Monday, January 2, 2012

The Five Best Clive Barker Adaptations

For a best-selling author, Clive Barker doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves. Back when Hellraiser came out and Stephen King was calling him the future of horror, he seemed poised to dethrone even King. But that was back when he was the hot new author on the block, and while his writing retains the same gorgeous prose style and philosophical bent that made him a standout among horror writers, his star has diminished in the intervening years. Hell, I even stopped reading him for the better part of the last decade.
Not long ago, however, I dug up my old copies of the Books of Blood and was blown away anew. Say what you will about some of his more epic volumes, but Barker is the master of the short horror story. His tales craft grotesquely beautiful worlds populated with creatures so bizarre your mind struggles just to visualize them. But then he’ll veer into pure, visceral horror, dropping descriptions of violence graphic enough to make you throw up in your mouth a little.
While his books are nothing short of amazing, the film adaptations can be somewhat less so. For that reason, I’ve created this handy little list of the 5 must-see Barker adaptations:

#5 – Hellraiser
(1987 – dir. Clive Barker)
Barker’s most famous creation in last place? How can this be? While there’s no denying that Pinhead and his aberrant band of cenobytes have captured the imagination of horror fans around the world and become icons in their own right, have you rewatched the film lately? There are enough terrible performances and laugh-out-loud crappy special effects to make you reconsider your objection to horror remakes. However, Hellraiser also has some genuinely good performances and make-up effects (particularly the skinless, regenerating body of Frank), and the violence is fairly gruesome, even in the age of Hostel. The thing that justifies Hellraiser’s place on this list, however, is the strength of the story, and the vision displayed by Barker, who is as gifted a visual artist as he is a writer. If only we could see the film as it looked inside his mind.

#4 – The Midnight Meat Train
(2008 – dir. Ryuhei Kitamura)
Starring a pre-Hangover Bradley Cooper, Brit bad-ass Vinnie Jones, and the always stunning Leslie Bibb, and featuring a pitch-perfect bit-part by Brooke Shields, The Midnight Meat Train’s main strength is in its performances. The film expands, but stays true to Barker’s original story about the mysterious serial-killer Mahogany, whose meticulous preparation of victims suggests a greater purpose behind his subterranean slayings. The biggest difference between the story and the film is that the story features some of the most stomach-turning gore I’ve ever read, while the violence as depicted in the film verges on cartoonish, particularly during Ted Raimi’s death scene in which Jones hits him so hard that fakey-looking digital eyeballs pop out of his head. Blame CGI for marring an otherwise very satisfying horror film.
#3 – Dread
(2009, dir. Anthony DiBlasi)
I’ll say upfront that this film has a major flaw that may be a deal-breaker for some. Namely, the film makes the human mind out to be much more fragile than it really is. Characters seem to be driven mad far too easily in the film, but if you can get past that, Dread has much to offer. The plot involves film school students doing a documentary study on people’s deepest fears. Of course, one of them has a hidden agenda and uses the volunteers’ filmed confessions to exploit these fears. The stark, oppressive atmosphere is unrelenting, the performances are solid, and the story is captivating. The movie expands on Barker’s original story, and departs from it for the finale, which was a wise choice. The most insanely horrible act of cruelty is not shown in the film, but merely suggested in a gut-punch of a final line.

#2 – Nightbreed
(1990 – dir. Clive Barker)
I may get some shit for this pick, especially for putting it ahead of Hellraiser. And yes, I’ll admit it is pretty damned campy at times, but there’s something I’ve always loved about Barker’s unapologetic monsterfest. It’s a veritable Mos Eisley Cantina, nay, Jabba’s Palace of strange creatures both beautiful and menacing. Being a fan of bizarre beasts, I find it irresistible that the monsters are the heroes of the story, battling a sheriff’s posse of rednecks for the right to exist.  Plus, David Cronenberg’s portrayal of the serial-killing psychiatrist Dr. Decker is a definite highlight in his inarguably distinguished career. Does anyone know if they've found the lost footage yet? Rumor has it there was a musical number that was cut. Now that I'd pay to see. 

#1 Candyman
(1992 – dir. Bernard Rose)
If you haven’t watched Candyman in the last decade or so, you’ve probably forgotten how smart, scary, and downright disturbing it is. Candyman is the smartest slasher since Psycho, and arguably one of the best horror films of the 1990s (not the greatest decade for horror, but still…) The character of Candyman has entered the pantheon of horror heroes, but his reputation may be tarnished by the company. After all, how many dreadful sequels did Jason, Freddy, and Michael slog through during the decade?  With a classic score by Phillip Glass and a top-notch cast, Candyman transcends the slasher sub-genre and touches on the big, philosophical themes that Barker so deftly weaves into his prose.

#0 Abarat
(2015 – dir. Henry Selick)
That’s right, topping my list at numero zero is a Clive Barker adaptation that doesn’t actually exist, but should. There were rumors of an animated version going around, but I don’t think anything ever came of it, and Henry Selick was certainly not attached. I’m just throwing this out there as wishful thinking. Abarat given the stop-motion treatment by the director  of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline? If you could, how many of you would pre-order their opening night tickets right now? Are you listening,  Hollywood? Make this shit happen.


  1. Nightbreed is my Favorite Horror movie of all time The great "characters" of Midian ..."where the Monsters go..."
    I even made my own Dr. Decker 1/6th scale figure for my collection of villains and monsters...
    ....the Doctor

  2. I love Clive Barker, I love every film you put up in this list!...except Dread. I didn't like it. I'm sorry but the pacing is horrid, the villain is more whiny and annoying than threatening and I'm disappointed how unfateful it is to the original short. I want that mother killed in the end, not a cannibal experiment!

    argh, nevermind. least the rest of the list didn't include Rawhead Rex...what the fuck did I just watched?

  3. Dr. Theda,
    Good to hear Nightbreed get some love. You're going to have to post a pic of Doc Decker.

    Someday I'm going to have to Watch Rawhead Rex out of morbid curiosity. I've heard several other people who hated Dread, as well as some others who really liked it, so I guess it's just one of those divise movies. I was a little bothered by the ending being changed... until that last line, which just killed me.

  4. ...yeah I have to agree that last line was pretty badass...


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