Clive Barker, Dark Dreamer:
In 1990 Clive Barker once again teamed up with Chris Figg, this time to make the movie adaptation of Cabal: Nightbreed. The pair teamed up with Morgan Creek to make the movie, who financed them to the tune of $11m due to Barker’s rising stock as a writer and director after the successes of Hellraiser and The Great and Secret Show. Barker had spoken to Geoff Portas at Image Animation, and together they had drawn up plans for the monsters that would appear in the film, producing a bible to explain the mythology of the Breed. Barker convinced legendary cult-film director, David Cronenberg, to jump on board to play psychopathic psychiatrist, Decker, as well as recruiting Hellraiser alumni Doug Bradley, Nick Vince, and Simon Bamford.
Almost immediately after shooting began, the financiers started getting cold feet about the project as costs spiralled due to a prosthetics team that had grown from thirty members to fifty-one, a crew of monsters which had increased from fifty to almost two-hundred, and twenty-five sets at Pinewood Studios in London. The $11m budget had swollen to a reported $20m and Barker wanted more… a dispute which cost Chris Figg his job.
Morgan Creek agreed a deal with Twentieth Century Fox for distribution, and they expressed reservations about the movie when they saw Barker’s cut. They had invested in Barker as “the future of horror,” but Nightbreed was neither a horror movie nor the natural successor to Hellraiser that they had expected.
In post-production, Fox insisted on enhancement shoots, extending filming for three weeks. They told Barker this was to film three new monsters, but was actually to enforce their own changes. They filmed a cameo with John Agar, as well as a new ending which would set-up a possible sequel. They overdubbed several of the actors’ voices, including Doug Bradley and Oliver Parker.
Barker and editor, Richard Marden, flew to Hollywood and met with Fox for a meeting and were told that the movie had been totally recut. Instead of the epic monster fantasy that Clive had intended to make, they had cut it by 30 minutes to two hours and informed Barker that they wanted to cut it even further to 90 minutes, with the focus of the new cut being Decker, not the Nightbreed. At this news, Richard Marden quit the movie and flew back to England.
Mark Goldblatt and Alan Baumgarten took over editing the final cut of the movie, and it was an act of butchery. The cohesion of Barker’s vision was destroyed under the committee-style production. Even after the re-edit, there was more insult to add to injury, as the MPAA did not like the idea of a movie where the monsters were the heroes and humanity were the real monsters. They cut a further seventeen scenes from the movie, saying that they were being hard on the movie due to the heroic monsters aspect.
The final nail in Nightbreed’s coffin was delivered by Fox’s promotional campaign, which totally misrepresented the movie as a slasher flick instead of a fantasia. Nightbreed was not received well, and disappeared from the cinemas shortly after release.
The shame of all this is, of course, that Nightbreed is far from a terrible movie. Even in the butchered theatrical cut, there is a lot to like. Underneath the incoherence, you can sense the movie that Barker had intended to create and characters, such as Narcisse, Ohnaka, and Babette, are still lovable, just as much as Decker is hated. The edit destroyed the relationship between Boone and Lori, so that it is more ambiguous than Barker ever intended.
This was an episode which broke Barker’s heart, telling friends upon his return to England that it would be a long time before he directed another movie. He was drained, both physically and emotionally, after the battles he had to fight to just get Nightbreed made. He realised that he could not be successful in Hollywood unless he could be a part of the fabric of the city, to be involved in the politicking and the business. In short, he had to leave for America on a more permanent basis.
That could have been the end of matters for Nightbreed, but it wasn’t. It seems only right and proper that we take a moment to fast forward to the mid-2000’s and rumours that the lost Nightbreed footage existed. No one was exactly sure where they were or what condition they might be in, but they did exist. Mark Miller, VP of Seraphim Studios, decided to track down the footage to see if anything could be done with them, but was told by Morgan Creek that there wasn’t the audience to even make a bu-ray enhancement worthwhile. There the story may have ended, but for a fortuitous event… In June 2009, Mark Miller announced that he had found VHS tapes in Seraphim’s offices which were labelled “Nightbreed.” Unfortunately, these tapes were not compatible with VHS players in the States, so were sent to Barker archivists, Phil and Sarah Stokes. They digitized the tapes, and what they found was a treasure trove of footage containing pieces that could be reconstructed to reveal Barker’s original vision. It was a start. There was a thread on Revelations, asking fans what they thought of a possible director’s cut being produced, which generated 1200 responses, a number which continued to grow for a couple of years.
In 2010, there was an authorised one-off screening of the digitized workprint at HorrorHound convention, a very rough and unedited version of the tapes that had been found which generated some enthusiasm from those who attended, but momentum slowed amidst Morgan Creek’s refusal to do anything with the tapes because demand did not justify spending the money on a restoration. In July 2010, Morgan Creek told Revelations that a search of their archives for lost footage had turned up nothing, so it had to be assumed that the only material available was on the Seraphim tapes. All seemed lost at that moment, and fans despaired of ever seeing the director’s cut coming to fruition.
Once again, events took a turn in 2011 when Russell Cherrington, Senior Lecturer of Film and Video Production in Derby, UK, and long-time friend of Barker, saw the workprint tapes and saw potential in them. They were grainy and needed some work, but he believed that something could be salvaged from them that Barker might be happy with. Using an early draft of the Nightbreed script, Cherrington and editor Jimmi Johnson set about piecing together a coherent version of the movie. The result would become known as The Cabal Cut.
