Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #320
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 28 September 2009
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: John Harrison
Producers: Clive Barker, Lauri Apelian, Joe Daley, Anthony DiBlasi, Micky McPherson, Jorge Saralegui, Nigel Thomas
Screenplay: John Harrison, Darin Silverman
Based on Books of Blood by Clive Barker
Special Effects: Mike Kelt
Visual Effects: Jonathan Cheetham, Clare Heneghan
Cinematography: Philip Robertson
Score: Guy Farley
Editing: Harry B. Miller III
Studios: Matador Pictures, Midnight Picture Show, Plum Films, E-Motion
Distributor: Essential Entertainment
Stars: Jonas Armstrong, Sophie Ward, Clive Russell, Paul Blair, Romana Abercromby, Simon Bamford, Doug Bradley, Gowan Calder, Graham Colquhoun, Marcus McLeod, James McAnerney, Joy McBrinn, Charlie McFadden, Jack North
Suggested Audio Candy:
Christopher Young Hellraiser Theme
Screen adaptations of Clive Barker’s numerous works have been a decidedly checkered affair. The first that springs to mind is predictably Hellraiser and Barker makes no secret of his immense satisfaction over how this story was handled. So well in fact that it spawned eight ever-decreasing sequels and is soon to receive the remake treatment with the great man’s blessing. The original became one of the most revered horror films of the eighties and launched Doug Bradley into the stratosphere with his glorious representation of the head of the Cenobites, Pinhead. However, it hasn’t been plain sailing for Barker and his fiction is often handled poorly.
Nightbreed was a decidedly mixed affair. While it was in absolutely no way an outright failure (indeed I happen to love its bones), the tale had such a rich heritage and vibrant characters that it deserved to attain epic status upon its release but the resulting translation was considered somewhat muddled and deemed to have failed on as many counts as it succeeded. Although the Liverpudlian took on directorial duties himself when developing this from its source material Cabal, it was easy to discern its troubled production and I’m assured that Barker himself would have particular gripes against the way the final product turned out. As a result, years later, a Director’s Cut was released in an attempt at giving fans a closer version of events to what was originally intended but it remains something of a flawed masterpiece.
A personal favorite of mine was Ryûhei Kitamura’s Midnight Meat Train. This was a far more intimate affair than the Hellraisers and Nightbreeds of this world and managed to convey both the isolation of the carriages and spiralling obsession of its voyeuristic lead, despite some crude CGI work. However, for every strike there has been a gutterball, as attested by George Pavlou’s Transmutations and Rawhead Rex. The latter was notable as it was such an almighty travesty that it ended up wildly entertaining for precisely the wrong reasons. A guilty pleasure of sorts; all well and good when making a low-rent monster movie but not quite as handsome when you consider it entertained the fiction of one of horror’s most prolific writers.
John Harrison’s Book of Blood gets one thing bang on the money and stays true to the material that inspired it. The Books of Blood were hardly the most treasured of his works but, to Harrison’s eternal credit, he sticks rigidly to the formula, so much so that it simply doesn’t stray. What was a six-volume strong work actually centers on two particular verses; wrap-around entries Book of Blood and On Jerusalem Street. Harrison had previously directed the middling Tales From The Darkside: The Movie but Grueheads will likely be familiar with his mesmerizing compositions for the scores of Creepshow and Day of The Dead. Here he has a brief which he sticks to unerringly and, while this is a distinct positive, there’s only so much potential his film can realize.
It tells the tale of Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward), a paranormal extraordinaire whose studies implicate a young protégé and potential bed-mate Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong). Along with her downtrodden research assistant Paul (Reg Fuller) she holes herself up in a Gothic mansion of sorts while furthering her studies, searching for inspiration for her next novel. What starts innocuously enough soon becomes far more complicated as Mary is inexplicably drawn towards her subject and it isn’t long before the pair are engaging in coitus, against Reg’s better judgement. What’s more; it soon becomes clear that the sexually infused young dynamo may be blowing a little potentially harmful smoke up her peachy little ass and her findings may not be entirely authentic after all.
Book of Blood clocks in at 100 minutes and, given the brevity of the original work that inspired it, this proves something of a labor of love for Harrison. He has evidently studied his thesis from cover to cover and, moreover, remains faithful to the source material without exception. He still elaborates where necessary and gives his own interpretation of events when necessitated that he fill in the gaps. However, astonishingly for a piece which should struggle to pad out a feature-length movie, it still ends up feeling unnecessarily overlong. The languid pace doesn’t help and it is required that the central characters have resonated sufficiently to see us through countless lulls. When it works, it does so to the letter and Harrison has a sturdy handle on Barker’s madness. When it doesn’t, Book of Blood is culpable of falling a little flat.
Despite the fact that Barker’s template was miserly in terms of content, the themeology explored is ripe for the picking. The mansion acts as something of a rest stop; an intersection on the highway of the dead where those who have expired can stop and grab an iced doughnut as a break from perpetual limbo. This is one of a number of fascinating concepts explored and we are briefly ushered through the hellscape as the ethereal John Doughs scribble their woes relentlessly into the flesh of our chosen book binding. Occasionally the consternation bleeds into reality, culminating in effectual set-pieces which suitably chill the blood in our ventricles. Harrison is more concerned with eking every last drip of tension from proceedings, rather than facilitating jolting responses from his addressees and he manages such on a number of occasions. But between the meat in his sandwich rests garnish with not quite enough dressing to compliment the mental protein on offer wholly successfully.
Performances aren’t the issue here; the three leads are committed and Armstrong and Ward in particular give spirited turns. The original story also can’t be held liable for the vaguely underwhelming manner in which it makes its impact on our psyches. Neither am I inclined to shoulder the blame on Harrison; who does his level best to honor a parable he is clearly rather enamored with. So who’s to blame then? Firstly, I wish to make it known that I don’t consider Book of Blood to be a failure, not even close. It’s only real crime is that it isn’t the classic I still believe is due from this great literate mind’s wealthy body of work. When all is said and done, The Books of Blood weren’t his magnum opus and his words are stretched a little too thinly over such a bloated running time. But it does leaving your nodes humming after its credits roll and that will never be a bad thing in Keeper’s book.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Since when has grue not been a pre-requisite with Barker’s extensive back-catalogue? There’s rather a lot of rouge on exhibit here; whether gushing from cherub-laden waterfalls, swishing freely about our ankles or concentrated through the unremitting nib of hell’s ballpoints. Pleasures of both sexes are also a given and both Ward and Armstrong strut about in the altogether at every opportunity as the tale unfurls, becoming increasingly allergic to linen it seems. No complaints here; 100 minutes is a long time to go without a few alluring pictorials nestled in between so many painstakingly scribed words.
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