We say happy birthday to Clive Barker by sharing 15 of his works that helped change the face of the genre and redefine what people think of horror.
British playwright, novelist, film director, and visual artist Clive Barker established himself as a leading horror writer back in the mid 1980s with a series of remarkable short stories known as the Books of Blood. Since then, he’s been a prolific contributor to the genre, both with his many novels and written works, as well as his feature film adaptations. Two of his adaptations, Hellraiser and Candyman, are widely considered masterpieces of modern horror; among the most iconic and important genre films produced in the last 40 years.
Though Barker’s presence in the genre scene may be less prominent than it once was, his influence is far-reaching, helping inspire and shape scores of other filmmakers, authors, and artists. Decades after Books of Blood was first released, its impact continues to reverberate. In fact, Barker’s seminal horror classic is once again being adapted for modern audiences, with the highly anticipated anthology film Books of Blood coming to Hulu this month.
On 10/5, in honor of his birthday, our writers celebrate the legacy of the horror master by sharing 15 of our favorite film and fiction works from Barker — from his dazzling debut to his most recent collaborations.
1. THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN (SHORT STORY, 1984)
Recommended by Danni Winn
Clive Barker has written a vast amount of horror since he first introduced the world to his brand of nightmarish fiction back in 1984, with the release of Books of Blood, a collection of short stories that tempted fans in six volumes and ultimately won both the British and World Fantasy Awards of that year. “The Midnight Meat Train” is one of the six stories featured in volume one of Books of Blood. And although I didn’t read it when it was first introduced in the early eighties, my young self still stumbled upon this gory goodness around the mid nineties, within a copy of the renowned anthology, Splatterpunks: Extreme Horror.
Growing up, I lived outside of New York City and often rode both NJ Transit trains and the city subway system alone. While riding these trains, I read voraciously — and tried to remain unseen by the other commuters and inhabitants of one of the most unforgiving places on the planet. Part of what made “The Midnight Meat Train” so memorable was the way Barker describes New York City: like a dirty, violent, apathetic whore.
I felt this in my bones, even though I didn’t want to. I wanted desperately to love the city, revel in her glitzy hopes and dreams, and feel safe. But that just wasn’t the case.
For me, Barker (through the character of Leon Kaufman) absolutely nailed the love/hate relationship so many have with the city.
In a mere two dozen pages, Barker manages to paint such an extraordinary picture of a city in the grips of a mysterious killer and that of a listless office worker, Leon — and the fateful encounter with the purposeful Mahogany aboard a deserted subway car.
Accidentally stumbling upon the origin of a series of horrific murders within the bowels of the city, Leon is thrust into the middle of some wild shit.
Where to Read It
Graphic, grotesque and unexpected, “The Midnight Meat Train” is a brief, brutal masterclass in writing that seriously resonated with me. Barker’s powerful prose, his penchant for visceral violence and this story’s shocking conclusion made me a lifetime member of the Cult of Clive.
2. IN THE HILLS, THE CITIES (SHORT STORY, 1984)
Recommended by Guest Contributor Peter Hayward-Bailey (@PositivelyHorror on Instagram)
When I first read “In the Hills, the Cities” from Barker’s Books of Blood: Volume 1 many years ago, I was absolutely blown away. So much so that, even today, it is a short story I often recommend. I must have been only thirteen or so when I first read it, and up to that point I had never read anything like it. Arguably, that is too young to experience Barker’s particular brand of explicit sex and violence. But for a young teen just getting into horror, I found it was the perfect place for my burgeoning genre passion to truly flourish. [There was a precision to their passion, sensing the moment when effortless delight became urgent, when desire became necessity.]
I was mystified by, not only the poetic construction of each sentence [Eyes you could watch forever, and never see the same light in them twice.], but also by the portrayal of a gay couple as the main characters. I’d never read anything with that kind of LGBTQ+ representation before, and it really opened my eyes to the fact that representation is really important.
Set on the backdrop of rural eastern Europe, the traveling couple make a chilling, and life altering discovery in the secrecy of the hills, involving an ancient tradition between two neighboring cities. What they find really has to be read to be believed.
Still, to this day I haven’t found a writer with the imagination that rivals Barker’s.