The Cabal Cut was an ongoing project, with at least 8 different versions as the restoration evolved. Clive Barker offered insights, notes and direction for the project as it finally became the movie that he wanted to make. Upon first viewing of this cut, Barker was reportedly tearful at the result and has said many times that his dream of seeing the film as he envisioned it might soon be realised. Still, Morgan Creek remained unreceptive to the idea of a full restoration.
In 2012, The Cabal Cut was screened at Mad Monster Party, which included a panel with Anne Bobby (Lori) and Craig Sheffer (Boone) from the original cast. In attendance was Ryan Danhauser of the Clive Barker Podcast, who was there to report on the event for the podcast. It was in a recorded conversation with Danhauser for the podcast that Anne Bobby said that fans should “Occupy Midian,” and thus a movement was born. It was a slogan that she would repeat during a Q&A, urging fans to campaign to get the damn restoration made.
Also in attendance at Mad Monster Party was producer, Michael Plumides. He was a guy with contacts within Morgan Creek, and he heard that Barker was still struggling to get permission from Morgan Creek to actually screen The Cabal Cut at Mad Monster Party. Plumides made a call to Morgan Creek president, David Robinson, and urged him to get behind the project. In one phone call, Plumides succeeded where others had failed and the screening went ahead.
Following on from Anne Bobby’s “Occupy Midian” clarion call, Ryan Danhauser and Roger Boyes decided to act. That very night, a Facebook Group was created and they began to lay the foundations of a movement. Meanwhile, Cherrington bought the domain name for occupymidian.com. the movement grew quickly as news of The Cabal Cut screening spread, and a Twitter account was also set up to spread the word that the Tribes of the Moon were being called home. An online petition was set up, which garnered 14,000 signatures (mine among them, I’m pleased to confirm), and a letter campaign to Morgan Creek ensued from fans urging the company to make The Cabal Cut available. The question was: what to do next?
The next step was to host further screenings in 2012, this time at The New Beverly Cinema in LA. One screening sold out, and a second had to be arranged to meet demand. Clive Barker was ecstatic with this response, publishing a series of tweets thanking the fans for their support. Next, The Cabal Cut went on tour, with over 40 screenings worldwide with panels including Russell Cherrington and cast members.
Occupy Midian and Russell Cherrington had proven that there was indeed an appetite to see Nightbreed restored, but they needed distribution. Cue Michael Plumides again, who was introduced to Cliff Macmillan of Shout Factory. He jumped at the chance to release the movie and the deal was done.
In 2014, Shout Factory announced that, in conjunction with Warner Bros, they had managed to find the original film of Nightbreed in over 600 boxes. Not only had they found the missing masters, they had never before seen footage too. It was beyond the wildest dreams of anyone involved in the Occupy Midian movement, and Barker especially. Finally, a high quality restoration of the Director’s Cut of Nightbreed could begin.
Shout Factory’s release was originally set for 5000 copies, but demand meant it was quickly upgraded to 10,000. In less than a week, 2000 copies had been pre-ordered… and it was only available in the US! In November of 2014, the Director’s Cut was on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, and in December it was streamed on Netflix and Shudder, where it went to number one in horror. Finally, after so many years and the heartache the original project had caused Barker, Nightbreed was a smash hit. In June 2015, The Director’s Cut won a Saturn Award for Best DVD or Blu-Ray Special Edition Release.
Barker had won, after 24 years… but the war was not yet over. Licensing and rights issues meant that the Director’s Cut could only be released in the US. Despite distributors being eager to bring Midian to shores worldwide, Barker’s hands were tied. All of that changed earlier this year, with an announcement made by Arrow Video that they would be releasing Nightbreed in the UK on Blu-Ray for the first time and pre-orders have proved very popular even after five years of waiting. Barker’s vindication is complete at last.
1991 saw the release of Barker’s most epic, ambitious, and dense work to date: Imajica. Perhaps this was a reaction to the butchery of Nightbreed, as Clive let loose with his imagination and pushed himself to the limits of his abilities.
Imajica was written at a time of upheaval and change in Barker’s life. He was dealing with the fallout of Nightbreed and a move to Los Angeles, which is reflected in the book. Parts of Imajica read like a love letter to the London that he had lived in, and to the UK. There are moments of self-reflection within the pages; the main character is an artist, making his way as a forger. Could this be a comment on himself, writer of horror and expected to rehash familiar themes for paymasters who demanded blood and gore, rather than the more progressive material that Barker offered? Because of this, Imajica comes across to his readers as the most personal of Barker’s work, a story that you see a lot of Barker laid bare and examined as we witness the fall and rise of the main character; John Furie “Gentle” Zacharias.
Some readers consider Imajica overlong and flawed, an opinion that I would disagree with strongly. To me Imajica is Barker’s magnum opus, the storytelling and structure sweeps the reader away in much the same way as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It is a novel which challenges the reader, asking existential, moral, and theological questions in the guise of an epic fantasy. For me, Barker rarely exceeded the powers that he showed with Imajica.
The book opens with a typically Barker treatise on drama, written under the guise of Pluthero Quexos. Here, he determines that true drama can only ever be based around two or three characters. Okay, more might wander on and off stage, but by the end of any play the cast is whittled down until the spotlight falls on two or three characters. It is an opening salvo which sets the stage very well, and is a rule which Barker observes as he whittles down the cast in this story from many, to just one.
