October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article ranking the ten best Clive Barker movies is part of our ongoing series, 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Clive Barker was dubbed “the future of horror” by Stephen King back in the 80s, and while that moniker may or not have played out as expected over the years, there’s no denying the impact Barker has had on the horror film genre. Twenty-three feature films have been made from his work since 1985, including direct adaptations, loose interpretations, and sequels ranging from the interesting to the obvious cash-grabs.
It helps that Barker’s writing is inherently visual or, more accurately, incredibly sense-oriented. He crafts wildly imaginative worlds and characters, and in addition to “seeing” them, readers will undoubtedly find themselves lathered in their tastes, smells, pains, and pleasures too. For all of that, though, filmmakers haven’t always had an easy time translating Barker’s imagination to the screen. We’ve narrowed it down quite easily from the twenty-three films to the ten that truly matter the most.
So put down that Clive Barker book — unless it’s one of his six volumes of Books of Blood because those are masterworks and take precedence over all else — and check out the ten best Clive Barker movies as ranked by Chris “Button Face” Coffel, Brad “Baphomet” Gullickson, Meg “Peloquin” Shields, Jacob “Narcisse” Trussell, and me,
10. Hellraiser (2022)
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise is one of the longest-running — and still active — horror film series going. The original feature premiered in 1987, and the eleventh debuted on Hulu last year. Barker serves as Executive Producer for David Bruckner‘s Hellraiser, and his world is in good hands as Bruckner crafts a sensuous, grim, and gleefully violent take on the Cenobites, the desire for pain as pleasure, and the darkness that compels people to fuck with devilish puzzle boxes. The film’s themes find an extended life in the real-world pains (and pleasures) of addiction, something the original’s Uncle Frank knew a thing or two about, and while there’s arguably a bit too much chatter and not enough Chatterer here, the film is still leagues better than any of the Hellraiser sequels we’ve gotten over the past two decades. (Rob Hunter)
9. Candyman (2021)
In my opinion, Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is the template for successfully reinvigorating a long-dormant horror franchise. It expands on what came before rather than trying to cater to some nostalgic memory that can never be recreated. While the script (co-written by Jordan Peele) does tread familiar beats as it refreshes the audience on who Clive Barker’s myth monster is, it never settles for merely retelling Bernard Rose’s 1992 film. Instead, it digs deeper, discovering new avenues to expand the mythos while still paying tribute to the past, like the revelation that this Candyman is just a singular bee in a hive of Candymen, starting with the original we know and love, Tony Todd’s Daniel Robitaille. Fingers crossed, we eventually get to revisit DaCosta and Peele’s expansion of Barker’s original mythos in future installments of the franchise. (Jacob Trussell)
8. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
Hellraiser as a franchise is a mixed bag, but Anthony Hickox‘s entry can make a credible claim as the best of the bunch. The plot is kind of goofy, with Pinhead screaming a lot while being trapped in a concrete pillar and WWI flashbacks that provide some backstory for the Lead Cenobite, but the kills are top-notch. Pinhead goes ham in a nightclub, terrorizing clubgoers cleverly and ironically, leaving a scattering of limbs, decapitated heads, and dead bodies all over the dance floor. Looking to see people skinned? This movie has you covered! At one point, the club DJ is killed when his CDs are embedded into his skull. Ever the jokester, Pinhead turns some of his victims into humorous Cenobites. The DJ can now shoot CDs out of his mouth, and a murdered cameraman has a giant lens that extends out of his eye to penetrate folks. Will Pinhead finally unleash hell on Earth, or will the young intrepid reporter (Terry Farrell) who finds the mysterious puzzle box send the Priest back to Hell? (Chris Coffel)
7. Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988)
Something is missing from Hellraiser II: Hellbound. Or someone. It’s Clive Barker. His absence detracts, but his writing buddy Peter Atkins jumps on the screenplay with abandon and delivers something familiar, if not identical to the original film. The sequel picks up almost immediately after the last film, smartly centering Julia’s villainy over Frank’s and transforming Kristy’s caring Doctor Channard into a beast worthy of Pinhead’s attention. Hellraiser II: Hellbound maintains Barker’s clever perversion and attention to character, refusing to make do with nifty Cenobite design. Although, there’s plenty of that as well. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Nightbreed (1990)
