Books of Blood. Available now on Hulu.
Halloween is at our throats once again, and TV is alive—well, undead, anyway—with spookery. And that includes, for the first time in quite a while, a contribution from Clive Barker.
Whether that will please his disturbing (and, many of them, disturbed) fans remains to be seen; Hulu's Books of Blood, drawn from six collections of Barker short stories and novellas from the 1980s, lacks the gouting blood, aberrant sexuality, and general grotesquery that they love.
But what's left for the rest of us is a genuinely creepy collection of stories that collide as they snowball down a hill of murder, suicide, and ghosts, ultimately forming into something that you'll be sorry you watched when it's time to turn the lights out.
Even if you're not familiar with Barker's work, it shouldn't be too surprising that something called Books of Blood concerns death of the grisliest, most macabre nature. Even so, Barker squirms into a dimension well beyond those of Stephen King and other contemporary horror writers with stories like "Rawhide Rex," a creature who savors the tender flesh of young children. (Calm down; it's not part of this production.)
And his sexual themes flirt with true derangement. Barker's fans can tell it far better than I. Consider this description of a succubus character Barker created for the film Hellraiser IV: "Her gooey, gory scalp peeled back in two distinctly labial flaps to reveal the phallic crown of her skull. Her bare shoulders and ample décolletage bristle with vicious hooks, sunk deep in her flesh… ."
Though Barker reportedly had some creative input into this production of Books of Blood, his most outre impulses have been held in check. Books of Blood starts off less like a Barker work than a collection of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes
A troubled college student runs away from her parents' home to stay at a suspiciously nice bed and breakfast owned by an even more suspiciously nice elderly couple. (Garvin's Rules of Longevity, No. 107: Avoid any lodging where the owner mentions "a little cockroach problem.") A college professor whose child recently died of leukemia gets tied up, financially and sexually, with a self-proclaimed ghost whisperer. (Garvin's Rules, No. 68: "Children are fungible. Get another one.") A ruthless criminal heads to a haunted house to retrieve a million-dollar book. (Garvin's Rules, No. 42: "Amazon is faster and cheaper.")
None of these stories seem particularly terrifying in nature, at least as they begin, nor do they appear interconnected or even following a common theme. And the extremely competent but little-known cast (Paige Turco of The CW's The 100 is probably the most prominent) promises little in the way of pyrotechnics.
But executive producer Brannon Braga and his writing partner Adam Simon, the men behind WGN's eerie, erotic witchcraft series Salem, have plenty of surprises up their capes. The twists and turns persist and compound themselves until the truly squirmy ending. Muses one character: "Life is a problem in search of a solution." In these stories, it's written in blood.