This SHOCKtober we are counting down the days until the new Hellraiser Remake comes out, and starting the celebration with this Clive Barker adaptation. Seems odd that another Books of Blood semi-anthology TV movie would come out so soon after the last one, instead of like a Masters of Horror-style Books of Blood series, or a Weaveworld adaptation, or really anything else. Trying not to focus on the fact that this (smells like content) movie and the new Hellraiser are both “Hulu originals,” maybe there’s still hope.

Kicking off the anthology framing story, hitmen Yul Vazquez (War of the Worlds) and Andy McQueen (Clifton Hill) are after the Book. But we’ll get back to them in a bit – first, Jenna (Britt Robertson of Scream 4) is sad since her parents don’t understand her, is off her meds, runs away since mom is “sending her back to the farm.” Jenna’s x-men superpower is she can loudly hear the sounds of people eating. She stops in an internet cafe and books an airbnb (what year is this?) in a spooky house with hosts Freda Foh Shen (Ad Astra) and Cronenberg regular Nicholas Campbell, has a noise-cancelled sleep paralysis nightmare and pukes CG bugs, then discovers the walls are full of people (“we relieved them of their eyes and tongues”).

You’d be depressed too if you lived in this house without curtains:

Airbnb hosts:

Next, a professional fraud-debunker (Anna Friel, not of Stephen King’s IT, but of Pierce Brosnan’s I.T.) is confronted by a “speaker for the dead” (Rafi Gavron: Aarfy in a previously-unknown Catch-22 miniseries). This guy seems to be the real thing, and Anna is convinced until he drunkenly admits his scam. Alas, the dead have highways, and the boy gets cut up by ghosts, becoming the valuable “book” the stupid hitmen think they’re looking for. And the depressed girl from part one goes back to the spooky house to be relieved of the burdens of seeing and speaking and be buried alive in their floor.

Have I mentioned that the dead have highways?

From the producers of Stallone’s Lock Up, King’s Dark Tower, King’s Bag of Bones, the Barker Dread, Final Destination, Unstoppable, Cabin in the Woods, and Family Guy (those are all different producers). The director worked with a more distinguished cast than this one on the series Cosmos, aka that show everyone thought I was talking about when I used to recommend the Zulawski movie.

Some sequelly repetition here to be sure, but adding the mad doctor and the puzzle girl, then sending Kirsty and the resurrected Julia through the labyrinth with them, all great ideas. Overall made by people in sympathy with the spirit of the original, though that wouldn’t last through many more sequels. Too many flashbacks to the first movie, but in fairness you could never follow it without them. A powerful movie, never truly scary because you don’t quite buy it, but no acting missteps either. Leviathan, Lord of the Labyrinth should’ve played a bigger part in later movies, instead of continuing to obsess over Pinhead’s human origins.

Skinless Julia:

Stolen Skin:

Barker wrote the story, and screenwriter Peter “Martin” Atkins would write the next two, then Wishmaster, before turning to novels. Randel went on to make the haunted-clock Amityville sequel, the famously bad Fist of the North Star, and most recently a kids movie about a telepathic dog.

“Help my daughter”

Julia and Channard:

Poet horror lobotomist Dr. Channard is my dad’s age, was in Prospero’s Books and Hot Fuzz. Julia is in The House of Mirth which I also need to rewatch. Kirsty’s boyfriend Steve flakes off forever and is quickly forgotten, as Nurse Kyle becomes her sympathetic new guy: William Hope went from Aliens to this, then nothing, and twenty years later found his calling as a Thomas the Tank Engine regular. “Get them off me” guy was Oliver Smith – appropriately the same actor who played Skinless Frank.

Hetero White Male Boone has been having bad dreams, getting calls from psychiatrist David Cronenberg, who is secretly giving his patients hallucinogens. Then a bagface knifes some kid’s parents. Boone’s girlfriend Lori does karaoke at a club. Crazy Boone goes to hospital, where he meets a cheery longhair who scalps himself. All this leads Boone to Midian, underground dwelling of monsters, whose prophet he will become, to the consternation of their gill-cheeked leader Doug Bradley. But there’s trouble before Boone can take his place as prophecised hero, because either he or Cronenberg (who works nights as the psychotic bagface murderer) leads the humans to the monster pit, and a redneck army destroys the pit, driving the monsters away.

Barker creates a fantastic bunch of characters (everyone except Boone) but maybe it’s best he stopped directing. The newly restored director’s cut doesn’t change how creaky and graceless everything is. Everyone talks like they’re in a movie, one guy even screams “nooooooo!” But I hadn’t seen this since the VHS days, was worth revisiting. Maybe I’ll see if I can find the comics.

