The arrival of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood in 1984 and 1985 was an earthshaking event in horror literature. No less an authority than Stephen King called Barker “the future of horror,” leading to a tsunami of acclaim for the six volumes of collected short stories. Barker’s vast imagination, his creation of new monsters that eclipsed standard fare like vampires and witches, and his visceral, blood-soaked prose were a jolt for the horror genre that probably influenced a generation of writers and filmmakers.
Speaking of the latter, a number of stories from the books were adapted for the screen, including the title tale itself (which acted as a framing device for all the stories), “The Midnight Meat Train,” “Dread,” and “The Forbidden,” the latter of which formed the basis of the soon-to-be-rebooted Candyman franchise. Barker himself directed Lord of Illusions, based on the Books of Blood story “The Last Illusion.”
Now a new original movie, also called Books of Blood, is premiering on Hulu after initially being developed as a possible TV series. Directed by Brannon Braga (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Salem), written by Braga and Adam Simon (Salem), and executive produced by Seth MacFarlane (The Orville) and Barker himself, the film is an anthology inspired by Barker’s books that features two mostly original storylines and a third loosely based on the story “Book of Blood.”
“It came about after decades of dreaming about being involved in some adaptation of the Books of Blood as an anthology piece,” says Braga when asked alongside Barker about the genesis of the project during a Zoom chat. “Eventually, several years ago, I was introduced to Clive, and Clive was open to the idea. And then, of course, we set out together on a weekly basis for several hours every week, starting to talk about what stories we would like to do.”
Braga does admit that the initial idea was for a TV series featuring different stories every week. “It did start, very initially and very briefly, as a TV anthology concept,” he says. “But we realized that these stories would work better in slightly shorter form as an anthological film. Then it was about choosing the three stories that we wanted to do, and picking an anthological structure. We kind of looked to Pulp Fiction, which is not a horror movie, but an anthology movie, in terms of how the stories could standalone, cross-pollinate, and make it cohesive as a film.”
Barker chimes in, “Even though it’s several stories, it’s really one narrative, if that makes sense. The story begins, and you think you’ve left that character and that situation behind. You move on to something else, only to find out you haven’t left that character behind at all. Everybody is somehow connected to somebody else. You’re at six degrees of separation, for people who are going to die.”
In the first story, Yul Vasquez plays a professional assassin sent out to retrieve a valuable relic called “The Book of Blood” for his benefactor, prepared to kill anyone who stands in his way (there are aspects of the Barker story “On Jerusalem Street” in this tale). The next segment follows Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland) as a troubled young woman with a sound phobia, who leaves home on a cross-country journey that leads her into a terrifying trap.
The third story is the one based on “Book of Blood,” in which a grief-stricken researcher (Anna Friel) thinks she’s met a man (Rafi Gavron) who can legitimately speak with the dead. As Braga indicates, the movie has a sort of circular or inside-out structure, with the pieces falling into place by the end.
“A lot of characters, we meet them, we meet again, and then they come to some sticky end or another,” continues Barker. “There should always be an element to visual surprise. What was great is you don’t really encounter the material, which is the ‘Books of Blood’ literally, until quite a ways into the narrative. When the shocks really start to come along, where the blood really starts to get shed, is not in the conventional place in a horror movie.”
As for incorporating an original story with existing Barker material, Braga says that even that emerged out of his conversations with the author. “Imagine sitting in a room, one-on-one with Clive Barker, and him telling you that he has some Books of Blood stories that you haven’t heard yet,” he reveals. “And that’s what happened. Two of the stories are Clive Barker originals that we developed together, and one has been absolute necessary to the movie, because it’s the origin story of the Book of Blood.”
“I feel as though I, as a creator, owe my readers surprises,” adds Barker. “Part of the fun of all of this, I think, is the stuff in there that you’ve read before, I should say. But there’s also a lot which comes out of nowhere. It’s really only the story of the physical Book of Blood, which is something which had already existed. The rest of it’s new.”
Barker goes on to praise his collaboration with Braga on developing the stories for the movie. “Part of the fun of the two of us working together, honestly, is he has got an amazing imagination, and he’s an incredible developer,” enthuses the author. “It’s bizarre, because very often we find that we have almost lines in common, in our heads. I hope Brannon feels the same. He’s my favorite collaborator. He’s the guy. I’ve said that to him already, he knows that. I hope we’ll be able to do many of these.”
There are plenty of stories yet to be adapted from the Books of Blood (including our favorite, the classic, “In the Hills, the Cities”), so the possibility of doing more movies–or going back to the original idea of an anthology TV series–seems like an obvious way to go if this first entry is a success. Some 35 years after they were first published, Barker’s Books of Blood still set a gold standard for short-form, original horror stories that stand the test of time.
“I hope this movie introduces a new generation to these books,” says Braga. “It was kind of like the Beatles releasing all their albums on the same day. I couldn’t believe it (when I first read them). I was like, ‘There’s another volume of this? How did this guy…?’ The stories had no vampires, they had no werewolves, none of the traditional horror elements. These were images you never thought of. Every story is so original, and so different in tone. Some were funny. And it made me realize what horror could be, for really the first time.”
Books of Blood is streaming on Hulu starting today, Oct. 7.