Because literature and filmmaking are different disciplines that utilize different skills in order to create fear and dread in audiences, it is rare that a skilled artisan from one field can effectively transition into the other (anyone remember Stephen King’s directing on “Maximum Overdrive”). A rare exception to the case is that of novelist/screenwriter/director Clive Barker.
Barker’s career began in short stories and novellas, eventually working his way up to full novels. A big fan of dark horror and fantasy, there are almost no Barker stories that don’t have some element of the supernatural contained within them. His film career began with two short films he self-produced, and eventually his work as a horror novelist got him work scripting films such as “Underworld” and “Rawhead Rex.”
Barker’s dissatisfaction with the way his scripts were handled brought him to the director’s chair for the original “Hellraiser,” based on his story “The Hellbound Heart.” The film was a big success, and spawned one of the longest-running horror film franchises in recent history.
His follow-up to “Hellraiser” was another film based on a work of his, a novel called “Cabal.” The film was renamed “Nightbreed” for its theatrical release, and a terrible advertising campaign cost the film a possible successful run.
Barker directed only one other feature film in his career, “Lord of Illusions,” which is based on a short story from his “Books of Blood” series. The film was a bigger success than “Nightbreed” in theaters, but has had a harder time remaining in the limelight in subsequent years.
As unusual as it is for an author to find success as a film director, it is just as unusual for a popular author who created beloved films to make a mere three movies and to completely stop his filmic output. Though there has been talk of a new “Hellraiser” film that includes the presence of Barker as at least a writer and producer (and possibly director), one can only hope that those three films already in existence aren’t the end of the body of work from an extremely talented and visionary artist.
Based on a short stoy, and boasting some incredible visuals (most of which are practical), Barker’s “Hellraiser” was a paradigm shift for horror in the late 1980’s. Gone were the stupide teenagers, the clichéd plots, the faceless slashers, and the safe expectations. Barker had darkness on his mind, and he effectively executed his vision. Subsequent films in the franchise had less and less to do with the original concept (and grew worse and worse with every entry), but the power of that original installment was the fuel that kept the franchise alive for such a long time.
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Barker recently released a version of the film with nearly an hour of cut footage placed back into the movie. That is the perfect explanation for the feeling of this movie: a decent film with a huge piece cut out. Lost on audiences and shuffled aside by its studio, “Nightbreed” was a supernatural nightmare vision during an era of safe slasher nonsense. The years have grown the renown for the project,t which has gained a cult status, and the performance of David Cronenberg as the unhinged psychiatrist is excellent.
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Combining supernatural horror with the film noir aesthetic of the 1940’s-1950’s, “Lord of Illusions” is an interesting hybrid and a film that, while not a complete success, can certainly say that it is in a class of its own. Based on a short story about character Harry D’Amour, who appears in several of Barker’s stories, the movie was moderately received, though he still had issues with the re-cutting done to the film. A later director’s cut reflects a version closer to that which he wanted in the film originally.
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