Clive of Hollywood

I spent much of my weekend devouring an advance reading copy of The Painter, the Creature, and the Father of Lies, a collection of Clive Barker’s non-fiction (primarily introductions to work by himself and others), and to complement that decided to dip into my DVD collection for some Barker themed visual entertainment.

Lord of Illusions

Based on a tale from The Books of Blood I believe, and probably one of the most successful adaptations from that seminal collection. There’s an Angel Heart vibe going on at times, methinks, while Scott Bakula doesn’t strike me as seedy enough to play PI Harry D’Amour, but that quibble aside this is an excellent low budget horror, with some moody scene setting in the Mojave desert, memorable bad guys, especially megalomaniac magician Nix with his aim of destroying the world, and a climactic final battle with plenty of sfx excess thrown at the screen. The images of Nix’s disciples sinking into the earth and half transformed into statues is one that will stay with me for quite a while, and I loved the concept of illusion being used as a veil for genuine magic.

Hellraiser

The film that helped to cement Barker’s reputation as a major player in the horrorverse, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. It was also the start of a horror film franchise, but from what I’ve seen of subsequent entries, the first is the best of the bunch, with careful plotting and calculated chills in place of the sfx shenanigans that came later. At the centre of it all are the gloriously menacing and distinctive Cenobites, while the scenes where Frank takes back his corporeality through ‘digesting’ the blood of others are uniquely unsettling. In an excellent cast, Clare Higgins impresses the most as unhappy wife Julia, willing to do anything, even prostitution and murder, to get her lover back. The imagery of hell – all those swinging chains, meathooks and gobbets of impaled flesh – is used to convey a concept of pain and pleasure beyond conventional understanding, with Frank as the man who bit off far more than he could chew, a Faustian character who has found he doesn’t like the bargain he made at all. Special effects are restrained, with the Cenobites and and their ‘pet monster’ only used when it will achieve the maximum effect of unsettling the viewer. And, perhaps the most unsettling scene, belongs to the Alan Moore lookalike in Kirsty’s pet shop, who eats their stock of praying mantis (at least that’s what I thought they were), his true nature revealed in a delicious coda to the main event. Great stuff.

Candyman

Based on Barker’s story of an urban legend, “The Forbidden”, and transplanted from Liverpool to the Projects of Chicago, a hell on earth where people will take hope where they can, even that offered by the Candyman. There’s a certain resemblance between the hook handed killer and Freddy Kruger, but this film is more in the nature of a love affair (unlikely as that sounds), as Candyman attempts to coerce academic Helen to join him in an eternity of pain. Leads Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen are perfectly suited to their roles – he tall and menacing, she intellectual and concerned. It builds so well, with the horror of life in the Projects giving way to something far, far worse, and Madsen’s Helen drawn in past the point of no return, judged mad by the world, but party to a truth only known to a few, the fine script and depth of her performance overcoming any cliches inherent in the material. Each of these films in their own way revolves round a theme of faith and belief, with the subtext that if conventional religion doesn’t provide the answers and comfort we desire, then we’ll look elsewhere, embrace even nihilism of a cosmic order. I loved the reversal of roles at the end, with Helen supplanting Candyman, albeit I didn’t think her revenge on the faithless husband rang true, though it almost made me applaud (the jerk was asking for it). Too bad they had to go and make some really crummy sequels and dilute the magic of the Candyman.

Also over the course of the weekend I played some of Clive Barker’s favourite music, as revealed in the book. I was a bit limited in my choices, as our record collections are very different, but I did manage to dig out Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto and Sibelius’ 5th Symphony. Clive and me are soooooooo cultured.

And to prove the point I’ll close this blog entry with a radical reinterpretation of his classic story “In the Hills, the Cities”.

Personally, I thought the white horse was a nice touch.

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