The Top 5 Clive Barker Film Adaptations
There are few imaginations as dark and contorted as that of Clive Barker. The famed author has made a name for himself by destroying stereotypes and creating often unfathomable concepts with which to deliver his unique brand of terror. While sadomasochism frequently stands pronounced in Barker’s works, he’s never been one to be truly pigeonholed because he’s fearless in regards to the territory he opts to explore. Whether it be Pandora’s Box, or a dark haven for earth’s monstrosities and a psychopathic physician, Clive will freely roam where the cautious fear to tread, and that’s endeared him to the horror community in a manner that few manage.
Unlike Stephen King however, Barker’s fiction hasn’t always been handled with the greatest of care in terms of cinematic transfers (not that every single King flick has been a homerun; he’s just had a bit more success on the big screen, in part due to the significantly larger body of work from which to tap). In fact, many could argue that Clive’s fiction has often been abused more than properly honored by Hollywood. For every Candyman there’s a Rawhead Rex (which I admittedly enjoy, though the picture is technically dreadful, in my personal opinion); for every Hellraiser, there’s a Book of Blood. There just doesn’t seem to be much consistency when it comes right down to it, and while I don’t feel that reflects negatively, or is in any way indicative of poor writing from Barker, it is extremely disappointing from a simple fans perspective. Clive is one of the greatest authors of our time: we should be seeing some unswervingly amazing cinematic accounts of his work rather than the occasional diamond.
But, I’ve begun to digress, and I definitely don’t intend to turn this article into a head-to-head breakdown of Barker’s adaptations versus King’s. My goal now, is simply to extend a little respect to a living legend, and perhaps, aid readers in determining some of Clive’s finer story transfers. So all babbling aside, I offer you my take on the five best Clive Barker film adaptations on the market today!
5. Lord of Illusions: Lord of Illusions didn’t exactly wow spectators or critics upon release back in 1995. I think a few of the plot twists may have been a bit too extreme for many, but that has always been Barker’s modus operandi: throw the wildest, sickest notion possible in your direction, and watch you squirm. Diehard followers soaked up the morbidity of the film, and while I do think Barker’s own screenplay becomes a little murky on screen, I’ll be the first to admit, I was one of those who cherished the picture; it’s just so wildly dark and undeniably entertaining that I have a tough time not tossing this one in the DVD player on a regular basis.
Though there are a few top notch performances on display (genre favorite Daniel von Bargen and the sultry Famke Janssen are spectacular), I can’t help but feel that the performers designed to anchor the picture failed (to an extent) to hit their marks; I don’t consider Scott Bakula or Kevin J. O’Connor bad actors in the slightest, I just feel they were a bit miscast in this specific occasion. Faults aside, this one is fun, and really quite gruesome in spots!
4. Nightbreed: Once again Clive Barker steps up to transform Cabal into a functioning screenplay, and, once again, he’s the man behind the cameras as well (I get the impression Clive enjoys being in full control of his films…). While this picture manages to come across a bit comical at times, there’s an underlying edge to the project that serves to remind fans of how melancholy Barker’s original tale truly is. There’s a bit of everything in this film, from pure terror to unbridled love, to a blood deep sadness, and I consider it a respectable accomplishment to harness all of these emotions in one package. The idea behind Nightbreed is really one of irony, and a touch of confusion. Who are the real monsters in this picture? Those who appear in vile, mutated form: or those who prance about in suits, living double lives and sabotaging the innocent?
Craig Sheffer really brings Boone to life here, as he offers a performance that echoes every imaginable element of Cabal’s lead anti-hero. Strangely, it’s as if Sheffer was destined to play this role. While I’m a massive fan of David Cronenberg, he is, in my opinion the one casting call that went horribly awry. Cronenberg just doesn’t fit the character that Barker created. In Cabal, Decker is a big burly fellow with an ultra-smooth tongue… that just so happens to be forked at the end. On screen, David isn’t physically menacing, he doesn’t deliver the deceptive charm affixed to the original character, and he’s quite obviously a snake from the outset. Typically one performance won’t sway my opinion of a movie as a whole (unless we’re talking about a really, really bad performance), but I’d be a liar if I said this film could not have been elevated by an ensemble shift or so.
