BOOKS OF BLOOD Review: Hulu's Clive Barker Anthology Is An Anaemic, Scare-Free Slog
Hulu's adaptation of Clive Barker's anthology series Books of Blood is set to hit the streamer tomorrow, and now that the embargo has lifted we can tell you what we thought of it. Spoiler: Not much...
Books of Blood was originally envisioned as a TV series that would have (presumably) spotlighted as many of the short stories from Clive Barker's collection of novels as possible, but this feature only loosely adapts two ("The Book of Blood" and "On Jerusalem Street") while adding some original narrative threads.
The first story, which bookends the movie, is about a troubled young girl (Britt Robertson) with a debilitating mental illness who runs away from her parents' house only to wind up in serious danger. The focus then shifts to a grieving woman (Anna Friel) who meets a man (Rafi Gavron) who succeeds in convincing her that he can contact the spirit of her dead son.
These tales are connected by a ruthless contract killer searching for the titular book, which he believes to be worth a fortune.
Barker is a highly divisive writer, but one thing everyone should be able to agree on is that he's one sick bastard. His skill as a novelist notwithstanding, there's (perverse?) pleasure to be found in discovering what depraved scenarios and concepts have found their way to the page. Any adaptation of his work should do its best to reflect this, but Books of Blood simply plays it way too safe.
Part of the problem lies with the stories writer/director Brannon Braga has chosen to work from. Barker's novels contain all manner of twisted tales involving demons, doppelgangers and parallel worlds, but this trio of stories barely even scratch the surface of the supernatural. That wouldn't be a deal breaker on its own (there's plenty of grounded horror that works very well), but these overlapping yarns are nowhere near frightening, tense or compelling enough to compensate for their lack of imagination.
Some mild spoilers follow:
Books of Blood does have one surprisingly nasty little trick up its sleeve that hints at some potential if Braga was given the chance to return to Barker's books for that anthology series, but it plays it way too late in the game to make up for what amounts to a pretty tedious viewing experience overall.
Decent performances from Friel and Robertson and a couple of interesting ideas ensure Books of Blood isn't a total write-off, but there are far too many options for horror fans out there this Halloween - including Hulu's Monsterland - to settle for this anaemic, almost completely scare-free slog.