Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love the works of Clive Barker – and knows how much I admire the man himself. They should do, after all I’ve devoted a good chunk of my own career to exploring the Hellraiser mythos; in the non-fiction book The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, by co-editing Hellbound Hearts with my wife Marie O’Regan, and most recently by pitting Sherlock Holmes against the Cenobites in my novel Servants of Hell. It’s probably the reason I was asked to write this piece about my personal favourite Barker books and films (which I’ve limited to three each), in this his birthday month – and appropriately with Halloween just around the corner. The answer to that question of my favourites should be fairly obvious from the above – which is why for the purposes of this article I’m putting The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser and The Scarlet Gospels to one side this time, and writing about the other mythologies he’s created that have had a significant impact on me over the years. We’ll start with books…
Books of Blood (1984-5)
In fact, we’ll start at the beginning. It wasn’t the very beginning for Clive, obviously, as he’d spent many years drawing and writing already, chiefly for the stage with his Dog Company, but it was the start of his literary career. It was also, like most people, where I first came across the worlds of Clive Barker – and what an introduction it was! I’ve said this many times in the past, and especially over the summer while doing publicity for Servants, but I came across a copy of the first volume of this collection in a local bookstore at about the same time I began reading the Conan Doyle stories… so the connection was already being made between the two. I was already into horror books, though, thanks to the likes of Herbert, Masterton, Laymon et al. but I could tell just from the cover – which was by Clive himself – that this one would be a game-changer in the field. As if that wasn’t enough, horror legend Ramsey Campbell was giving it a thumbs up in the introduction and it had a quote from Stephen King himself who declared Clive ‘The future of horror.’ It was a lot to live up to, but by the time I got to the stories themselves I could see it was totally warranted. I’d never read a collection like it, and have never read one since – I was so gripped I read it walking home, having gladly parted with my pocket money in exchange for the book. Apart from the beautiful language and way in which these stories were told, you had full on horror in ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ rubbing shoulders with comedy horror in ‘The Yattering and Jack’; and ghosts in ‘Book of Blood’ mingled easily with the body horror of ‘In the Hills, the Cities’. And it was the same with every volume that followed, which I collected as they came out. Books of Blood taught me that you could have a diverse set of stories in one place, and didn’t have to apologise for it (something I’ve emulated myself in collections like Peripheral Visions, Butterfly Man and most recently in Shadow Casting which celebrates my 20 years as a pro writer and can be pre-ordered here). But more than that, it taught me the flexibility of the genre, and inspired me to have a go at a few early shorts myself.
Like The Hellbound Heart before it, this was a shorter story than some of Clive’s other works (The Damnation Game and Weaveworld, for example), but that’s what made it so ripe for turning into a movie… which we’ll come to in a moment. That’s not the only link to Clive’s other most famous mythos, however. In a way, the Nightbreed that populate this story of one man discovering he is a messiah, are the flipside of the Cenobites from The Hellbound Heart. Where the Order of the Gash are controlled, and only visit if you have called them, the ‘breed are chaos personified – driven underground, under a graveyard at Midian to be exact, because of the savage way they act and the terrifying way they look…whether that’s justified or not. It’s something which is picked up on in one of my favourite Barker-inspired comics of all time, Jihad (written by D.G. Chichester and superbly illustrated by Paul Johnson), where the two races clash in a bloody battle. But this was the novel that started the whole ball rolling and it’s a brilliantly chilling observation of religion, not to mention man’s inhumanity and intolerance.
From one extreme to another. If Cabal is one of his shortest books, then Imajica is most certainly Clive’s longest, weighing in at over 800 pages. Longest, most complex and – I’d argue – his most rewarding. Simply put, it’s his finest novel to date; his magnum opus without a doubt. Yet while the scope of this tale remains massive – how could it not, when you’re talking about five dominions, of which Earth is the fifth and remains estranged from the rest – it also manages to be incredibly intimate, told as it is primarily through the wonderful characters of artist John Furie Zacharias, or ‘Gentle’ as he’s known, his former lover Judith, and the assassin Pie’oh’pah. It tackles all the big questions, such as who is God, what we are doing here, and why we feel so alone in the universe – not to mention the usual Barker themes of sex, death and gender. If you haven’t read this one, then I urge you to seek it out; it’s the closest thing to a perfect novel you’ll ever have the good fortune to devour.