John Furie “Gentle” Zaccharias is an artist plying his trade as a forger, and confirmed lady’s man. The beginning of Imajica finds Gentle between conquests and without work for the first time in an age when he receives a mysterious letter from the husband of an old flame, Jude. The husband, Charlie Estabrook, a rich businessman, has paid for someone to kill Jude after the breakup of their marriage and now he is getting cold feet. Gentle goes to meet the man and agrees to go to New York to warn Jude of the threat to her life.
In New York, Gentle tracks Jude’s apartment and saves her when the assassin makes an attempt on her life. He chases the mysterious man and fails to catch him, but does have a strange frisson when he makes eye contact with the would-be killer… a feeling that he knows this person. Bemused, Gentle returns to Jude’s apartment but she asks him to leave; there are too many bad memories associated with him.
He goes back to his hotel room and goes to sleep, but is roused when Jude appears in his room. In the throes of passion, the phone rings and Gentle knocks it off the bedside table. The receiver falls from the cradle and he hears Jude’s voice on the other end of the line. Confused, he snaps on the light and sees that Jude is not the woman he is in bed with… it is the assassin. He flees again, and this time Gentle cannot give chase. Confused and agitated, he can do nothing more than return to London.
Back in London, Gentle cannot simply forget all that happened in New York. The memory of the assassin plagues him, and he tries to catch the likeness of the man on the canvas, exhausting himself as he paints obsessively. Eventually, defeated, he returns to Estabrook and demands to know where the man met the assassin. Estabrook tells him about the travellers’ campsite, and Gentle tracks it down. When Gentle reaches the camp, he finds it in flames. Enraged, he rushed into the flames and catches sight of the assassin, but loses him as he is overcome by the smoke. Once again, Gentle is forced to admit defeat and return to his studio empty handed.
Meanwhile, Jude returns to London. She is contacted by old friend Clem, letting her know that his partner, Taylor, is dying and that they are holding a New Year’s Eve party. He asks her if she could find Gentle and bring him along. Of course, she agrees and does take Gentle along to the party, but he has to leave early when he is taken sick. Jude drives him home to his studio and leaves him there.
Jude goes to Estabrook’s house to collect some of her things, hearing that he is in hospital after a suicide attempt. While taking some of her jewellery from the safe, she finds a mysterious blue stone which she takes as a memento. Back at her apartment, she finds the blue stone in her pocket and studies it, becoming entranced by it. Soon enough, she is taken out of her body and transported across the city to a tower, where she is shown the mummified body of a woman trapped behind a wall. She is returned to her body, but the visions that the stone has showed her continue to haunt her and she decides to go to see Gentle… if anyone would believe her extraordinary story, it would be him.
Gentle is still ill when the assassin arrives at his studio, explaining that he is a being from another world, a mystif of the second dominion. There are five dominions, the creature tells Gentle, from which the Earth has been sundered. Gentle asks the mystif, Pie’Oh’Pah, to take him to these dominions, and the creature agrees.
Jude arrives at Gentle’s apartment in time to see the pair leave, their forms entwining as they left the world she knows. Bereft, she realises that the only way for her to untangle the mystery of the stone (and now Gentle’s disappearance) is to meet with her estranged husband. She goes to visit Estabrook in the hospital, where he tells her that the stone was a gift from his brother, Oscar Godolphin, but will tell her little more. The two brothers did not get along after Estabrook was passed over for inheritance by their father, so Godolphin became the owner of the family estate and Estabrook denounced the family and gave up its name. Jude threatens to track the brother down and ask him directly, but Estabrook begs her not to, telling her that Oscar is dangerous and not to be trusted… he will show her what she wants to see.
A few days later, Jude is taken to the derelict Godolphin estate by Estabrook. They walk around the grounds and Jude enters the ruined house, the sight of the grand hallway bringing forth images of balls and parties which may have been held there. He takes her to see The Retreat, a folly built by one of Estabrook’s ancestors as a gateway to the dominions. They step inside when Oscar appears… and Jude falls instantly in love. Estabrook tells her to leave them, to get away from Oscar, which she only does reluctantly when Oscar tells her to. The brothers are left alone inside the Retreat, and after a time, Oscar comes out with a wound, telling Jude that Estabrook is dead and that he had to kill him or be killed. Jude leaves with Oscar, becoming his lover… and prisoner.
Meanwhile, Gentle is travelling the dominions with Pie’Oh’Pah. He discovers that he has magical powers in these worlds – pneuma. Wherever he travels in the dominions, it seems drama and destruction follows in his wake. In Yzorrderex there is uprising; in Beatrix there is massacre. The pair soon discover that they are being tracked and hunted by the Autarch’s soldiers. They decide to travel over the mountains to a portal out of the dominion, and Gentle frees goddesses that were trapped in ice by the god, Happexamendios. On the journey, the pair marry after a sickness that Gentle contracts from a near drowning.
It is here that Gentle discovers that he is a powerful man, a reconciler. Pie’Oh’Pah tells him that it was his servant when he, as the Maestro Sartori, attempted to reconcile the domions two hundred years previously. He failed in the attempt, and begged the mystif to make him forget the failure and its tragic consequences. He has lived in ignorance for two hundred years, shedding identities like old socks and moving on, never remembering who he was. Unbeknown to Gentle, the Autarch is his doppelganger, a being of his creation around the time of the reconciliation. The Autarch has taken over the dominions and shaped them into his own empire. Everywhere Gentle looks, he sees how he has been responsible for the desecration of the Imajica.
