5 Reasons I’m Spending October with Clive Barker
It’s October, and for Americans, certainly, that means Halloween. Do other countries have Halloween? I could look it up, I suppose, but I’m far too lazy. Anyway, as you know, Halloween is the season for scares. For that and for other reasons, I’ve decided to take a dip into the macabre. Specifically, I picked Clive Barker to mildly obsess over during the thirty-one day month.
Why Clive Barker? Stephen King once said that Barker was “the future of horror”. I don’t think he was right in the sense that Barker peaked and all but vanished (due in large part to health problems), but, when he was on his game, there was no one like him. He directed three movies, and he could write like a sumbitch. He was a unique voice—and not just in the field of horror. His work covers a wide range of subjects and tones, but all of it is wildly imaginative. That coupled with the fact I had a copy of Books of Blood sitting on my coffee table made my choice an easy one.
1) Books of Blood
I bought Books of Blood volumes one back in 2000. Recently, I realized I’d never read it all the way through. Since it was October and BoB was sitting right there, it seemed like a good place to start. If nothing else, I could read a couple of the stories, and I could bail if they didn’t light my fuse. They lit my fuse. Across the two volumes, there’re a truckload of stories varying wildly in subject matter and style. There’s funny stuff, there’s creepy stuff, there’s WTF stuff. Not all the of the tales work—some have silly premises or feel belabored—but they all share one thing in common: they’re extremely well-written.
I finished volume one and, after an Amazon search, found that volume two had never come out in the States. Since I was already deep into volume one, I ordered two from the U.K. It cost a little more, but it was worth it.
2) The Hellraiser Movies
I wasn’t knocked out when I saw Hellraiser back in the 80s. It’s a cheap movie after all and not as brash as other horror flicks from the same period. The funny thing is, since a tongue-in-cheek, ultra-violent style was the norm back then, it made me appreciate Hellraiser less.
It also means that Hellraiser has aged far better than its contemporaries.
Over time, my misread of Barker’s directorial debut corrected itself. In the nineties and the two-thousands, once the culture moved on from the era of Freddie Kruger, I began to see “Raiser” as a nifty little gem. It’s sharply-written and, for a first-timer certainly, well-directed. The movie isn’t just an excuse to vivisect a bunch of teenagers. It’s a family drama with bloody resurrections and the most brilliantly conceived demons ever put to celluloid.
Pinhead is, of course, the iconic face of the series, but he’s not alone in his awesomeness. The rest of the Cenobites, his extra-dimensional brood, are nearly as compelling. Can any of you think of a more unique movie monster? Maybe H.R. Giger’s alien xenomorph with its horrific life cycle, but the Cenobites are right up there. Barker deserves big kudos for putting together a new taxonomy of creature—one intertwining the ritualistic pursuit of pain and pleasure as well as a look allegedly researched in the S&M clubs of London and New York.
Any discussion of the series has to include the music of Christopher Young which is outstanding. It’s horror music that does exactly what horror music should do: play it straight. Sure, it’s creepy, but it’s also stately and implies a long history of sights better left unseen.
The sequels to Hellraiser are, as is usually the case, a mixed bag. Hellbound, the second film is pretty good except that it descends into Freddie-isms with the introduction of a new Cenobite, a creepy surgeon who speaks entirely in cliches. Part three, Hell on Earth, has some decent scares and a few laughs, but it’s not close enough in tone to the first two. In my opinion, everything after three is a complete wash. I tried to watch Bloodline (part 4) recently, and couldn’t make it past the first thirty minutes.
Clive Barker is a polymath, someone who’s good at multiple things. He’s an author, a playwright, a visual artist and a filmmaker.
All of which means I hate his guts. Even as I struggle to be good at one thing, he’s out there killing it in more than one area. It’s simply not fair.
To illustrate my point, I’m going to give you a suggestion. Pick up some piece of Barker’s writing. He’s got short stories, he’s got novellas, and he’s got full-length novels. After that do a Google search for his drawings (I’ve included one below). Then watch the original Hellraiser (or even the flawed, but still inventive Lord of Illusions or Nightbreed). After you do all that, try not to get too down on yourself.
4) A Change in Personal Direction
I’ll be releasing my sixth Urban Fantasy novel some time in November. Six books across two different trilogies. I enjoyed writing them, but six is a lot—especially for someone with a limited attention span like me. I’m ready for a change in direction and had one suggested to me in an odd way. I’m in the process of having those half a dozen books made into audio. When I sat down to listen to the first one, it was a bit of a rollercoaster ride. It’s always difficult for me to evaluate my own stuff, but having it read by a talented narrator was a revelation. Some of it worked well. Some of it was the work of a guy still learning his craft. The bits that stood out to me were grislier sections. With that realization, it wasn’t a huge synaptic leap to want to write a horror novel. That’s what I’ll do next.
As I finish Kumbaya, Space Hippies, the final book in my Mythniks Cycle, I’m immersing myself in horror. Serendipity and a recollection of quality led me back to Barker.
5) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
I was born a long, long time ago. Long before they started diagnosing people with autism spectrum disorder. That notwithstanding, I’m convinced I’ve got a little bit of that special sauce.
When I binge a television show, I have to watch it in broadcast order even if it’s not serialized. When I decide I want to take a deep dive into some artist’s work—be they a writer or a film director—I have to do it all. Or at least as much of it as I can before I reach the saturation point and run screaming from my former obsession.
The good news here is that Clive Barker’s work is more than worthy of a deep dive. If you’re like me and you’re into not-so-healthy compulsions, you could do a lot worse than giving yourself over to Barker.