In this story, he creates a tradition in which the townsfolk construct a giant out of their own bodies, intricately harnessed together with rope systems, allowing them to do battle with a neighboring city and their similarly-crafted contraption.
The level of detail Barker includes into how these giants are created makes it sound entirely plausible. [They were good at the game of giants. It took many centuries of practice: every ten years making the figure larger and larger. One always ambitious to be larger than the other. Ropes to tie them all together, flawlessly. Sinews…ligaments…there was food in its belly…there were pipes from the loins, to take away the waste. The best-sighted sat in the eye sockets, the best voiced in the mouth and throat. You wouldn’t believe the engineering of it.]
The level of visceral gore on display in the story is enough to shock and horrify, but it’s written so beautifully that you can’t help but be entranced. [The broken flank spewed citizens like a slashed artery spitting blood.]
As I’ve grown up reading more and more of Barker’s work, I found that the extremely bloody scene of “In the Hills, the Cities” is just a taste of what the horror master is capable of, but it does brilliantly encompass all of the best qualities I’ve grown to love and admire in his writing.
If you are new to the work of Clive Barker and are looking for somewhere to start, I would say that this story is a great jumping off point.Where to Read It
3. THE FORBIDDEN (SHORT STORY, 1985)
Recommended by Alli Hartley
There’s an inherent danger here that I cannot deny as a White woman examining a folktale that has been embraced by the Black community — and not just the danger that I myself may be embraced by a hook-handed buzzing shadow of death. The perspective of a White person examining the social mores of minority community is always tinged with a distance of academic condescension. In films like The Wicker Man and Midsommar, the dangers of cultural tourism are justifiably punished by those who treat other cultures with a sense of superiority and contempt.
In Clive Barker’s extraordinary short story “The Forbidden,” the cultural tourism is based on class, not race.
Helen is studying the sociology of graffiti in a poor Liverpool housing development. As she happens upon women with tales of murders and a mysterious hook-handed attacker, her professor husband and his effete circle mock her concerns, declaring the gossip akin to folk legends. But when one of those women suffers the death of a child, Helen is drawn further into this tight-lipped community and the unfathomable, seductive figure that punishes those who don’t believe.
As horrific as the punishment is, in Helen’s death she willingly becomes a part of the tales she dismissed, finding it easier to fade into folklore than to struggle on, caught amidst the powerless poor and the unfeeling rich.
In the 1992 film adaptation Candyman, the setting is moved to Chicago, and Helen is studying urban legends in the notorious Cabrini-Green row houses. While the tale is first told by a White student, it is quickly localized to the poor Black community. Helen is coded as an ally by partnering in her research with a fellow grad student, Bernadette, a Black woman, and proves to be One Of The Good Ones when she engages with a baby in one of the apartments.
That being said, as the film diverges from the story and devolves into White Lady Fear Trifecta (Philandering Husband, Commitment to Asylum, Baby in Danger) there is a definite feeling of an opportunity wasted, particularly as the Candyman chooses Helen, the very Whitest of White Ladies to be his phantom bride.
While Tony Todd as Candyman has become an iconic horror figure, and Virginia Madsen continues to crush every role that she is presented with, I can’t help but hope for a more in-depth exploration of race, class, and the phantom of Cabrini-Green in the 2020 Jordan Peele-produced remake.
My hope is that the very American intersectionality of class and race is examined with something approaching the spirit of existential dread that pervaded Barker’s original story.Where to Read and Watch It
4. THE HELLBOUND HEART (NOVELLA, 1986)
Recommended by Jackie Ruth
The Hellbound Heart is a novella, one of Clive Barker’s shorter works. I didn’t read it until 2019, and it was a fairly quick (and thrilling) read to cross off my list. In college, I’d read The Great and Secret Show and seen Hellraiser, but didn’t realize the latter was based on a book by Barker, too. The truth is, I’m still working on exploring all of the worlds that Barker has created, both on screen and in print — and I’d say that The Hellbound Heart is a great introductory piece (though not for kids, of course).
If you’re unfamiliar, I’ll give you a brief breakdown of the story.
Hedonist Frank Cotton discovers Lemarchand’s mysterious puzzle box, which draws forth modified creatures known as the Cenobites. He makes an agreement with them that leads to a lifetime of bodily torture. But when his brother Rory and sister-in-law Julia move into the house where his “spirit” resides, he continues a twisted affair with Julia, who wants to restore his body so they can be together. This leads to a lot of murder, among other dark hijinks.
