The Essential Clive Barker Movie List
Clive Barker is a Horror God amongst men. Not only is he an incredibly prolific writer, but his material endures like few others. His works have been adapted into countless movies, television series, and movies that have now been adapted into television series. His central themes are always much deeper than just fear, revenge, hate, or love of violence. They are intricate ruminations on what it means to be human. The razor-thin line between good and evil, and how easily it is to fall from grace.
No one builds worlds as he does. His fully fleshed universes feel instantly familiar and alien, allowing the horror to hit uncomfortably close to home. Barker’s worlds have been developed into movies since 1985, and they are still going strong. Not all of them were perfect, but that is due to the eye that adapted it or the money calling the shots instead of the work it was based on. With Hellraiser and Nightbreed being translated for a whole new audience into television series and Nia Acosta’s Candyman coming out later this summer, there is no better time to present the Essential Clive Barker Movie List.
This list will include anything Clive Barker wrote, directed, or produced, but I’m leaving out anything he only has acting credit for. Surprisingly there are a few, including a video game. Additionally, you won’t find all 3000 Hellraiser sequels because some are real duds, and if you want to go down that road, you are on your own. A few of the sequels are worth watching, but even a diehard fan like me realizes sometimes there is too much of a good thing. That’s a hellscape I have no desire to revisit. Crazily, you will find all three Candymans because they all have merit. You also won’t find shorts included. Full-length features only that are based on his work.
Underworld also known as Transmutations (1986)
This one is an original idea and not from a short story or novel. It shares some of the same themes as Lord of Illusions in that a private investigator goes looking for a missing prostitute but finds all kinds of messed-up madmen, monsters, and a batch of bad drugs. This film has all the elements of a good movie, but somehow they never come together. Barker’s first feature is as dull and lifeless as the sundry dead bodies. The ideas were good, and the characters are well written, but the hopelessly 80s sensibility and constant saxophone playing is a lot to overlook.
Book of Blood (2009)
Based on the Anthology Books of Blood. This was the first time these particular stories were adapted into a movie. The first and last stories in the anthology The Book of Blood and On Jerusalem Street were melded together to form a pretty generic haunted house story. There are some quality scares and the effects are pretty good but aside from the final ghostly scene there isn’t too much to get excited about in this adaptation.
Candyman 3: Day of the Dead
The third film in the franchise is only watchable because Tony Todd’s murderous hooked man is captivating. Art collector Caroline gets caught in a cat and mouse game she barely understands when she foolishly conjures her relative, Daniel Robitaille, aka the Candyman. The first Candyman focused on folklore and urban legend, while this third takes a more circuitous route that isn’t entirely successful. There are some cool kills, and Todd is a proven winner.
Poor beleaguered Rawhead Rex was Director George Pavlou’s second attempt at translating Barker’s work, and let’s just say he still doesn’t quite get it right. From another Books of Blood special of the same name, a US historian takes his family to a tiny Irish town where a disgusting demon slays, slobbers, and slurps his way through the townsfolk. If you watch expecting to laugh, then you will enjoy it more. The result of Rawhead Rex isn’t terror, but it is a ton of fun.
Candyman: Fairwell to the Flesh
Candyman 2, as it is also referred to, is actually a decent movie. The sequel largely abandons the subtext that made the first so great, but as a standalone vehicle for Tony Todd, it’s pretty good stuff. It relies heavily on jump scares, and Todd’s charisma both are in abundance. Setting the story in New Orleans is another bonus as the city is gorgeous and spooky in its own right.
The setup and twist are the hook, but writer/director Anthony DiBlasi makes the most of the original story by Clive Barker. He finds a new, and some could argue, more horrific angle. The plot based on Books of Blood Volume Two Dread is good, but DiBlasi’s vision is even darker. A college student studying others’ fears finds the tables turned when his own limits are tested. The ending makes the film and leaves you with the titled emotion long after the credits roll.
Hulu’s Books of Blood(2020)
Hulu’s attempt at handling the massive library of stories is better than the first, but only by a little. It is basically the same ideas as the 2009 version, but there are some decent visuals and tons of blood, which help it be slightly better than possible. In addition, Hulu’s version does save a few nifty ideas for the final act, which help elevate this from skeletal to only malnourished.
The Midnight Meat Train
Easily the slickest of all of his films; it lacks the gritty down and dirtiness of films like Nightbreed and Rawhead Rex but makes up for it with a good cast and endless style. From Volume One of the Books of Blood, a photographer(Bradley Cooper) gets sucked into a serial killer’s underground world in his desire to show the dark side of humanity. Ambition gets you every time. There are plenty of scares, and this cult classic delivers enough blood to satisfy most viewers. The film races towards a combustive finale that is as out of control as it is intense.
Clive Barker’s The Plague
For a direct-to-video movie, it is shockingly good. You expect it to be pure B movie drivel, but the acting is good, the story is compelling, and the effects complete the picture. Ten years after all of Earth’s children fell into a coma, they all mysteriously wake up. What ensues is the ultimate generation showdown. It’s not particularly scary, but it is a good watch.
Gods and Monsters
Clive Barker acted as Executive Producer of this one, and while it isn’t overtly horrific by any stretch, it is easily one of the best movies on the list. The artful reimagining of history focuses on real-life director James Whale(Sir Ian McKellen), best known for Frankenstein and the Vbride of Frankenstein, who is retired and in poor health. He goes through a countless parade of gay lovers until meeting Clayton Boone(Brendan Fraser), who is something more than just another pretty face. The performances are the real draw here.
I have an affinity for the misunderstood, sympathetic beasts which dominate the screen in Clive Barker’s ode to human monstrosity. Watch for the creature design and world-building, which are beyond reproach, and ignore the uneven pacing and plot holes. The director’s cut is much better as it allows Barker to explore his creatures and their home better. Midian is a place that deserved better than what the company forced Barker into producing. This is one of those movies that aged better than it first showed. As a queer allegory and socio-political statement, it is eternally resonant.
Lord of Illusions
As much as I can admit this movie isn’t perfect, it is my favorite of all the Clive Barker movies. There are some images, especially in the final act on the cult ranch that I have never been able to shake even all these years later. Surprisingly the effects hold up, and the mix of hardboiled noir, horror, and mystery work so well together you aren’t ever bored. Famke Janssen sizzles, and Scott Bakula and Kevin J. O’Connor are incredible in their respective roles.
Hellraiser and Candyman are pretty interchangeable in the top spot as they are both excellent. Where Candyman is as terrifying as he is relatable, Pinhead and the rest of his Cenobites are pure nightmare fuel. Yes, there were way too many bad sequels, but don’t let that tarnish Doug Bradley’s Pinhead or Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart. It is wet, gooey, sadistic, and freaky frights. The weirdness never lest up, and that’s just the way we like it!
I’ve made no bones about my admiration of Tony Todd and Candyman. The haunting story only gets better with time. The original has so much to say about Black existence that white people may never understand. It is a vital piece of art, and few monsters are as scary and sympathetic as Candyman. Nia DaCosta’s retcon will act as a sequel and should expand on the themes.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all of Clive Barker’s work, but it is the must watches to understand the man, the myth, and the legend. Find all our lists here, including The Top 35 Horror Movies Which Celebrate Summer.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.