Clive Barker
Is Back From The Dead

Clive Barker
Is Back From The Dead

In 2012, Hellraiser creator Clive Barker almost died when toxic shock put him in a coma for three weeks. Now the writer and auteur is back, with the long-awaited director’s cut of his cult monster movie, Nightbreed, and fresh plans for his most terrifying creation, Pinhead. EW spoke to Barker about his near-death experience and why, after a two decade-long break from directing, he is ready to get back behind the camera.

A couple of years ago, author, artist, onetime film director, and all-round master of the macabre Clive Barker almost died. He didn’t almost die in the sense that he nearly got run over by a truck or that he was unwell enough as to be “at death’s door.” No, Barker basically sprinted through death’s door and settled down on the Grim Reaper’s couch for what could easily have been a permanent stay after the Brit suffered a case of toxic shock as a result of dental work and fell into a coma.

As Barker explained during a series of tweets in February 2012, not long after the incident, “The dental work unloaded such a spillage of poisonous bacteria into my blood that my whole system crashed, putting me into a coma. I spent several days in intensive care, with a machine breathing for me. Later, my doctors said that they had not anticipated a happy ending until I started to fight, repeatedly pulling out the tubes that I was constantly gagging on. After a few days of nightmarish delusions I woke up to my life again, tired, 20 pounds lighter, but happy to be back from a very dark place. And here in the world I intend to stay. I’ve books to write, films to make, and paintings to paint. I seem to have come home with my sight clearer somehow, and my sense of purpose intensified.”

More than two years on, Barker still sounds thrilled to be, well, alive. “I did almost die,” says the 62-year-old over the phone from his house in Los Angeles. “It wasn’t a great experience for anybody! Especially for those who were watching me. I think they were having a worse experience than I was.”

These days, Barker has another reason to feel good. Scream Factory—the horror-centric subdivision of Shout! Factory—recently released a “director’s cut” Blu-ray of Barker’s Nightbreed, the 1990 film about freakish-looking but sympathetic creatures, which its creator believes was butchered by the movie’s studio, Morgan Creek. For years, Barker believed the footage that had been cut from the film was lost for good. Then, recently, many of the literally discarded pieces of footage—or “trims”—were found in a storage facility in the Midwest. “Now, Clark, why the f--k we should find 500 boxes of trims [there]—it sounds like the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Barker says. “I have no knowledge of why that stuff was there, how it got there. All I know is the cinema gods must have loved us because it was all there.”

Barker first made a splash on the horror scene with The Books of Blood, a six-volume series of short stories he published in the mid-’80s. He made a bigger impact with his directorial debut, 1987’s Hellraiser. Adapted from Barker’s novella, The Hellbound Heart, and made for just $1 million, the film introduced the world to Doug Bradley’s pain-obsessed, iconic “cenobite” Pinhead and the puzzle box that summons him and his similarly unpleasant associates. Barker says Hellraiser turned out exactly the way he intended and left him unprepared for the bruising he experienced during the shooting and post-production of Nightbreed. Based on another of the author’s novellas, Cabal, the film details the adventures of a murder suspect (played by future One Tree Hill actor Craig Sheffer) who discovers a subterranean hideout called Midian filled with monstrous creatures, including a sort-of man with a head shaped like a crescent moon, a shapely woman-animal capable of unleashing deadly quills, and Doug Bradley’s Moses-like leader (if Moses had crazy slits in his face).

Barker has described his second film as “Star Wars for monsters” and confirms his dream was to do for fantastical beasts what George Lucas did for sci-fi. “Obviously Lucas had a huge love of old-fashioned science fiction,” Barker says. “He said, ‘I’m going to use all my knowledge, and all my love, and turn it into the best thing I possible can.’ I was in Boston the first day Star Wars opened. I was in the first line for it. It was like, ‘Whoa, look at this!’ I felt that somebody could do the same with monster movies. People love monsters. There’s a reason why Godzilla is still out there, why Dracula is still out there. Why not give the monster movie a chance to be reconceived and expanded and celebrated?”

One of the “Berserker” creatures from Nightbreed Shout! Factory

Among the key elements of Barker’s vision was that the film’s exotic-looking creatures should be the heroes of the piece while the villain would, in a sense, be humanity, as represented by David Cronenberg’s serial killer-psychiatrist, Dr. Decker. According to Barker, it became clear during the film’s shoot at Britain’s Pinewood Studios that this concept clashed with the view of Morgan Creek co-founder James G. Robinson. “Jim didn’t like the movie I’d written, didn’t like the movie I was shooting,” Barker says. “Jim took me out to dinner and told me I needed to make the movie that he wanted to make. I said, ‘I can’t do that. I would prefer to leave this project and let you find somebody else to make the movie you want to make. But I guarantee you won’t be able to find such a person.’ He said, ‘Not fair! You’ve got both my balls and I’ve only got one of yours!’ I said, ‘Well, Jim, that nicely describes our relationship. Let me make the movie and let’s see how we come out at the end of it.’”