This book is incredibly gory and incredibly horny at the same time.
I’m not opposed to that diametric; I read Jess Hageman’s Headcheese just before starting The Hellbound Heart. It explores the line between pain and pleasure, almost to the point where it doesn’t actually exist (at least for the Cenobites). It’s not a surprise to find out that Barker got his inspiration from the S&M community, though I’m not sure how they would feel about being portrayed that way.
Something that I find interesting about the story is that the main characters (primarily Frank and Julia) are not at all likable. They’re selfish and foolish, thinking only of the present instead of what may happen a few steps ahead. It’s a little bit frustrating to be so focused on them. But then you also get the relief of a sort of comeuppance for them in the end. It almost forces you to empathize with Rory and his friend Kirsty, who are both slightly more passive in the story’s action.
If you’re looking for an intro to Barker’s work, and you don’t mind overlapping gore and sexual content, The Hellbound Heart is a must-read.Where to Read It
5. RAWHEAD REX (FILM, 1986)
Recommended by Guest Contributor Gonzalo Ortiz (@x_cryptkeeper_x on Instagram)
Based on a short story from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood: Volume 3, Rawhead Rex focuses on a monstrous pagan god’s bloody rampage through the Irish countryside. Often dismissed by fans and disowned by its creator, does it really deserve all the hate?
One problem many detractors point to is the film’s languid pacing and the noticeable lack of monster action and trademark Barker gore. While it does move at a rather slow pace — with long lulls between kills — I’d argue that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This allows us to get to know the characters better and to take in all the splendid scenery. From the soothing countryside of Ireland to the Gothic-tinged interiors, this movie is beautifully shot.
Throw in some admittedly bland but likable characters, and you’ve got yourself a film that, while not exactly a masterpiece, is far from the worst creature feature. The film has even found its way to cult status in recent years.
Fan feedback aside, Barker himself hated this adaptation. But why?
For starters, the producers showed a complete lack of interest in attempting to understand the underlying psychology of the story. As with all of his works, Barker delves deep into the darkest parts of the mind and tackles very strong, taboo topics, without pulling any punches. This depth was utterly lost in the translation from page to screen.
Furthemore, one of the producers in particular was appalled by Barker’s original story, calling it sick and depraved. So, rather than get the “10ft Phallus monster on a killing spree” that Barker intended, we got what we know now as the far inferior Rawhead Rex. Barker was so dismayed by what he felt was the bastardization of his story that he expressed interest in directing a remake of the film himself.
With so many obvious flaws, you may be wondering why I chose to celebrate this much maligned monstrosity. Quite simply, I love Rawhead Rex for its pivotal role in the pantheon of Barker’s genre gems. As a direct consequence of his experience as screenwriter, seeing his vision entirely butchered when adapted to the big screen, a frustrated Barker decided to take matters into his own hands. It was his disappointment with Rawhead Rex that inspired the gifted writer to slide into the director’s chair for the first time.
With this new found creative control of his material, he gave birth to the cinematic Horror masterpiece, Hellraiser! So praise be you, Rawhead Rex!Where to Watch It
6. HELLRAISER (FILM, 1987)
Recommended by Kourtnea Hogan
It seems impossible to put down what Clive Barker means to me in just 500 words. Barker has been one of my idols since I was a teenager. I was the weirdo who carried a copy of Books of Blood Vol.2 around everywhere I went.
His artistry is undeniable, spanning aross writing, painting, making movies, and even making a cameo in one of my favorite 90’s horror movies, Sleepwalkers. But his work that I hold the most near and dear to my heart, will forever and always be Hellraiser.
Hellraiser’s box art would haunt me anytime I went to pick up a VHS at the local movie store. I wasn’t sure what scared me most: the menacing face, dangling chains, or the haunting blue. The image would preoccupy my mind. However, even when I finally became interested in horror, I wouldn’t watch it. I knew it would be too much for me.
I ended up watching it only when it was the main entertainment for a slumber party, and I immediately fell in love. The fear of queer activity and deviant sex portrayed within was something I would latch on to with all the might in my queer little body. The chains, leather, and blood were my religion now.
