Horror superstar Clive Barker on having the world by the balls at 35


By Steve Newton

What scares you? Spiders? Sharp knives? The dentist? The threat of nuclear holocaust?

Count me in on all the above, and add another: Clive Barker’s writing. Like Count Floyd used to say: “It’s scary stuff, kids!”

At 35, Clive Barker is being touted as the next big thing in horror fiction. Although he started off as a playwright and a painter (he often draws his own book covers), it wasn’t till 1981 when Barker started dabbling in horror stories as a diversion that things start to come together for the Liverpool artist.

Then, in 1984-85, his Books of Blood–six volumes of stylishly visceral horror stories–wowed London. In the last year or so he’s been winning hordes of fans in North America, thanks in no small part to the raves of Stephen King. “I have seen the future of the horror genre and his name is Clive Barker,” wrote King. “He is so good I am almost tongue-tied.”

“The whole thing is very flattering,” says Barker, who was in town Monday (November 9) to promote his latest book Weaveworld, and give a reading from it at the Vancouver Public Library. “I’ve only been published three-and-a-half years, and so all of this is actually more like being a rock ‘n’ roll star than it is like being a writer. Writers are supposed to work and slowly ascend the ladder. I was unemployed for nine-and-half years, and now I’m a millionaire! It was kind of a vertical take-off.”

Although he’s proven capable of giving such frightmasters as King, Peter Straub, and Ramsey Campbell the willies, Clive Barker’s certainly not a scary fellow in person. An innocent and youthful-looking 35, he bears quite a resemblance to the young Paul McCartney (strangely enough, Paul’s wife Linda took the photo of Barker that grace’s the dustjacket of Weaveworld).

Puffling wildly on an Export A, a genial Barker tackles the question of whether the lighter fantasy/adventure approach he used on Weaveworld would cause fans of his gory, no-holds-barred Books of Blood to be turned off.

“They seem not be. I mean, I’ve been on the road for three months now, doing a lot of [book] signings and obviously meeting a lot of people. And what’s very nice is that the hardcore horror fans seem happy to go with it–the Fangoria readers, the gorehounds, are havin’ a good time.

“You see, horror fans are not all headbanging idiots. They’re articulate people who have a genuine taste, and there’s no reason why that taste can’t spread out when they choose. I mean, they’ve gone with King down a lot of roads which aren’t strictly horror. I don’t think The Dead Zone is strictly a horror book. The Talisman certainly isn’t. Misery isn’t. And “The Body”, the thing that became Stand By Me, isn’t. It’s so condescending when people say, ‘Oh, well you know horror fans.’ ”

Like Stephen King, Clive Barker has recently turned to screenwriting, penning the scripts for Rawhead Rex (a story from Books of Blood Volume III) and Underworld. He also made the move, like King, into writing/directing for the recently released Hellraiser. But like King’s directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, Hellraiser turned out to be short on scares and long on gore.

A devoted fan of David Cronenberg’s graphic approach to horror (he loves Videodrome and The Fly), Barker does not feel that any real danger to the public is generated through the depiction of violence in horror movies and books.

“It’s more likely that somebody’s going to want to go out and be Rambo than want to be Freddy Krueger,” he says. “I don’t think these pictures, or these books, do anything but discharge the anxiety. You get the moralists and fundamentalists that come out and say it’s corrupting people, but… hey, Manson was inspired by a Beatles lyric. If people want to be psychos, they’re gonna be psychos, nothing can stop them. They’ll find the stimulus somewhere.”

Speaking of psychos, Barker says that he got his first real taste of horror when, as a lad of 15, he sneaked into a screening of Hitchcock’s Psycho. He watched four girls in the audience get scared witless. “I thought, ‘I’d love to do this to people. This is such a nice thing to do to people.’ ”

So what scares Clive Barker, the new king of terror?

“Not much,” he claims. “I think that what you’re scared by in your life is generally stuff you repress. And I learned quite early on in life that I didn’t really want to repress very much. I was perfectly keen to sort of let it all hang out and say, ‘Yeah, I think death is really interesting, and I’d like to go to an autopsy.’ ”



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