As an avid Clive Barker fan, I was delighted to learn that there was another adaptation of one of his classic short stories, The Book of Blood. From his work on the Hellraiser franchise, to the Candyman franchise inspired by his short story The Forbidden, to the first adaptation of his anthology series Books of Blood in the 2009 film of the same name, Clive Barker’s work is no stranger to the film genre. As such, I had high hopes going in that this film would capture the magic and macabre that follows Clive Barker’s work.
It’s worth noting that this film is not a direct retelling of Clive Barker’s short stories, but rather a loose adaptation of two stories from his anthology collection. The film itself is an anthology and tells three separate stories that follow the adventures of three individuals: Jenna, Miles, and Bennett. To my understanding, Jenna’s story is completely unique and not inspired by Books of Blood—however, Miles’ and Bennett’s stories are directly tied to the work in the collection. The Book of Blood, Miles’ story, tells the tale of a cheating psychic who is exposed in a truly bloody way, and On Jerusalem Street, Bennett’s story, is tied to The Book of Blood sequel where a man finds the titular volume and is subsequently tortured by it. In order to keep this review focused on the adaptation portion, I will be focusing on these two stories.
As always, a quick spoiler warning is in place. While I will strive to avoid major spoilers, I will be comparing the book and the movie so there will be spoilers for both. If you wish to see them for yourself you can find the first volume of Books of Blood here and the movie on Hulu.
One stunning aspect of the movie was the book of blood imagery. The book of blood, a man who is covered with the stories of the dead engraved into his skin, is used as the connecting point between the three stories in the anthology, and it looks just as disturbing and haunting as the short story described it. Each scene that features the book of blood really taps into the fear that Clive Barker’s anthology strives for, and makes for some of the best scenes in the movie.
Likewise, the disturbing ideas featured in this movie, both the ones taken from the anthology and the original ideas, are incredible. There are several scenes in this movie that stuck with me for days afterword—from the blinded girl being placed beneath the floorboards to the mother swinging with her dead son. When the film chooses to embrace the gut-wrenching reality of the story it finally feels like a Clive Barker inspired film. If the movie had focused more on these elements, then it would’ve been an excellent adaptation.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t focus on the unsettling ideas that make Clive Barker’s work so great. Rather, the movie focuses on the characters and their interactions, which is where the movie fails spectacularly. They are very one note and, rather than talking like normal people, often serve as blank mouthpieces for the themes the movie is pushing. Rather than showing the character’s motivations through clever dialogue and filmography, the movie has them recite their personal philosophy at any given moment. They aren’t given any other characteristics that would make them interesting, so they are just left to constantly spout off about their opinions without any prompting, even in moments where it doesn’t fit. This creates a tell-not-show environment where the viewer is subjected to one long lecture on life and death with occasional blood and gore.
This may seem like an odd criticism for a book blogger to make, but the main reason why the characters feel like hollow husks is that the movie is written too much like a book. Within a book it’s okay to have dramatic discussions of the duality of good and evil and philosophical discourse over what it means to be alive because it can be framed as the character’s thoughts rather than dialogue. However, in the audio-visual setting movies create, these discussions feel hollow because the viewer is force-fed the information. In a book, there can be intense discussion of themes because the only medium at play is the written word, but movies cannot get away with dumping all the information regarding the movie’s message into the dialogue, especially if they aren’t willing to do the work to make the dialogue fit the situation or to make the themes unique and interesting. The movie’s choice to lazily cram all the themes into one aspect of the film results in a very boring viewing experience.
In the end, I felt that this movie failed to capture the horror of The Books of Blood anthology. While there were promising moments of dread and unsettling imagery that spoke to the beginnings of a great horror anthology, it was bogged down by the movie’s incessant need to drone on and on. Horror films as of late have gained a rotten reputation for being dull with only a few scares, and while I don’t fully agree with this belief, I don’t think Books of Blood is going to convince anyone otherwise. If you are genuinely curious and already have a Hulu subscription, the occasional scares are enjoyable enough to watch the movie while working at home, but it definitely isn’t worth getting a Hulu subscription or dedicating all your attention to watching it.