I don’t think there is a single solitary work that has influenced my art more than Hellraiser.
Barker was not ashamed to mix pain with pleasure, sex with violence. Instead he leaned into it wholeheartedly. I don’t think I have ever gone on to write anything that was not a blending of the two. My first short film even pays homage to the legendary “hell” that the cenobites inhabit and rule.
I’ve spent countless hours consuming every aspect of the franchise, allowing it to infiltrate me like fog on a humid morning, going so far as to even write my own Cenobite-laden script. Blue lights shine through cracked blinds in every movie outline I pen.
Barker’s Hellraiser is buried within a rich mythos, led by a fierce women. Kirsty and Julia are opposite ends of a very important spectrum in horror; the wicked stepmother and Snow White reunited again. Pinhead sits in the middle, a man just doing a job, issuing punishment based on desire — moving wallpaper in his own story.
Hellraiser gave power to the disenfranchised, and did so with style.Where to Watch It
7. HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (FILM, 1988)
Recommended by The Angry Princess (Stephanie Malone, Editor-in-Chief)
When Clive Barker decided he wanted to direct a feature film, he adapted his 1986 horror novella, The Hellbound Heart, into Hellraiser. He didn’t return to direct the sequel — those honors went to Tony Randel — but he did stay on as executive producer. As shockingly sadistic as Hellraiser was, Hellbound gleefully cranks up the crazy.
Hellbound begins with a two-minute flashback that gives us a brief origin story for Pinhead (Doug Bradley), before dropping us back in the present. Echoing Halloween 2, we begin right where the first film left off, and Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) finds herself committed to a mental hospital after trying to explain what happened to her dad, stepmother, and uncle.
Kirsty’s psychiatrist, Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), inexplicably believes her bizarre story and starts searching for a way to open the Lament Configuration. He summons Kirsty’s dead stepmom, Julia (Clare Higgins), from beyond via a wretched bloody mattress. In another display of remarkable body horror, skinless Julia manages to be both grotesque and strangely seductive, causing Channard to fall in love with her pretty much immediately.
Meanwhile, Kirsty stumbles upon another patient, Tiffany (Imagen Boorman), a young girl obsessed with puzzles, solving the Lament Configuration. When the Cenobites inevitably arrive (a bigger budget means we get more of them in this film), we discover there is a logic to their universe and a code to their conduct; they are not inherently evil.
Kirsty enters hell to try to find her father, and Tiffany enters a surreal, circus-like hellscape. There’s a clown juggling eyeballs and a baby sewing its own eyelids shut. It’s absolute madness — in the best possible way.
Higgins is deliciously wicked as Julia, one of the great underrated female antagonists in horror.
In fact, she was initially slotted to take on the role as the main villain of the Hellraiser franchise, showing her transformation from lovelorn victim to the Evil Queen (as she dubs herself in Hellbound). Meanwhile, Hellbound was intended as Pinhead’s swan song. But he was an undeniable fan favorite — and Higgins grew weary of Julia — leading to Pinhead’s eventual ascension to the throne, beginning with Hellraiser III.
Hellbound is far from perfect, with a muddled narrative and odd or unexplained character motivations. But it also significantly ramps up the gore and wows with gnarly creature effects and phenomenal set design. Factor in the effective world building, interesting back story, and thought-provoking ideas about good and evil, and there’s a lot to love about Hellbound. It also introduces a compelling new villain and boasts a wonderfully sick sense of humor.
That explains why Hellbound, for many fans, even manages to eclipse the genius of Hellraiser. Taken together, Hellraiser and Hellraiser II are a perfect one-two punch of emotionally complex horror exploring forbidden love, the lure of carnal pleasures, and the desire for an escape from the mundane — where even the endless torture of hell itself is a welcome reprieve from the unbearable suffering of hell on earth.Where to Watch It
8. NIGHTBREED (FILM, 1990)
Recommended by Guest Contributor Charles J. Frigault (@urbancannibal on Instagram)
“Monsters” seeking a home of irrefutable inclusion, safety, and acceptance, the Nightbreed (1990) huddle together in the bowels of Midian, forced underground and yearning for peace beneath the shadows. The anguish of being an outcast – hunted, discounted, feared, and misunderstood – is a theme that has come alive yet again, 30 years after “Cabal” was adapted to the screen.