Soon Pie’Oh’Pah is injured in a battle, and is close to death when they reach The Erasure, a sacred place in the Imajica where the dominions are divided by their god, Happexamendios. When the mystif dies, Gentle loses himself to despair and destroys the encampment around the Erasure before returning to the Yzzorderex… to destroy his creation, the Autarch.
While Gentle is busy exploring the Imajica, Jude is distracted by Oscar. She tells herself otherwise, but she has become enslaved to the man. On a trip to the opera, Oscar has to stop off for a meeting. Waiting in the car, Jude realises that the place they have arrived at is the tower that she saw in her vision of the woman. She explores while Oscar is distracted and meets a woman called Clara Leash, who tells her of the Tabula Rasa. The Tabula Rasa is a secret group that for centuries has been committed to eradicating all forms of magic from the Earth. The group is comprised of members of seven families, and that Oscar is a member of that group. Jude tells Clara about the woman in the basement, and she agrees to meet again to try and free her.
A few days later, Jude returns to the tower to meet with Clara. They search around the perimeter of the place, looking for a way in, when they meet Dowd, Oscar’s right hand man. Dowd kills Clara and takes Jude back to Oscar’s house. Now she really is a prisoner. She confronts Oscar and he agrees to take her to the Retreat and to show her the Imajica; he really has fallen in love with her and wants to keep her by his side. He does take her, but while crossing over to the Imajica, Dowd interferes. Jude sees Oscar’s face covered in blood, then Dowd leering at her before she loses consciousness.
She wakes up in the home of Peccable, a merchant of curios from her domino who had worked for a long time with Oscar. Peccable is not home, but his daughter, Hoi Polloi, is. There is civil war raging in the city, and Hoi Polloi is afraid. There is a storm coming, fighting in the streets, and the girl has to shut up the house. For the moment, Jude is trapped in the house with Dowd.
Once the storm passes, Dowd decides to leave the city and means to take Jude with him. Jude tries to persuade Hoi Polloi to leave with them, but she refuses to leave without her father. So it is that Jude finds herself wandering the broken streets of Yzzorderex in the company of Dowd, with unrest raging all around her. In the midst of all of this, Jude is passed by a great procession of soldiers bearing a palanquin. When the curtains part as the palanquin is dropped, Jude comes face to face with her mirror image. The woman she fleetingly encounters is Quaisoir, the Aurarch’s cruel paramour, on her way to view the day’s executions. Jude resolves to meet this woman who has her face, and discover all about her sister.
In the tumult on the streets, Jude is parted from Dowd and she decides to climb the hill to the Autarch’s palace. Once inside, she finds her way to Quasiour’s apartments and the woman herself, a drugged and paranoid harridan. She falls asleep in Quaisoir’s bed, and is woken by Gentle. They make love on the bed, neither lover knowing that the other is not the person they think.
Here it is that Quaissoir is blinded, and in her weakened state she explains how Jude came to be. Two hundred years before, Quaisoir had been married to Joshua Godolphin, but a man named the Maestro Sartori had become enchanted with her, and she had fallen in love with him. In return for his part in the Reconciliation, Sartori had requested Godolphin’s wife. Being a fair man, Sartori had created a double which would love Godolphin for the rest of his life. Jude was that double, but there had also been an unintended consequence of the working: Sartori had also created a double of himself, the Autarch.
Quaissoir persuades Jude to take her into the city, to find her “Man of Sorrows,” but instead they find Dowd. He tries to kill Jude, but Quaissoir kills him. They return to the palace and Quaissoir retires to a room between the Pivot Tower, a receptacle of prayers which a monolith within the tower collects from all over the dominion and the source of the Autarch’s preternatural ability to know all the goings on in the Imajica.
Meanwhile, the city is in uprising and the people are marching on the Autarch’s Palace. Gentle arrives and finds himself in his brother’s palace, where he seeks the Autarch out. They find each other and battle through the palace, but the Autarch flees. Gentle finds the Pivot… and both Jude and Quaissoir. Now, Gentle resolves to destroy the Pivot and does so, breaking it with pneuma. In the midst of the destruction, Quaissoir refuses to leave the room under the tower and is killed as the Pivot Tower falls. With Gentle bereft, injured, and exhausted, the pair return to their own Dominion at last.
Jude takes Gentle back to his studio before returning to her own apartment. After sleep, she is invited to another party at Gentle’s old employer’s house, Chester Klein. When she arrives, Gentle is there and looking rested and much the better for sleep. They leave together and return to her apartment together. After a night of passion, Gentle leaves on business; he is ready to build an empire now and begins to act very strangely, but Jude overlooks this. Upon returning, he finds the blue stone and takes it from Jude. This is when Jude knows that this Gentle, who she has taken into her heart and into her bed, is not her Gentle, but the Autarch Sartori… and that she is now pregnant with his child.
While Sartori is out on his empire building business, Jude meets Oscar Goldolphin and returns to the tower. They go straight to the basement in search of the goddess trapped behind the walls, but are disturbed by the sound of an intruder. Oscar goes off to investigate, and Dowd appears, back from the dead. He kills Oscar and advances on Jude, not knowing that there is a being of power in the basement with them. The wall begins to dissolve to reveal the goddess, and he makes a fatal error… he touches her. In a rage, the goddess kills Dowd and asks Jude to find her son, Sartori.
