24 July 2010

Clive Barker

"I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker." Stephen King

Born on October 5th 1952 in Liverpool, England, Clive Barker is a man of many talents. Probably known best as an author and secondly as a director, Barker is also a talented artist, and even forages into the realms of designer.

Barker has been openly gay for some time, though the gay main character in the novel Sacrament is what really brought his sexuality into the public eye. He lives with his partner, the photographer David Armstrong, and his daughter Nicole. They share their house with a small zoo of animals, including a parrot which shares the same name as a character from Abarat: Malingo.


It was his writing that first brought him to the attention of Stephen King, leading to the above quote. The Books Of Blood consists of six volumes of short fiction, each of which explores themes of sexuality, fantasy andmystery with a clear link to horror. There are stories which tell of a race against hell itself, of mysterious islands where the dead gather. Races of strange creatures co-exist in remote areas of the world, in a dusty settlement somewhere the future of the world is decided by old men playing dice, and in the depths of the modern city lie the grotesque city fathers, demanding blood sacrifice for the continued wellbeing of the city.

Barker's early stuff is pure horror, but intelligent stuff. Rarely, if ever, does Barker descend into cheap and easy blasphemy, the great temptation for all horror writers and a cliché early James Herbert utterly fails to avoid. Instead of casting aspersions on what is, Barker specialises in the creation of complex fantastic worlds, bursting with original - and often unpleasant - ideas. This tendency became even clearer as Barker's career progressed:Imajica and Abarat both feature undeniable elements of horror, but this element of the grotesque takes place as a backdrop for a hidden fantasy world of beauty and wonder.

Many lament Barker's turn towards such fantasy: Barker now describes himself as a fabulist, telling fables primarily to enthrall, though his nature is such that he cannot easily shy away from horror. Even the Abarat Quartet, a series of works aimed at teenage children features stitchlings (little, sewn-together monstrosities), along with a group of vicious hive-minded creatures and Christopher Carrion, the Lord of Midnight.
It would be interesting, were it possible, to ask Steve King if the future turned out quite as he anticipated. I like to think it turned out better, though you'll find, as always, opinion varies...


One of the most enduring images of horror: a leather-clad man with his face sectioned into squares by deep incisions, a pin driven firmly into each severed intersection, is the creation of Clive Barker. Pinhead, as he is affectionately known, is the chief character of 1987's horror success: Hellraiser. Based on an earlier novella, The Hellbound Heart, it was not Barker's first film, though it remains his most successful. Earlier movies, The Forbidden and Salome are experimental art movies, and aside from a whirling, naked Clive Barker with an obvious erection, hold little of interest for the majority of us. Rawhead Rex was an early adaptation of a Books Of Blood story, which is far eclipsed by Bernard Rose's adaptation of Candyman.

Nightbreed, an adaptation of the novella Cabal, was intended to eclipse the success of Hellraiser. Ultimately, despite a plethora of cutting-edge special effects, a soundtrack by Danny Elfman and an amazing quantity ofpromotion and tie-ins, the film failed dismally. Barker was disappointed, but undeterred. Lord Of Illusions, starring Quantum Leap's Scott Bakula did little better; a shame, for Lord Of Illusions is an intelligent and enjoyable piece of horror.


Barker is a bold visual artist. His work, unsurprisingly, features strong elements of graphic horror and brutal, often disturbing sex. A series of strangely beautiful symmetrical ink drawings accompanied his novellaCabal, and The Thief Of Always, too, features painstaking beautiful illustrations throughout.

Two books, Illustrator and Illustrator 2, give full details and many examples of Barker's illustration work, while the books of Abarat feature page after page of full colour images.

Independent exhibitions also provide opportunities to sample, or even purchase, Barker's work. Until recently the Bess Cutler Gallery handled much of Clive's work, though now Luna7 provides access to what little of his work is currently available.

Recently, Barker has begun to collaborate more with his partner, either painting on models before they are photographed or writing prose to accompany their image. Armstrong's book Rare Flesh is an excellent source of these collaborations.

