Friday, December 18, 2009

Book of Blood: Clive Barker's latest learning experience.

At first glance, I didn't really want to see Book of Blood. I had a feeling it would be awful, so I avoided putting it near the top of my Netflix queue. Clive Barker has had alot of his stories adapted to screen, and like Stephen King, they are rather hit and miss. But going off the strength of films I truly enjoyed - such as Hellraiser and Candyman - I decided to give it a shot.

Barker himself is producer, so I felt he must have some faith in the film and its director (John Harrison). The DVD extras have him explaining that starting with The Midnight Meat Train last year, his production company plans the release of several more of his macabre tales in the future. Book of Blood was next in line. Go here to catch up on what's to come.
Unfortunately, I don't think enough care was taken with the screenplay to make it ebb and flow like a story should. In other words, it was a confusing mess, with a few nice moments.

Book of Blood is a combination of two of Barker's short stories: The Book of Blood and On Jerusalem Street. First thing out, you hear a voice-over telling us a little ditty about how the dead have highways and tales to tell....yadda yadda. Already I feel like I'm at school. Rulers slapping, bells ringing, and a zit-faced nerd reading the cafeteria menu over the loudspeaker. (Perhaps the reason it is a "Book" of blood - ?) Thanks, but I'd rather read the Book of the Dead and hang out with Ash & Co. at the cabin from The Evil Dead.

Anyway -
The beginning of the movie finds a young man basically hiding out in a diner, keeping his face shrouded by a hood. But someone is watching him. Eventually the said stalker abducts the man and he wakes up tied to a table awaiting what appears to be a serial killer ready to cut him into tiny pieces.

("I'll have your liver with some fava beans...")

In exchange for a quick death, the young man agrees to explain to the murderer why his skin is covered with strange words cut into his skin.

The movie then cuts (no pun intended) to a young woman being accosted and murdered by an invisible force of some kind in her bedroom in a seemingly nice neighborhood while her parents scream and try to get into said room.

(So much for that $130 face cream. Damn!)

We get a pretty good shot of the girl's face being ripped... no, peeled off. Right here I thought, Okay. Bit confusing, but it has possibilities.

Enter Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward),A paranormal investigator who has discovered a house that she feels may indeed be a portal to delivering souls to the afterlife. A college professor by trade, she finds out that one of her students has some special psychic abilities and so she convinces him to help her research the house.

(The X-Files, v.2)

Psychic student Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong) moves into the house with Mary and her assistant/cameraman Reg (Paul Blair) and they wait. Naturally, (as if you didn't know) the house is where the young woman was killed.

So at first, Simon seems quite legit. He senses things, and during his stint sleeping in the upstairs loft (the dead girl's room) he wakes up screaming, apparently attacked by unseen forces. When Mary and Reg get to the room, they see bizarre writings all over the walls in a dark charcoal-like substance. Reg, always the skeptic, takes samples to the lab for analysis. The attacks continue, worsening each time, with Simon having carvings all over his body from the sinister spirits. Someone is attempting to tell a 'story' through Simon, albeit in a rather bloody manner.

(Aren't crucifixions usually done outside?)

Meanwhile, Simon and Mary fall in love. {Oh for god's sake... really?} It just seemed so improbable, and yet...there they were, having sex in the very room that Simon has been attacked multiple times in. (And may I just add it was rather vanilla sex for a Clive Barker movie.)

(Performance issues can be tough...)

In the house, Mary also experiences a ghost of her own, bringing back memories of a terrifying incident and haunting she dealt with as a child. She tells her own story, and though we're supposed to be unnerved by her tale, it all falls through when Reg returns to tell Mary that Simon faked everything, that the mysterious black charcoal was really gunpowder and he'd written on the walls himself.

Livid, Mary leaves, but not before Simon implores her to believe that even though he faked the first incident, the rest of the attacks were real and he feels someone is trying to speak through him.

I don't give away endings very often, and I won't here either. But be forewarned that though the atmosphere here is deliciously dark, and I saw shades of the perversion of Hellraiser within, the story lacks the intensity of Hellraiser and the pizzazz of Candyman. It wanders around and drags its feet way too much to have any real semblance of structure. It's messy, and by that I (unfortunately) don't mean gory.

Hellraiser was indeed a brilliant, savvy piece of film-making, but to be honest I liked the simple-plotted, honest blood and guts realism of Candyman a wee bit better. Call me simple, call me tactless. Call me any number of adjectives that make fun of intelligence. I'm well aware Candyman could be understood by a mayfly. But I loved it, so sue me. Perhaps if Tony Todd would have been doing the voiceover at the film's start I would have been more psyched.

Nope, don't think so.

To me, Clive Barker is one f**ked up individual, and his mind works in mysterious and sometimes bewildering ways. It's like he's the thinking man's horror writer, and sometimes I just want to see someone get their head taken off by a hatchet, no assumptions or conclusions necessary - and no mystical, reality-transcending reasons for it.

(Buffalo Bill's sister never did get caught...)

Thank Christ for Netflix. If I'd have bought this sight unseen, I'd be re-gifting it this holiday season to some unlucky soul.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

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