Clive Barker’s horror is immediately recognizable. One of the most influential Gothic voices of the 1980s and ‘90s, his stories on the page and screen mingle body horror with kinky fatalism: pleasure and pain sprinkled with an undercurrent of happy self-annihilation. He wrote and directed the exceptionally perverse Hellraiser, and with his literary Books of Blood collection of horror short stories, he penned the origins for future movie cult classics like Candyman—as well as the less glowing adaptations of The Midnight Meat Train and Rawhide Rex.
I’d like to say Brannon Braga’s Hulu adaptation of several of those Books of Blood tales lands closer to the hypnotic thrall of Hellraiser or Candyman, but this messy and ultimately garish film goes down like ‘80s junk of the Rawhide variety. With an obvious ear for Barker’s sweet romantic whispers about oblivion, Braga attempts to recreate a specific type of Gothic doom, but his version plays like a bad imitation, something you might find in a Tales from the Crypt episode.
The Hulu movie is primarily divided among three narratives that more or less seek to stand alone. Among them is the tale of Bennett (Yul Vazquez), a hitman convinced that finding the rare “Book of Blood” is his ticket out of the underworld, Jenna (Britt Robertson), a twentysomething who decides to finally leave home, and stop taking her meds, after experiencing a nondescript trauma, and Simon (Rafi Gavron), a self-proclaimed medium who seeks to convince (and seduce?) doubting Mary (Anna Friel). The latter is a woman who’s become a scientific celebrity for attempting to disprove there’s an afterlife following the death of her son.
Each of them has hopes and aspirations for a better life, but as the conceit of Books of Blood is that each has their name “written down” in an unseen book of oozing flesh—a text reserved for those who died in the most gruesome of unexpected manners—the chances of any having a happy ending seems remote. But hey, this is a collection of Barker tales, right?