Other Projects

Undying, a game developed by DreamWorks Interactive provided Barker with an opportunity to create a new mythology and enhance it with interactive aspects. Similar in many ways to games like Quake or Alice, Barker placed an emphasis on a strong storyline and, as a result, the game plays as a chilling, interactive short story.

Recently, McFarlane Toys have begun producing a series of collectible figures. Tortured Souls, as they are known, bear some resemblance to the cenobites from Hellraiser.



1985 The Damnation Game
A complex story which would fit well amongst the shorter works featured in the Books Of Blood. A gambler takes on the role of bodyguard to Joseph Whitehead, unaware that Whitehead's power is due to the exchange of his immortal soul. Classic Barker horror.

1986 The Hellbound Heart
Forming the basis for the film Hellraiser, the book's plot differs only in minor details from Clive's subsequent film version.

1987 Weaveworld
An entire world, for safety, is woven into the threads of a carpet. The scourge, sworn enemy of the inhabitants of the Weaveworld is desperately sought by a small but dedicated group of individuals determined to see the Weaveworld destroyed.

1988 Cabal
Later to become the film Nightbreed, Cabal follows a similar but less complex plot to Weaveworld; a hidden, grotesque society is threatened by outsiders, bent upon its destruction.

1989 The Great and Secret Show
Subtitled 'The First Book Of The Art', The Great And Secret Show is the beginning of an epic tale of magic, mingled with the mundane, hinting at a secret core to reality which underpins and affects everything. Great power is to be had, but it is inevitable that such power can be used for evil, as well as good.

1991 Imajica
Easily Clive's most complex and imaginative work. An entire set of worlds are introduced, and we travel through them with two of the characters, encountering a vast array of imaginative creatures and individuals. Imajica is an intense and amazing work, and its influence on Clive's later works, particularly the Abarat series, is obvious.

1992 The Thief of Always
Aimed squarely at children, yet still retaining a grim and unpleasant undertone, this book features Harvey Swick, who longs for adventure. The holiday home he is spirited away to has more than a few dark secrets, however.

1994 Everville
The second book of the art, which expands further on The Great And Secret Show, and also sees the involvement of Harry d'Amour, Barker's private detective character who appears in his film Lord Of Illusions.

1996 Sacrament
A metaphysical air surrounds this novel, which brought Clive's sexuality to the public's attention in no small way. Dealing with animal extinction, homosexuality and two mysterious and quite deadly individuals, this is an intense and compelling tale.

1998 Galilee
Described as a romance, Clive experiments with a family saga, though as one might expect, the family has more than a few dark secrets, and there's a refreshing amount of magic involved.

2001 Coldheart Canyon
Hollywood, sex, dead stars and disturbing creatures.

2002 Abarat
2004 Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War
Forming two of a proposed quartet, the Abarat books feature an imaginary world not dissimilar to that of the Imajica. Aimed at children, however, the horrific nature of Imajica's worlds are toned down somewhat, though the imaginative and creative element is still strong.


1984-1985 Books of Blood 1 - 6
1987 In the Flesh
1987 The Inhuman Condition
1991 Clive Barker, Illustrator
1993 Illustrator II: The Art of Clive Barker
1995 Incarnations: Three Plays
1996 Forms of Heaven: Three Plays


The Forbidden
These two early films are experimental pieces, showing Clive's interest in film but with little potential for mainstream success.

Rawhead Rex
Based on the story of the same name from the Books Of Blood.

Barker's first successful mainstream film, for which he wrote and directed.

Less successful than Hellraiser, this second film was nevertheless a minor hit in cinemas and spawned the usual plethora of merchandise. Ultimately, however, it has failed to achieve long-term appreciation.

Lord Of Illusions
Again directed and written by Barker himself, and an enjoyable film in its own right, this too failed to make much of a splash.

Gods and Monsters
This film is a biopic of the life of gay film director James Whale. A wonderful, engrossing film, directed by Bill Condon with Clive taking the role of executive producer.


2002 Clive Barker: The Dark Fantastic by Douglas E. Winter


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