Author, screenwriter, and director Clive Barker is a legend of the genre. Ever since he burst onto the scene in the mid-1980s, his name has been synonymous with gory, shocking, extreme, perverse, no-holds-barred horror. His creations—Hellraiser and Candyman among them—are not for the faint of heart.
However, the latest screen adaption of his groundbreaking Books of Blood (a six-volume set of sick and twisted short stories) is for the faint of heart… just about anyone and their grandma could handle this bloodless, generic, and altogether forgettable flick.
Originally conceived as a series, Books of Blood has been reduced to an anthology film, with three interconnecting stories about people who encounter an evil crossroads in the form of a haunted house. “There is a place where horrors are transcribed by the dead,” the narration says. “And they want their stories told.” Whether you’ll want to hear them is another matter.
For starters, Barker fans will be bummed to discover that only one of the three tales is even based on his works—and it’s been changed quite a bit from its source, at that. I mean, why adapt a known winner, only to change its content so much as to be unrecognizable? The one that Hulu’s Books of Blood creator Brannon Braga (Star Trek franchise) used is the titular story—it’s about a fake psychic-medium who gets his comeuppance when the spirits of the dead use his skin as a literal book of blood by etching their stories into his body from head to toe.
The longest, most fleshed-out story follows “Jenna.” Played by Britt Robertson (Under the Dome), Jenna is a young lady who leaves her parents’ comfortable, affluent lifestyle to hit the road for parts unknown. She’s got many mental issues and idiosyncrasies, not the least of which is abhorrence for everyday sounds—aka misophonia—meaning that even something as mundane as people chewing their food can drive her into a frenzied search for her special noise-canceling headphones. When she winds up at a lonely, spooky old inn that harbors dark secrets within its walls, she pines for home—but it’s far too late for Jenna to find her way back to safety. While “Jenna” has the most realized storyline and the most gore, it misses the mark by far in terms of Barker’s trademark surrealism and shock-factor.
The second story, “Miles,” centers on Mary (Anna Friel, Pushing Daisies), a mom who grieves the loss of her Leukemia-afflicted young son, Miles. She trudges through her days hopelessly until she meets Simon (Ravi Gavron, A Star is Born), a sexy psychic medium who claims to communicate with the dead boy. This segment has its moments, and there are some good visuals, but not enough to make up for the blah look and feel of the film overall. What’s more, the characters, who are supposed to be drawn to each other, have zero chemistry.
In the final vignette, professional assassin Bennett (Yul Vazquez, Midnight, Texas) is on a quest to get his greedy hands on something called the “Book of Blood”… as he follows the tome’s trail, he falls deeper and deeper into the clutches of sin.
While Simon and Bennett are clearly bad guys, most of the characters aren’t as Barker would have drawn them. As an author and screenwriter, he seldom imbues his characters with sympathetic qualities—they are unapologetically dark and twisted, giving no fucks about the horrible things they do (or are driven to do, thanks to demonic forces or whatever other awful prods Barker has dreamt up). This nihilistic approach is one of the things that sets Barker—and, one would hope, adaptations of his work—apart from the herd. Maybe Brannon Braga should stick with the sci-fi genre. He relies too much on jump-scare cliches, loud sound design, and a manipulative score. There’s a definite lack of suspense and dread, which are the hallmarks of Barker’s appeal.
It’s not horrible or unwatchable—just bland. As it is, Hulu’s Books of Blood feels tired and uninspired, so unless you’re desperate to watch a new horror movie, skip it.