Clive Barker’s Books of Blood short-story collection is famous for birthing Candyman and, uh, The Midnight Meat Train, and thanks to Hulu, it’s once again being plumbed for a movie adaptation. The new film from first-time director Brannon Braga is in the old-school anthology style, tying together three vignettes that are guaranteed to CHILL the GUTS of your BONES, but whether your skeleton pieces will be rendered cadaver-cold or just room temp remains to be seen.
The Gist: “WHO OUT THERE DARES TO OPEN THESE PAGES AGAIN?” a voiceover booms. “NOT SOMEONE WITH AN ORIGINAL IDEA,” I boomed back. The scene: a Ghostbusters library. An old man shuffles around, and a crook named Bennett (Yul Vazquez) corners him. The real treasure is a book worth a million bucks, the old man says and Bennett says “K, thanks” then cuts his throat open and we get a good shot of his freshly exposed trachea. Bennett and his partner then drive off to get the book, and this story doesn’t pick up again until the end of the movie, so it’s the bookends of the Books of Blood, so they don’t fall off the shelf and get blood all over the rug.
Cut to a seaside neo-manse on a postcard ocean overlook. The bulk of the movie is about Jenna (Britt Robertson) the Fatalist. She looks out the floor-to-ceiling window at a beautiful scene and all she sees is death, death, death. She scribbles charcoal drawings of terrifying things. Her mother is a witch, but not in the fun-Halloween way, or in the neo-Pagan religion way, or in the supercool tempted-by-a-Satanic-goat-in-the-barn way, but in the have-her-troubled-daughter-committed way. Jenna had an incident at college with a past boyfriend that deeply disturbed her, and now she’s back home and refusing to take her meds. That means her misophonia — a condition in which one’s psychological trauma is triggered by sound — is sensitive, very sensitive, especially when her mom chomps hard on the salad croutons, or badoinks her BF upstairs. One bus ticket to Los Angeles, please.
But Jenna’s spooked off the bus by an apparent stalker, and hops out in Nowheresville, where she rents a room at a B&B run by a pleasant old couple. Now, if you believe these folks are actually pleasant, or that the place’s roach problem is no big deal, you haven’t read a Stephen King knockoff novel or seen an episode of Tales from the Crypt.
The third story is about Mary (Anna Friel), a total buzzkill joyeating skeptic who’s all into ridiculous shit like the truth. Her young son died of leukemia, so she kind of relishes the opportunity to expose chodes like Simon (Rafi Gavron), who “preys on grief” by claiming to be a spiritual medium. But he wows her with a crazy supernatural feat, and promises to talk to her boy, and then gets in her pants. Do you think they’ll live happily ever after without a single scene of splorching gore or cockle-curdling ghouls? Mum’s the word!
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Creepshow is the easy reference point, but with the fetishy blecch of Barker films like Nightbreed or Hellraiser stirred in. If only Books of Blood lived up to the comparisons.
Performance Worth Watching: Robertson showed great promise several years back in Tomorrowland and The Space Between Us, and now surfaces as the only character of substance in this forgettable dreck.
Memorable Dialogue: The sweet old B&B lady shows off her garden to Jenna, who opens up about her time in the mental hospital: “The only vegetables they grew there were the patients.”
Sex and Skin: Man butt and a bloody fleeting male frontal flash, and when I say “bloody,” I mean it literally.
Our Take: The three stories here are stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster, if Frankenstein’s monster had one really big leg and a tiny shriveled leg and a flimsy arm and was missing the other arm. The movie is uneven, is what I’m saying.
Books of Blood shows some potential in the Jenna portion, because Britt Robertson always looks on the verge of giving an actual performance. Alas, she’s only asked to scowl-and-furrow like there’s a slight pain in her spleen, and the misophonia is a loose plot nut that rolls into a hole but never takes root. You coulda had a tree with that one, but no, a hastily edited story about a woman grieving her son, and a barely written one about a guy walking… very… slowly… through… a… house had to be thrown in, because we’ve never before watched horror movies with stuff like that in it before.
When the guy finally… reaches… for… the… doorknob… and… turns.. it, what’s revealed is sub-basement underwhelming. None of this makes sense thematically or narratively. It’s interminably boring. Scares and atmosphere are in short supply. The forced continuity of the stories is shoddy. That these three plots would tangle together in such a random fashion suggests that the world of the movie is deeply haunted by omnipresent demons and specters, so it must be under Republican leadership too.
Our Call: SKIP IT. Books of Blood ends with a song over the credits that sounds like a Filter cover band but I think is just Marilyn Manson. Just another reason why it’s dull and bad and it sucks.
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