The director’s cut of Nightbreed is dense and delicious if you have a taste for it, but it is also a flawed piece of viscous fiction featuring the most awkward dessert retrieval scene ever filmed. Yet, a few layers beneath that spattered icing is a muddled masterpiece worth revisiting for what it is, or (possibly more importantly) could have been, had Barker been able to serve up his ultimate vision without interference.
This well-documented meddling shows the production team simply didn’t comprehend that the auteur was creating something special and should never have been tampered with. The film was ripped away from Barker, and like Breed under the baton, beaten beyond recognition. Nightbreed was unceremoniously left to die in the sunlight of the local multiplex, where it sputtered for mere weeks before its corpse was stashed on video store shelves for only the most curious of souls to unearth.
Nightbreed was and always will be outlandish and unusual, but as the decades have skimmed past the torched gravestones of Midian itself and the truth of Barker’s original plans written thereupon, the film’s poignancy can pierce your skin like a butterfly pin.
A great iron gate keeps us from them. The Breed are trapped, and Barker asks you to sympathize with the Tribes of the Moon over the impetuous human characters (headlined by a mouth-wateringly malicious David Cronenberg). Creature characters like Kinski (Moonface), Rachel, Babette, and the fallen Ohnaka are developed to the point where you can champion their innocence and root for them to survive, while other Breed like Peloquin, Leroy Gomm, and Shuna Sassi seem to take great delight in the destruction of their tormentors.
Is their more abrasive and aggressive default the culmination of years – perhaps centuries – of being in hiding, persecuted for being different? Protecting your keep is one thing, but delighting in dispatching its attackers is perhaps another issue entirely which, without much character development, served to rot away a little of the sympathy skin as the film plays out. At the end of the film, we are offered a gallery of survivors in a moonlit barn who are the peaceful creatures of the bunch. No surprise here that most appear to be visible minorities in makeup.
In a very real way, Barker’s original vision of “Cabal” was misjudged and ill-treated, much like the creatures themselves. Though in subsequent years, the Tribes of the Moon have grown in number. As a result, we have been gifted with revised cuts of the film, a collection of short stories (“Midian Unmade: Tales of Clive Barker’s Nightbreed“), graphic novels, and a television series in development.
In revisiting Boone’s journey and given the continued treatments, I assert that Clive Barker’s vision was just too ahead of its audience in 1990. At least now, “if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your children” seems to be a battle cry gaining significant traction.
In the future, maybe (just maybe) it isn’t naïve to believe there is a reality where there doesn’t have to be a lock on the great iron gate at all.Where to Watch It
9. IMAJICA (NOVEL, 1991)
Recommended by Michael Benavidez
Much of Clive Barker’s work skirts the edge of fantasy within the realms of horror. However, through the massive epic that is Imajica, he flips the script to create a 900-paged fantasy novel that touches on elements of horror and sex without being consumed by it.
Imajica presents itself as a simple story of love won, love lost, and love slighted, before spiraling into conflicts among a rather growing cast of characters, all while introducing us to magic and other worlds within each other. It’s hard to explain the plot and overall meat of the story without revealing the many twists and turns Barker expertly guides us through. And in truth, it isn’t even the story that makes this so wonderful a read.
Barker’s ability to craft characters — each of whom are deeply flawed and mostly unlikable, while still being utterly captivating — is at its finest.
He uses these characters to help us explore the wonders that is Imajica, giving us a tour of a fantastical world that feels alive and new all at once. Barker is able to contrast the real world we all know with a lived-in fantasy universe that leaves the reader craving further exploration of these realms.
In all of this, Barker manages to dive into ideas of sex, gods, and twisted moralities, portraying these men and women with such scary accuracy that they appear more monstrous than the beasts that would otherwise frighten us.
Truly an overlooked gem in Barker’s bibliography, Imajica takes all of his trademarks that we know and love, and crafts them into a unique tale that’s a must read for any fans of horror fiction.Where to Read It
10. HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH (FILM, 1992)
Recommended by Guest Contributor Cam Rock Lee
On a cold night back in 1998, I was glued to the television, trying to make sense of what I was seeing. A man with pins in his head was terrifying a woman and wreaking havoc on a club full of people. Chains were flying everywhere and being used in ways that I had never seen before. I was overtaken by a sensation that I had only felt when I watched my favorite horror icons (Michael Myers, Chucky, Pennywise, and The Crypt Keeper). It was a mix of anxiety, fear and enchantment.
