From director Brannon Braga and based on the acclaimed horror anthology written by Clive Barker, the Hulu original film Books of Blood tells the stories of two very different women – Jenna (Britt Robertson), a troubled college student trying to piece her life back together after suffering a mental break, and Mary (Anna Friel), a college professor who debunks psychics but then is challenged by one claiming to be able to speak to her dead son. As their stories interweave and we learn about the mission of a mercenary (Yul Vazquez) who’s trying to retrieve a book worth an extreme amount of money, the twists will keep viewers guessing on the outcome for these characters until the very end.
During a virtual press junket for the film, Collider got the opportunity to chat with Brannon Braga and Clive Barker about turning the anthology into a movie, figuring out what to focus on, collaborating on new material, and their ongoing partnership. Barker also talked about where things are at with The Thief of Always movie that been in various stages of development for many years.
Collider: Brannon, you’ve directed television before but this is your feature directorial debut and it’s a different kind of feature. How long had you been looking for something and why did this draw your interest?
BRANNON BRAGA: My interest in Books of Blood started in 1987, when I first read the books. I went to a science fiction book store in Santa Monica and got my collector edition signed by Clive Barker, which I remember vividly. I remember meeting Clive but Clive does not remember meeting me. Since that day, these books have had a huge impact on my creative life. I always dreamed of turning them into some kind of anthological film, which is the perfect format for them, but also wondered how that would ever happen because I would have to meet Clive Barker somehow and he would have to say yes. We’d have to work together and I’d have to not be an idiot. We’ve had a great time. We started meeting every Tuesday at three o’clock and started talking about what this would be.
CLIVE BARKER: It turned out to be even bigger than we thought it was going to be. Not only did we talk about stories which are written but we started to create new stories. We have a body of narratives, which are Clive and Brannon’s Books of Blood. We created a lot of narrative, just by being with each other.
Was it hard to figure out exactly what you wanted to focus for this, what you wanted to add or change, and how you wanted to approach this?
BRAGA: Most of the DNA was laid as Clive and I decided to take the title story from the first story in the first volume as one of the stories, and then there were two other amazing ideas that Clive had been thinking about for quite some time. I went off with a writer named Adam Simon and fashioned these into script form. And then, as the film started to coalesce and it was time to commingle the storylines, the only point of reference I could think of that would really help was Pulp Fiction, the [Quentin] Tarantino film, which is not a horror movie but it’s a great anthology movie. The stories don’t rely on each other, but they cross pollinate just so, in a way that buoys the whole film. That’s the approach that we decided to take.
BARKER: The fun thing is being able to mingle something which was written 35 years ago, and add to it. It changes everything when you add new ingredients to the narrative. Everything gets an extra wham of narrative and surprise. The Books of Blood have been read by a lot of people around the world and it’s nice to be able to surprise people because horror should always have that element. There are things in Brandon’s movie, which absolutely fall into that category. Even as somebody who was there with its creation, I was still shocked at how powerful the sequence was, for instance, when the spirits come through and all the lights go out and we come back, all that stuff was pretty impressive visually, and I wasn’t ready for that. It was wonderful.
Clive, what is it like for you, at this point, to see your material turned into these different projects and still have such an interesting, new and different point of view, from various filmmakers?
BARKER: I don’t know what it says. I think it’s more about how little horror we’ve actually had since the Books of Blood came out in ‘86 or ‘87. Short fiction is not popular anymore, unfortunately, and sometimes horror stories are best told in a short form. While I have written long books myself, they tend to be fantasies and not horror. When I go to horror and I want to really strike somebody a good belly blow, if you will, then I go to the short form. The idea of telling three short narratives, in the way that Brannon has here, was ideal. You’re flipping between narratives and each narrative is reflecting back upon the other one, and everything feels richer. It’s gotta come out of nowhere. The first horror movie I ever saw was Psycho and I mistimed the entering. I came in during the moment when she was going down into the apple cellar to see Mrs. Bates. And of course, she’s dead and has been dead for many years. When the light swung back and forth, showing her empty sockets, I thought, “Is this really what horror movies are? My heart will give out.” It was a great standard to begin with.
Is there one of your stories that you’d still like to see you turn into a film or a TV series that just hasn’t ever been able to?
BARKER: Yeah. We’ve got Weaveworld coming, which is a big novel of mine. We’ve got Imajica. We’ve got a bunch of things, in terms of the novels being turned into television. Brannon and I have got plans, which extend far beyond the end of the century, to produce new works. We’ve been having a hell of a lot of fun, not only developing the stories that were there but also developing new stories. When we get together, we talk about horror, we talk about shocking stuff, and we talk about feeling closer to the characters.
Brannon, when you started doing this, did you know you would have such an ongoing collaboration with Clive Barker?
BRAGA: No, I didn’t. I didn’t know what to expect. I’m profoundly happy to be talking to Clive and working with Clive. We have stuff planned. We’re hoping this movie does well because we would love to do a Volume 2.
BARKER: And Volumes 3, 4 and 5. We do have enough narratives to keep us going for another decade or so, and that’s new narratives and not just from the Books of Blood. We’ve got a lot of stories already chosen from the Books, but we thought a bunch of secret projects. We’re always surprising each other. We’d sit in a room and talk for two and a half hours, every Tuesday, for a long time. I don’t think there was a week that went by, where we didn’t create something new.
BRAGA: We have a lot of really cool stuff.
BARKER: The two of bounce off each other very well. The things that scare him are not necessarily the same things that scare me. We have different obsessions, which is useful for when you’re collaborating with somebody who has the insight and genius of Mr. Braga. It’s a whole different kind of mind to deal with, which is wonderful.
Clive, I love all of your work but my favorite story of yours has always been The Thief of Always. Is there any chance of ever actually getting that turned into a film, at any point?
BARKER: Yeah, there is. It’s been frustrating for me because I’ve wanted to make that into a movie pretty much since I wrote it. Oliver Parker, who is a friend of mine since he was 17 or 18, and has directed a whole bunch of wonderful movies, is now directing it. David Barron, who is one of the producers of the Harry Potter movies, is producing. And we’re gonna shoot that in England next year. So, yes, The Thief of Always is on its way to you. I’m sorry it’s been so long coming, but it’s on its way. It’s on the slow train. When I gave the novel to my publishers, they said, “This is for kids.” I said, “Yeah.” And they said, “Well, we’re not gonna have it.” They gave me an advance of a dollar because they didn’t have any faith in it. There are a lot of people who like the rest of my stuff that find The Thief of Always to be a nice, quick read, and it’s nice to have people handing it down to their kids.
For me, it’s one of those books that’s like Winnie the Pooh for me because you can read it in different decades of your life and find new meaning in it, each time.
BARKER: I’m with you about that. Books that have a certain simplicity to them, which I think The Thief of Always does – it’s a fable – can reward you in different ways, depending on how you feel when you went to pick it up. In some ways, it’s a book about triumph. It also has a lot of sadness. Certain books, I won’t pick up when I’m feeling sensitive. We just lost a lot of dogs in our household, of old age, so I’ve been very sensitive when it comes to reading anything about loss. The Thief of Always can still make me cry, believe it or not, after 40 years.
Books of Blood is available to stream at Hulu.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.