Shocktober Director of the Day: Clive Barker

With only three feature films to his credit as a director, openly gay horror author Clive Barker has managed to create some powerfully disturbing movies.

With two short films in the 70's (Salome and The Forbidden), Barker's career as a novelist far outpaced his career as a director. Author Stephen King once described Barker as "...the future of horror," though lately his output has slowed down considerably. Still, the three major releases directed by Barker all hold special places in both Uncle P's cold black heart, and the annals of Horror film history.

His first film, 1987's Hellraiser, based on his short story "The Hellbound Heart," was a sensation when it was first released. Using then state-of-the-art special effects to tell the story of Frank, a man who, while seeking the ultimate thrill, buys a strange puzzle box and upon opening it, unleashes a sadomasochistic group of cenobites from hell. After they literally drag him to hell, his brother's family moves into his house, where the accidental spilling of blood brings Frank back, though less than complete and hungry for blood:

Aided by Christopher Young's magnificently creepy waltz, Barker takes a page right out of Cronenberg and uses reverse images, physical puppetry and plenty of weird sound effects to produce what was a rather startling scene in 1987. The skinless Frank draws his former lover (now sister-in-law) Julia into his scheme to lure unsuspecting men to the house so he can drain their bodily fluids in an effort to complete himself. But his niece Kirsty has found the puzzle box and the cenobites are trying to lure her to hell, as well.

Of course, by the time Frank has skinned his own brother, the cenobites have finally caught up with him and this happens:

Sorry about the poor quality there, but it was the only full version I could find of that scene.

Hellraiser went on to spawn several increasingly silly sequels and gave rise to the iconic villain Pinhead. A new sequel is scheduled to be released sometime next year, though a Barker-produced reboot is also scheduled for 2012.

For his next film, 1990's Nightbreed, Barker turned to his novel "Cabal," about a young man who discovers he is part of a group of monstrous-looking mutants who have been targeted by a monstrous-acting serial killer. Craig Scheffer (A River Runs Through It) stars and in a stroke of genius casting, David Cronenberg plays the serial killer. Weird and unsettling, Nightbreed didn't enjoy the same success as Hellraiser, but I have always found it to be a fascinating movie.

On a side note, I share 1 degree of separation with Scheffer, who was a college roommate of my dear friend, Sci-Fi geek and fellow director, Dan S.

Barker's last (and for my money, best) feature was 1995's Lord of Illusions. Sexy Scott Bakula ("Quantum Leap") stars as Barker's recurring character Harry D'Amour, a private detective who specializes in weird cases. When famous magician Phillip Swann (Kevin J. O'Connor) is killed while performing a particularly dangerous illusion, Swann's widow (X-Men's Famke Janssen) hires D'Amour to investigate. The trail leads back to a strange cult led by the deceased Nix (character actor Daniel von Bargen), who had taught Swann "real" magic and whose resurrection is being attempted by his rabid followers.

Noirish and weird, Lord of Illusions was probably a bit too esoteric for most audiences, though I find it fascinating every time I watch it. And Barker's highly improved directorial skills are best on display here. 

There are plenty of film adaptations of Barker's stories and novels, most recently The Midnight Meat Train (starring hottie Bradley Cooper); Book of Blood and the announced Thief of Always. Barker is scheduled to return to directing with an adaptation of his novella Tortured Souls: Animae Damnatea in 2011. I, for one, can't wait.

More, anon.

PS - I've been holding onto the image at the top of this post forever, just waiting for the perfect time to use it. So glad I did...
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