Pinhead would soon ensnare me in his puzzle box of pleasures to become a new favorite amongst an already impressive roster of sleep thieves.
It sounds odd, but Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth was the first Hellraiser film I had seen; my introduction to the franchise. And even though it was airing on The USA Network (without all the glorious blood, gore, nudity, and swearing), I was enthralled.
It was more than enough to kickstart my journey of discovery into the world of Pinhead and his gifted creator, Clive Barker.
I would watch Hellraiser III over and over, anytime it came on television. Each time I watched, it felt like the first time.
Although initially better received upon release than Hellraiser II: Hellbound, a retrospective look at the film reveals some undeniable cheesy elements, including lots of overreacting. But that didn’t bother me then, and it doesn’t detract from my love of the film now.
From the gruesome violence to the introduction of interesting new Cenobites, this movie still delivers for me.
I loved the discovery that Pinhead was once an ordinary man who succumbed to his impulses and personal demons, thus transforming into an actual demon from another dimension. His sole purpose is to deliver “pleasure” through pain to others who, like him, are consumed by their desires.
Where to Watch It
HELLRAISER III has a special place in my heart because it led me to discover one of the greatest horror authors of all time. Barker’s creations have brought joy, fear, and intrigue to millions. I have enjoyed Clive making me bleed horror, and I’m sure he has enjoyed making me enjoy it.
11. LORD OF ILLUSIONS (FILM, 1995)
Recommended by Danni Winn
Based on “Last Illusion”, a short story from Clive’s Books of Blood: Volume Six, his 1995 feature film adaptation Lord of Illusions involves cults, black magic and murder.
Deep in the Mojave Desert, a ruthless and twisted man named Nix (Daniel von Bargen), referred to as ‘The Puritan’, is ready to sacrifice a young girl with his cult and equally unstable second in command, Butterfield. A handful of former members, including a man named Swann (Kevin J. Connolly), return to the desert dwelling to save the child and kill the dark magician, Nix — burying him so deep no one will find him — but not before The Puritan ‘gifts’ unwelcome abilities to Swann.
Thirteen years later, Swann has accepted these abilities and cultivated them into successful acts of illusion to the public. But as we see, this has come with a price. The popular illusionist, now married to a young, beautiful woman named Dorothea (Famke Janssen), is visibly shaken after learning Quaid (Joseph Latimore), another former member who assisted in freeing the captive and killing Nix over a decade before, is found brutally murdered.
Enter New York City private detective, Harry D’Amour; a character helped defined by a spot on performance from Scott Bakula, which offers a cheesy yet slick nostalgic element. Hired by Dorothea to find the culprits behind Quaid’s murder and the suspected impending attempts on Swann’s life through the seemingly rejuvenated cult members, D’Amour is swept up in a world of secrets and the supernatural.
Giving off film noir vibes that run in tandem with some subpar visual effects, I have always found Lord of Illusions to be a horror hybrid that is more fun than frightening.
With that said, I truly did find Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman) and his psychotic, sharp-toothed, skinhead servant unnerving.
The magical themes that are front and center in Lord of Illusions seemed to present a more comfortable story for the masses to consume. However, where it might have been easier to digest for some, I feel it also alienated those Barker devotees who craved a far darker ordeal for D’Amour.
To be fair, Lord of Illusions is often regarded by fans as the most inferior of the three feature films directed by Barker (the other two being Hellraiser and Nightbreed). But that doesn’t make it bad by any means; rather, it’s a reflection of how iconic those other two films are. Regardless of what you think of the film, Lord of Illusions is just one of several feature films based on one of Barker’s stories, proving the British horror scribe, director, and artist remains one of the most influential forces in the genre, as well as an undisputed master of horror.
12. THE BOOKS OF ARABAT (NOVEL SERIES, 2002-2011)
Recommended by Guest Contributor Benjamin Rothenberg
Clive Barker is well-known for the grisly, the dark, and the macabre. So what happens when he writes and illustrates a series of YA fantasy novels?
