With the upcoming release of Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, the impending arrival of a new short story collection and novel, and forthcoming television series based upon Hellraiser, Nightbreed, and the Marvel/Razorline comic book Ectokid all in the offing, master imaginer Clive Barker is on the brink of a sweeping renaissance. But before those projects will inevitably lead to a well-deserved resurgence of interest in the man, Hulu has recently gifted fans with a brand new, damned impressive adaptation of his work. Titled Books of Blood and based in part on the stories found within Barker’s classic short story collection of the same name, this feature film anthology has landed on the streaming service just in time for Spooky Season.
Directed by Brannon Braga from a script co-written by Braga and Adam Simon, Books of Blood boasts adaptations of Barker tales new and old, woven together in a Pulp Fiction-style tapestry which finds the otherwise standalone tales crossing over with one another at crucial points in their narratives. From Hulu’s press release: “Based on Clive Barker’s acclaimed and influential horror anthology BOOKS OF BLOOD, this feature takes audiences on a journey into uncharted and forbidden territory through three uncanny tales tangled in space and time.”
On hand to discuss this film is Mr. Braga, who was kind enough to lend Bloody Disgusting his time to chat about the project’s origins, its release, and the future of the Books of Blood.
And a word of warning for readers: there are light spoilers throughout this article for those not familiar with Mr. Barker’s Books of Blood stories. And for the new material that Mr. Barker helped develop for this film, there are some major spoilers that have been noted as such below.
You’ve mentioned in interviews recently that the project began its life as a possible television series, before it was decided that it would become a single anthological film. Recent comments in a Reddit AMA with Mr. Barker hinted that Books of Blood may not be a one-off. Can you tell us a bit about its future, and whether or not we can expect more installments down the line?
Our hope and intention has always been to do more. We would love to do a Books of Blood Volume 2, and a Volume 3, and a Volume 4. There are many stories in Books of Blood that have yet to be adapted – some that should be remade, and a long list of what I’m going to call the unpublished Volume 7 of Books of Blood. There are stories that Clive has, and story concepts, that are just fantastic. We would like this to be a Halloween tradition, but it depends on people watching.
I don’t think I’ll know anything for a few weeks. This is my first project for a streaming service, so it’s all new to me. I’m sure I’ll hear something about how successful it was in the coming weeks. We were trending on Apple TV in the Top Five. And it was certainly in the Top Ten for the first five days. But I don’t even know what that means, exactly. But I hope it does well, because we really want to do more.
Some early concerns from fans online seemed to revolve around how “Clive Barker” this adaptation was going to be. As a longtime Barkerphile, I have to say that I was delighted that the new material, especially the “Jenna” story and its ultimate conclusion, was very much in keeping with the man’s work, both tonally and thematically. Can you talk a bit about the approach of including brand new tales with this adaptation, along with your takes on Mr. Barker’s ”The Book of Blood” and ”On Jerusalem Street”, and any concern you may have had in keeping that Barkeresque tone in play with this film?
When I first sat down with Clive a couple of years ago, I intended to start our discussion about which stories to adapt. The studio had optioned some of the stories, but not all of [them]. But very quickly, it became clear to me that Clive was equally if not more excited to talk about some of his new stories. Which immediately caught me off guard, but also made me very excited. What was striking to me too was Clive’s point of view that he’s not a horror writer, that Books of Blood was his horror piece. He’s hard to define. Certainly he writes a lot of fantasy, and dark fantasy. But for him to return to horror, to have story ideas up his sleeve for new Books of Blood stories, was intriguing. That’s kind of how that began.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE NEW BOOKS OF BLOOD TALE “JENNA”
One of those stories had to do with what I’ll just call “an Airbnb from Hell” [Clive’s name for that story was “Cruelty”]. Clive was inspired by a real life story about a married couple who were murdering people and putting the bodies in their house. He always thought it would make a good storyline. The concept of keeping bodies alive in a state between life and death, and that the woman’s a nurse and the man’s a carpenter, and together they put these bodies in the floorboards and in the walls. In Clive’s original conception of the story, he said we should never find out why they’re doing it, only that it started with their grandchildren. So you can imagine, I’m like “Oh, that’s chilling.” As a fan, I would really be excited to see a story I hadn’t seen adapted already, or a story I hadn’t read, so to speak. And I ran with that story, with my writing partner Adam Simon. We invented the Jenna character [because] we needed a protagonist. But that was Clive’s idea.
The story really does feel like classic Barker. With Jenna’s misophonia and the suicide pact that she strikes with her boyfriend (and later reneges on), we have a tale that seems a bit reminiscent of Barker’s short story “Dread”. And with the finale, we have an outcast of sorts finding peace in a fate others would deem horrific, which strikes this fan as absolutely, positively, 100% Barker.
