“Every body is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.”
In 1984, horror fiction was in the middle of a boom that would last through the end of the decade. Inspired in part by the popularity of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Other, publishing houses were seeing the marketability of horror like never before in modern times. But what started as a feast soon turned into a bloated mess as editors sacrificed quality in an attempt to cash in. The horror book market was a noisy place, flooded with paperbacks dressed in lurid illustrated covers of dancing skeletons and grinning dolls. It was an easier time for horror to get published, but much harder to get noticed amid the noise.
And yet, when Clive Barker’s first collection of the Books of Blood short stories were released, the horror world was turned on its head. Here was something completely new. Barker’s words didn’t just terrify; they tempted. His protagonists didn’t always survive; sometimes they succumbed. Readers everywhere were drawn into Barker’s unique mixture of madness, terror, and sin. Even genre royalty like Stephen King dubbed Barker the “future of horror.” And as time has shown, he was.
Now, director Brannon Braga—along with writer Adam Simon and Barker himself—has created a new anthology film inspired by those six groundbreaking volumes with the film BOOKS OF BLOOD. The Hulu exclusive focuses on three stories interconnected in the most nightmarish of ways.
In the first, Jenna (Britt Robertson) is a young woman crushed under the weight of both recent trauma and misophonia, a condition that makes sound impossibly disturbing. When her mother threatens to send her to an institution, she flees to the safety of a distant Air BnB. But every set of walls holds secrets, as Jenna soon finds out.
The second story, “Miles,” follows debunker Mary (Anna Friel) in the wake of the death of her seven-year-old son. Mary meets a man who claims to be a speaker for the dead. Although initially skeptical, her mind is opened to supernatural possibilities when Simon (Rafi Gavron) delivers a message that could only be from her late son. But of course, it’s not that simple. The dead have so many stories and woe unto the soul who dares to listen to them all at once.
The film ends with “Bennett,” the tale of a man on the hunt for the rare Book of Blood. But just when his search seems fruitful, the true terror of his prize is revealed.
The thing that sets Barker apart from other writers is that while most horror protagonists fight tirelessly for their lives, ultimately Barker’s heroes crave destruction. That internal desire has a transfixing pull on the psyche, and director Brannon Braga has done an expert job of translating it to the screen.
These are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and Braga’s camera captures that perfectly at every turn. A naked body writhing on the floor takes on the artistry of a Beksinski painting thanks to cinematographer Michael Dallatorre. Even the simple visual of a mother and child looking out a moon-lit window gives a subtle nod to paperback illustrations like Milton Charles’s iconic cover for Flowers in the Attic.
Braga knows the secret to an effective scare is restraint. Jump scares and bass drops are nowhere to be found in BOOKS OF BLOOD. Instead, Braga focuses on the plot, steadily building tension until the story becomes so inflamed there is no option but release. I only wish more directors would take this approach.
BOOKS OF BLOOD, much like its author, stands a little outside the traditional horror fare in all the best ways. This Halloween, place your mind in the hands of Clive Barker. Then just let go and enjoy the ride.
BOOKS OF BLOOD premieres on Hulu on Wednesday, October 7, 2020.