Clive Barker on making movies, writing books, and the state of horror in 1988


By Steve Newton

Horror is big stuff nowadays. Why, just flick your TV on any night and chances are you’ll come across War of the Worlds, Monsters, Tales from the Dark Side, or Freddy’s Nightmares. Walk into most any video store and you just might find that the horror/thriller section is, to borrow a title from one of its low-budget entries, Humongous. It appears that more horror flicks are being filmed these days than ever before. In the Vancouver area alone, 1988 has seen the production and/or planning of films such as Watchers, Fly II, Matinee, Lighthouse, Empire of Ash III, and Ricochet.

And then there are the books. Stephen King may have eased off on his normally prodigious output, but there are still scads or other titles promising scares aplenty. Expect Vancouver’s own Michael Slade to be all over the place this summer when the paperback edition of that writing trio’s second best-selling novel, Ghoul, hits the stands.

But as we head towards the 1990s, there is one person who stands at the forefront of contemporary horror–on both celluloid and the printed page. “I have seen the future of the horror genre and his name is Clive Barker,” said Stephen King three years ago, and for Barker the future is now. The 36-year-old Liverpudlian spent several weeks on the bestseller lists for his novels The Damnation Game and Weaveworld, and his directorial debut, Hellraiser, has grossed close to $30-million worldwide since its release in 1986. A gory, claustrophic tale of a band of demons called Cenobites that rise up from hell to give humans a taste of things down under, it was the sort of film that–like it or not–wasn’t easy to forget. Based on Barker’s novel, The Hellhound Heart, Hellraiser was filmed in Britain for $2-million. On Friday (December 23) its sequel, a $4.5-million effort titled Hellbound: Hellraiser II, opens in Vancouver, and according to Barker it takes up precisely where the last one left off.

“Literally two hours afterwards,” he says, “so it truly is a sequel. On the second one we’re actually on the Cenobites’ turf [hell]; we’re actually moving into darker territory. And since we also had a bit more money, Tony [director Tony Randel–not the one from The Odd Couple] was able to offer a level of spectacle in the second picture that wasn’t there in the first.

“There are a lot more effects,” claims Barker, who stops short of claiming that the sequel is bloodier than its bloody-enough predecessor. “More gore? Well, I’m sort of a tough one to judge. I didn’t think the first one was very gory, but people tell me it is. But then I go to mortuaries–I mean what do I know? Certainly the movie seems to be a shocker, and I’m pleased about that.”

Although he’s extremely busy promoting Hellraiser II right now, Barker’s actual involvement with the film was limited to writing the treatment for it (which was then handed to screenwriter Peter Atkins) and acting as executive producer. He has his reasons for passing on the directorship this time around.

“For one thing I was locked in to doing a whole bunch of work on books,” says Barker. “People had paid me advances, and I’d spent the money, so I really had to write the books. That was one thing, and the other is that I really felt I’d given what I could to these ideas in the first movie. I thought it was time to hand this stuff over to somebody else.”

Although the sequel’s screenwriter and director are different, the two female leads–Ashley Laurence and Clare Higgins–are back for more. And the person who created the first film’s frightening score has also returned. Barker is well aware of how important the soundtrack is to a horror film’s effectiveness.

“It is massively important,” Barker says. “Chris Young did a wonderful job for us on Hellraiser, and an even better job on Hellraiser II–you know, big orchestral score, choirs, the whole shebang. It’s a great way to elevate the scale of the movie.”

Barker points to the musical efforts of director John Carpenter–who often does the synthesizer soundtracks for his films–as also quite impressive. “I saw Prince of Darkness again recently, and that’s got some very eerie stuff going down there.”

But he’s not that crazy about the movie itself. “I’m less of a fan of Carpenter’s more recent films than I am of the earlier stuff. I’m a great fan of Assault on Precinct 13, and The Thing as well. I love that picture.”

Like Carpenter, Clive Barker is a multi-talented artist. As well as illustrating his own book covers, he’s worn the hats of playwright, novelist, screenwriter, director, and now producer. But has the Paul McCartney look-alike ever thought of getting in front of the cameras himself?

“A-ha! Well, I’m going to watch David Cronenberg do it first. David is starring in the next picture that I’m doing, and if he turns his attention to acting successfully, I may well follow him. I’m doing a movie called Nightbreed, from a short novel called Cabal, which comes out in Canada early next year. It has a very dark psychopath bang in the middle of it and David has kindly said that he will play the villain, which will be great fun.”

After Cabal, the next Barker book to be published will be The Art, which should be out by the fall of ’89. A novel about “sex, the movies, and Armageddon in Hollywood”, The Art is set in Ventura County, Los Angeles.

“I discovered, having spent a lot of time during the last nine months in L.A., that there were some things about that environment which were appropriate to the novel. California contains some of the best things in the world–but sure as Christ, some of the worst too.”

Barker says that The Art will be a big book that will be closer to the fantasy of Weaveworld than to the all-out horror of his breakthrough Books of Blood. He felt that by moving beyond the bounds of the strict horror novel he has won a more general readership than some fright authors.

“I think what happened with Weaveworld–since it was massively successful in Canada and huge in Britain–was that an audience that hadn’t previously read me, or thought that my stuff was simply horror, did come over. It’s been a huge success, and it’s clearly an area that I intend to follow through on again.”

Barker hasn’t discounted the possibility of Weaveworld also making it to the big screen, either.

“We’re looking at that, but it’s such a big  book that I think it’s something we’ll have to plan a ways down the line yet. It would cost an arm and a leg to make.”

Getting back to the movie at hand, Barker says that Hellraiser II screenwriter Atkins is already at work on a script for yet another picture, Hell on Earth: Hellraiser III. Barker explains his philosophy about that often ridiculed beast, the sequel.

“I think all too often sequels are sort of bad tin-types of the pictures that precede them, and I don’t think that flatters the audience at all. I think audiences should be given fresh forms of entertainment.

“But sequels can be good–it isn’t necessary that they just be weak echoes of the first picture. I mean, going way back to Bride of Frankenstein–that’s one of the best sequels of all time. And I loved Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. And I think that with Hellraiser II we also have a picture that genuinely has its own style, its own class, and its own direction.”


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