Book of Blood (2009)
Directed by John Harrison

Starring Clive Russell Jonas Armstrong Paul Blair Sophie Ward

Clive Barker movies have been getting the short end of the stick lately, heading straight to DVD into cinemas, which is where they belong. Last year, "Midnight Meat Train" was deprived of a significant theatrical release, instead winding up on video store shelves. This year, "Book of Blood" has been deprived of the same thing, due to hit DVD in September.

It's a shame, because "Book of Blood" is a quality Clive Barker adaptation -- one that I actually liked better than "Midnight Meat Train." It's also the best R-rated haunted house movie since the "Amityville Horror" remake.

From the effects to the excellent score by Guy Farley (that sounds like Christopher Young) to the performances by Ward and Armstrong, as a parapsychology professor and psychic respectively, the film is top notch. It's rare to see a horror movie this well made.

Like all Clive Barker films, it has the sadomasochistic overtones you'd expect. But it also owes a lot to classic haunted house tales like "The Legend of Hell House" and "The Haunting."

The film opens with a wraparound story, featuring Simon, a young, horribly scarred man (Jonas Armstrong) being kidnapped by a sociopath who tells him he's been commissioned to steal his skin. Turns out the young guy's skin has bizarre occult writing carved into it. The kidnapper then gives his target the chance for a quick death if he tells him the story behind the skin. "Jesus Christ son, you are a book of blood. Read it to me."

At this point, I thought this film would be an anthology horror film -- a la, "The Illustrated Man" -- as the story quickly moved to that of a teenage girl experimenting with the occult, whose face is is ripped off by a poltergeist -- the kind of thing that usually happens in a Clive Barker story.

But, alas, the rest of the movie is basically a flashback where we learn the history of Simon, who purported to be a psychic who predicted his own brother's death, his meeting with a best-selling author and professor of the paranormal (Ward, in a role that would have been for "Hellraiser" star Clare Higgins, had this film been produced 20 years ago) and their visit to the home where the girl was killed. They spend several nights there doing psychic experiments to "open up the house" and naturally encounter plenty of supernatural goings on. And the older female professor strikes up a sexual relationship with her subject.

I don't want to spoil too much else. Needless to say, the reveal of what the house is and why it's haunted is Clive Barker-ish and the origin of Simon's illustrated skin -- and what happens to him -- very sadomasochistic and gruesome. The film is a bit too talky as it weaves its way toward a rewarding climax. But the acting is so good, it's actually a pretty pleasant dramatic ride to the finale. This is a horror movie for adults basically.

And the ending does deliver. It's chilling.

To make a long story short, you owe it to yourself to check this movie out when it hits DVD shelves in September -- and then ask yourself why films like this are being relegated to direct-to-video releases while PG-13 horror remakes head directly to the big screen.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore

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