Cinematographer Robin Vidgeon had shot the first two Hellraiser movies with Clive. Whole companies are credited with the foul crimes committed against movies: “20th Century Fox drastically cut this film at the last minute prior to its theatrical release,” and everywhere it’s Fox this and Fox that. I’d like to see the individuals listed more often, IMDB credits for specific studio execs who sunk the movies.

First time I’ve watched this in HD.

Larry: Andrew Robinson, a regular on Deep Space Nine, formerly a soap opera star, bad guy in Dirty Harry, also in Pumpkinhead 2 and Child’s Play 3

Julia: Clare Higgins, apparently I missed her in season 3 of Downton Abbey

Kirsty: Ashley Laurence returned in three sequels, including Hellseeker which I don’t remember too well, also in a Lovecraft movie called Lurking Fear with Jeffrey Combs

Frank: Sean Chapman was in Barker’s Transmutations, and much later a Charisma Carpenter movie called Psychosis

Besides playing Pinhead, Doug Bradley has been in Pumpkinhead 3 and Proteus, and appeared in Nightbreed with two other cenobites.

Clive always claims to have a bunch of movies in development, but nothing has come out since the burst of originals in 2006-2009: Dread, Book of Blood, Midnight Meat Train and two (not great) Masters of Horror episodes.

“I was born to murder the world.”

Watched for about the fifth time whilst trying to think of something to write about Johnny Guitar. It’s not a great movie, mostly because of pacing problems and dull dialogue scenes, but it’s better than most. Barker shoots plenty of shirtless men in S&M-inspired gear and he’s full of neat visual ideas, but needed about twice the budget (not likely for a Scott Bakula-starring horror) to pull it off. I still enjoyed it significantly more than Capra’s Meet John Doe, which I half-watched with Katy, the poorly-encoded soundtrack burbling out endless long speeches. Detective Scott Bakula was yet to achieve his post-American Beauty comeback, Magician Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor) would play Dr. Mindbender in the G.I. Joe movie, the girl went on to play Jean Grey in the X-Men movies, and evil baddie Daniel von Bargen is best known for having a cheesy line in The Postman.

Stephen (dreamboat Jackson Rathbone from M. Night’s Last Airbender and the Twilight series) is a black haired film student who meets Quaid (edgy dude who studies fear). Stephen’s editor is a vegetarian girl, and I remember what happens to her from the short story. Abby is a girl with a dark goth birthmark all over her face and body – I liked her best.


The ol’ “kid upstairs watches his family get killed by a maniac below” bit. Didn’t I see the same scene in Giallo last week? Everyone in this movie has tattoos and listens to teen hard-rock. It’s like the vision of underground youth culture put forth by 8mm or Blair Witch 2. Whoops, there’s my favorite M83 song over a clubbing/sex/film editing montage so I guess I’m guilty too. They hang up their fear-study flyers (on red paper, of course) among gratuitous ads for the new Dresden Dolls album.

A stupid, awful, violent little movie. Makes sense that the vegetarian-trapped-in-room-with-rotting-meat scene from the short story would make it to the movie intact. There’s nothing horror movies enjoy more these days than a psychological (yet gruesome) torture chamber. This also shared a hint of the ending of Martyrs, the torturer gaining enlightenment by staring into the dying eyes of his victim, but that movie somehow seemed both far more violent and less gratuitous. Stephen ends up killing everyone, gets away, ho-hum.

The writer/director has his hands on most Barker-related movies of the recent past and near future, including Midnight Meat Train, Book of Blood, something called The Plague and the upcoming Hellraiser remake.

“The dead have highways…”

It’s the only line I remember from the (very) short story, so of course it’s spoken five or six times in this 90-minute movie. I watched this in hi-def, only perhaps the third feature I’ve watched at home in HD (hello, The Fall and Night of the Creeps), and the first where I’ve sat close enough to the screen to notice how awesome it is. Actually sometimes I forget, it’s not that HD is awesome, it’s that SD is terrible and it has been hanging around far too long. Down with the tyranny of standard-definition… we welcome our new masters! I’d love to welcome them further but I can’t afford blu-ray or a nice TV – this $200 widescreen computer monitor will have to do for the next few years.

