Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
During the 1990s and into the 2000s, Clive Barker was looking to tell stories in as many mediums as possible. He had written novels, directed films, written a children’s book, comic books and even a video game. There seemed to be no stone unturned when it came to imaginative storytelling, but if it was there to be found, Clive Barker was going to find it.
And he did, when he partnered up with Spawn creator Todd McFarlane in 2000 to create a line of collectible action figures dubbed Tortured Souls. The premise was simple: packaged with each figure is a chapter of an exclusive Clive Barker novella and if you collect all six you get the full story. It was a pretty genius marketing gimmick.
The figures themselves looked very, very similar to the Cenobites of Hellraiser. In fact, they were pretty much loosely connected as something peripheral to the world of Clive Barker’s Hell. The marketing gimmick worked and the toys sold well and gained an audience, enough that Barker and McFarlane began conceiving the notion of adapting the characters and story into a feature film.
Talk of a movie began in 2001. Both Barker and McFarlane were enthusiastic about the project. They shopped it around to various studios before Universal began to show serious interest. According to Barker in April of 2002, “There’s a lot of excitement over at Universal about having that project as a movie. That’s going to be a fast-track project as well.”
By December, they had a script written from a detailed outline by Barker himself. At that point, they were even getting ahead of themselves and declaring that not only would this surely be a film, but Barker even added “We feel it could become a franchise.”
Things continued to make decent progress for awhile, Barker and McFarlane were both very busy people with many other creative endeavors to work on, but they kept up with the momentum on developing this script for a long time. By 2004, Barker had taken over as screenwriter. At that point, he also began to dish out more details on what audiences could expect the story to be.
“Our heroine,” Barker explained, “is transported to Primordium, which is a place of darkness and horror and monsters, and now she has to figure out a way to survive, along with a way to get back for three reasons: one, she wants to get back for her son who’s only four years old; second, she wants to fuck over her husband for sending her to this place; and thirdly, she wants to deal with that bitch who’s in her bed.”
What makes this interesting is that not only does Tortured Souls hold a heavy visual similarity with Hellraiser, but that basic plot description holds a thematic one as well. This version of Tortured Souls centered on a woman in an unhappy marriage who has been wronged by her husband and seeks revenge. She’s basically the exact inverse of Hellraiser’s Julia Cotton. I think that would have been fascinating to see on the screen.
In addition to this, Barker referred to his script as “an incredibly violent picture.” It’s amazing that Universal would even consider backing a film like this because you wouldn’t even think it was a remote possibility at this point in time. But in the early-mid 2000s, there was a hunger for extreme content, even at the studio level.
Universal, however, had just come off of the very tense production of Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses only a few years prior. That too was a very violent, visceral horror film with visually stunning, larger than life characters. While it’s not clear if one was a direct influence on why the other didn’t happen—it probably couldn’t have been—it’s still an interesting parallel.
The actual reasons Barker gave as to why the project didn’t happen at that time, sadly, didn’t sound nearly as well thought out. “So… I finish all the drafts for Universal and the people I’m dealing with at Universal are really cool people and one of them says, ‘I don’t think we’re going to make this movie,’ and I said, ‘OK… Why?’ and they said, ‘Because I think we’re going to have to make another movie with demons in it and we don’t want to be making two demon movies…’”
By that point, however, the script was complete and as far as Barker was concerned, it was good to go. He figured it would be all ready if someone wanted it, whether it happened for Universal or not. He also admitted to not backing down on the idea of the rating. As far as he was concerned, Tortured Souls could only be done as a hard R, not “one of those wishy-washy PG-13 things.” He also added that if the film “did not happen in the next six months, frankly it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”
Well, it didn’t. Universal briefly passed it along to Rogue Pictures which was at that time a sub-company, best known for releasing indie horror hits like Shaun of the Dead.
In 2005, when the movie came no closer to happening, Barker admitted some of the major reasons as to why it had not yet been made, particularly pointing out the rating and some of the thematic elements. “I wanted some dark religious underpinnings to the movies and I’m pretty sure at Universal that didn’t go down too well,” he said in an interview with Rue Morgue.
While nothing happened with it, every now and then they would dig up the script and make it sound like the film was right around the corner. In 2006, McFarlane did a re-write, but by that point they weren’t even sure if it was going to be a studio production at all. There was even, beginning around that time, talk of doing it as an animated film instead of live action.
This isn’t surprising, really, as Barker loves to explore different creative avenues and is himself a fan of animation. Todd McFarlane, of course, has seen great success in animation with the Emmy winning HBO animated adaptation of Spawn. But even still, nothing came of it.
Even now the project isn’t necessarily dead, but there’s been no talk of it for some time. It’s too bad, too. Tortured Souls could have been a return to classic Clive Barker in a way that audiences were yearning for then and have an even stronger appetite for now. But if it was never meant to happen, then it was never meant to happen. At the very least, the original novella was finally published on its own, separate from the figures, in 2015.