Clive Barker is an extremely cinematic author, creating imaginative visual landscapes and unfolding worlds within worlds. You wouldn’t think that this would always lend itself to film as the cinematic medium has limits and the imagination does not. But he always knows exactly what needs and does not need to be shown. He has always made sure that his movies seem bigger than they actually are. And even beginning with low-budget fare, he’s always managed to show us sights we’ve never seen before.
Like all authors who have had films based on their work, there have been missteps, but in Barker’s case they came early. Transmutations was a mess of a movie that was far removed from the original script he had written. Rawhead Rex isn’t actually terrible, but it doesn’t get too deep into the mythology of the original short story and the creature is very different from Barker’s original vision.
After two failed feature films, that was all it took for Barker to decide, much like Stephen King proclaimed in the trailer for Maximum Overdrive, that if you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself. Just one year after the biggest horror author in the world tried his hand at directing and turned in that box office flop, Barker also took it upon himself to direct a movie and wound up giving the world Hellraiser.
If you go back and look at just about any interview with Barker, you’ll see him describe himself as a storyteller first and foremost. Yes, he’s been a hugely successful author since his debut with The Books of Blood in 1985, but he’s never been just that one thing. Hellraiser was an important debut, leading him to a long career in the film industry, but he is a jack of all trades.
That’s what separates Barker from other horror authors who have had their fiction adapted into films: He remains involved. Even the two flops before Hellraiser boasted screenplays by Barker. After Hellraiser, he went on to direct two more with Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions. Every single feature that followed saw Barker in a role as producer, usually through his production company Seraphim.
Stephen King doesn’t get too involved with his adaptations because there are so many of them. He tries to have a hand in them when he can or when the director’s vision particularly excites him. But with the amount of both books and movies that have been seeing release in rapid succession, that’s about the best we can hope for.
The fact that Barker has such a hand in the films based on his work is nothing short of amazing. He’s never stopped working as an author, he does hundreds of paintings, many of which serve as illustrations for his successful Abarat series. After experiencing toxic shock in 2011 and falling into a coma, it was wondered if Barker would ever make a full recovery. By all accounts, he’s still in recovery. It’s taken everything he has to get back to work and the fact that he’s still doing this, still producing in an industry that can often destroy even the healthiest person, is astounding.
He stayed on as a producer for all three of the theatrical Hellraiser sequels. He let Bernard Rose turn “The Forbidden” into the classic Candyman while totally helping the reimagined story to retain a perfect Clive Barker tone. Barker produced its first sequel as well, establishing a working relationship with Bill Condon that would lead to the two of them eventually putting together the Academy Award winning Gods and Monsters. Barker produced several films based on his Books of Blood collection, including The Book of Blood, The Midnight Meat Train, and Dread.
I think it’s because of his huge success as one of the greatest minds in horror literature that Barker doesn’t get enough credit for just how much he has helped contribute to horror cinema. Even if he’s just overseeing the script and finding the right director for the job, he’s still putting the story above all else. That much is clear just from looking at his output. This is a man who’s sole concern is for the sake of the story and he has always appeared to act with that thought in mind.
Barker has shown an amazing perseverance through his career in the genre. He’s had to survive bad reviews, low box office, and more than any of that, he’s simply had to survive. As proven by the success of his adaptations, he knows what changes serve the literary and cinematic landscape best. Given his track record as a producer—and his novel about the biz, Coldheart Canyon—Clive Barker has a very firm understanding of the mechanics and economics of film. If I had to guess, I’d say that’s why he only ever directed three of them.