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.
While Clive Barker’s short stories and novellas have seen several successful adaptations over the years, from Hellraiser to Candyman, Nightbreed, The Midnight Meat Train and more, none of his full-length novels have ever actually made it to the screen. There have been dozens of attempts to get things like Weaveworld, The Great and Secret Show and even the hugely ambitious Imajica off the ground, but none of the attempts ever succeeded.
This is frustrating for fans, but the lack of progress does make sense on one level. Barker’s reputation as a horror author has always stuck, even though it’s mostly only the stories in The Books of Blood that fall into this category. His many fantasy novels, as dark as they often get, could alienate people who have only ever watched the adaptations of his other work. Much more than that, though, Barker’s fantasy novels are about building other worlds and imagining the impossible, bringing new sights, new images, new sensations—all of which would be extremely expensive on film.
The Damnation Game hinges on many of the same basic concepts as Hellraiser: it’s about a deal with the devil, essentially. And, of course, it’s a deal that predictably goes south. But it’s a deal handled in a very Barkerian way, with a Mephistopheles figure named Mamoulian, a resurrected sword-swallower and an examination of the thin line between life and death, as well as the nature of greed.
Attempts to bring the novel to life go back at least as far as 2001, at which point it would have been a major studio production from Warner Bros. and Phoenix Pictures. When Phoenix acquired the rights to the novel, they immediately began searching for huge, A-list talent both in front of and behind the camera. Shockingly, at that time, the plan was for Damnation Game to star both Sean Connery and Paul Newman.
Beyond that, Ed Harris, Kim Basinger and Maggie Smith were also courted for supporting roles.
While there was never any announcement on who these people were planned to play, I think it’s more than likely that Connery was sought for the devilish Mamoulian and Newman for the aging thief, Whitehead, although a reverse of those could have fascinating as well.
Clearly, none of these huge prospects ever came to fruition, otherwise The Damnation Game would be a title everyone and their mother would know by now. In 2002, the script was turned in and Warner Bros. seemed keen to make it, possibly putting it into production the next year. In 2003, Barker said that Warner Bros. were bringing in “a great horror writer of yore” to do the final draft of the script, but did not say exactly who that was.
But then, in 2004, things shifted dramatically. Barker was still confident it would be a movie, but it would no longer happen at Warner Bros. Changes within the studio led to the feature having nothing resembling the support there that it had had at the beginning. After that, it needed to be reconfigured to be a smaller movie without the huge support of a major studio.
Enter screenwriter Anthony DiBlasi, who would go on to make a name for himself in the world of Clive Barker, producing the adaptations of The Midnight Meat Train and Book of Blood as well as directing Dread. He was initially hired to write a new script for Damnation Game that would work on a slightly smaller scale while Barker and Phoenix Pictures tried to find the project a new home.
DiBlasi officially came on board as director in 2009, breaking for years of silence on the prospect of the adaptation. There had been no news and many had been led to believe that the project was dead at that point. In 2009, a year that saw the release of two Clive Barker adaptations with one the year before, Damnation Game seemed possible. In fact, it seemed likely.
But after the announcement of DiBlasi as director, things got quiet again. At this point, he has moved on to several other projects, he’s found success as a director with other movies and it doesn’t seem likely that this project will be picked up again any time soon. If it does, it will more than likely be with a completely different writer and/or director at the helm.