Clive Barker on Hell, Meat & More!
Simply calling Clive Barker a master of horror almost seems inadequate. A more fitting description might be to describe him as a visionary genius who has had a profound effect on the horror industry by not only setting the bar with visceral and sexual imagery but by also leaving his mark in the literary world for almost 30 years now.
While Barker himself hasn’t directed a film in almost 15 years, he certainly keeps himself more than busy these days. In fact, Barker is celebrating the bittersweet fact that The Midnight Meat Train (DVD review) is finally getting a Blu-Ray and DVD release from Lionsgate as well as the release of his book The Adventures of Mr. Maximillian Bacchus in the very same week.
For anyone who's been keeping score on Lionsgate’s muddling of The Midnight Meat Train’s handling in 2008, it won’t be much of a surprise to you that Barker himself is still not a fan of Lionsgate’s president, Joe Drake. Actually that might be one of the biggest understatements made in a long while.
During a recent interview Barker confirmed that sentiment: “I don't know what Joe's (Drake) deal is. I've never met the man. I've only had one very unpleasant conversation with him, in which he claimed that his real problem was that they couldn't cut a trailer for Midnight Meat Train that worked, and so that's why they weren't releasing the movie. I don't think that really bears any [realism]. I mean, that's just preposterous to me. But that's all he was going to give to me."
“I am here waving the flag for the picture because I believe in it,” Barker added. “And I believe that Drake left his company exposed, financially, for reasons of ego. The movie that he put into the slot that we were supposed to have was a movie that he produced. That's a little bit obvious, I think. It's a damn foolish way to run a railroad. We need horror movies to be seen on big screens because I think they have a lot of effect that way.”
For Barker, nothing pleases him more than when people want to adapt his written work for the big screen. While he always likes to stay involved with a project, especially since it has his name on it, he’s conscientious that it’s ultimately the director who needs to take the reigns for a film. So when it came time to work on Midnight Meat Train, Barker fully trusted the vision of its director Ryuhei Kitamura.
“I have an opinion when I disagree more than when I agree,” he said. “For example, the guy that I first turned in Hellraiser to told me that [the character] couldn't talk. I asked him why and he said because movie monsters don't talk. I have dealt with a lot of producers who are pricks. So I can't be that kind of producer.”
Barker further explained, “(Ryuhei) Kitamura had a strong vision of what this movie was to be. It was my job to help him with that vision. So I tried to be useful in helping when Kitamura had a question. He was very nice about it. He would come to me and we would have a civilized conversation and I would work with him.”
Even though the movie has finally gotten its street release, that doesn’t mean the pressure is off for Barker and those who worked on Midnight Meat Train. For those involved, how the film performs will either be vindication against Drake or it will prove the point that, sadly, original horror movies are a dying breed.
Barker explains, “There is definitely pressure on the picture, but I believe in the movie so it is good pressure. It was great when people were standing up for their rights with the release campaign. Although the movie isn't perfect, [it] is damn better than six movies that I can think of right now that got a wide release.”
Obviously, one of the biggest things brewing right now in the realm of all things Barker is the upcoming remake of his 1987 masterpiece Hellraiser by Pascal Laugier (who brought horror fans to the brink himself with his grisly film Martyrs). However, Barker isn’t turned off in the least bit by someone else taking another crack at a film that put him on the map.
“There’s a part of me that feels that with the new technologies and since we had such a modest budget on my Hellraiser movie, if we can have 5-6 times that on the new Hellraiser remake, I think we’ll get an awesome picture out of that,” he said.
“Mine was a small picture so the only thing that I would hate is if they opened it up. That would be really detrimental to the picture. The picture is essentially a family saga, Chekhov with blood, and that is this very small thing. And into this small enclosed world comes this god-awful force.”
Although the original Hellraiser was released over 20 years ago, it doesn’t mean that the man is even remotely close to being done dissecting one of his most fascinating and iconic characters ever, Pinhead.
”I just had the great good fortune being given the image of a guy with nails in his head. Then I had the greater good fortune to have my good buddy Doug (Bradley) play this character, who has this Shakespearean gravitas about him."