Meanwhile, the real Gentle has returned to a place he barely remembers, a house he once occupied when he was the Maestro Sartori. The house on Gamut Street is filled with ghosts from his past, and all of them confront him as he tours the rooms of his old home. At last, he is met by a demon called Little Ease, an emissary of Gentle’s twin sent to waylay him. In one fell swoop, Little Ease opens Gentle’s mind and all of Gentle’s memories of his past lives, which have been forgotten, flood back in and makes him crazy. Little Ease sends him on his confused and shambling way back into the world.
Alone and addled, not knowing even his name, Gentle wanders the streets of London and falls in with a group of homeless people. Among their number is a boy who draws with charcoal; Gentle takes them and begins drawing on the walls, the floors… every surface he can find. He is drawing a map of the Imajica, if only he could remember what it was.
While all this is going on, Jude and Gentle’s friend Clem is searching for the real Gentle. Taylor has returned from the dead and told Clem that Gentle has returned and he is going to do something wonderful. Clem volunteers with a soup kitchen in the evenings. On one of these evenings feeding the homeless, Clem finds pictures drawn in pastels all over the pavement and walls, pictures that could only have been drawn by Gentle. He follows the trail of artwork and finds the man himself, and realises that he has lost his mind… or rather, rediscovered too much of his mind. They walk together, Clem trying to find Gentle in among the ramblings as the night draws on. Eventually, at dawn, they come back to the camp and hear giggling from one of the sleeping vagrants. Clem’s partner, Taylor, is in the light and speaks through the boy, Monday. It Taylor is that reminds Gentle of who he is and what it is that he is made to do; he is all of the things that he remembers, and he is the Reconciler. Together with Monday they return to the house on Gamut Street, where Gentle confronts the ghosts and embarks on his first reconciliation, that between his past failures and fallen friends, before making plans for the rite that will realign the Imajica.
Jude also arrives at Gamut Street with the ailing goddess Celestine. Gentle is preoccupied by the preparations for the reconciliation, but is persuaded to talk with the woman. She tells him a story that she told him as a child, the take of Nissi Nirvana. It is, of course, her story. Gentle comes to understand his own nature from the story: he is the son of Happexamendios himself, who raped Celestine and left her in her madness. Celstine tells her story, then passes away with her son in her arms.
As the time draws near, Jude begins to have reservations about the reconciliation, and decides that she must stop the working, finally siding with Sartori against Gentle. As Gentle is preparing for the rite, he finds that Jude has sabotaged the working and throws her out before finding the stones that will form the circle that he needs to perform the deed. He throws his mind out and visits the other maestros in the other dominions, making sure that the working is safe before they begin. Then, they begin the reconciliation, imagining themselves as the dominions that they represent. All seems to be going well until Gentle is pulled from the circle and attacked. Sartori has found his way to Gamut Street and is intent on destroying both the reconciliation and Gentle. A fight ensues, and this time Gentle is victorious and kills his brother. The reconciliation has taken on its own momentum, restructuring the Imajica and opening doors to bring the dominions back together.
In dismay and disgust at her own actions and anger at Gentle for being the man that he was, and is, Jude returns to Yzzorderex and finds it much changed. The goddesses have taken over the Autarch’s palace, and they take Jude in as one of their own.
In the aftermath of the Reconciliation, Gentle realises that he has one more task before him. The First Dominion, the home of his father, is still separate from the rest of the dominions. To be truly reconciled, he must tear down the walls that his father has put up. Once again, Gentle travels through the Imajica and enters the first dominion, finding his father in a city forgotten. Happexamendios reveals himself to Gentle, forgetting his own shape as he manifests himself and appearing as a mismatched and hideous thing. In the confrontation between father and son, Gentle reminds Happexamendios of his sins against Celestine, and the god becomes enraged. He sends out a killing fire across the dominions to destroy the woman, but he has forgotten… the Imajica is a circle, and so the killing fire returns and strikes the god down himself. At the death of Happexamendios, the First Dominion is revealed as a rotting, disease infected place… and in the ruins of this hell, Gentle is reunited with his love, Pie’Oh’Pah.
At the end, Gentle resolves to travel and make a map of the Imajica, a work of art that can never be complete, and will be ever changing… at last, he has purpose.
Imajica was a story that stretched Barker’s ambitions almost to breaking point, the one story that Barker thought he may not have the skill to complete. It has stood as his Lord of the Rings for many readers in the years since its publication. Still, Barker didn’t see this as the peak of his creativity… there were still many more stories to tell, but he had regained control that he felt he had lost with his foray into Hollywood, and now he decided it was time to move back into that circle.
1992 would see Barker move back into Hollywood circles, but not before he took another gamble with his literary career and stuck a further thumb in the eye of critics and readers who still mistakenly labelled Barker a horror writer. This time, Clive decided to release a children’s tale, The Thief of Always, written as he was also creating Imajica.
Barker did have history of writing children’s stories, although none of them had seen publication. The Candle in the Cloud and The Adventures of Maximillian Bacchus… had been written years before, and very much directed toward young adult readers, but his publishers wouldn’t know that. It was indeed a huge gamble for a writer known for writing erotically charged, dark tales to branch out into children’s fiction, but that is precisely what Barker was proposing. It was perhaps a testament to the level that he had risen to that his publishers did not dismiss the idea out of hand; they purchased The Thief of Always for a single dollar, which offered the author much more in the way of royalties. As Clive himself quipped earlier this year to a fan at a convention: “It turned out to be a terrible business decision; it is now available in forty languages… it just shows that the experts don’t always know everything.”
