Clive Barker

The author of the original short story the film was based on talks about the controversial new film

Clive Barker is a legend in the horror genre, both in film and the literary horror world. While he didn't direct his latest film, Midnight Meat Train, which hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on February 17, he wrote the original short story the film was based off of and produced the film as well. I was in on a conference call with Barker to talk about his latest release, and here's what he had to say.

I was just curious what your thoughts are on all the controversy over the film, with the release date and everything like that.

Clive Barker: The nice thing to say about Lionsgate is that they did allow my commentary to go out uncut. You know how strong my opinion is, not about the company, but about one individual by the name of Joe Drake in the company, who was instrumental in basically destroying the chances of this movie having a wide theatrical release. He was contractually bound, I suspect, I'm not sure about this, to have some theatrical release. If I wanted to see the movie, I would've had to travel more than 70 miles to see it from here in Beverly Hills. It was playing in one-dollar theaters. He seems, to me, to go out of is way to insult the film and its makers. It felt personal. When somebody decides to put your movie into a 100 theaters and lots of those are those that only cost a dollar to get in, it feels like, well, you didn't have to do that. At least if you were going to put it in 100 theaters, at least put it in 100 theaters where you would make some money. It really felt to me as though this guy was going out of his way, and that really got me down. I felt it was unnecessary, unpleasant and cheap. I thought he was a son of a bitch and I hope there's karma, because he's got something really nasty coming.

The grisly effects in Midnight Meat Train reminded me of the stuff in the original Hellraiser - what was your take on the film and was it how you had envisioned it?

Clive Barker: Well, let's just go back to the story for a moment; the story was one of the first I wrote. There were five stories I gave to my theatrical agent Leonard Conway - by the way I not only write plays that are not successful, I also write short stories that haven't been published. There were five of them and one of them was Midnight Meat Train. And Leonard was a man who was towards the end of his career as an agent and was frankly appalled by some of these stories and very appalled by Midnight Meat Train because it was so graphic. And I thought this is good, this is very good and I liked the fact that the story had a visceral punch to it and it's there in the title. Indeed one of the first signs that something might be a little bit awry over at Lionsgate was the message that I got that they were trying to take the word meat out of the title. It was preposterous; the whole point of that movie or point of that title was it was calling the ghosts of movies past. It was a 'look this is our unapologetic horror movie' just as the title the Books of Blood. So immediately it tells you this is not a book of romances, it's either a collection of stories about how people have periods or it's about horror stories.

How big of a part did you have on getting this on the big screen? These are characters you had written about and did you have a big part in casting and everything?

Clive Barker: I have opinions of when I disagree, rather than opinions when I agree. There was a guy, Jim Robinson, over at Morgan Creek, who really screwed around with my brain. When they first heard of Hellraiser, he said, 'That guy with the pins, he can't talk. He mustn't talk.' I said, 'Why not?' He said, 'Because movie monsters don't talk. Jason doesn't talk. Michael Myers doesn't talk, this guy shouldn't talk.' I've dealt with a lot of producers who were pricks and I'm determined not to be that. If I can, I want to support the director's vision. Mr. Kitamura had a very clear, very strong vision for this movie and my job really was to help him realize that vision. I never want to be the producer that I too often got. I tried to be useful in helping when Mr. Kitamura had some questions about how important the moment was when he gets sacrificed, he was very nice about it. He would come to me and we'd have very civilized conversations. We didn't have arguments. He's an incredibly pleasant man and he has a wonderful imagination. I just felt he got the movie and I would work with him again in a heartbeat. He's my kind of guy.

You have some other adaptations of your stories in the works. Could you talk a little bit about why they're so well-suited to the films they're casting?

