By Jerome Reuter
Clive Barker’s ‘Books Of Blood’ is one of the most recognizable horror fiction anthologies of all time. Instantly recognizable to any fan of the genre, and some of the most baroque imaginings you’ll ever read. It makes perfect sense to take one of these stories, and adapt it to celluloid. Adapting literature to the screen is always a challenge. There have been great adaptations throughout the years. Rawhead Rex is not one of them. Barker penned the screenplay for this 1986 release. However, he’s stated on numerous occasions that this is not a faithful adaptation.
The story in ‘Books Of Blood’ is about a nine-foot tall phallus with teeth, terrorizing the citizens of a small English town. The story focuses on the deeds of the monster, and the violent end of its’ victims. It’s some of Barker’s most graphic writing. If I were to make a list of the top 10 stories from the anthology, this would be in the top tier. The story itself had a subtle commentary on xenophobia, and the clash between the old world and the new. It emphasized the contrast of old Pagan beliefs and Catholicism. Barker has stated on more than one occasion that his fiction is his confession. The more Baroque the writings are, the closer they are to him.
When it comes to the film adaptation, it’s just bad. It doesn’t even fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. If someone was unfamiliar with the source material, they might just see this as a low budget horror flick. Something you might take a date to at the drive in, with hopes of getting to second base. Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with the origins of this tale, you’re not going to happy with the end results. I think this is mainly due to how descriptive the original story was, and the film failed to capitalize on this.
First of all, this film suffers from horrible pacing. In later Barker adaptation with him at the helm, he sets up a narrative that’s easy to follow. Here, it comes across as a jumbled mess. At times it seems so dull, one might consider falling asleep halfway through. Rather than a visceral horror film, at times one feels they’re watching a poorly made slasher flick.
When it comes to the monster, well…laughter is the first word to come to mind. When you think of the name Rawhead Rex, it’s pretty self-explanatory. However, in this adaptation we’re given a beast that resembles a cheap Halloween costume. Just looking at him every time he appears on screen robs this film of any seriousness. Barker even described the design of Rawhead as ‘Miss Piggy in military shrouds.’
I’ve often wondered how much of Barker’s screenplay was included in the final cut. Most of dialogue is poorly written, and at times laughable. Here’s an example:
“Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“How about you go fuck yourself?”
Although this movie is a fistful of blunders, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This adaptation was so horrible, Barker decided to oversee the next adaptation of his work. The result was Hellraiser, and we’ve all been praising that decision ever since.