Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Hulu’s Books of Blood is profoundly disappointing.
While it borrows its title from the series of anthology novels penned by Clive Barker, this omnibus film barely resembles its source material in terms of its tone, style, and themes. For one thing, it is both quite chaste and rather... well, bloodless. This is totally contrary to the spirit of Barker’s work; in the relentlessly bleak worlds that emerge from his twisted imagination, violence is inherently sexual and sex is inherently violent (see Hellraiser). There’s no perverse fascination with the morbid and grotesque here, though—just cheap jump scares and generically spooky shadows.
Barker also excels at juxtaposing the fears and anxieties of everyday life with the incomprehensible horror of the supernatural (again, see Hellraiser). In this shallow adaptation, however, the paranormal is dragged down to the level of the mundane; the motivations and machinations of every ghost and ghoul are meticulously explained and demystified, utterly robbing them of their power to terrify. The blame for this particular shortcoming likely lies with writer/director Brannon Braga, who is accustomed to operating in the more exposition-heavy genre of science fiction.
Even the plot owes very little to Barker. Only one of the movie’s three episodes is actually based on a short story found in the original Books of Blood (and it is, appropriately enough, the best of the bunch); the remaining two vignettes are occasionally evocative, but ultimately feel incomplete and unsatisfying (it certainly doesn’t help that the narrative structure is so needlessly convoluted, tying itself into knots in a misguided effort to emulate Pulp Fiction). Of course, this “creative choice” probably arose from necessity: Hollywood has already thoroughly exploited Barker’s intellectual property ("Rawhead Rex”, “Dread”, “The Forbidden”, “The Midnight Meat Train"), which presumably makes navigating the labyrinth of licensing rights a legal nightmare. Still, there’s plenty of untapped potential amidst the author’s extensive literary output—"Confessions of a (Pornographer’s) Shroud”, “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament”, “Son of Celluloid”, “Hell’s Event"—and it’s a shame to see that opportunity go to waste.