My notes on Book of Blood.Based on the top-and-tail stories of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood – ‘The Book of Blood’ and ‘On Jerusalem Street’ – this feels a bit like the frame of an Amicus movie which somehow neglects to include the actual stories, which will supposedly be along eventually in follow-up movies. Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong), an outcast whose skin is covered with scarifications made by the autobiographically-inclined dead, is captured by ‘a sociopath’ (Clive Russell), who waits to listen to Simon’s own tale before skinning him on behalf of a mystery client.
Given that the original story gets through the set-up in a few pages, it’s unsurprising that this seems painfully drawn-out as it trudges through not much plot. In Edinburgh, student Simon gets close to professor Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward), a parapsychologist who has written books about her cases, and joins her and techie third wheel Reg Fuller (Paul Blair) in probing a house with a bad history where a goth chick dabbler in the occult has had her face peeled off her living skull by an invisible force (which also pulled down her knickers) in a gruesome set-piece. A bunch of manifestations convince Mary that she’s onto a serious haunting, but at the mid-point it’s revealed that Simon – who had psychic powers as a child but lost them – has faked much of the spookery to get her attention (they have also had an affair, but perhaps more in erotic dreams than reality). Mary kicks Simon out of the house, but he returns in a flurry of genuine supernatural business and winds up giving up his skin as ad-space for the dead, who inscribe their tales on him after briefly passing through as superimposed spectres. It’s hard to see how a few bleeding letters can constitute stories, and it’s a tease that after all the build-up the only story we get to hear is Simon’s. Back in the frame, the youth gets skinned, his hide bleeds so much that his abductor drowns and Mary shows up (now blonde and more evil-seeming than she was when seen through Simon’s eyes in his story — which was nevertheless told from her point of view) to collect the skin and take it home for gloating and examination.
Directed by John Harrison (Tales From the Darkside), who co-scripted with Darin Silverman, Book of Blood has a few things going for it: there’s a nice seriousness of purpose in comparison with most horror films; Armstrong (TV’s Robin Hood – who is gets naked in a manner mandatory for male leads in Barker movies) and Ward (who seems to be channelling Charlotte Rampling – not a bad idea) are interestingly cast and do a lot with the seething undercurrents of the lead characters’ relationships; the Scots setting – mandated by production coin – is well-used, and refreshingly doesn’t try to pretend (like Hellraiser, for instance) to be America; and the few gruesome moments are properly shocking. But there’s a lot of brooding, uneventful sitting about waiting for things to happen, and a lot of Barker’s 1980s cutting edge has been dulled by the way so many films have used his ideas since he wrote them down. With tiny bits for ex-Cenobites Doug Bradley and Simon Bamford.
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