3. Midnight Meat Train: When it comes to purebred enjoyment, Midnight Meat Train tops the list… unfortunately a few technical aspects prevent the movie from venturing into territory as terrifying as my top two selections. That said, I absolutely love this movie… even all that damn digital blood! Ryûhei Kitamura steps up to direct this unique vision, and his artistic insight adds an interesting dynamic to Barker’s short story. Surprisingly (how often does it go wrong I ask), Jeff Buhler’s script manages to remain pretty damn faithful to the source material, while exploring the characters in a manner that only seems to add to the mystique of the short itself.
Tremendous compliments must be extended to both Nancy Nayor and Kelly Wagner, who cast one of the strongest ensembles ever exhibited in a Barker picture (second only to Candyman, in my opinion). Bradley Cooper, who, at the time had yet to reach superstar status, dumps everything he’s got into the character Leon, and his lovely companion Maya is well executed by the gorgeous (and still relatively underrated Leslie Bibb. However, and I must really stress this point: the show stealer is Vinnie Jones, who portrays the extremely intimidating butcher, Mahogany. Jones capitalizes on an understanding of physical acting, as he brings his bulky physique and chiseled features to terrifying prominence, while juggling virtually no dialogue. This man is downright disquieting, and for the life of me, I can’t come up with a reasonable alternative: Vinnie Jones is Mahogany through and through, and regardless of who’s prepared to admit it and who isn’t, this is one of the greatest onscreen villains in the history of our genre!
2. Hellraiser: Some will likely be stunned that the immensely popular Hellraiser didn’t top my list. Believe me when I say, it easily could have: this picture feels like horror encapsulated it’s just so overtly sinister and sadistic. There isn’t a bright point in the entire film, and I can’t help but think Barker himself likely found some delight in that. Don’t get me wrong, we’re obviously juggling torture and pleasure here, which could potentially lead one to believe that there’s a silver lining to the madness brought forth from the Cenobites, but there isn’t: this film is 100 percent gruesome and completely unforgiving from outset to conclusion.
Barker turns in a career best effort as director here, sewing together a tragic and strangely complex tale that probably never should have worked as a successful motion picture. But it does, and for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the special effects are terrific and clearly boundary pushing. Very few films rival the practical work on display here, and Bob Keen is certainly deserving of the Saturn Award nomination he received for his exertion (the success of the film also led to numerous future collaborations between the two). The cast is quite inspired, as Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, and of course, Doug Bradley offer top notch, memorable work and the pacing is remarkable. The film launches with some wildly intense visuals, and things consistently escalate up to the point of the finale, which is in my opinion quite impressive; there is just no downtime to be dealt with here, and I classify that as a major perk to the project. Still to this day one of the goriest features to earn a wide theatrical release, Hellraiser is a grisly good time and certified horror classic!
1. Candyman: And here ladies and gentleman, is not only my number one Clive Barker pick, but also one of my favorite genre efforts in existence. Screenwriter Bernard Rose stretches a tale of haunted project housing into a full blown amalgamation of urban legend, slasher and supernatural forces. From a distance the feature looks to be little more than another hack and slash tale; up close and personal it proves to be an intricately woven story of never ending torment. For Barker to hand over the screenwriting reigns proves his trust in Rose, and I’ve got to say: the man doesn’t let down. This is an eerie film that resonates long after viewing.
Tony Todd, who now stands as one of the genre’s most recognizable faces really does owe a lot to this film, as it is the one feature that truly put the man on the map. I’m sure film buffs are chomping at the bit, clutching their Platoon and Night of the Living Dead DVD’s, ready to strike me for such a remark, but I’m only speaking the truth: Candyman sure as hell wasn’t Tony’s first quality showing, but it was the first time the entertainment world stopped to admire the man for what he’s capable of. A supporting cast that includes Virginia Madsen, Vanessa Williams and Xander Berkeley only serve to elevate the film, and Rose’s direction is near seamless. The cinematography is stellar, the atmosphere haunting and the gore grade A. In short, Candyman is a masterpiece of a production, even if it does differ in many ways from Barker’s original tale, The Forbidden. For a goosebump inducing evening, I strongly suggest tossing this one on, especially if you happen to be alone with the witching hour at hand.