Book of Blood (2009)

Not every movie in this interlude near the middle of the Hellbound Halloween is going to have ties to Hellraiser. The previous two films–Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions–are connected through comics and novels, but that still counts (sort of). Book of Blood, however, is just a ghost story. It does have ties to other films, but no obvious connection to Pinhead and his ilk. They can’t all fit the theme perfectly.

The film opens with a man covered in scars named Simon. A sociopath named Wyburd abducts him, saying he’s been paid to cut off Simon’s skin. Why is his skin so important? Well… Flashing back a bit, Mary (Ms. Sophie Ward, AKA one of Princess Mombi’s heads in Return to Oz) is a paranormal investigator who is looking for hard evidence of ghosts in a house where a girl was brutally killed by angry spirits. They wrote “Don’t mock us,” in blood on the walls, which bodes poorly for my plan to pull out my glow-in-the-dark Ouija board after a few drinks. Anyway, Mary’s also a college professor, and that’s how she meets Simon when he was a student. Inappropriate, but whatever. The two instantly connect, and he reveals that he is a clairvoyant–he can perceive things normal people can’t. Mary sets him up in the haunted house and there are immediate and dramatic manifestations. But Mary’s partner, Reg, thinks Simon’s up to something, which is… true, actually. Simon faked the first time ghosts attacked him, but claims the following ones were real. Is he telling the truth? The source material suggests not, but it’s left vague. Eventually the ghosts really get annoyed and attack him in earnest, carving their stories into his flesh. Mary, realizing she has some psychic connection to the spirit realm herself, keeps Simon locked up where she reads the stories on his skin and transcribes them, making a shitload of money. Simon eventually escaped, but got captured by Wyburd. Now caught up to the beginning, Wyburd successfully skins Simon, but ghosts drown him in a room full of blood. Mary arrives to get her prize, which the ghosts are still writing on.

Clive Barker wrote the Books of Blood anthology series, sure, but he didn’t write or direct this movie. In fact, the only way I would’ve known that this was a Barker story was because Doug Bradley–AKA Pinhead–plays a sham psychic who ghosts killed years ago, and Simon Bamford–Butterball cenobite in Hellraiser and Ohnaka in Nightbreed–plays one of two movers. Damn, they even included “two movers who have incredibly minor roles,” something Barker had in both Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Someone did their homework.

The film does have tenuous connections to other films, though. The Books of Blood anthologies are stories taken from Simon’s skin, supposedly transcribed by Mary. The first volume includes The Midnight Meat Train, a film I almost included in the Hellbound Halloween this year before I learned about Harry D’Amour. That volume also has The Yattering and Jack, which Barker turned into an episode of Tales from the Darkside. The second volume has Dread, which was made into a movie the same year as Book of Blood. Volume three has Rawhead Rex, which is a generally forgotten 1986 Irish film. Volume four had The Body Politic, which got combined with Steven King’s Chattery Teeth into the made-for-TV film Quicksilver Highway. Volume five has The Forbidden, which got turned into a little forgotten gem called Candyman. Yup, Barker wrote the source material! And volume six has The Last Illusion, which got turned into the film Lord of Illusions. Oh, and there’s also 2020’s Books of Blood, which again, I almost reviewed here until I found out it’s a pseudo-sequel to this film.

Well I just added a bunch of movies to my list of “films I’ve mentioned on the blog but haven’t reviewed.” That list just keeps on growing…

As for the film itself, it’s… fine. Mary’s lust for Simon was an element in the original story, but it just doesn’t work for me. Simon faked the first ghost attack, and part of that was using a little device to mess with the cameras watching his room. Turns out he paid one of the movers–Butterball, how could you?–to hide the device since Reg was suspicious and keeping an eye on Simon. But Mary sees the payoff happen after the first attack, which… okay. Was payment only given if the scheme worked? Why not pay him before? Why do it on the campus of the school where Mary works? Oh, because she has to see it so she can later explain how he did it, gotcha. Simon did a bunch of research on Mary so he could come off as if he intuited things about her, but I guess he never investigated the actual house because if he had then he’d pretty quickly realize there was no need to fake a haunting when a real one was actively happening. The movie suggests at the end that he’s a narcissist, but that happens right before he gets tortured for the rest of his life. And finally, Mary’s heel turn from empathetic paranormal investigator to a woman who keeps a bleeding man strapped to a makeshift cross in her study is never fully explained. I guess the ghosts touched her heart, or something. Like I said, it’s just fine. I imagine I would’ve enjoyed it more if Barker was more directly involved. I suppose I’ll have to read the short story at some point.

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