Clive Barker: Well, in both cases, they were people who came to me with titles, saying I want to do this movie. John (Harrison) wanted to do Books of Blood because it's actually sort of a ghost story and a love story with horrific elements. (Anthony) DiBlasi came into our company, essentially, as an intern, a glorified intern and, very very quickly rose through the ranks and we saw very quickly that this man has huge talent and motivation. He was a natural because, again, he came in and said, 'I know how to make this movie.' They all have completely different styles. You will put these movies side by side and besides that they have obviously the same author writing the root material, there's nothing in common with them. I like this and I think this is the way movies should be. I've always thought that horror movies gone bad are in part because we are trying to ride the genre as being repetitive and not being vision-friendly. We're so much more than that. I've seen parts of Dread and it is amazing and completely different from Midnight Meat Train. As far as style, it has a voyeuristic feel to it. Anthony has snuck the camera in little corners and watched this stuff going on beautifully. It's a very different style, grand and polished and almost operatic style.

I want to talk about our favorite person, Joe Drake, some more. He also buried Repo! the Genetic Opera!

Clive Barker: Joe, I don't know what Joe's deal is. I've never met the man. I've had one very unpleasant conversation with him, in which he claimed his real problem was that they couldn't cast a trailer for Midnight Meat Train that worked, so that was why they weren't releasing it. It just seems preposterous to me. The thing with Repo, and I think it's a superb picture, this was made by a man who has made that company millions of dollars and all he was asking for, as I was understanding, was five screens and he wouldn't even give it that. I do not understand. I believe that Joe Drake left his company exposed financially. The movie that he put into the slot that we were supposed to have, was a movie that he produced and that's a little obvious. I just think it's a damn foolish way to run a railroad and we need horror movies to be seen on big screens because I think they have a lot of effect on big screens. Yes, of course there's the DVD and the Blu-ray, which is amazing, but I still love to watch horror movies with a big audience and have a good time.

You touched a little bit about how there's not a whole lot of original material out there in the horror industry right now and obviously we're in this cycle of remakes/reboots and I just wanted to talk you a little bit about Hellraiser is getting the same treatment and there's talk of now Candyman [Special Edition] and Night Breed as well. What are your thoughts on someone else taking a crack at your work?

Clive Barker: I am a little bit of a schizophrenic about this so forgive me if I sound like two different people on this. There's a part of me that feel that with the new technologies, the way that we had such a modest budget on my Candyman [Special Edition] movie so if we can have 5-6 times that on the new Candyman [Special Edition] remake, I think we'll get an awesome picture out of that. Mine was a small picture and I would hate it if they opened it up. That would be really detrimental to the picture. The picture is essentially a family saga, Chekov with blood, and that is this very small thing. And into this small enclosed world comes this god-awful force and I just had the great good fortune been given the image of a guy with pins in his head. Had the greater good fortune to have my good buddy Doug (Bradley) play this character, who has this Shakespearean gravitas about him. He brings to the role...well, have I mentioned him being a priest before? That was a note I gave him early on, that he's a priest of Hell. In number 3, he's called the Pope of Hell which came about later in the scripts. I didn't use those words in my script because that Cenobite didn't even have a name. Pinhead was the name that the special effects guy used actually. I was like 'wait a second, you just named my villain Pinhead?' because I didn't think that sounded very dignified. But it ended up on the call sheet and it just stuck.

It's an image that has seemed to become iconic. I am not going to claim any genius about that at all. It is interesting that there is this dark life that was pointed out to me about 6-7 years ago that was pointed out to me that there are African fetish statues that are used as focuses for feelings, particularly negative feelings. So the fetish statue and are will be used as a place to put 'bad' feelings-like human beings with nails driven into them. When I went to look this up, there's a lot of 19th Century stuff which is amazing and crude but very, very powerful. Pieces of craft and they're often bound with string and blood and are often made with a lot of passion. We're talking having very crude nails driven into them from all angles, so you're talking about having like 100 nails inside someone's body. When I thought about the nails, I had thought about images of rage. Now I don't know how that exactly ties in with Pinhead because he's not necessarily a very angry character. But it does mean that I seem to have plugged into the collective unconscious when I had that image. The fact that it has been picked off a number of times with make-up jobs and magazines, fashion stuff that uses that image in some way since, but I use it too. But I must have somehow unconsciously seen images of these fetishes at some point. So I am not claiming that I was by any means the originator of this. The only that might have added to the imagery of this was its geometrics severity.

