Book of Blood is based on two short stories from the six volume anthology series that helped launch Clive Barker’s now iconic career as a horror fiction writer (the lines at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con probably cemented that status). However the film abandons much of the savagely original noir imagery of The Book of Blood and On Jerusalem Street (as well as superior early Barker adaptations like the original Hellraiser), and presents a mildly entertaining haunted house tale, that does have some admittedly engaging erotic and visually stunning moments.
The story revolves around paranormal expert Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward), who’s written books on the supernatural and death. Mary is settling into her new position as a visiting professor at a Scottish college and decides to prove once and for all, the truth behind her life’s work; that there is life after death. She sees an opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation of her theories, when she learns of a house that has a violent history of death and ruination. To expedite her research, she easily recruits her assistant Reg Fuller (Paul Blair), along with Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong), one of her students at the college known to have clairvoyant powers.
Florescu immediately becomes transfixed with young Simon, and their sexual eccentricities, which become the focal point of her life, begin to blind her to the evil forces that surround them both. It soon becomes clear that Simon, who, through violent episodes, begins communicating with the dead that inhabit the house, may hold the key to what stirs the troubled souls within it.
Co-writer and director John Harrison approaches the luke-warm Book of Blood with an eye towards creating an atmospheric haunted house tale that’s a throwback to classic, character-driven movies. The problem is, there is a dearth of character development and genuinely scary moments, possibly leading to Book of Blood’s relegation to experimental/cult status. The film becomes entrenched in erotic set pieces, yet tries to sustain a mainstream sensibility as a traditional haunted house movie. I think Book of Blood should have gone all the way out there, and explored the true nature of Barker’s remarkable work, instead of thinking about fitting into a specific genre.
Harrison is to be commended for the visual library he created for the film, which elevates Book of Blood above run-of-the-mill gorefests: otherworldly flashbacks to a bygone era; souls who carve their stories into Simon’s body as a living “book of blood”; rich cinematography within the house; I didn’t even mind some of the CGI-enhanced effects you normally wouldn’t see in a haunted house film, which usually rely squarely on noise and character-driven effects for its creep factor. Still, a more linear storytelling approach should have been employed to help maintain the excitement level and build more intense characters based on the rich material they pulled from. The resulting film almost relies far too-heavily on CGI to mask a lack of character.
For me, Book of Blood was worth watching. As an illustrator (as was Clive Barker in his early career), the methodology and approach to the visuals were fun to explore and learn more about in the Behind the Scenes short. But the film’s shortcomings overshadow its strengths, which will probably leave audiences without discernible clarity on Book of Blood’s intentions.
Special Features include:
- Blood of Blood is presented in 16×9-enhanced 1.78 widescreen with 5.1 Surround Sound.
- The disc opens with a few extended horror film trailers, including Saw V, The Midnight Meat Train (also based on Barker’s work) and The Haunting in Connecticut.
- There is also a 20 minute Behind the Scenes featurette, documenting the genesis of the movie project, the short stories the film is based on, the elaborate prosthetics work, and more. There are some fairly interesting interviews featuring most of the cast and crew, who discuss how they became part of the project, the eroticism in the film and the shooting locations.
Book of Blood is presented in English, with English and Spanish subtitles available.
Director: John Harrison
Writer: John Harrison, Darin Silverman, based on Clive Barker’s short stories The Book of Blood and On Jerusalem Street
Cast: Jonas Armstrong, Sophie Ward, Clive Russell, Paul Blair, Romana Abercromby, Simon Bamford, Doug Bradley, Gowan Calder, Graham Colquhoun, Marcus McLeod, James McAnerney, Isla Stewart, Greig Taylor, James Watson