gotten next to nothing in terms of movies based on his actual writing (I refuse to count the ones he’s produced and/or “inspired”). As a matter of fact, up until last year’s The Midnight Meat Train, we’d not seen a film based on one of Barker's stories in over a decade; hardly what one would expect from the author Stephen King once branded the “future of horror”.
Thankfully it seems, Barker’s work is experiencing something of a renaissance these days as three more stories from his six volume series, Books of Blood, have made the leap to film, including the aforementioned 'Dread', as well as 'The Book of Blood' and 'On Jerusalem Street', both of which serve as the basis for Book of Blood.
Simon (Jonas Armstrong), a horribly scarred man, sits in a diner. He’s so weak he can barely able even feed himself, let alone walk out of the place, so, when a seemingly kind stranger offers him a ride, Simon has no choice but to accept. The stranger turns out to be a sociopath named Wyburd (Clive Russell), who has been hired by a “collector” who wants the Simon’s skin. When Wyburd begins to disrobe Simon, he sees that the young man has words carved all over his body. Wyburd offers Simon a deal; tell him how this happened to him, and he’ll make his death as quick and painless as possible.
Simon's story begins with a young girl being tossed about her room by unseen forces. They tear at her clothing, claw at her flesh, and, ultimately, kill her in a manner most gruesome. After the terrified family quickly moves out, paranormal investigator, Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward) moves in, hoping to capture evidence of the haunting on tape, along with her trusty assistant, Reg (Paul Blair). Mary’s also got what she thinks is a secret weapon in the guise of Simon, a student in her class at the university, whom she recognizes as a clairvoyant who’d been part of a famous incident she’d written about.
The very first night in the house, Simon is attacked by something, and Mary and Reg think they’ve finally got the proof they’ve been looking for. On the second night, the results are even more spectacular, but, after some investigation, Simon turns out to be a fraud, and Mary decides to stop the investigation. Simon, however, insists that, while he did orchestrate the events on the first night in the house, the attack on the second night was very real, and he sets out to prove it. This time, Simon is besieged by invisible assailants who use his body as a canvas for their messages from beyond the grave.
Book of Blood is an elegant, sensual, and oftentimes terrifying film that really captures the spirit of Barker’s original short stories. While there’s some deviation for the sake of streamlining things, the movie is still surprisingly faithful to the source material, and, as a fan, I really appreciated that. While I’ve read a few complaints about the pacing of the film, I didn’t find it moved slowly at all, but, rather more deliberately, creating a constant sense of dread and ratcheting up the suspense.
Book of Blood is very much a Clive Barker story, with strong, fleshed-out characters, cerebral scares, and a gothic sensibility that makes the film feel somewhat quaint when compared to the manic pace and seizure-inducing editing style of the horror movies currently in vogue. It’s not a perfect film (the budget deficiencies make themselves glaringly apparent in a somewhat overly ambitious FX sequence near the film’s end), but Book of Blood is a more than welcome respite from the current crop of torture porn flicks and teen-friendly slashers, and is gory , scary, and sexy enough to satisfy both Barker fans and casual viewers looking for a classy horror throwback.
Lionsgate brings Book of Blood to DVD with a solid 1.78:1 transfer, a thunderous Dolby Digital 5.1 mix (as well as a 2.0 stereo track for all of you luddites out there), a short behind-the-scenes featurette, and several trailers for other Lionsgate releases.