On to my three movies now, and the first shouldn’t be a shock given one of my book choices. However, while reading Cabal is a wholly satisfying experience, watching the second movie Clive directed (after Hellraiser) is always a bitter-sweet experience; even if you’re watching the director’s cut. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favourite movies of all time – and definitely one of my Barker favourites, or it wouldn’t be appearing in this list – and I love the way the ‘breed were brought to glorious life by Bob Keen and his crew at Image Animation. But there’s always going to be a bad taste in the mouth at the way this movie was mishandled by the studio system, and the way it was marketed. Trailers that pitched it as some kind of stalk ‘n’ slash with monsters totally missed the whole point that the monsters here are the good guys, showing up the bigoted and – especially in psychiatrist Decker’s case, played to perfection by an eerily calm David Cronenberg – psychotic humans for the true monsters they are. It’s since gained the classic status it deserves, with actors like Craig Sheffer (as Boone), Anne Bobby (as Lori), Hugh Ross (as Narcisse) and Oli Parker (as everyone’s favourite ‘breed member, Peloquin), getting the recognition they so richly deserve. It was also nice to see the original male Cenobites back in roles: Doug Bradley, as the ‘breed’s wiseman Lylesberg, Simon Bamford – with much less make-up than he needed for Butterball – as Ohnaka, and Nick Vince as the moon-faced Kinski.
The only one of my film choices not to be directed by Clive, but writer/director Bernard Rose’s adaptation of ‘The Forbidden’ from Vol. 5 of Books of Blood is definitely up there for me. He totally got the story, to the extent that even transplanting it from Liverpool to the Cabrini–Green housing development in Chicago only enhances its passage from page to screen. Tony Todd is perfect casting as the artist killed by a lynch mob, who cut off his hand, set bees on him and then burned his dead body – and who now exists as rumour and spray-painted phrases on the walls such as ‘Sweets to the Sweet’. While Virginia Madsen is outstanding as Helen, the academic whose whole life unravels because she doesn’t believe in the Candyman – and simultaneously becomes his obsession, a replacement for the woman he once loved. It’s a testament to how popular and how good this movie is, that people won’t stand in front of a mirror and say the main character’s name five times; something I remember Clive telling me on the phone that he really gets a kick out of.
Lord of Illusions (1995)
I bloody love Harry D’Amour! From the moment he turned up in ‘The Last Illusion’ in Vol. 6 of Books of Blood, to his appearances in books like The Great and Secret Show, Everville and – most recently – in the BOOM! Hellraiser comics and his pivotal role in The Scarlet Gospels, he’s always ticked every box for me. I’m a sucker for the old pulp crime novels (only this year I had a crack at my own story in The PI’s Tale for the charity Refuge Collection), so combining this with horror is probably the ultimate for me. But more than that, I think the character of Harry is just brilliant. He’s the reluctant hero, the everyman drawn into the darkness – facing things that shouldn’t exist so that we don’t have to. Cast by Clive himself because he was the physical embodiment of Harry, erstwhile Sam from Quantum Leap Scott Bakula steps into the role like he was born to play him – while ‘soon to be’ Bond Femme Fatale Famke Janssen smoulders up the screen as the widow of deceased magician Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor). The line between what’s stage magic and actual magic soon becomes blurred, as Harry finds himself pitted against would be god Nix (the wonderful Daniel von Bargen) and his cult followers. It’s very dark and bags of fun – perfect Halloween viewing in fact. Best line of the movie, when Harry’s asked if he believes in religion: ‘Oh, yeah. I’ve signed on for all of them in my time. Catholic, Hindu, Moonies. You can’t have too many saviours.’
So there you have it, my favourite Clive Barker books and movies, all highly recommended for Halloween. I hope you all have an equally chilling and chilled out time!
Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over sixty books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts and The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, plus The Dublin Ghost Story Festival in 2016, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge for the Sci-Fi London festival. He is also co-chair of the UK arm of the Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network television, and his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequel to RED – Blood RED – and Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell. He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan, his family and a black cat called Mina. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.
You can buy Paul’s latest releases Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell here, here and at the publisher’s site here, The Crimson Mystery here., The Rot here, here, and on Barnes and Noble here, and pre-order Shadow Casting – which celebrates his 20 years as a professional writer – here.