“That character is a priest of Hell,” Barker continues. “In number 3, he’s actually called on screen the Pope of Hell, which I guess came about later in the scripts. In my original script that Cenobite didn’t even have a name. Pinhead was the name that the special effects guy used actually. I was like ‘Wait a second, you just named my villain Pinhead?’ because I didn’t think that sounded very dignified. But it ended up on the call sheet, and it just stuck.”
While it’s certain that it is Barker’s darkly genius imagination that brought Pinhead to the big screen, he was actually surprised to learn a few year back that the idea of people with nails driven into them is considered normal in some African cultures.
“About 6 or 7 years ago, it was pointed out to me that there are African fetish statues that are used as focuses for feelings, particularly negative feelings. So the fetish statues are used as a place to put ‘bad’ feelings—like human beings with nails driven into them,” he said “When I went to look this up, I found that there’s a lot of 19th Century stuff which is amazing - crude but very, very powerful.”
Barker went on to discuss the imagery of the nails, “When you think about the nails they use, it conjures up images of rage. Now I don’t know how that exactly ties in with Pinhead because he’s not necessarily a very angry character. But it does mean that I seemed to have plugged into the collective unconscious when I had that image. The fact that it has been picked off a number of times with make-up jobs and magazines, fashion stuff that uses that image in some way since, but I use it too. But I must have somehow unconsciously seen images of these fetishes at some point. So I am not claiming that I was by any means the originator of this. The only thing that might have added to the imagery of this was its geometrics severity.”
Barker is also very tuned into the current controversy about some unauthorized reimagining images of Pinhead by Gary Tunnicliffe, the special effects guy who created Pinhead for the last four movies. While Barker is quick to praise Tunnicliffe’s past work, he’s also quick to point out just how he missed the mark on what Pinhead represents.
“I think Gary’s a very smart and creative guy, but I think he missed something in the redesign because it is a very bloody redesign,” he commented. “I don’t think that’s right. I think the whole point about Pinhead is that he isn’t bloody - that his victims are bloody but he isn’t. The other thing is that there are these lacerations that are diagonal and very random. The original had the feel of geometry paper in school where it was broken up into segments and lines, which to me had a severity to it. Having the pins of the intersections of the crossroads made it have a surgical severity to it almost. I think this new version has sacrificed that feeling.”
Barker’s original vision of Pinhead actually had more to it than he was allowed to create, “I had always wanted back when we were filming in 1986 to do a “reveal” that Pinhead had a piercing below the navel but somehow wanted to be discreet about it. Just something that indicated he had genital piercings.”
For now, though, Barker is looking towards the future, although ironically it’s through the work from his past. This week Bad Moon Books is issuing a limited released of Barker’s The Adventures of Mr. Maxmillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus, which he penned in the winter of 1974.
One of the reasons it took so long to bring this world of fantasy and horror to bookshelves was that Barker needed to find the perfect person to illustrate his work that could possibly be the creative counter-balance to Barker’s imagination. Barker finally found that balance through illustrator Richard T. Kirk.
“Originally Kirk did the illustration work on the appendices for the special edition of Imajica, and he just has a completely off-the-wall imagination, especially with what he can make happen on a page - it is just extraordinary to me. What he’s done for this book shows that he truly is an extraordinary artist, and it’s so wonderful to have that much love to put alongside my work."
“These are stories I started writing when I was 17 so there are some insights to back then,” Barker added. “I deliberately didn’t do any do any real edits and I didn’t polish anything either. I just didn’t do anything to 'improve' it either. Doing that would have completely been against the spirit of the project of ‘this is what Barker did when he began.’ I think they’re very entertaining stories, and I hope people have fun with them.”
One dream project for Barker is finally bringing Book Four of The Books of Blood, “The Inhuman Condition”, to the big screen. "I know Guillermo del Toro has said that he wants to do (Book Four), and I'd love for him to do it. That would be a dream combination for me. I'm trying to explore both the stuff for the wider audience but then, unapologetically, go for the very hardcore horror stuff. If anyone can pull that off, it's him."
For now, though, Barker is looking forward to getting another unpublished work from his youth into the hands of fans. Barker is also waiting to see what happens with the long-rumored film adaptation of Tortured Souls, which is currently on hold, and just continues to focus on his writing and art.
"I know that I want to continue to bring sex and horror together as I have been able to in my books," he said. "I've always thought that sex and horror belonged together, and I want to bring the lessons I hope we've learned from the film Shortbus into the world of Hellraiser.”
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