His publishers didn’t skimp on the release, making 100,000 hardback copies available in the US alone. In the 27 years since its publication, The Thief of Always has enchanted a great many younger readers (including my own daughter, who still counts it as one of her favourite books), and has been optioned for movie rights many times, although a finished movie has yet to emerge.
The Thief of Always is also notable as the first book to feature Clive Barker’s artwork within its pages, belying an ambition that would reach its apotheosis with the Abarat series. Of course, Barker’s artwork adorned later printings of Books of Blood and books by other authors, but this was the most extensive use of his artwork yet… and proved to be a talking point and attraction of the book for many years to come. The positive reaction to his artwork led to more work being exhibited in 1993, and a tentative step into the world of art in general. It was a world that Barker mistrusted, and so chose his exhibitors with great care, but was also a pursuit that he found fulfilling over the years.
So it was that The Thief of Always became an important entry in the Barker canon for many reasons: an illustration of the creative freedom that he had won, proof that Barker could sell books in many genres, and that his visual art also had an audience. In one book, Barker had cemented himself as a true visionary and dreamer.
The Thief of Always: A Fable (1992)
Like Weaveworld and Imajica before it, The Thief of Always opens with a line that could hook even the most sceptical of readers: “The Great Grey Beast February had eaten Harvey Swick whole…”
It was a line which evoked the childhood desperation of boring, rainy days in pre-spring, when there is little to do but watch the rain dripping down the windowpane and dreaming of summer. This is precisely what Harvey Swick is feeling in the opening pages of the book, and like many parents, his mother offers him the same advice that my mother often gave me: “Don’t dream your life away.” Like the opening line, it is a statement which speaks of the whole while seeming an everyday, throwaway comment.
In the midst of his boredom, Harvey is visited by the strange and oddly reminiscent of Shadwell (Weaveworld) Rictus. The man flies in through Harvey’s window and offers him the trip of a lifetime to the Holiday House. Harvey accepts the invitation readily, and travels across town with the man. He is confronted with a high wall which disappears into the February mists, but is really a portal into another world. On the other side of the wall is Wonderland, a place where all of his childish wishes come true. At the Holiday House, Harvey is met by the jovial Wendell, the more serious and melancholy Lulu, and the homely cook, Miss Griffin, and her three cats.
It soon becomes apparent that the Holiday House is truly a place of dreams where the mornings are spring days, where the daytime is all summer, evenings are autumn days and Halloween parties; night time is winter, with Christmas dinners and Thanksgiving suppers. Harvey tests the claim that all his wishes can come true here, and wishes for a long lost toy ark to be returned to him. That night he is given a Christmas gift, and unwrapping it finds the toy that he wished for, exact in every imperfect particular. The Holiday House was everything that Rictus had told him it was… and much more.
Exploring the Wonderland, Harvey discovers that the place isn’t all about pleasant dreams. Beyond a gnarled hedge, Walden, Lulu, and Harvey discover an old pond filled with fish that Harvey instantly dislikes, swimming round the pond as if waiting for one of them to fall in. He loses his toy ark in the depths of the pond, but doesn’t mourn its loss for long. Harvey also meets Rictus’ nightmarish brothers: Jive, Marr, and Carna. He is told that the owner and builder of the house, Mr. Hood, only wants special children in his Holiday Home, and that Harvey is one of them.
That night, Marr turns Harvey into a vampire as a joke to be played on Wendell. Harvey delights in his newfound powers of flight, swooping down on the frightened Wendell, but rebuffs Marr’s suggestion that Harvey should taste Wendell’s blood.
Harvey is disturbed by these events, realising that happiness and fun comes at a price. He understands that the fun cannot last forever, embodied by Lulu, who has been at the House the longest and is quickly turning into one of its own creatures. He begins to see similarities between Lulu and the fish in the pond, resolving to escape as soon as possible.
Together, Harvey and Wendell follow one of Mrs. Griffin’s cats and find a way through the misty wall and back into the real world. They are pursued by Carna, but he cannot follow them far as reality injures him. Harvey wanders home, but the town feels somehow different to him after his experiences in the Wonderland. He arrives home and finds that his parents are grown old and sad; he has been missing for thirty years! It is only then that Harvey realises the terrible trick that has been played on him, that his time in the Holiday House has stolen time from his life, and the lives of all the other children that visited the place.
Harvey resolves to return to the Holiday House to reclaim that which has been stolen from him. He goes into the cellar and finds Mrs.Griffin in a coffin; she was the House’s first child victim and condemned to remain as housekeeper by her wish for immortality. It is Mrs.Griffin who finally tells Harvey of the nature of the House and its occupants. After freeing Mrs.Griffin, Harvey tracks down and destroys Marr, Jive, and Carna by showing them the nature of their own creation. Now he confronts Mr. Hood in the attic. Here it becomes apparent that the man is the evil of the house incarnate, a reflection of his own darkness. What ensues is a battle of wishes, as Harvey offers wish after wish, which Mr. Hood is bound to grant, and is destroyed. Hood’s destruction frees the children, all of whom were the fish in the pond which Harvey disliked, and all return to their own times.
Harvey returns home and finds his parents restored to youth. He tells them his fantastic story, but they don’t believe him. Desperate to be believed, Harvey takes them to the wall that had been the portal into the Wonderland where he meets and old man who confirms Harvey’s tale. The old man is Lulu’s husband, sent by her to thank Harvey for her release so many years before.
