Judge William Lee wonders, wonders who, whoo-oo-ooh, who wrote the book of blood.
The dead will not be silenced.
An adaptation of the fantasy-horror author's early short works, Clive Barker's Book of Blood is an uninspired haunted house story. Based on the opening installment of Barker's multi-volume short story collection Books of Blood—the source for horror films Candyman and The Midnight Meat Train, among others—this movie captures none of Barker's lush and evocative prose. It goes without saying that a book and a movie are completely different experiences but, stripped to its bare plot points by director John Harrison (Frank Herbert's Dune), Book of Blood feels recycled and unimaginative.
In the original short story, Barker immediately plunged readers into the climactic final moments of a paranormal investigation at a haunted house. The movie's expanded script gives us more time with the characters without actually giving them any more substance. Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward, A Village Affair) is a best-selling author who also lectures on the paranormal at a UK college. She enlists the help of Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong, Robin Hood: Season One), her student and a gifted medium, in her investigation of a house where a gruesome but unexplained killing has occurred. Each night, Simon experiences physical convulsions and scars to his body. The walls of his room are also etched with mysterious writings. Mary is conflicted over the potential of another bestseller and the apparent danger to Simon. Her professional ethics are further tested by her growing lust for the young man.
The script gives us one-note characters that move through the plot with vague motivations. Simon is a mysterious man with an intense stare. If there's a reason for his participation in this paranormal study, perhaps it is for extra credit. There's also the mystery of whether or not he's faking his gift for contacting the spirit world but why would he go to all the trouble to be a phony? As the plot requires, Mary oscillates between completely believing Simon and wholly distrusting him. In one scene, she shares a childhood memory that weakly provides a background explanation as to why she has devoted a career to paranormal study. There are no hints to her deeper connection with the spirit realm, so it's rather unconvincing when she has a crucial role to play at the climactic moment. The script is further padded with elements from On Jerusalem Street, the postscript segment in the final volume of Barker's Books of Blood. The use of this story, to bookend the main events of the movie, makes it feel like the pilot episode for a television series.
There is nothing new to be discovered in this story of paranormal researchers waiting in a large, scary house. Between the big moments of Simon's encounters with the spirits, there are the usual false alarm jumps punctuated by loud music cues and sound effects. When Mary's assistant, Reg (Paul Blair), dutifully performs the scene where he investigates a dark room by himself, it plays out exactly as you'd expect. All of this leads up to the big climax where the special effects inspire neither horror nor awe. It's like a laser and light show where you try to force your imagination to play along with the visual tricks but your brain can't get past how silly it looks.
There are some bloody scenes that may satisfy fans of gory horror if they have the patience for the slower bulk of the movie. The emaciated story and thin character development won't hold the interest of most viewers. The rich imagination of Clive Barker's writing deserves better embodiment than it's given here. As one of the film's producers, the author should have known better.
The picture on this DVD is acceptable for its clean image and sharp detail; however, it's not an especially pretty picture. Scenes are intentionally drained of color so the movie has a very cold look and flesh tones are pale. The sound is adequately presented in stereo once you find the appropriate volume level. Dialogue is delivered in whispers and the sound effects shriek at those jump moments so you may want to keep your finger on the remote.
Throw the book at this one. It's guilty.
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