Before he hit it big with Hellraiser, Clive Barker focused his efforts on his writing. He also had time to dabble a bit in directing some experimental shorts with a couple of short films with his college buddies, including the man who would eventually hit it big with Clive, Doug Bradley. Those early films, Salome and The Forbidden, shot in 1973 and 1978 respectively, have been gathered together and put on DVD as Clive Barker’s Origins, courtesy of MVD Visual.
Based on the tragedy by renowned playwright Oscar Wilde, Salome tells the Biblical story of Salome, stepdaughter of King Herod. As a reward for dancing the dance of the seven veils, and after the urging of her mother, Salome requests the head of John The Baptist on a silver platter. With The Forbidden, the film is based on the German legend of Faust (Peter Atkins), a successful but unhappy scholar who makes a wager with Mephistopheles (Clive Barker) to satisfy his thirst for knowledge, power, and enjoyment of life.
With both films, the first thing you’ll notice is that these films have no dialogue. Apart from the ambient music added in post, there’s no sound. It’s all visuals, which demands the full attention of the viewer to know what’s going on. Both films have their unique quirks in terms of visuals. For Salome, the film plays a lot with shadows and contrast, as well as a multitude of closeups. It’s quite striking, and the accentuated expressions and movements by the actors just up the surrealness. With The Forbidden, the shadowplay and contrast are traded in for what essentially can be described as viewing the film as a negative. One of the interesting things is that Barker tried to paint parts of the actors in such a way that they would appear to be the positive of the negative (if that makes sense), again giving the visuals a different sort of surrealness. The ending, which has Faust flayed by angels, definitely showcases this the strongest, creating a strange beauty in the image.
Admittedly, the biggest strength of these films is also their weakness. These are definitely not films that are accessible for the casual moviegoer. Both films require patience and attention to not only enjoy them, but also to know just what’s going on. It’s also necessary to know what each film is about. If you’re not familiar with either story, you’ll be lost. Even with the knowledge of the stories and a general appreciation for what Barker was attempting to do here, there were times when both films felt overwrought. I don’t believe that they were pretentious, but they definitely cater to a more select group of film connoisseurs. Also, be forewarned that in The Forbidden, Barker has a segment when he dances and spins erratically in the nude, and is a little more than “happy” to be doing so.
The big question is not so much are these films worth it, but who are they for? Obviously, diehard fans of Barker will be delighted to see that his two student films have made their way to DVD. Those film students looking to learn about different techniques in presentation may glean a bit from seeing these films. The rest of us probably will see these as a curiosity and nothing more, although it’s interesting to see just what Barker was up to prior to unleashing what he’s known for onto the horror scene.
Both films are presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen. Apparently shot in 8mm and 16mm, these films aren’t what you’d call preserved. Loads of scratches, nicks, heavy grain, shaky frames, and other blemishes you’d probably get from a home movie. Still, it has a certain charm to it all, and just adds to the surreal atmosphere Barker has crafted with these two films. It’s presentable, but definitely not reference quality.
Audio-wise, both films sport a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Seeing as both films are of the silent type, the only sound to be heard is the quiet ambient music being played for the duration of both films. Again, it’s very “arty”, and is your typically clich&eactue;d college film student work. But like the video, it has a certain charm and does the job, with no distortion or any real bombastic rumblings, explosions, etc.
The sole extra on the disc is a collection of undated vintage interviews with Clive Barker, Peter Atkins and Doug Bradley. The interviews focus on Barker’s initial exposure to the underground film scene in Liverpool, which led him to create these two shorts, and the makings-of these films. Interesting tidbits include how Salome was filmed in a flower shop after hours, the makeup creation for Atkins being flayed in The Forbidden, as well as the interesting techniques used in filming both films. Short but sweet, these interviews are a nice little compliment to a couple of little films.