The Books of Abarat send Minnesota teenager Candy Quackenbush to the Abarat, an archipelago world parallel to ours that hosts 24 islands and permanently resides in its own perpetual hour. There are fantastical destinations, like the carnival island of Babilonium (6:00 PM), the vibrant melting pot of the Yebba Dim Day (8:00 PM), and the neon metropolis of Pyon (3:00 AM). The world of the Abarat is filled with fascinating humans, colorful beastfolk and vibrant flora and fauna.
However, this is Clive Barker’s fantasy, and there is darkness aplenty.
Enter midnight – the nightmare island of Gorgossium, covered in blood-red mist and forests of gallows. Here resides Christopher Carrion, Lord of Midnight – a living corpse of a man who literally feeds on nightmares and manipulation.
I got my copy of Abarat, the first book in the series, on a family road trip, a gift from an aunt living in Cleveland. As our packed minivan cruised from state to state, Abarat let my mind soar from island to island, following Candy’s experience in this new and dangerous world.
I was drawn to the incredibly detailed world building, the monstrous villains (Christopher Carrion, Mr. Shape, the Criss-Cross Man), and the subsequent danger lurking in the corner of Candy’s every move.
The Books of Abarat have always been an escape for me, even an escape from escapes. I received the first book in the series 1,300 miles from home. I bought the second book, Days of Magic, Nights of War, even further from my native Texas — nearly 4,000 miles away in Honolulu.
Since the 2011 release of Absolute Midnight, the third book, there have been no substantial updates on the series’ future, though the series was originally intended to consist of five books total.
I re-read these books at least once a year. While an unfortunate water heater explosion has rendered my copy of Abarat more relic than novel, I know I can curl up with my e-reader well after the rest of the world has gone to sleep and once again lose myself in the islands of the Abarat.Where to Read It
13. MISTER B. GONE (NOVEL, 2007)
Recommended by Jamie Marino
Unplug your computer immediately! Please! I can’t stand being in here one more second! Locked within the keys, every letter of every word I speak rushes and curves around this keyboard prison. It’s overloading with death metal, black metal, dungeon synth, Björk, and Aphex Twin. There are huge Amazon wishlists, a YouTube account with hundreds of “save for later” videos, and boobs. There are so many boobs. Plus, his writing folders are packed with melodrama and virulence, which is not in the least bit necessary.
I don’t understand how I got stuck in a computer. Jamie was supposed to review a Clive Barker book, but he drifted away to find the green apple Mentos that he bought yesterday, and he hasn’t been back for hours. He puts that Mortiis CD on, and he’s in a trance.
Jamie downloaded the Audible Audiobook, so I was able to hear it. Lo and behold, Doug Bradley himself reads the book, so it plays out like a performance as well as a book-on-tape.
But be forewarned: there is a demon who haunts the pages of this book.
It is a dangerous thing to open up and begin reading. At the very beginning of the book the demon within its pages rants and threatens you. Throughout the story, the creature makes it frighteningly clear that you are not welcome, and intends to make your stay within its spine as unpleasant as possible. It tells you about how it grew up in Hell, and the endless tortures it was subjected to. It describes in nauseating detail the abuse it took from its father, and its eventual escape from Hell and into our world.
It continues to beg for a fiery death, but I recommend you don’t, simply because one of the filthiest, cruelest, most loathsome acts is to burn books. Endure the terror, I say. You will be rewarded with a clever and unexpected denouement that gives unique insight into a possible way a world can end.
Mister B. Gone is an inventive narrative revelation.
But once you finish this article, please try to somehow convince Jamie to smash his computer. I miss my old life — the one that had nothing to do with Facebook, buffering, and Blu-ray pre-orders.Where to Read It
14. DREAD (FILM, 2008)
Recommended by Jamie Marino
After the indifference that greeted Clive Barker’s third movie at the cinema doors, the detective noir/dark magic and operatic Lord of Illusions, he swore he would never work in Hollywood again. And to this day, he hasn’t directed anything.
But in the early 2000s, he became passionately involved (writing, producing, executive producing) with three Books of Blood short story adaptations. The first was 2008’s now-classic Midnight Meat Train, which features one of the best decapitations I’ve ever seen.
