Clive Barker should be a household name to anyone even remotely familiar with the horror genre. For the longest time, he was the only storyteller to ever manage to rival Stephen King as the so-called “master of horror”, though they’re both good friends in real life. He’s also one of my favorite authors, consistently producing hauntingly creative tales that both frighten and entertain.
Although he rose to fame with the release of his short story collection “Books of Blood” (which is also the wonderful source of most of these adaptations), Barker has helped shape the face of horror with his terrifying work in film, television, painting and even videogames! So, with all this talk about cinematic universes, why not take a look back at some of the horror genre’s best (loosely) interconnected stories?
That’s why I’ve decided to rank all of the cinematic adaptations of Barker’s writing! I actually enjoy every single one of these movies, but it’s quite clear that some are vastly superior to others. Hell, some of them are even directed by the infamous author himself, and he fares better than King in his attempts at mastering celluloid.
That being said, I’ll be excluding films he wrote specifically for the big screen, and mainstream television adaptations as well. Now, let’s get to it!
10. Rawhead Rex
While I still have lots of fun with this trashy monster movie, it’s quite clear that this is the worst of all the Clive Barker adaptations. Barker’s original story was a somber tale of an ancient phallic-looking evil being unearthed and giving the contemporary British countryside a taste of Old-Testament wrath.
George Pavlou managed to turn that story into a schlocky gore-fest of a film, complete with a heavy-metal-inspired demeanor for the titular creature. While it’s an entertaining romp on its own, it’s obvious that Rawhead Rex completely misses the point of its originally disturbing story.
9. Book of Blood
Inspired by the two-parter tale that frames Barker’s original collection of short stories, John Harrison’s Book of Blood isn’t necessarily a bad movie, it’s just not the most entertaining one on this list.
While it maintains the somber tone and overall plot of the story it’s based on, the movie is bogged down by uninteresting characters and an uneven structure. When the story does pick up, however, be prepared for some amazingly gruesome sequences that will remind you why Barker’s work is so successful.
8. Quicksilver Highway (The Body Politic)
Not a lot of people remember this darkly funny Mick Garris film featuring two incredibly memorable stories from both Stephen King and Clive Barker (not to mention Christopher Lloyd having loads of fun in one of his most entertaining roles to date).
Qucksilver Highway is more of a dark comedy than a straight-up horror film, but it does showcase some of Barker’s fantastical creativity in the segment concerning a man whose own hands turn against him. To say more would spoil the fun.
It may not be in the upper ranks of this list, but Anthony DiBlasi’s Dread might very well be my favorite of these adaptations. Based on one of Barker’s most down-to-earth tales, this film is a disturbing psychological thriller that plays with audience expectations.
Although Dread is weighed down by a few moments of low production value and some questionable changes to the source material, it’s undeniably one of the scariest and most brutal films on this list.
6. Lord of Illusions (Director’s Cut)
Many moviegoers consider Lord of Illusions to be a love it or hate it sort of affair, and while I fall into the former category, I entirely understand why some might not enjoy this peculiar little film like I do (though watching the director’s cut certainly improves the experience).
Directed by Clive Barker himself, this film is the only time we’ve seen the signature protagonist of the “Barker mythos”, Harry D’amour, on the big screen, and it’s a blast! Featuring eldritch conspiracies and noir undertones, you really shouldn’t miss out on this supernatural detective story.
5. Hellbound: Hellraiser II
While it was directed by Tony Randel instead of Barker, Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 was the last film in the franchise to feature major involvement from the mastermind behind the cenobites and the cursed puzzle box, and it shows.
The insane plot, a detailed attempt at world-building and disturbing sexual undertones easily make this the best of the Hellraiser sequels so far, and a great film in its own right.
4. The Midnight Meat Train
The brainchild of a partnership between Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura and Barker, The Midnight Meat Train is one of the strangest (and best) slasher movies ever made.
Starring a (mostly) pre-fame Bradley Cooper, this gory yet surprisingly suspenseful thriller chronicles a photographer’s descent into madness as he pursues a horrific subway-based serial killer. The less you know about this one going in the better, so all I’ll say is that it’s a must watch for fans of the genre.
3. Nightbreed (Director’s Cut)
Although we’ve only recently been able to watch Barker’s original vision of this peculiar movie, the wait was definitely worth it! Another one of Barker’s adaptations of his own work, this is also one of the best.
Featuring an epic tale of men and monsters (not to mention legendary director David Cronenberg acting as one of the creepiest killers ever put to film), Nightbreed is one of those rare movies that dares to be its own thing, defying genre and audience expectations with its nightmarishly beautiful effects and bizarre yet compelling plot.
There isn’t much more to be said about this genuine horror classic. Directed by Barker, adapted from his novella The Hellbound Heart, this film cemented the writer as a legend in the world of horror movies, spawning a long-running franchise featuring one of the most memorable horror antagonists of all time.
While some of the effects haven’t aged very well, and the film does drag a bit in the second act, Hellraiser is without a doubt Clive’s best cinematic work to date and an essential part of horror movie history.
More than a few people will disagree with this choice, but I maintain that no other film has captured the ethereal beauty and intense terror of a Clive Barker story like Bernard Rose’s Candyman.
Based on The Forbidden, another Books of Blood story, Candyman is a dreamlike look at the effects that myths can have on real life, and what happens when the boundaries between legend and reality are shattered. Featuring an amazing performance from Tony Todd as the titular Candyman, a terrifying yet subtle script, memorable visuals and a haunting score by Phillip Glass, this horror movie, along with Barker, will go down in legend like Candyman himself.