1992 also brought the world a new monster to rival the Freddies and Jasons of the horror world; a monster far more eloquent, intelligent, and darkly-scary than any of them: Candyman.
Based on “The Forbidden” from Books of Blood, Candyman is transported from the run down council estates of Liverpool to the Chicago projects and Cabrini Green. Usually, such transportations are a mere Hollywood flippancy, borne of a belief that audiences couldn’t possibly handle any scenario or story that doesn’t take place in America (because the US is, of course, the centre of the known world…). In the case of Candyman, it does add the dichotomy of a middle-class white woman exploring a largely African-American, lower class area of a big city which simply wouldn’t have been the same if it was set in Liverpool. This aside, and some embellishments to flesh out the characters a little more and offer the possibility of sequels, Candyman remained largely faithful to the original material. The addition of music by Phillip Glass in the soundtrack was a masterstroke; the haunting piano playing in counterpoint to the action lending increased atmosphere to each scene is truly remarkable and fitting with the tale being told on screen.
Clive Barker took a step back and relinquished control to Bernard Rose, who wrote and directed the movie. Barker acted as executive producer, offering his insights whenever they were requested. Rose remarked at the support that Clive gave him and the project, being open to changes that Rose wanted to make. Barker would say later that their minds were very similar, crafting fiction in much the same way, so it isn’t a surprise that they worked together so successfully.
Virginia Madsen plays Helen, the white, middle class university student writing a thesis of modern urban legends. It is her researcher, Bernadette, who recounts the tale of the hook-handed Candyman (reminiscent of Bloody Mary, for any British person who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s), who would appear and kill you if you looked into a mirror and uttered his name five times.
Helen continues her research, despite the dismissals of her lecherous and philandering husband, Trevor. During her research, she learn that there is a serial killer haunting the streets of Cabrini Green. Of course, Helen decides to investigate further.
On a drunken dare with her researcher, Helen looks into a mirror and utters Candman’s name five times, laughing it off as ridiculous horseplay.
In Cabrini Green, the pair discover an apartment where one of the murders allegedly took place, finding the slogan “sweets to the sweet” daubed on the wall. Investigating further, they discover a room given over as a shrine, the image of a screaming man painted around a door and offerings of bedsheets, chocolates, and bloody razorblades on the floor. When they leave the apartment, they meet one of the residents, Anne-Marie, who tells them about the killer they have dubbed Candyman.
That night, Helen holds a dinner party and tells her guests about her research. The overbearing and condescending Professor Purcell pontificates on a paper that he wrote a decade before on the subject of Candyman, detailing the character’s history. Legend tells them that in the 1800’s, a wealthy landowner commissioned a talented young artist (who happened to be a black man) to draw a picture of his daughter. Unfortunately for the artist, he fell in love with the girl. Hearing of the artist’s infatuation, the wealthy man hired a bunch of villains to exact revenge. They took him and sawed off his hand, daubing him with honey, and leaving him to be stung to death by bees. The artist’s body was burned and his ashes scattered on land that Cabrini Green is built upon, and remained to haunt the place ever since.
Helen isn’t convinced by the professor’s dismissal, and returns to Cabrini Green to photograph the graffiti in the apartment. While there she meets Jake, a young boy who lives in Cabrini Green. She asks the boy about Candyman, and he takes her to a public toilet where, according to stories in the area, a disabled youth was unmanned and left for dead. Inside the toilets she finds more Candyman-inspired graffiti and a toilet bowl filled with bees. She is disturbed by four youths, one of them wielding a hook, who attack her and leave her for dead. Later, she identifies one of her attackers in a police line-up and he is charged with the murders that have taken place in Cabrini Green. On a return visit to the estate, she reassured Jake that the Candyman isn’t real; that he is just a made up monster like Frankenstein. On her way home however, walking through a car park, Helen is disturbed by a shadow who calls her name, his deep voice silky and hypnotizing. “Helen… I came for you,” he says.
Out of the shadows steps the Candyman himself (played magnificently by Tony Todd), wearing a long coat over nineteenth century shirt and trousers. In her mind, Helen pictures the graffiti which she now understands are not simply memorials and shrines to an urban legend, but faithful representations of the man. He tells her that he had to meet her, because she wanted the truth behind the myths being told. He brandishes the hook and asks her to be his victim.
From here on, we are not in the realms of a straight-forward horror flick. Candyman’s eloquence and intelligence demands more, and he sets out his mission in the movie with one of the best speeches in horror cinema: “I am the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom. Without these things, I am nothing. So now I must shed innocent blood… Come with me.”
Helen faints, and wakes in Anne-Marie’s apartment with the severed head of a dog and a meat cleaver beside her. Anne-Marie attacks her, screaming about her missing baby and demanding that Helen return the child. In the fray, Helen wounds Anne-Marie with the meat cleaver, just as police burst into the room and see Helen with the weapon. Of course, they arrest Helen and take her to the jailhouse.
She is bailed out of jail by Trevor and returns home, where she is again confronted by Candyman. Now he tells her that either she must die, or Anne-Marie’s baby will be killed. He wants Helen to become legend, just like him, to be immortal. Bernadette interrupts the conversation, and Candyman kills her, leaving the knife behind to incriminate Helen once again. Now the police confine Helen to a mental institution, but she isn’t safe from the Candyman even there. He lavishes her with more seductions, promising that she will always be remembered if only she will become his victim.
