Clive Barker: visualizing the future of horror

3 Dec

Guest post: Chicago cinéaste Beth Michelle

clive-barkerIn the horror genre, there are only a few stand-alone names – talented artists recognized by both their contemporaries and the public as undisputed masters of their craft. Among these masters, the author, illustrator and film director Clive Barker still stands alone.

Praised by Stephen King to be the “future of horror” following the release of his first major novel, Barker has the distinct ability to bring forth multidimensional, phantasmagoric horror plots from the mere kernel of a thought. Though he gives credit to a number of others for inspiration, H.P. Lovecraft and his races of demons or monsters for one, Barker has redefined the genre for himself.

hellraiser_4In 1987, Barker directed Hellraiser, a film based upon his novella The Hellbound Heart. For its time, Hellraiser is considered far grittier and gorier than its contemporaries. The story line focuses on a man who escapes from Hell and uses his sister-in-law in a hellish sexual manipulation to regain his physical form. This film demonstrated the lengths that Barker was willing to go for a story. The sexual and demonic components are beyond what most filmmakers generally cover. Artistically as well, this film stands out. The film techniques, as well as the costuming aspects, created a deliberately gritty and dark effect.

nightbreedNightbreed, released in 1990, is based upon Barker’s novella Cabal. Delving into the mind of mental patient Aaron Boone who is manipulated by his doctor (played by the inimitable David Cronenburg) to believe he is a serial killer, it features an impressive cast of creepy characters. After escaping from a mental institution, Boone finds refuge in a cemetery called Midian among a group of “Nightbreed” monsters and other assorted mutants hiding from the public. This film embraces the concept of the “anti-hero,” where the monsters and other creatures are really the ones being terrorized by everyday “normal” people.

candy-manTwo years later, Barker again saw another of his literary works re-interpreted for film. Staying away from the director’s chair this time, Candyman is based upon his short story The Forbidden. The ‘Candyman’ is an urban legend, and details surrounding him are fuzzy and easy to disregard until the bodies begin piling up. Thus the question arises: is the Candyman a killer, merely using the urban legend as cover? Or has a belief in the Candyman created the evil independently? If enough people believe in a thing, does that make it real..? Candyman is a remarkably compelling horror film that has aged quite well. Furthermore, it was shot so masterfully, it looks terrific in almost any format, whether you catch it online or on TV (Netflix or Direct TV) or even the recently released special edition DVD.

hellraiser_3For the character of “Pinhead”, and the idea of the Cenobites, a race of demons that Barker introduced in Hellraiser, Barker took inspiration from an unlikely source: Biblical texts. Pinhead is the leader of the Cenobites, essentially a cult leader of the demons, making him appear as a sort of Jesus/Devil hybrid. Barker is not afraid to touch seemingly taboo topics, if such a thing actually exists in the horror genre. He considers the issues of hell, religion, sexuality and social differences as things to be explored rather than feared. Clive Barker not only created his own horrific but brilliant works, he inspired others to follow suit.

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Beth_KellyBeth Michelle is a Chicago-based blogger with a nasty film addiction. Her primary interests include pulp cinema, fashion photography and vintage Japanese film cameras.

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