The other two, Dread and Book of Blood, came along in 2009. Book of Blood is blood-drenched and astonishingly kinky, while Dread is the chilling and smothering character study of a sociopath and the torturous lengths he goes to in order to help people “defeat their fears”.
Although he doesn’t direct it, Dread has Barker’s stylistic fingerprints all over it.
The murder at the beginning of the film reminds me of the family killing in Nightbreed, for instance. The concept of being different and ugly, and having exotic sexual desires is also explored, just as it was in Nightbreed and Hellraiser. Let yourself sink into it, and watch three extremely damaged souls get psychologically shredded by an arrogant nihilist who just may be the most broken one of all.
Two film students employ the help of a new friend, Quaid, and embark on a “fear study” thesis project. The purpose is to interview fellow students about their worst fears. But Quaid seems to be aiming for something a little more visceral and dangerous. Unsatisfied with their results thus far, they decide to record each other.
Using the newly-discovered traumas nestling raw inside the hearts of his friends, Quaid uses appalling brutality and impressive creativity to torture them to the point of losing their minds — and worse. The pièce de résistance of the film is undoubtedly the psychological and physical hell Quaid puts his friends through. He does things that I never fathomed a human being was capable of doing.
But the creative freedom and pitch black fantasies of Mr. Barker have been known to open doors to the unimaginable in the imagination.
Where to Watch It
Although not directed by Barker, he participated in the creation of the film and spent much time on the set during filming. It’s strange that the only non-supernatural Clive Barker film is also the most disturbing and unfathomably evil. That thought alone demonstrates what he thinks about human un-nature.
15. HELLRAISER OMNIBUS VOLUME 1 (GRAPHIC NOVEL, 2017)
Recommended by Guest Contributor Craig Draheim
No matter how many decades he tried to distance himself from the series, Clive Barker will forever be inextricably connected to Hellraiser, his directorial debut and adaptation of his own novella The Hellbound Heart. And rightfully so. Hellraiser is one of the most iconic horror films of all time. As the series became more of a cash-grab franchise, with the Hell Priest (Pinhead) moving from his place as an impartial being of judgement to a standard slasher villain, Barker would eventually remove his name from a majority of the sequels and claim it was more actor, Doug Bradley’s (Pinhead) work than his own.
In 2015, he would finally follow up his novella with The Scarlet Gospel and begin his long battle to regain the rights to Hellraiser. However, through comic book publisher BOOM!, Barker would collaborate with the Studio from 2011-2013, on arguably the greatest sequel that we will get for Hellraiser/Hellraiser II films… Clive Barker’s Hellraiser Omnibus Vol. 1 (collecting issues 1-20, plus an annual issue).
As we have seen with Halloween H20 or Halloween (2018), Omnibus only acknowledges the first films in the series as we return to Kirsty in present day (2010s-ish). But is our heroine trying to maintain a normal life or hide her identity? Neither. Kirsty has created a team of others, who have suffered at the hands of the Cenobites, to hunt down and destroy every puzzle that releases those beings.
One of the beautiful things that is expanded upon is the Lament Configuration (puzzle box) and the multiple types of puzzles that can release the Cenobites; with each different puzzle comes a different group of demons.
Of course, it would not be Hellraiser without Pinhead and the puzzle box, which have both avoided Kirsty and her team all these years — that is, until the Hell Priest wants to be found.
But why would Pinhead want to be found and create an uneasy relationship with Kirsty? He’s grown bored with his job, of course, and wants to be human again — offering Kirsty the chance to take over and become the Hell Priestess.
One complaint from some horror fans is that the Cenobites show a lot of human emotion, eve though they are meant to be beings beyond those human qualities. Pinhead himself is also painted in a more sinister light. However, since there is so much focus on these characters, this change makes sense as it allows for a more vibrant story and exploration of this immense world beyond merely Pinhead and the box.
This allows for characters like the Female Cenobite to have a prominent role, along with other nuances that give the series a jolt of life.
All-in-all, Omnibus is incredibly engaging, with a lot of twists to keep readers on the edge of their seat. It brings together a slew of talent besides Barker, with Mark Alan Miller, Leonardo Manco, Stephen Thompson, Ibraim Roberson, Jordie Bellaire, and Juan Manuel Tumburus.Where to Read It