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Thursday, November 19, 2020

5 of Clive Barker’s ‘Books of Blood’ Stories That Deserve Their Own Adaptations

Clive Barker‘s Books of Blood are fondly remembered as some of the best scary story collections ever put to paper (or skin, for that matter), with the author standing toe-to-toe with genre giants like Stephen King and even Edgar Allan Poe. Barker’s literary output may have waned over the years, but it appears that adaptations of his work are finally due for a much-appreciated comeback. Be it Nia DaCosta’s hotly-anticipated Candyman, Hulu’s own Books of Blood or the recently-announced Hellraiser series, this signature blend of psycho-sexual terror and cosmic-horror appears to be back on the menu for a new generation of horror fans.

With this newfound interest in Barker’s stories, I thought it might be a good idea to look back on the anthology that originally launched his career and select a few underrated tales that never got the adaptation they deserved.

While this is just my opinion on the matter, don’t forget to share your own favorite Books of Blood stories with us in the comments below, as there are plenty to choose from.

Now, onto the list…

5. The Skins of the Fathers

Lord of Illusions‘s nod to The Skins of the Fathers.

One of the simpler tales on this list, Skins of the Fathers centers on a man who finds himself stranded in the Arizona desert as a group of demons are attempting to reclaim a child in a nearby town. The townsfolk soon form an armed posse, and what follows is a monstrous battle between man and hell-beast.

It may not be among Barker’s best work, but the implied visual of an unstoppable troupe of hellish abominations parading through the desert is more than enough reason to adapt this one to the big screen. One can only imagine the Cronenberg-esque wonders that contemporary effects artists could achieve if given the chance to tackle this story.

Curiously, this tale also features elements that would later be revisited in Cabal (also known as Nightbreed), and the ending was infamously repurposed for the final scene of Barker’s own Lord of Illusions (itself an adaptation of another Book of Blood).

4. Hell’s Event

Tapping the Vein’s take on Hell’s Event.

One of Barker’s most iconic traits is his habit of repurposing biblical themes and iconography in his work, often with sinister results. Hell’s Event is a particularly good example of this, as it feels a lot like a modernized Old-Testament yarn with a classic good versus evil setup. Taking place during a London marathon, the story informs us that the Devil apparently tries to take over the earth once every 100 years by betting on a footrace. Should one of his runners win, that’s the end of humanity as we know it.

Fortunately for us, our main athlete soon realizes that the stakes for this event are much higher than he could have possibly anticipated, and attempts to overcome the odds in this (quite literally) infernal race.

While there wouldn’t be enough material for a proper feature-length film (unless the event becomes a long-distance road race), Hell’s Event would make for a killer short, or perhaps even a thrilling segment in some larger anthology.

3. The Yattering and Jack

The Yattering from Tales From the Darkside.

This entry is kind of a cheat, as it was technically adapted back in 1987 as an episode of Tales From the Darkside, which was fun in its own right, but not as much as the original tale. Nevertheless, the story is so damned weird and entertaining that I think it deserves another shot at an adaptation, preferably one with access to improved special effects and some decent production value.

For those who’ve never read it, The Yattering and Jack centers on the titular demon who’s been appointed to be Jack’s official tormenter because of an ancestral curse. Unfortunately for The Yattering, Jack appears to be the most oblivious and good-natured person in the world, ignoring the batshit insanity going on around him in a surprisingly compelling tale of supernatural mischief.

Not only does this story serve as a rare chance for Barker to try and tickle readers’ funny bones instead of giving them goosebumps, but it also makes great use of his penchant for subverting traditional demonic mythology in new and bizarre ways.

2. Confessions of a (Pornographer’s) Shroud

A Ghost Story‘s take on a ghostly shroud.

For the longest time, I wondered why we associate white sheets with ghostly apparitions. Is the fabric meant to suggest an amorphous spirit floating through the ether? Or is the sheet supposed to recall ectoplasm, a supposedly paranormal substance commonly conjured up by Victorian-era mediums? Years later, I discovered that this classic Halloween costume is actually inspired by the ancient funerary ritual of covering recently deceased bodies in a burial shroud. This shroud then became an easy way of identifying dead characters in fiction, and that eventually led to goofy-looking ghosts like Casper.

This idea of morbid traditions becoming the basis for seemingly-innocent genre iconography is exactly what makes Barker’s Confessions of a (Pornographer’s) Shroud stand out as a killer story.

This peculiar yarn follows the misadventures of Ronnie, a decent man who is falsely accused of running an illegal pornography operation and promptly murdered. Unable to rest his eternal soul due to unfinished business, his spirit possesses the nearest object at the local mortuary, which just so happens to be his own burial shroud. Ghostly hijinks then ensue as Ronnie attempts to clear his name and enact a terrible revenge, all the while taking on the form of a spooky white bedsheet.

One of Barker’s more versatile tales, this one could work as either a silly horror-comedy or a serious piece of existential terror, depending on what aspects of the story are focused or expanded on. Regardless, it’s still one hell of an entertaining romp, so I’d recommend it to any fan of pitch-black comedies.

1. In The Hills, The Cities

Tapping the Vein’s Popolac.

I may be a bit biased with this entry, as it’s one of my all-time favorite short stories, but I believe this disturbing little tale of folk horror would make for a great motion picture. In what can basically be described as Midsommar meets Lovecraft, In The Hills, The Cities chronicles an ill-fated couple trying to enjoy a road-trip by the Yugoslavian countryside. Unfortunately, they stumble upon the isolated communities of Popolac and Podujevo, which are preparing for an eldritch ritual that’s about to go terribly wrong.

I won’t spoil the sordid details, but suffice to say that our protagonists are walking into a communal disaster of titanic proportions.

While I’ve been dying to see this story retold in all of its disturbing glory for years now, the effects budget of a possible adaptation might be an issue. Properly depicting the towering abominations of Popolac and Podujevo would likely require the budget of a kaiju flick, though I suppose one could get around this with some clever miniatures or animation (a stop-motion adaptation would be incredible).

Either way, I’d love to see this story revived to terrorize a brand-new audience.


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