Helen wakes from sedation weeks later, finding that she has been charged with the murder of her researcher. She tells her story to a psychiatrist, who confirms that she is crazy. The Candyman appears then, cutting the man open, and telling Helen that she is his before freeing her.
Helen shambles home, still fuzzy headed from sedation and finding that Trevor has moved one of his young students into the house. They are redecorating, wiping away any trace of Helen’s existence in the place. Trevor attempts to justify himself, but Helen tells him that it’s all over; meaning both their relationship… and her life.
She returns to Cabrini once more, back to the abandoned apartment with the graffiti and the shrine. She finds the place much changed, now adorned with frescoes which tell the story of Candyman on every wall. She finds the man himself, sleeping on a bier in one of the rooms and attacks him, but only awakens him. She offers herself in return for the child, and Candyman accepts
With a kiss, Candyman disappears with the child, the walls now adorned with the words “It was always you, Helen,” and a portrait of his dead lover… who looks almost identical to Helen herself. From outside, she hears the cries of the child and rushes to a pile of detritus that has been built in the middle of the estate. She fights her way into the pile to retrieve the child, but the people of Cabrini Green douse the pile of rubbish with fuel and set it ablaze, believing that Candyman is inside. She realises now that she has been betrayed by him, and fights to save the child before the flames reach it. Candyman appears, and she impales him with a flaming stake, fighting her way through the inferno to get the baby out. Burned, her hair gone, she finally bursts from the flames and lays the baby at Anne-Marie’s feet before she falls to the floor dead.
In typical Hollywood fashion, the way must be left open for a sequel, and Candyman does not escape from that tradition. At Helen’s graveside stands Trevor, Purcell, and Trevor’s new girlfriend. As they lower Helen’s coffin into the ground, the residents of Cabrini Green arrive at the graveside to pay their respects to their fallen hero, and Jake throws a scorched hook… Candyman’s hook… onto her coffin.
Later that night, Trevor is in the bathroom mourning Helen. We see his new girlfriend in the kitchen, chopping up steak with a sharp knife, and she calls to her lover. Trevor turns to the bathroom mirror, sobbing as he calls Helen’s name five times. Helen appears behind him, hook in hand. She guts Trevor and leaves his corpse for the girlfriend to find, and for the police to find her.
Candyman was Barker’s return to horror, and much like Hellraiser it was a success. Bernard Rose was approached to write a sequel, for which he decided to recall another Books of Blood story, The Midnight Meat Train. In Rose’s version, the audience would be transported to London’s Whitechapel where murders oddly reminiscent of the Jack the Ripper killings were happening again. The movie would flash back and forth from the original 1880’s killings to the present day events, ending with the main characters on a train full of human meat. The producers hated this pitch, and Barker himself was convinced that The Midnight Meat Train could be made into its own standalone movie, and so that version of the Candyman sequel was never made. Instead, Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh was made in 1995, with Candyman 3: Day of the Dead appearing in 1997.
Barker had returned to Hollywood, although not as director, and proven that his stories could make successful movies if treated faithfully and with respect. To a degree, it was vindication after the hell that he had experienced with Nightbreed.
Candyman was not Barker’s only work in Hollywood in 1992. Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth was also released in that year, as was Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers, which is notable for a certain cameo scene involving King, Tobe Hooper, and Clive Barker at a crime scene. It lasts only seconds, but is a wonderful thing to behold for any lover of 80’s and 90’s dark fiction.
Come back tomorrow for Part 4 of this fantastic retrospective on Clive Barker.
Paul Flewitt is a horror/dark fantasy author. He was born on the 24th April 1982 in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.
Always an avid reader, Paul put pen to paper for the first time in 1999 and came very close to inking a deal with a small press. Due to circumstances unforeseen, this work has never been released, but it did give Paul a drive to achieve within the arts.
In the early 2000’s, Paul concentrated on music; writing song lyrics for his brother and his own bands. Paul was lead singer in a few rock bands during this time and still garners inspiration from music to this day. Paul gave up his musical aspirations in 2009.
In late 2012, Paul became unemployed and decided to make a serious attempt to make a name for himself as a writer. He went to work, penning several short stories and even dusting off the manuscript that had almost been published over a decade earlier. His efforts culminated in his first work being published in mid-2013, the flash fiction piece “Smoke” can be found in OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes: A Tribute To Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.
2013 was a productive year as he released his short story “Paradise Park” in both J. Ellington Ashton’s All That Remains anthology and separate anthology, Thirteen Vol 3. He also completed his debut novella in this time. Poor Jeffrey was first released to much praise in February 2014. In July 2014 his short story “Always Beneath” was released as part of CHBB’s Dark Light Four anthology.
In 2015 Paul contributed to two further anthologies: Demonology (Climbing Out) from Lycopolis Press and Behind Closed Doors (Apartment 16c) with fellow authors Matt Shaw, Michael Bray, Stuart Keane, and more.In 2016, Paul wrote the monologue, The Silent Invader, for a pitch TV series entitled Fragments of Fear. The resulting episode can be viewed now on YouTube, but the show was never aired. The text for the monologue was published in Matt Shaw’s Masters Of Horror anthology in 2017.
Paul continues to work on further material.
He remains in Sheffield, where he lives with his partner and two children. He consorts with his beta reading demons on a daily basis.
You can find more information on Paul Flewitt and his works here…