Monday, October 4, 2010

DVD Review: Clive Barker's Book of Blood (2009)


"The Dead Will Not Be Silenced"

DIRECTOR: John Harrison
CAST: Jonas Armstrong (Simon McNeal), Sophie Ward (Mary Florescu), Clive Russel (Wyburd), Paul Blair (Reg Fuller), Romana Abercromby (Janie)

SUMMARY: A paranormal researcher and her assistant recruit the help of a psychic to investigate a haunted house that is at the crossroads of life and death.

FILM: John Harrison, the director of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990) and the quite good DUNE (2000) miniseries helms this sleepy adaptation of two short stories from Clive Barker’s ‘Books of Blood’.

Simon (Jonas Armstrong) is a young man with horrific scarring covering his entire body. A professional killer (Clive Russell) has been contracted by an anonymous benefactor to peel the skin from his body. Before killing him the assassin tells Simon that if he tells him a story he will make his death quick and painless. Simon agrees and spins the tale of what has led to this moment.

As the fable unfolds a young woman is viciously attacked by an unseen spirit that culminates in a gruesomely fantastic face-peeling scene that really evokes Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER (1987), it’s a strong start to a film that quickly loses steam. Enter Mary Florescu (SophieWard) a professor and paranormal researcher and her assistant Reg (Paul Blair) who enlist the help of psychic grad-student Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong) to assist them as they investigate the house where the mysterious murder took place. They set up cameras and other diagnostic equipment ala POLTERGEIST to record any paranormal activity. Trouble arises as Sophie and Simon strike up a romantic relationship, Reg is highly skeptical of Simon’s psychic abilities and disapproves of the romance. As the spirit of the house make themselves known things quickly escalate out of control.

“The dead have highways, running through the wasteland behind our lives, bearing an endless traffic of departed souls. They can be heard in the broken places of our world, through cracks made out of cruelty, violence, and depravity. They have sign posts, these highways, and crossroads and intersections. And it is at these intersections where the dead mingle, and sometimes spill over into our world.”
- Mary Floresco / Book of Blood

The script and story are plodding, the performances are ponderous and the film crawls along at too slow a pace. By the end of the film I’d long since given up interest. While the film contains some of the best elements of Clive Barker’s stories; horror, fantasy and eroticism, director John Harrison is not able to focus these elements into a suspenseful film.

 DVD: A pretty bare-bones affair here including trailers and a 20 minute featurette. We get interviews with Clive Barker, John Harrison, the actors and producers - pretty standard fare, nothing too illuminating. The image and audio quality are very good, no complaints in that department.

VERDICT: The trouble with this film is that its source material is merely a prologue to a series of short stories and you can feel the director really trying to stretch the material, it’s just not there. I can see this making a decent Masters of Horror episode or a part of a larger anthology film, but as a full-length feature film it’s pretty abysmal and the story cannot sustain a 100 min. running time. While not a terrible film BOOK OF BLOOD is a largely underwhelming film. Clive Barker’s best adapted works have always been directed by himself; HELLRAISER (1987), NIGHTBREED (1991) and the underrated LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995). There are some decent adaptations by others out there, but for every MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (2008) there are several that fall to the depths of THE PLAGUE (2006) and BOOK OF BLOOD. I think I’ll be checking out DREAD (2009) next, let’s hope for something better than this.
*1/2 (1.5 out of 5 stars)