Everyone has a film (or films) that they saw multiple times in the theater. For most that movie is some blockbuster or another, but for me, it was 1990’s Nightbreed that had me coming back again and again to enjoy what Clive Barker had to show me. An adaptation of his own short novel, Cabal, the film introduces viewers to a secret group of literal monsters living underground in rural Canada. As should be expected from a Barker film, these monsters aren’t actually the villains here — that honor is saved for redneck dipshits, sadistic law enforcement, and a serial killer played with cool, creepy aplomb by David Freaking Cronenberg. Budgetary issues and studio meddling kept the film from fulfilling Barker’s original vision, but there’s more than enough here to entertain and thrill from the creatively designed monsters to the truly unsettling sequences with Cronenberg’s masked killer. A better world would have seen numerous sequels and extended world-building here, but we’ll have to settle for this one wild, imaginative, and cheesy slice of monstrous joy. (Rob Hunter)
5. Rawhead Rex (1986)
As a recovering Catholic, Rawhead Rex had me in its grip with one simple scene — a priest, riddled with fear and quick to change allegiances, promises his loyalty to the mighty Rawhead Rex and seals the deal by letting the beast urinate all over his face. Oh, and the big guy killing a kid makes me smile and nod approvingly too. George Pavlou‘s film, his second Barker excursion after the mostly forgotten Underworld (1985), is a fun creature feature with a monster design sitting somewhere between extremely cool and clunky as hell. But the damn thing works as a highly entertaining B-movie despite the hiccups (and not just because of that cowardly priest’s baptism). (Rob Hunter)
4. Hellraiser (1987)
There were Clive Barker movies before 1987’s Hellraiser, and there were Clive Barker movies after 1987’s Hellraiser, but no Clive Barker movie has made as big of a mark on pop culture as 1987’s Hellraiser. (Okay, 1992’s Candyman probably did, but that’s it!) A simple, low-budget tale of demons (to some, angels to others) coming to collect the soul of whoever opened their damn box, the film seems on its surface like any number of creature features, but much to the dismay of studio executives at the time, Barker’s film pairs its horrors with an embrace of sweaty sexuality, kinks designed to make middle America shudder, and themes that go well beyond good and evil. It’s easy to forget that Pinhead — a name never spoken here — is only glimpsed for mere moments in this first movie, with the human villains being the true monsters. (Rob Hunter)
3. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)
Before anything else, let’s first admire the beautiful uncertainty and impending threat of this title. The Midnight Meat Train. It can mean so many things to so many people, almost none of them good news for those stepping aboard. Here, though, the title is revealed at its simplest while layering in backstory and revealing up the ante and the mythology in fascinating ways. Late-night commuters are disappearing from the city’s subway trains, and Bradley Cooper discovers the culprit is a hammer-wielding Vinnie Jones. That alone offers up some fantastic imagery, and director Ryûhei Kitamura — he of 2000’s Versus fame — captures it all with sharp, blood-splattered visuals, but it’s the reason behind the slaughter that opens the nightmare up in wildly intriguing ways. (Rob Hunter)
2. Lord of Illusions (1995)
For as much of a stamp as Clive Barker has put on the horror genre, it’s easy to forget that he only directed three features. The other two, Hellraiser and Nightbreed, are above, and I’m thrilled to see his final film behind the camera land so high on our list. Lord of Illusions has a lot going on, even more so if you watch the director’s cut, and the result is a wonderfully wild mash-up of genres living and breathing under the cloak of Barker’s imagination and desires. Part noir-ish detective story, part tale of cult obsession, part story about demonic rumblings and the darkest of stage magic, the film doesn’t work for a lot of people because it’s targeting so many areas. The lucky ones, though, get to enjoy a fantastical experience that lets Scott Bakula loose as a sexy leading man, finds legitimate terror with murderous cult members, and admits a truth we’ve known all along… that people like David Copperfield and David Blaine are in league with the devil. (Rob Hunter)
1. Candyman (1992)
If you’re anaphylactic, grab your EpiPen because it’s time to talk about the bees. Unleashed on-screen in 1992, Candyman adapts Clive Barker’s “The Forbidden,” the crown jewel of the fifth volume of the Books of Blood. Like the best page-to-screen adaptations, Bernard Rose’s romantic slasher honors its source material while finding the space to be its own thing: from more minor tweaks like our villain’s iconic fur coat to the more seismic shifts like relocating the story from a rotting housing estate in Liverpool to the racialized Chicago projects. Candyman follows grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who delves too deeply into a grisly local legend with horrifying results. Believing is seeing, it turns out, as Helen’s curiosity summons the eponymous, tragic, hook-handed tulpa (a beguiling, pathos-commanding Tony Todd), who worms his way into Helen’s mind, reality, and heart. Spawning three sequels and an all-time great horror score by the great Philip Glass, Candyman is a peerless example of what the genre can achieve when you let a brilliantly freakish mind like Barker’s take the wheel. (Meg Shields)
Stephen King called Clive Barker the future of horror, but we see more 31 Days of Horror Lists in your horror future.