Book of Blood (2009)
Reviewed by Evil Andy
Starring Jonas Armstrong, Sophie Ward, Paul Blair
Directed by John Harrison
UPDATED: You can go to the Book of Blood screening at Comic-Con (July 24, 2009) on us.
Critics of the film adaptation of Clive Barker’s "Book of Blood" will likely fall into two camps: those that have read the story, and those that haven’t. If you’ve read the first, wrap-around short to the six-volume Books of Blood, you’ll realize that director John Harrison has crafted a faithful and reverential film that interprets the original story almost to perfection. If you haven’t read the story, then you may be disappointed to find that the tale is fair to middling when placed against the rest of Barker’s canon and that a movie based on it could really only be as good as the source material.
It’s understandable that Harrison, best known for directing Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (and, less famously, as the "screwdriver zombie" in Romero's Dawn of the Dead!), would be compelled to choose the framing stories for the Books of Blood series. The film Book of Blood actually adapts two stories from the six volumes, the first being "Book of Blood" and the last, which completes the wrap-around story, "On Jerusalem Street". If Tales from the Darkside is nothing more than a lengthened, larger scope version of the television show, then the same could be said of how the film adaptation of "Book of Blood" compares to the short stories.
However, this sells the movie short. In Harrison’s defense, it must be incredibly difficult to subsume your ego to the point where you tell exactly the story that is on the page, without modifying it to fit your own personal tastes. In fact, even where Harrison is forced to interpret due to the brevity of the source material, he does so in a way that is wholly faithful to the original stories. Fans will certainly recognize Barker’s work, as this isn’t the kind of literary adaptation where you find yourself complaining that it deviates from the book; it is the book.
It’s all there: the simmering sexual tension between the paranormal investigator and her fraudulent young protégé, the reversal of power, the unlucky research assistant, and the cursed house at the intersection of the highways of the dead. Most importantly, when the film culminates with the agonizing authoring of the book of blood, the panoramic Hellscape and its vacant-eyed scribblers are truly awe-inspiring.
He left the work to someone else for Book of Blood, but Harrison is also known as a composer (Day of the Dead, Creepshow), and while the sound design and score are decidedly in the “boo scare” camp, they’re also both very effective. It’s not all that easy to get jaded horror fans to jump, and I can guarantee you’ll be grabbing your armrests more than once during the running time.
The version we saw was uncut and filled to the brim with excessive gore, uncensored sex, and plenty of other moments that will never be seen in the upcoming television premiere. That said, even at 100 minutes, the film felt too long, and the pace may actually be helped by the shorter running time and edits required for television. According to Harrison, a lot of the violence will remain, but nearly all the sex will have to be excised. Go figure.
Ultimately, "Book of Blood" was never intended to be a stand-alone story and may not have been the best choice for a feature film. The scraped and scabby runes carved into the flesh of the living book were meant to frame the rest of Barker’s tales, to ensure that the reader always had in mind that these stories were transcribed and translated from letters born in blood. This was a formidable way to start a six-volume horror compendium, but on their own "Book of Blood" and "On Jerusalem Street" are not particularly complete narratives. They have the feel of Barker and nicely wrap a series focused primarily on lust and violence, but they’re more butcher's paper than meat.
Maybe in the future, if the complete Books of Blood are adapted, Harrison’s story will finally find its place as the first film in a box-set. Here’s hoping this happens because in the context of other films in the series, Book of Blood may very well turn out to be remembered as one of the few faithful Barker adaptations not executed by the author himself.
3 1/2 out of 5
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