Here's yet another adaptation of Clive Barker's Books of Blood. This was originally going to be a new anthology TV series, but at some point, the executives at Hulu changed their minds. What was developed was salvaged into a single movie, and the results are dull and disappointing.
There was already another movie adaptation by John Harrison back in 2009, so you might be wondering what a new version could offer. The answer is still in the air. The 2020 Hulu movie features one new story and two loose adaptations of stories from the original books. In the first story, Britt Robertson plays a teen with mental health issues who runs away from home and moves into an elderly couple's Bed & Breakfast, whose hospitality goes above and beyond into something creepy. In the second story, Anna Friel plays an academic mourning the death of her son, who meets a man claiming to be a medium who can communicate with her son and the dead. In the third, Yul Vasquez plays a hitman who hunts for a rare book worth millions of dollars that we know is going to be the Books of Blood. The three stories' timelines intersect, but that doesn't have much of a significant pay-off.
There's a vibe of TV network notes watering down the sense of anxiety, fear, and edginess that's needed to make any adaptation of Books of Blood work. The three stories come off as too calm, too bland, watering down Barker's knack for that sense of something sinister just lurking around the corner of normality that threatens to swallow up anyone who runs into it. Dullness Is death for any horror story, especially one as hallowed as Books of Blood. Director Brannon Braga and his co-writer Adam Simon are smart and savvy about genre, and it feels like their hands were tied, keeping them from delivering the adaptation the stories deserved.
The original Books of Blood revolutionized the horror genre when they came out in 1984 and 1985. They pushed horror fiction as far as it could go at the time, opening up new vistas for the genre to explore. Barker had a unique and poetic literary point of view that he brought to the horror story that might not be translatable to the screen. There's a sense of interiority to even his movie visual stories that no movie has captured. They were part of the 80s movement called Splatterpunk, and they delivered. The stories in Books of Blood had a punk rock sense of taboo and transgression about them. They were very much about the moment. Barker's subtexts were about the anxieties of the AIDS Crisis, when there was a fear of the body warping out of control, of blood and fluids erupting into new forms of expression, even transcendence. The best Horror stories last because they capture a particular cultural moment in time. Stripped of that moment in history and the sense of chaos and madness, the new adaptation of Books of Blood lacks any sense of purpose or definition. The movie feels too orderly and bland in the way that network TV shows do. Perhaps if it had been a series, the stories in the film might be the lead-in to more intense and horrific stories.