In 1984 and 1985 author Clive Barker published his “Books of Blood”, a six-volume collection of thirty horror short stories. A total of eighteen of the tales were retold in the comic book series “Tapping the Vein” and several have been adapted into movies and a handful of television episodes. The latest came just in time for Halloween. Aptly titled “Books of Blood”, this Hulu Original anthology film attempts to capture the terrifying vision of its inspiration but only scratches the surface of Barker’s classic work.
The film is helmed by director and co-writer Brannon Braga, known most for his work in science fiction including the “Star Trek” franchise. Here he takes on a project originally planned as a television series but then whittled down into the first film of a possible movie franchise. You can tell. The three unique yet interconnected narratives only vaguely tie into Barker’s original stories. And despite flickers of macabre and gory goodness, the movie can never quite shake its underwhelming made-for-TV vibe.
The film’s thinly linked stories center around three people, each with their name carved in the flesh-covered Book of Blood. We meet a troubled young woman named Jenna (Britt Robertson) who recently dropped out of college following a horrible undisclosed trauma. Off her meds and at odds with her parents, Jenna sneaks away from home and hops a bus for the West Coast. After a tall creepy fellow forces her off the bus she ends up in a cozy bed and breakfast ran by a strangely zen older couple. Other than a slight roach problem it seems like a great place to settle down. But c’mon, the movie is called “Books of Blood”. Things can’t be as ideal as they seem.
Then we move to an author and professor named Mary (Anna Friel) who lost her six-year-old son named Miles to leukemia. Embittered by her loss, she now works to disprove any belief in an afterlife. But then she’s approached by a medium named Simon (Rafi Gavron) who claims to have a message from her dead son. One eerie bare-butted séance latter and Mary’s skepticism begins to crack. But one thing horror movies have shown us, when you play with the dead you never know what you may find.
Both of these stories are book-ended by the weakest of the three joints. A hitman named Bennett (Yul Vazquez) knocks off a bookshop owner but not before learning the location of a mysterious and priceless Book of Blood. Seeing this as his potential last big score, Bennett and his partner go to the location told to them by the owner of the bookshop but find something far more sinister.
Bennett is easily the most thinly sketched of the characters and his main purpose is to stitch all three stories together. To be honest, I did get a kick out of the final 15 minutes or so where Braga and his co-writer Adam Simon bring everything together in a fairly cohesive and utterly bonkers way. But getting to that point isn’t nearly as fun as the payoff.
While there’s nothing particularly terrible about “Books of Blood”, there’s nothing especially memorable as well. That’s because none of the characters get the treatment they need to stand out. The performances are fine especially from Robertson and Friel. But their characters are trapped inside narratives better suited for episodic television. If you’re able to watch the film from that point-of-view you can squeeze some fun out of “Books of Blood”. If not you may want to look elsewhere for your post-Halloween frights. “Books of Blood” is now streaming on Hulu.
VERDICT – 2 STARS