One of the most important and haunting collections of horror writing released in our time, Clive Barker's Books of Blood (comprising six volumes in total) are the inspiration for a new movie coming to Hulu. In support of the film's release this week, I had a chance to catch up with Clive Barker and director Brannon Braga, who talked about their favorite anthology horror movies, what makes Books of Blood so special, and working with their cast on this adaptation:
How did the two of you team up for this Books of Blood adaptation and what made you decide that an anthology feature format was the best way to tell this story?
Brannon Braga: I first met Clive in 1987, standing in line for two hours at a bookstore, to get his autograph. We would meet many years later, because like millions of people, I'm a huge fan of his books. We had a great first phone conversation about what this could be. Our initial thoughts were about a TV show, but that quickly morphed into the idea of an anthological film, because we felt these stories were better a little shorter, and could be commingled together. We started working about three years ago. We'd just meet once a week, a couple hours, and start talking.
Clive Barker: It was fun, because what we found was that we had passions in common, but we also had things to teach other. Brannon had a whole bunch of movies that I'd never heard of. I had a whole bunch of movies that he'd never heard of, so we had a sort of little film society going on.
We'd meet every Tuesday at 3:00, and I'd always go away with something to watch. And because we had that in common, we also have things that we don't like in common. There are kinds of styles of movies, which we were not particularly keen on, and one of them, I think, was the showy kind of movie that was constantly drawing attention to itself.
Both Brannon and I (me as I writer, Brannon as a filmmaker) are making fictions in which we are invisible. I think it's important that you not be constantly drawing attention to how clever the filmmaker or the writer is. What's important is to be drawn into a narrative so that you forget who the writer is. You don't care. You're living in somebody else's life and you're living in the story.
Talking about reference films, there are dozens of anthology horror movies to look at, from the Amicus heyday in the '60s and '70s, to more modern classics like Trick ’r Treat. What are some of your favorite anthology horror movies, even if they didn't necessarily inspire the direction you took with Books of Blood?
Clive Barker: Going for some obscure ones, Kwaidan and Kuroneko are two Japanese movies made in the '60s and '70s, which are exceptionally strange and wonderful. I'm actually quite an admirer of the Amicus movies, and I'm delighted that you mentioned them. I think Peter Cushing's performance in the original Tales from the Crypt movie is excellent!
So you remember what Peter Cushing looks like as the dead man, right? It's borne onto the consciousness of anybody who's seen that picture, and here is this old guy who has something dreadful done to him and turns out to be the ultimate monster. Takes a lot for me to conjure up a monster that is as scary as Cushing is in that picture. If the whole movie had been that, it wouldn't have had anything like the effect it has. That story comes in the last 25 minutes at most, 20 maybe. It comes in, it hits you very hard, and then it lets you deal with what you've just seen, and I think that it's very unusual. In fact, it almost never happens, that an anthology picture will have every single element right.
There's also an English picture called Dead of Night and the final story is exceptional. So there's always something which people are going to take away from an anthology picture. I think what Brannon has done here is not unique, but very original. Pulp Fiction would be a model for this, where he's taken a lot of elements from a lot of stories and thrown them together in a fascinating way, so that you are given a taste of things to come very early in the picture, without realizing you're being given a taste.
Wes Craven told me about me this. He once said to me, "They've got to feel that you'll do anything to them." And I remember thinking, "Wes, you're a genius." And it's true. You've got to feel going into a horror movie, that almost anything is possible, and I think Brannon gives us that. He unsettles us to the point, where, really, there's a lot of stuff that is incredibly intense, which happens after the first hour of the picture. The most scary stuff comes in a rhythm that you don't expect. Horror movies have rhythms, and sometimes that can make them very conventional, very predictable. And I think this is one of the least predictable horror movies I've ever seen.
Brannon, what would you say are some standout anthology movies that maybe inspired you or that you grew up with?
Brannon Braga: The first movie I saw in the theater was Tales from the Crypt, and even whatever inappropriate age I was, I'll never forget the scene of the guy being chased by German shepherds into a narrow corridor with razor blades.
And the other ones I would bring up, Dead of Night, of course. The Twilight Zone movie is a very underrated movie, and the George Miller segment at the end is terrific. But the one that scared the crap out of me, and any child who grew up in the '70s in America is going to remember, is a TV [movie] made by Dan Curtis called Trilogy of Terror.
I don’t have a memory of what the other stories were, but the last one, with Karen Black chased around by this little voodoo doll… it shouldn’t work. It’s so silly, but it’s still terrifying.
Clive Barker: At that time, I had a very big muscular boyfriend. I came home, and I found him hiding behind the couch. And I said, "John, what are you doing there?" He said, "There's something on the television." And I looked up, and there was Karen Black being chased around by a doll with a knife in his hand, screaming.
Six or seven years ago, somebody came to me with one of the actual dolls in a beaten-up, old box, with this beaten-up doll inside it. It was a very simple mechanism and I don't think it even had wheels. I think somebody was just holding it. It was very simple, but there it was, in the box, under the tissue paper. You part the tissue paper, and there is the nightmare that you had when you were a kid. It was quite a moment, and I got no warning. I think I shrieked. You're so right, Brannon. It shouldn't work, but it does.
Remember what the punchline is? She burns the thing in the stove, and then she inhales the smoke. Then she turns into this sort of Japanese monster… because her hair is long and stringy. And what's interesting is it has been 25 years since I saw that movie. And yet we remember beat by beat the scenes, right?
And that shows how impaled in our consciousness these images are. It says something very potent about why we like horror. Horror is something which we don't forget if it's good. Here we are, the three of us, talking about something which we haven't seen for years and comparing notes about it, and our memories are crystal clear. It's almost like a drug. It's like something that wakes you to a new consciousness, which in fact, you've had there all along, pristine.
A requirement for any great anthology horror film is an excellent cast, and you’ve assembled a talented group of actors for this film. Brannon, can you talk about your experience on set and working with these actors to bring Clive and your nightmares to life?
Brannon Braga: It was an interesting directing experience, in that on any given day, I could be in one of the different storylines and had to keep everything straight. I was very lucky, in that I had a really good script to work with. I had Clive that I could talk to whenever I needed inspiration or guidance. There were certain things that I just didn't know till the last minute how to do, like what should the dead people look like?
Clive Barker: That was interesting correspondence. "What do the dead look like, Clive?”
Brannon Braga: We ended up with kind of a mannequin-like look, because initially they looked like zombies that crawled out of the grave. And it just had to be something we'd never quite seen to capture Clive's description of these faces leering from the darkness.
I can't say enough about the cast. It made my job 1,000 times easier to have these group of actors who committed, who read the material, liked it, fully committed to it, and gave me everything. I was so lucky.