Book of Blood (2009)
Dir. by John Harrison
Written by John Harrison, Darin Silverman
Starring Jonas Armstrong, Sophie Ward, tiny, tiny cameo by Doug Bradley
Hey, speaking of framing stories (like we were in V/H/S VIRAL, try and keep up here guys) here’s a good idea: what if you were to take an anthology --you know, those handy full-length vehicles comprised of short stories or segments bookended by a framing sketch-- and, get this, removed the stories, and just left the framing narrative? It’s crazy, right? But maybe just crazy enough to work. If they pull this off, it’ll change everything.
Oh wait, no, it’s just a terrible idea. What these morons here do is take ONLY the brief framing prologue from Clive Barker’s excellent horror anthology Book of Blood (the seventh story from that anthology to be adapted, after RAWHEAD REX, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, CANDYMAN, LORD OF ILLUSIONS, QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY and DREAD), adapt the whole thing (adding a little fat), add an additional framing story to this framing story, and then realize they’ve only filled 10 minutes of screentime. What accounts for the intervening 86 minutes might generously be described as a plot in the most technical sense, but it’s so direly without any reason for existence that it almost crosses over the line from painfully dull to genuinely horrifying based solely on the fact that it clearly exists in defiance of the will of any kind and loving god.
|Read between the lines.|
I mean, director John Harrison actually has some experience with anthology horror films, having directed the workaday but acceptable TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE. Surely for at least a moment before he began developing this grinding nothing of a movie, he must have briefly paused to imagine what that one would have been like if instead of dropping in other stories, he had just tried to fatten out the 10 minutes of Debbie Harry as a witch into a full 100 minute feature. Or if THE ILLUSTRATED MAN was just about a guy getting tattooed, and never specifically referenced what any of the tattoos actually were. Plus, he actually wrote the score for DAY OF THE DEAD and CREEPSHOW. Come on John, you know better. We raised you better than that.
It’s not utterly without merit, I suppose. The roughly ten minutes that actually come from the Barker story are pretty decent. You got this gruesomely scarred young man (Jonas Armstrong), grabbed off the street by a jaded bounty hunter (in a better age, he would have been played by David Warner, here we have a serviceable Clive Russell) who says that someone is paying him to skin the kid and keep the whole thing in one piece. Pretty fuckin mysterious, right? Unfortunately for the subsequent 80 minutes, we don’t really deal with this mystery but instead get involved in the lame flashback ghosthunting shenanigans of these two worthless morons (Sophie Ward and Paul Blair), who eventually get involved with the young man (as yet unscarred). He claims that he’s a psychic and can help them make contact with the spirits of the haunted house they’re staying in (one apparently being Doug Bradley, who makes an approximately 8 second wordless cameo and also appears on a painting you can see in the background in a couple shots, for whatever reason). The ghost hunters decide to make him the focus of their investigation because they are so stunningly inept that they seem to have no other plan whatsoever except to sit in the house with a camera and hope a ghost turns up. But SPOILER, he turns out to be a phony, and somehow for no reason at all faked the whole thing, so that was pointless. He does have a weird, incredibly inappropriate sex scene with Ward, though, so you got that to look forward to. Otherwise, literally nothing of note happens in the entire middle section.
|Not the most relaxing message environment.|
The two bookends of the movie are fine enough, and the whole thing is perfectly competent. I mean, it looks decent, the performances are generally acceptable, it’s got an OK score. There’s one cool scene early on where a chick gets her face ripped off, that’s always nice. But that long middle stretch, jesus. I’ve seen a lot of dull, uneventful horror cheapies, but at least they have the good sense to be incompetent enough that you can laugh at them. This one simply offers nothing of value whatsoever. It barely even exists. It seems to drag on and on, maintaining the same low level of competence but without ever finding a single incident of interest. It’s just lame, derivative filler while the movie patiently waits til it gets to the end so it can go back to the Barker source material.
The only memorable thing here, period, is a long spoken passage which I assume comes from Barker’s original book. Here it is in full:
“The dead have highways, running through the wasteland behind our lives, bearing an endless traffic of departed souls. They can be heard in the broken places of our world, through cracks made out of cruelty, violence, and depravity. They have sign posts, these highways, and crossroads and intersections. And it is at these intersections where the dead mingle, and sometimes spill over into our world.“
That’s a perfectly good bit of horror writing, just the kind of overwrought prose that you want from a guy of Barker’s dark imagination. But unfortunately, the reason it’s memorable is not that it’s so great in itself, but that it is repeated an unforgivable four or fives times*, in full, by various characters and a narrator throughout the course of this turkey. Now that you’ve read it, you’ve saved yourself another 10 minutes of screentime. Of course, hearing it that many times eventually causes it to lose all meaning and simply begs you to start picking it apart. The dead have highways? Why would they need those? Are these, like, interstate highways, or is it more like a route 66 scenic route? And where are the dead going? Are there rest stops on the highway of the dead? I mean, they have crossroads and intersections, so presumably there are roundabouts and yield signs and traffic cones and stuff. If they have highways, they’ve got to have maintenance crews fixing them up from time to time. Does that mean that the dead have congestion issues? And they have places to mingle, not really too common on the highway but maybe they mean truck stops and shit, where methed-out trucker ghosts can stop for a quicky with a toothless, dead-eyed ghost hooker (not that this would be too different from the living version)? Or is that cynical of me, do they actually mean quaint roadside diners with elaborate tourist trap fiberglass dinosaur statues and stuff to draw the dead off at their exit? Or maybe the dead are more sophisticated than that, maybe they have hip coffee shops and art installations where the dead can mingle as they move along the highways at their own pace. Speaking of mingling, do they have Christianmingle, or does being dead kinda sort that out? These are all questions worth exploring. What the movie proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the one question not worth exploring was, “what do you suppose happened to those characters in the framing story that the original author didn’t feel was worth including?”
*I realize that’s a little vague, but there’s no way I’m watching through again to nail that number down. Once was already too many.