Books of Blood - Now Streaming Review
Director: Brannon Braga
Starring: Britt Robertson, Anna Friel, Freda Foh Shen, Rafi Gavron, Yul Vasquez
Written by: Adam Simon, Brannon Braga
Produced by: Josh S. Barry, Jason Clark, Michael Mahoney, Mark Alan Miller
Cinematography by: Michael Dallatore
Original Score by: Joel J. Richard
A journey into uncharted and forbidden territory through three tales tangled in space and time.
To steal a rather famous quote from the King of Horror himself Stephen King, “I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker” Mr. King wasn’t wrong. For a very long time Clive Barker WAS the future of horror, first cementing himself as a successful author then going on to become a successful filmmaker in his own right. A master of body horror, gory violence and sexual taboos, Barker didn’t quite capture the hearts of casual film fans like King would eventually do but for horror nerds he was the fucking man. And in many ways he still is.
His famed ‘Books of Blood’ short story collection firmly put him on the worldwide map and even without the advocacy of Mr. King it was almost a certainty that he would become a huge name in the horror genre. Many of the short stories contained within ‘Books of Blood’ have been adapted for both the small and big screen with ‘Rawhead Rex’, ‘The Midnight Meat Train’, ‘The Forbidden’ (Candyman 1992) and ‘The Last Illusion’ (Lord of Illusions 1995) being the most famous (or infamous) but last year an anthology feature film loosely based on the ‘Books of Blood’ was brought to us exclusively by Hulu in the US and Disney+ elsewhere. The Walt Disney Company promoting a Clive Barker joint? Who would have thunk it eh?
‘Books of Blood’ is essentially split into three (sort of) separate narratives that tenuously tie together. We open up with Bennett, a hitman-sort who is seeking the Book of Blood, a rare, sought after legendarium which he thinks will be his big pay day and the end of him and his partner trying to scrape the barrel of the criminal underworld. Bizarrely this is the only narrative adapted from Barker’s book, the other two are original concepts from creator Brannon Braga and Barker himself. We’ll catch up with Bennett later in the film too. Next up is Jenna, who despite being in her mid twenties still lives with her rich Mum in their insanely huge and spotlessly white mansion by the ocean. Jenna has just come off her meds against the wish of her doctor and her overbearing mother. Did I mention her Mum is rich? Jenna jumps ship after overhearing her Mum lambaste her to her partner and ends up stopping at an AirBnB on her way to Los Angeles owned by a "lovely" elderly couple. And lastly we have Simon, a so-called medium who becomes involved with a woman who has recently lost her son to leukemia. Mary, once a staunch cynic, has now become a believer after witnessing Simon’s abilities and the two not only become intertwined sexually but also for financial gain.
That’s the bare bones of it but of course there’s a little more meat here than what’s advertised.
All three stories stand alone but do have a small overall connection with each other. Jenna, who was on her way to L.A. via a Greyhound, stops off in the same town that Bennett is driving through to get to his destination and the same town that Mary’s house is located in and we get a “coming together” in the climax of the film.
As anthologies go this isn’t exactly a stand out and it sadly plods along with relative formality. There aren't really any memorable scares to speak of and technically it’s all a bit just too vanilla. While the storytelling is just fine, the actual dialogue felt very forced with especially some horrible exposition from Jenna’s mother at the beginning. Anna Friel is great as grieving mother Mary and Britt Robertson is absolutely fantastic as Jenna, specifically during her more intensely emotional scenes. Her segment is definitely the most enjoyable to watch and while it takes a little while for it to truly kick off, she manages to hold it all together as well as expected and her wrap-around finale is fairly satisfying.
Unfortunately the same can’t really be said for the other narratives. Questionable acting and subpar tension don’t really help the cause either. There’s some great imaginative ideas here obviously but the execution doesn’t really hold up to the ambition. Barker’s work has always been super visceral and unapologetically gory. I’d be lying if I said that that same energy doesn’t exist here in fleeting moments. There’s a sequence involving Jenna, her B&B hosts and a needle that made my toes curl. In fact there’s quite a few uncomfortable scenes just before and after that sequence that felt like it was offering something original and exciting. However most of the good stuff is overshadowed by lazy horror tropes and weirdly random imagery that effectively left me feeling empty. There's a few scenes during Mary and Simon's segment that were disturbingly cringeworthy. Even a highly tense moment involving Bennett and his partner in crime Steve is let down by nauseating dialogue.
It just feels like something is being held back and it plays out more like a generic episode of ‘Tales from the Darkside’ (or dare I say it a US soap opera) rather than classic, nightmarish Clive Barker. It makes sense when you realise that the initial concept for this adaptation was to be a series instead of a feature film and it would probably work a lot better in that format.
- Gavin Logan