When it comes to horror authors and their influence on film, Stephen King has always taken the crown as the king (apologies) of horror fiction. Fucking, R. L. Stine has seen a resurgence in his material with the recent Goosebumps films, and while he may have scared the pants off my 8-year-old self, it was Clive Barker’s Books of Blood collection that kept me up at night in my later years.
Clive Barker is a staple of the horror industry, a figure who moved past books to writing films, directing films, and even producing video games. The man has done it all across every medium of entertainment to share his twisted thoughts; And yet in the last decade his name rarely comes up unless it’s among die-hard horror fans. So we have delved into his filmography, which is depressingly small, and ranked his film in order of which we thought were best.
This ranking excludes Barker’s works such as Quicksilver Highway, which only features a short adaptation of The Body Politic, as well as his featured episodes on the horror anthology show Masters of Horror, as they feature as episodes and not feature-length films.
9. Transmutations (1985)
While not based on any of Barkers stories or novels, Transmutations was the first film written by Barker. Easily the worst film on this list, Transmutations is cheap, confusing and just boring throughout. The plot revolves around a kidnapping of a prostitute with a conspiracy involving a mad scientist, mutants and a crime lord which never really comes together in any sensible way.
The idea of sympathetic monsters and evil corrupt humans foreshadows Barker’s later film Nightbreed. Ultimately, Transmutations is uninteresting, nothing of any serious interest develops throughout and the filmmaking is subpar from the start. Sitting through this film was a chore considering the effort to get a decent copy of it. If I can praise any one aspect it’s the soundtrack which is gloriously 80s Brit rock.
8. Book of Blood (2009)
Basing an entire film on a framing story for Barker’s anthology novel, Books of Blood Volume 1, is a pretty big gamble for a feature length film. Especially considering the story is aimed to be effective in bit parts as a connecting tissue between other stories. Naturally you can presume this 2009 adaptation takes some liberties with the source material.
While the film produces some decent gore and creepy moments, it never quite captures the genuine horror of the original tale and stretches a very short story far too thin.
7. Rawhead Rex (1986)
Barker has openly distanced himself from both Transmutation and Rawhead Rex, which should speak volumes about their quality and faithfulness to his vision. Rawhead Rex has that ‘It’s so bad it’s good’ charm I can’t ignore. Also, my patriotic heart swelled at the film using a rural Irish setting.
Barker’s original short story about Rawhead is nothing short of harrowing, an ancient monster that represents a primal and vicious representation of the male sex drive. Rather than take that approach, this film puts a tall actor in one of the worst monster suits in horror history, and unapologetically reveals the monster with no shame throughout. Thankfully, some laughable acting and moments of gore and carnage make for an enjoyable experience.
6. Dread (2009)
One of the lesser-known Barker adaptations, Dread is a meanspirited and intense little horror film. A far more subdued story that follows a group of students doing an active study on their own fears by replicating them in a controlled environment. Unfortunately, they have a real psycho amongst them who revels in knowing these fears and exploiting them in sadistic ways.
Far more of a phycological horror than most of Clive’s other stories, I quite enjoyed the solid pacing and unnerving nature of the film. What’s missing is the black humour of the original Barker short story, especially the vicious/ironic ending.
5. Nightbreed (1990)
Probably the most controversial placement on this list, I found Nightbreed to be a refreshingly unique story with plenty of interesting elements; the issue was the film never quite tied these elements together consistently. Nightbreed is a cult hit with its own TV series on the horizon because of the film and novels rich lore. The story of ancient creatures hiding from the actual monsters, man.
Nightbreed may not be my favourite Barker directed film, but it’s a fantastic watch. The creature effects are pretty solid throughout, and the film plays out like an R-rated superhero showdown. David Cronenberg shows up in an inspired role as a vicious serial killer that had me questioning if the horror legend was even acting. Make sure you seek the director’s cut version because the studio butchered the theatrical version.
4. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Out of all the surprising amount of short story adaptations that made this list, Midnight Meat Train is probably the most effective at expanding on the source material. Starring a young, pre Hangover, Bradley Cooper and a stoic Vinnie Jones (Hilariously playing a silent antagonist despite years of playing a mouthy hard man), the film is well acted, gloriously violent, and features one of the most macabre endings I’ve seen in a horror film.
Director Ryuhei Kitamura integrates his kinetic and frantic filmmaking style, seen in previous films Versus and Godazilla: Final Wars, to make his Hollywood debut and bring one of Barker’s best stories to life.
3. Lord of Illusions (1995)
While most horror fans would probably hold this film as the least impressive of the 3 films Barker directed, I was totally caught off guard at how unconventional Lord of Illusions was. Starring Scott Bakula (Quantum Leap himself) as a psychic/paranormal private investigator, the film’s central character, Harry D’Amour, has become a crossover figure in Barker’s novels.
A dark and violent story about magic involving a malevolent figure leading a demonic cult sounds like an Alan Moore wet dream, but Barker masterfully dips between wonder, mystery, and horror throughout. While some special effects are dated, powerful characters and an exciting backstory elevates this film as a key-point in Barker’s career.
2. Hellraiser (1987)
If you want the grand daddy of Clive Barker’s twisted mind, look no further than Hellraiser. A film which embraces some of the goriest practical effects ever put to screen and a sexually driven narrative which is sure to disgust; There’s a reason this film is at the top of most horror affectionados lists.
Hellraiser is an almost perfect adaptation because the man directing the film wrote it himself; so he captures the aesthetic, the sleaze and the sheer horror which he conjured in his mind when he put pen to paper. Deciding between this film and the number one spot was no simple task because both are true horror classics and perfect representations of Barker’s writing talent.
1. Candyman (1992)
Candyman may not only be my favourite Barker movie, but also my favourite horror of the 90s. The story of this vengeful spirit has so many moving parts, from existing through word of mouth and encapsulating racial issues, which are unfortunately still prevalent today, Candyman is a film with layers and a social relevance that transcends its release date.
Philip Glass’ haunting score stands tall amongst the works of the late Ennio Morricone, and John Carpenter and Tony Todd’s ethereal presence elevate Candyman as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Candyman is Barker at his best, when he conjures an idea that creeps into your mind and creates a psychic parasite that burrows into your fears, your beliefs, and your vulnerabilities.
Hellraiser, CandyMan, and Nightbreed would be my top three Clive Barker films. I really enjoy reading Barker’s novels, and the same visceral tone of his books always seems to translate well to the screen too. Nice to see Rawhead Rex on your list, sure the acting is a bit goofy, but its a good gory movie. Have you read the graphic novel of Rawhead Rex? Its got great painted artwork and is much closer to Barker’s original story from the Books of Blood.
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I’ve seen a few still from the Rawhead Rex comic which were pretty gruesome. I must seek it out.
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Its a superb adaptation of Rawhead Rex, the art is very graphic, and the gore is as extreme as Barker’s original short story from the Books of Blood. I’d certainly recommend this graphic novel version if you can find a copy,.
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“David Cronenberg shows up in an inspired role as a vicious serial killer that had me questioning if the horror legend was even acting.”
~ My thoughts as well!
I got on the Clive Barker train in my twenties when I read The Hellbound Heart and then proceeded to rent all of the Hellraiser films my local Blockbusters carried. I love the way Clive Barker’s writing can make me feel like I’m watching something I’m not supposed to see or know.
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Love Barker’s writing. His work is so visceral and unique. Delighted he’s returned to writing.