Oh, right, the movie… so as we’ve discussed I am a sucker for movies based on Clive Barker stories. I’ll watch any old shit as long as his name is attached (except the made-for-TV shit and Underworld/Transmutations). Therefore, Book of Blood, based on the titular story which served as an introduction to his anthology, and another I don’t remember called “On Jerusalem Street.” This was halfway decent, not as much a waste of time as Midnight Meat Train, maybe even worth watching. That’d be the first Barker-related movie to hit the high mark of “worth watching” in nine years, so this is a big deal.


The plot doesn’t sound so great: mystical whiz-kid Simon (TV’s Jonas Armstrong) is taking some college course in supernatural hoo-ha (lucky bastards – all my courses were about operating systems and design fallacies and thermodynamics and Thomas Kuhn) taught by over-serious Mary (Sophie Ward of the Crispin Glover Crime and Punishment – yes, there is such a thing and I must see it), who hangs around haunted houses in the evenings with tech guy Clive Russell (supposedly in Spaced and Neverwhere, but I don’t remember him). They find a house that is seriously badass haunted and they pay Simon to sleep there while they monitor the goings-on. Sure enough, he is haunted as hell, but they fail to record it because Simon’s actually faking the whole thing, jamming their signals and scrawling on the walls because his parents didn’t pay him enough attention.


The action stops for an hour or two while each character recites his or her traumatic back story. There’s the same scene of a guy with big headphones and a shotgun mic walking around a haunted house as in Spooked. I love that.

Finally the actual ghosts have had enough of this, haul Simon to the CG-riffic GHOST REALM and take turns carving their stories into his skin. Simon escapes back into the framing story – have I mentioned there is a framing story? – in which a dude is stalking Simon at a restaurant. The dude captures him, listens to his story (that’d be the bulk of our movie), kills Simon and removes his skin, then drowns when his cabin fills with Evil Dead amounts of blood and the door won’t open (funny how the doors never open). Who hired the dude to skin Simon? Could it be Mary, the only other character in the movie? Yes!


From the director of Versus and Godzilla: Final Wars, two movies I didn’t like at all. Guess I should’ve looked that up before I rented it, but I’m a sucker for anything Clive Barker-related, so it probably wouldn’t have stopped me. Barker’s elliptical story has been handily adapted into a full-length movie by the writer/director of Insanitarium, a little-seen horror starring Peter Stormare. Add a hundred producers and the cinematographer of Soul Plane and you’ve got yourself a movie.


Bradley Cooper (Jennifer Connelly’s cheaty husband in He’s Not All That Into You and an enthusiastic drama counselor in Wet Hot American Summer) plays a dullard photographer who wants to get deeper, go further into the depths of the city to get the most real, unflinching photographs anyone has seen, to the frustation of girlfriend Leslie Bibb (who was she in Iron Man?). They have a good-looking friend (Roger Bart of Hostel II) and they know a couple of other undeveloped characters, so much the better since a horror flick needs bodies. Oh and Bradley’s photo guru is Brooke Shields, whose name you hear a lot though she’s hardly been in anything I’ve heard of.

20 minutes in it announces itself to be slapstick horror, with a three-person train massacre filmed in the hammiest way possible with all From Dusk Till Dawn 2 POV shots. I didn’t think it would stoop to that. Then it straightens up and goes serious suspense for a while – can’t figure out what it wants. Maybe the slapstick thing would’ve worked if they’d stuck with it. Clashes with Barker’s style, but I’m sure Vinnie Jones would’ve been game.

Clearly game for anything:

Oh, so Vinnie is “Mahogany,” butcher by day, filler of train cars with murdered naked bodies for subterranean mutants to eat by night. They pull the thing where Bradley finds out, fights Vinnie and wins, but now has to replace Vinnie as the purveyor of bodies for mutants under the guidance of he sinister magic conductor. Neither as good as I’d hoped nor as bad as I’d feared.


Another Clive Barker story that was either badly adapted or bad to begin with. And another story about writers’ creations coming to life. This is all writers think about.

At first it seemed like it was headed exactly in the direction of “dreams in the witch-house” but it took a far more boring turn. The episode seems like the creation of a repressed network-TV writer… it exists just so dude can yell “shit” and “fuck” and we can show a naked girl on TV.


Star actor Christopher Lloyd has little to do. Barker vet actor Tony Todd (candyman!) plays the beast. Whole thing is just terrible. Oh, our main guy turns into book pages and blows away at the end… he was a fictional creation, just part of the story all along!!!

Season 2 overall kinda sucked. Maybe my expectations were just high because s1 was half good, but it seemed like this one’s hit-to-miss was much lower.

I am not making this screen shot up: