Director: Brannon Braga
Starring: Britt Robertson, Freda Foh Shen, Nicholas Campbell, Anna Friel, Rafi Gavron, Yul Vazquez, Andy McQueen .USA. 1h 47m
It’s been a while since we had a “proper” Clive Barker story ripped from it’s pages and cast on the silver screen. The first handful of movies really blew audiences away, as Clive’s ever watchful eye was able to help redefine his torturous visions from paper to, over the years his involvement dropped off as he was almost excluded from helping future directors and the interest in his adaptations dropped (who would have guessed?) as the unique Barkeresque touch was lost and the films began in blend in with everything else.
I’ve never understood how having the author’s input would ever be cast aside, but Clive is back and writing new material resulting in an extremely better adaptation of the Books of Blood that put the earlier 2009 version to great shame.
Originally envisioned as a TV series, the new input forges a really strong anthology styled movie revolving around an unusual young woman who’s suffering the after effects from an “incident” and, now, off her medication, her acute misophonia is the least of her problems. Her argumentative mother forces the young girl to steal some money from the families luxury home and get on a bus to LA, this is when she notices a strange man following her so she departs her bus and hides out in a peculiar guest house run by a loving aged couple who love carpentry and gardening, but damn they have a cockroach problem.
As these two curious storylines collide, there’s also third lesser storyline, following a couple of nasty hitmen/debt collectors who discovered there is a priceless book known as the book of blood which helps lead the movie into its final chapter with the only classic story from the original starring Anna Friel as a grieving mother whose relationship with a medium who she tried to debunk opens up a whole new world for her. Ann plays this ballsy professional and she’s come a long way since Brookside.
For a horror project which comes across as playing by the numbers, the movie is quite ingenious in how it tries to distract from the crossover story lines and bringing something new to the table is the fundamental in making this so much better than the previous attempt. Building on the ideas of the Book of Blood rather than retelling is premier for the old school fans, opening the movie up as a level playing field for everyone.
A large part of the movie surrounds Jenna (Robertson) a girl who’s been through a terrible event, something really intriguing until her current predicament becomes more engrossing. Having come off of her medication and experiencing strange side effects Braga can play around with the audience’s perception and those acute episodes and crazy dreams there’s a lot wiggle room to ease in freaky effects and jump scares, but what I really respect are the nods to literary and books themselves. The film opens in a bookshop, and not any shop but the coolest place in LA, The Last Bookstore (https://www.shopthelastbookstore.com/) and from this grisly encounter I believe there’s a slight nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman when the crazy young woman starts to peel back the yellow wallpaper in her bedroom.
On top of the casual nods to horror literature, Michael Dallatorre does a cracking job with the blends of terror, creepy eyes peering through vents, a gentle breath through cracks in the floor boards to full blown sheds filled with chainsawed corpses, injections pointing directly into an eye and someone gets smacked by a hammer.. Unfortunately it’s not Julia wielding it, everything is fair game here and we know how Clive likes to mutilate bodies and Books of Blood is covered with his signature styles but in a refresh modern envelope, it’s a testament to his mastery of writing.
It’s definitely an interesting modern take on a classic, the stories all manage to just keep refreshing themselves and there’s a decent build up to the twisting ending which will make you look at the characters with fresh eyes and does wet the appetite for a sequel.
Related: Books of Blood (2007), Midnight Meat Train (2008), Nightbreed (1990), Candyman (1992)
Lists: Clive Barker Adaptations
Versus: Books of Blood (2007) vs Books of Blood (2020)