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Clive Barker – Flashback 1989

I conducted the following interview with Clive Barker twenty-six years ago, when I was fresh out of college.  With The Scarlet Gospels almost here and the recent release of the Director’s Cut of Nightbreed, I thought you might enjoy it.




by Christopher Golden

Handsome, soft-spoken, and amusing, dressed in jeans and sneakers with red socks, Clive Barker does not cut the figure of the Crown Prince of Horror.  Perhaps because the nightmare worlds so effectively created by the man exist within him, and he is at peace with them, enjoys them in fact.  But make no mistake:  Barker’s films and books could never be simply categorized as horror.  Harper & Row, Barker’s publishers, now refer to him as the “Master Fabulist” of our generation.  His work is unique, and with his recent novel, The Great and Secret Show, and the August 8 video release of Nightbreed, his latest film, he may finally be able to please both his legions of horror fans, and the many mainstream readers and filmgoers who are at last discovering his work.

The film did little boxoffice business, largely due to the poor marketing campaign and substandard distribution it received from Fox.  Had they simply capitalized on its monsters, it would probably have fared much better.  Regardless, its makers, Morgan Creek, expect it to do very well on video, and therefore plan at least one sequel.

Born in 1952, in Liverpool, England, Barker is an award-winning short story writer, novelist, playwright, illustrator, screenwriter, and film director.  His books include Cabal, Weaveworld, and The Books of Blood, collections of his short fiction.  His directorial debut was the horror smash Hellraiser.

In Nightbreed, Barker is attempting to create a new mythology.  Based on his novel, Cabal, the film is written and directed by Barker, and stars David Cronenberg (acclaimed director of The Fly and Dead Ringers), with a score by Danny Elfman (Batman), and special effects by the same team that worked on Hellraiser.  The film revolves around Midian, a legendary city, a place of refuge for the monsters that are the root of our myths.  But they are not myths, they exist.  And they hide, underground, waiting for a savior who will lead them when they can hide no longer.

Thematically, Barker says, “the movie flips over the conventional structure of horror, because the monsters are the good guys.”

It bothers Clive Barker that so many people don’t want to see the monsters anymore.  These are the people who don’t like horror films, he believes.

“Isn’t that why we go to these things in the first place?  Who could imagine ‘Van Helsing – The Movie’?  I mean, who gives a f__k!  The monsters are what intrigue us. There’s a line in the movie in which one of the characters says ‘To be a wolf, to turn to smoke, to live forever, is that so bad?’  These are the things we dream about.  We should envy the monsters.”

Like much of Barker’s work, Nightbreed revolves around a central romance.  Love and Death, he says, are traditional themes, and he writes about both regularly.  However, his main emphasis rests on “attraction and appetite”.  And the characters are attracted to or have appetites for things that they should not be “conventionally” attracted to.  The need to slow down and look at a traffic accident, for instance.

“I think these are perfectly healthy instincts.”

“These are people who have opened Pandora’s Box, looked inside, and are comfortable with what they’ve found.  I’m about as corrupted as any human being is ever going to get . . . and I’m happy.”

One of the best things about making Nightbreed, according to Barker, was working with David Cronenberg.  Barker had nothing but praise for the Canadian horror king, who makes his full-length feature film debut in Nightbreed.  Upon his arrival, the critically acclaimed director announced that he had “come as an actor”.

“I offer you punctuality and obedience.” he told Barker, and he seems to have pulled it off.

“David,” says the director’s director, “is chilling as hell.”

Barker had a lot on his mind when the film went before the MPAA.  He had promised Fox an R rating.  Recent films have had their boxoffice potential demolished by the X rating.  Henry:  Portrait of a Serial Killer and just about any film from Miramax come immediately to mind.  Luckily, Barker is not without leverage.  They asked for cuts, he said “No”.  Four times he returned, and finally relented.  A little.  The director ended up cutting exactly 4 1/2 seconds from the film.  The MPAA tired, and gave up.  He will pen two more novels of Cabal, making that a trilogy, and he would love the movies to follow suit.

But, aren’t sequels part of the problem with modern horror films, contributing to a negative public image?

“People speak of sequelitis as though it’s some sort of disease.” he says.  “Back in the 30’s Universal was making great sequels to a lot of films.  Bride of Frankenstein is actually a much better film than Frankenstein.  I preferred Godfather II to the original.  Sequels are not necessarily bad movies.”

Sometimes, Barker admits, one cannot stop sequels and other kinds of adaptation.  Both Hellraiser and Nightbreed have become new series from Marvel Comics, and there will be two more sequels to Hellraiser.  Barker keeps a close eye on this, to be sure these tales are original and stay away from formula.  Why does he allow it at all?

“If popular art is truly popular,” he says, “it becomes democratic of its own accord.  People demand the mythology be carried on . . . demand by asking questions they want answered.  One of the problems with many of the past ‘horror franchises’ is how few of these questions get answered.  I still don’t know how Freddy Krueger gets into people’s dreams.”

An insider recently reported that Barker has signed a contract to write and direct a remake of the classic The Mummy, and much of his other work is under negotiation for film adaptation.

Clive Barker has a reputation for being depraved.  Some people find his work repulsive, and others call it genius, but all call it unique.  Rarely do people talk about  Barker himself.  They might find it interesting that this creator of horrors and fantasies beyond the imagination of all but himself, that this man is both gleefully mischievous, and appallingly normal.  When it comes to certain things, Barker’s mind never wavers.  His feelings on drugs for instance:

“I just don’t do drugs.  Part of that is because my mind does weird shit anyways, and I’m not sure I would like that to be intensified.”

He is also very specific in his feelings about children and horror.  When the author first saw a Chicago screening of Robocop there was a woman at the film with her eight year old son.

“I love horror,” he explained gravely, “hands being blown off.  But not for kids.  That’s not cool.”

Barker admits that the unique qualities of his work, which he prefers to refer to as ‘the fantastique’ rather than horror, are in a commercial sense both a strength and a weakness.  His work is appealing to many tastes, and yet not easy to describe if one wishes to recommend it to a friend.

A few years ago, Stephen King put a startling label on a young man from Liverpool, England.  America’s fright monarch called Clive Barker “the future of horror”.  For a while, that may have been true, but time changes all things.  Barker no longer personifies the genre’s future, but its present.  He hefts the burden of the future on his shoulders.  Like Atlas, he is up to the job, but not always comfortable with it.

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