I don't know if you've seen anything online but there's been something from Gary Turncliffe who was the special effects guy who created Pinhead for maybe the last 3 or 4 movies. He's now redesigned Pinhead and I think Gary's a very smart and creative guy but I think he missed something in the redesign, because it is a very bloody redesign. I don't think that's right. I think the whole point about Pinhead is that he isn't bloody. That his victims are bloody but he isn't. The other thing is that there are these lacerations that are diagonal and very random. The original had the feel of geometry paper in school where it was broken up into segments and lines, which to me had a severity to it. Having the pins of the intersections of the crossroads made it have a surgical severity to it almost. I think this new version has sacrificed that feeling. I had always wanted back in 1986 to do a reveal that Pinhead had a piercing below the navel but somehow wanted to be discreet about it. Something that indicated he had genital piercings. I would love to tell you about the sex scene that almost made it in but had to get cut actually because it involved some spanking. These people who said no- I have no idea what they do on Sunday nights but it is pretty damn dull.

What other works of yours would you like to see come to the silver screen?

Clive Barker: Well, there are a lot of things in active development. There are a bunch of stories from the Books of Blood. Obviously, the Madonna, and I don't want to give too much away. There's talk of doing an anime with Mr. Kitamura's company out of Tokyo, which would be amazing. There's that and we have an adaptation of The Damnation Game, done by Mr. DiBlasi, so there's a lot of stuff. We are going to go on to Book Four and at some point we want Guillermo del Toro, who's said he wants to do it and I'd love for him to do it. That would be a dream combination for me. I'm trying to explore both the stuff for the wider audience but then, unapologetically, go for the very hardcore horror stuff.

Obviously you've done some great writing and producing, but when are we gonna see another Clive Barker directed film?

Clive Barker: Hopefully not that long. I had sort of put it on the backburner a little bit, I am having an amusing time writing and painting. It's hard to see past it, but I know exactly what I want to make. And I know that I want to bring sex and horror together as I have been able to in my books. I have been in the last seven years taking a lot of photographs; I've taken about sixty thousand photographs of male nudes for a series of books. It's on exhibition in Detroit right now, erotic photography, four pictures in there and pretty strong material I think, I hope. And I've always thought that sex and horror belonged together and I want to bring the lessons I hope we've learned from we've learned Shortbus into the world of Hellraiser.

I wanted to talk to you about the fact that you are finally getting a release for the "Maximillian Bacchus" book. That was 35 years ago and I just wanted to hear your thoughts on why it took so long and the journey it took getting it into print.

Clive Barker: Part of it was finding someone who was going to do the detail work I really wanted in terms of illustrations. Richard T Kirk who is an extraordinary artist has done some mind-blowing black & white illustrations for the book. It is remarkable and so wonderful to have that much love to put into the work. He did the illustration for the Appendices for the special edition of "The Magica" and he just has a completely has an off-the-wall imagination especially with what he can make happen on a page- it is just extraordinary. This will be a limited edition run with 2,500 copies. These are stories I started writing when I was 17 so there are some insights to back then. I deliberately didn't do any do any real edits and I didn't polish anything either. I just didn't do anything to "improve" it either. Doing that would have completely been against the spirit of the project of 'this is what Barker did when he began.' I think they're very entertaining stories and I hope people have fun with them. I hope we get a movie out of them too because I think there is a wonderful movie there. Even in something I was writing back when I was 17 there's some really bad villains, some cross-dressing- you know, the 'usual' stuff. This is something that is very close to my heart because this is who I was when I was 17 and I haven't tried to change my very limited vocabulary from back then either. I hope people have a good time reading. There is another piece, a novel that I wrote the year after which we are looking at getting released too so that would be the two pieces of unpublished young Barker that are out there. There is a lot of unpublished older Barker stuff too.

Midnight Meat Train hits the shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on February 17.