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The Dream Diaries of Clive Barker
Clive Barker transitioned from an unassuming English schoolboy who dabbled in theatre and story writing to one of horror's most prolific storytellers. As an accomplished author, illustrator and filmmaker, Barker has transcended tired macabre themes and erected an empire of fantastical sadomasochistic gore. Once referred to by Stephen King as "the future of horror," Barker's take on terror would turn the genre on its head.
After finding success as an author of gruesome literature, Barker decided to try his hand at filmmaking in his directorial debut, 1987's Hellraiser. Based upon his novella "The Hellbound Heart," the film focuses on an innocuous puzzle box that opens the door to the Netherworld. In an era crowded with movie killers and monsters, Barker managed to be truly original. Unlike Carpenter's rugged style, or Craven's over the top maniacs, Barker's Cenobites presented a new take on terror rooted in religious mythology.
Starkly pale and visibly tortured, the Cenobites are contorted and elaborately decked out for assuming their backwards Christian personas. Their purpose is to dole out the punishments of Hell in a terrifying combination of pleasure and pain, a common theme in Clive Barker's work, along with a healthy dose of "paying for your sins." Pinhead, the lead Cenobite, is a Jesus-esque figure, complete with crucifixion imagery that holds the keys to eternity and a "just reward." The human victims are subjected to a nightmare of gore and brutality that sets this film far apart from its counterparts, yet is still classier and scarier than today's torture porn movies, of which Hellraiser was an obvious influence.
Barker's gravitation toward the visual aspects of terror continued in his cult classic, Nightbreed. Inspired both by H.P. Lovecraft and pop cultural references, Barker created a realm of vampiric undead. In post-production, however, much of the original film was edited outside Barker’s wises. As a result, Nightbreed was initially released to critical disdain and commercial failure, but in the years since, the film has garnered greater respect from horror fans. It has an established loyal cult following and can be watched online or even streamed on Amazon.
Candyman could have been a simple ghost story about a woman suffering a haunting, but in the capable hands of the director Bernard Rose, this film became anything but that. Based on Barker's story, "The Forbidden," the film in an urban legend come to life. The "Candyman" is summoned by a woman who is from then on plagued by death after death. The story's genius is that it is unclear whether or not the "Candyman" actually exists: he could be just a ghost, a figment of the imagination, or a clever ploy by the woman to cover her own killing spree. Chicago’s old Cabrini-Green housing projects, where the majority of the film’s action takes place, provide a perfectly chilling backdrop. Considered one of the most original takes on the urban legend theme, Candyman questions the idea of perception and belief, another nod to religion.
In recent years, Barker's influence on horror has become more apparent. There have been many imitations and aspirations to reach Barker's level, but few have attained the raw, gritty feel of his work. Barker's legacy is one that elicits cold sweats and chilled bones, not with cheap frights, but with a horror that is honest, pure, and profound in its respect for what is truly worth fearing: the subconscious.
(c) 2014 Beth Kelly
(Ray is ) Listenin' to: Def Leppard - High 'n Dry