Well, it’s a happy ending for Jenna. It’s a disturbing ending for most. You make a comparison to the story “Dread”, and I think it’s an apt comparison. “Dread” is an example of a story that’s really psychological horror. It’s a very influential story. You can see its influence in a lot of horror that came afterward – the Saw franchise, for instance. It falls into the Books of Blood category of more nuanced, psychological horror, which is what the ”Jenna” story is. I thought that, too. I also knew that it was going to be a risk to do a new story, because I didn’t know if Barker fans would accept it. But because it’s from the mind of Clive Barker, [and because] I loved the story, I had to assume that others would like it, too.
END SPOILERS FOR “JENNA”
And in terms of “The Book of Blood” and “On Jerusalem Street”, they’re both very short stories. They’re the first and last stories in Books of Blood. That was just a matter of developing the story a little more, and creating the loss of the boy. But the key ingredients of a woman conned by a self-proclaimed medium who pisses the dead off, and they write their stories on him, that’s all there. It was just a matter of bringing it to life in such a way that it didn’t suck.
Were these new tales fully written stories, or ideas that Mr. Barker passed along to you to develop and expand?
They were ideas. He had a notepad he was referring to. I don’t think he’d written the stories in their entirety, but he’d written something. And certainly, we developed them together along with Adam Simon. The haunted neighborhood story is kind of a nod to ”On Jerusalem Street”, but it really is more of an original idea that Barker had about a haunted neighborhood where some kind of supernatural event had occurred, like a supernatural Chernobyl. And its epicenter was the most haunted area. I still think it’s a great idea on its own, but we used it and made the creation of the Book of Blood the epicenter.
Clive’s imagination is staggering. He will come up with five new ideas in one session. I can barely keep up with him. He’s a genius, and he’s a visionary.
How involved was Mr. Barker throughout the development of this film?
Development-wise, he was involved at the most crucial stage, which was the conception of what was initially a TV [show], but very quickly became a movie anthology. I was consulting Clive all the time. To me, the biggest and most challenging thing was when the dead appeared to Simon. I had long discussions with Clive about … what the dead would look like in that sequence. We wanted it to be something original and creepy. But that’s … an example of how he was involved in the production.
Should the decision be made to go forward with further films, can fans hope that we’ll have an annual installment of Books of Blood dropping yearly at Halloween? If not, how would additional films be released?
I would love nothing more, and Clive would love nothing more, than to do more Books of Blood. We had a lot of fun doing this, and we want to do more. If there are more, I don’t know what the plan would be. My own personal dream, and Clive’s too, would be to make it an annual tradition. People need to press “Play” on Hulu. They need to watch it. It’s the new box office.
Is there the expectation that Anna Friel and Rafi Gavron will return for more installments in the future, given that Mary and Simon would likely have to figure into bookending sequences in any further films?
We have ideas about what the next installment would be. I think you’re right that Mary and Simon must play a part in some way. Certainly I would love to work with Anna and Rafi again. They were wonderful to work with, and I was lucky to have them in this movie. They really made it better. So yeah, I think that’s a good assumption.
Can you talk about whether or not any discussions have been had regarding what stories might make up the next installment? Would they be adaptations of older stories, newer stories, or a mix like this film?
I don’t know. I certainly have – I don’t want to say it aloud, I don’t want to jinx it – but I have one particular story that I’ve always wanted to adapt form the books that I think would be amazing. So I think at least one [older] story would be in there. As far as the other two – COVID virus permitting, I wouldn’t mind taking a stab at “The Life of Death”. I know Clive would really love to do that. But we haven’t really started discussions yet in great detail. They might all be stories from the books. Certainly, one or two of them have to be from the books. I think that goes without saying. But we’ll see. And you know, I’ve even had thoughts that there should be four stories. But until Hulu calls me to say “Hey, the movie was a success, let’s do another”, [it] just depends on fans. Fans reading this, who want to see another one, just need to watch it.
Thank you so much for chatting with us today. Before we go, what would you like to say to both Barker fans and horror fans in general who haven’t yet gotten around to watching Books of Blood, or may be on the fence about checking it out?
Books of Blood is a horror film made by horror fans, for horror fans. If you’re a Clive Barker fan, you obviously need to check it out. I think it’s worth your time, and has some stuff in it you’ve never seen before. If you’re interested in seeing more Clive Barker in general, it would be good to check out just to help encourage the Barker Renaissance, to coin your phrase. I think it’s time for a whole new generation to appreciate Clive Barker. So please watch the movie!
Books of Blood is now streaming on Hulu.
Special thanks to Brannon Braga for his time and insights.