On Day Number Nine I took in this surprisingly faithful Clive Barker movie.
CLIVE BARKER'S BOOK OF BLOOD (2008)
D. JOHN HARRISON
This superior adaptation of the first two short stories in Clive Barker's famous collection has been searching for a distributor for some time now. The reasons why mystify me, because the film is actually quite good. Maybe it's because it's a slow burner, maybe it's because it's not about a serial killer or teenagers running from a guy in a mask, so no one knew just how to market it. Maybe it's because of the fit Lion's Gate threw about the last Clive Barker film, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, causing it to be a major flop and no one thought this more cerebral movie would make it in the market place. Who knows what the reasoning is in Hollywood, but the final call here is that this is a rare case of a film adaptation of a book that is both faithful and well-done.
The story is about a paranormal writer who discovers a house in which a teenager girl was brutally killed by some unseen force. This writer (Sofie Ward) also teaches at the local university and meets a young man who was famous as a teen because he had a premonition of his brother's car crash before it happened and therefore becoming a minor celebrity because of his mentalist powers. They team up to investigate the haunting in this house as well as the sexual tension between them. Soon mysterious writings are appearing on the walls while he is locked in the upstairs attic, nude, to sleep. Her and her research partner become convinced there are spirits in the house.
But it turns out the young man is taking them for a ride: he's faking proof of the haunting to get into the pants of the woman and make himself important again. Unfortunately, the ghosts there are none too happy with his nonsense and feel no problem about taking it out on his flesh to prove a point. Hence the title of the movie.
The film is a slow-moving character piece that relies on mood, tension, and performance to get the fear across. There are not a lot of huge jump-type scares, but instead a sense of mounting dread that builds as the movie flows along. For me, it was a little hard to judge because I had read the stories it was based on (BOOK OF BLOOD and ON JERUSALEM STREET, respectively) many years ago, and even as a project in screenwriting, wrote my drafts of them in college. So I knew what was coming at all times. But I must say i was impressed with how the shorts were expanded to feature length, without dragging it out too much. There is also a wraparound story about a bounty hunter capturing the young man to skin him a live for a collector that is a pretty nice addition to the story. The finale when all the effects are wheeled out is very effective (though all pretty much CGI), the ghosts are very creepy, and the landscape representing the highways of the dead look remarkably like what I had imagined many years ago reading the books.
The film also has a very adult streak of sexuality to it that is refreshing. Once again carried over from the story, it's nice to see a movie handle sex in an adult manner that is not embarrassing or juvenile. The couple of sex scenes here are rather hot and genuine, serving the story well. There is also a ton of nudity, most of it male (though a lack of penis for the ladies, unfortunately), but lead actress Sofie Ward has nipples that could poke out someone's eye. Very impressive indeed.
If I have a complaint at all, it's that in a few places the script goes all over obvious, emphasizing things far more than necessary for the dumb people in the audience. For example, the entire crux of the movie rests on the idea that the dead have "highways" on which they walk through the after life. This is explained in a bit of unneeded narration over the opening credits. Dummy narration, as I call it, that doesn't need to be there for any reason whatsoever, because as soon as the movie proper opens the main character EXPLAINS this again onscreen. In the last third of the movie, Sofie Ward's character explains it again. And then finally the last line of the movie explains it AGAIN, but with a further riff to wrap it up. So basically it is explained four different times for the dumbasses in the audience who can't grasp what's going on. Which sucks, because the rest of the movie is not that pandering.
Otherwise,the film is a pretty crisp, solid rendering of two of Barker's better short stories. Now if someone will get down to doing THE SKINS OF THE FATHERS, JAQUELIN ESS HER LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT and SON OF CELLULOID, all will be right with the world. (Okay that someone needs to be me, so someone get to financing those projects for me right now!!!)