For his part, Robinson says he doesn’t remember making the comment about the pair’s respective testicles—“[It was] 25 years ago. [But] I don’t recall using that expression with anyone else”—and paints a much less acrimonious picture of their relationship as a whole. “Listen, history is in the mind of the beholder,” he says. “But I don’t think we had a bad experience. We used to go out at night and have a few drinks. We spent quite a bit of time socially together. The bottom line here is that I had a responsibility to make something that would be commercially acceptable and hopefully successful. For its time, it was an unusual film. Sometimes—it’s something that I do—sometimes if you say ‘white,’ I’ll say ‘black,’ just to get all of whatever you may be thinking of it, and I the same. Clive needed a little help but he did a good job. So, to answer your question, I can’t tell you specifically what I may have said but I can tell you one thing, we did collaborate. And at the end of the day, hey, we still talk!”

Some of the other inhabitants of Midian, including (center) Doug Bradley’s Lylesberg Shout! Factory

Barker says his first cut, which was two and a half hours long, was met with little enthusiasm by studio executives. “The silence after it played was deafening,” he says. “I was showing them what I thought was my best possible chance to convince them that my view on things was the right one. I showed it to a room of maybe 20 people. They just looked at it with incomprehension. And then the cries started: ‘Why aren’t the monsters scary?’ ‘They’re not supposed to be scary!’ ‘Well, why aren’t they supposed to be scary?’ Because that’s not the movie I made! I just thought, ‘Oh, I am so f---ed.’”

Robinson, again, has a different take on events. “Let’s put it this way, I don’t think there was any lack of enthusiasm,” he says. “But it’s never been our M.O. to jump up and down and give a guy a lot of bulls---. We’re always thinking about how to make it better.” Robinson does admit that, to make the film better, he insisted it be changed. “Oh, I’m sure I did,” he says. “I mean, I did have final cut and I did pay for it. Not only was it within my right [to change the film], but it was within my responsibility. Look, most writers are wedded to their book, their manuscript, their script, whatever. That’s very normal. But, the movie’s too long; people don’t want to sit through it.”

Barker’s original cut of the film had been edited by Richard Marden, who had performed the same service for Barker on Hellraiser. But Marden quit when another editor, Mark Goldblatt, was brought in to oversee the Morgan Creek-approved cuts and add Barker-directed reshoot material. “It was a great sadness to me, because he’d cut Hellraiser for me and I thought he would be with me on all my shows," Barker says. "But he just couldn’t deal with somebody else coming in and cutting the hell out of the picture that we’d sweated over. So, he went and—God bless him—Mark did the most delicate [editing] that he could possibly do, knowing that he was obviously hurting me badly by doing this. They kept saying to me, ‘We don’t like a movie in which the monsters are the good guys.’ I said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have funded the picture that I’m making. If you didn’t want that movie, then I shouldn’t have made the movie. Somebody else should have made the movie!"

To make matters worse—at least from Barker’s perspective—Morgan Creek and distributors 20th Century Fox marketed the movie as a slasher film. One of the Nightbreed posters, for example, featured the terrified eyes of actress Anne Bobby, who played Sheffer’s onscreen girlfriend, Lori. The tagline? “Lori thought she knew everything about her boyfriend…Lori was wrong!”

“And I happen to hate slasher movies,” Barker says. “Nightbreed was a cri de coeur against slasher movies.” Barker describes the process of promoting what he regarded as a fatally mangled version of his film as “Horrible! Horrible! Horrible! Horrible! Horrible! I think you can see in the interviews that I did at the time profound discomfort. I said in many of the interviews, ‘This is not the movie I wanted to make.’ At the same time, there were a lot of things in the movie that I loved. It did take me a year and a half to make. You can see the paradox: You want to support the picture; at the same time I can’t support something that isn’t truthfully mine.”

Actress Anne Bobby in NightbreedShout! Factory

The now 100-minute Nightbreed was released in February 1990, to be met with mostly negative reviews. EW’s Owen Gleiberman gave it a C+, describing it—in words that echoed Barker’s own view of the theatrical cut—as “rather incoherent, as though the trailers to four different horror movies had been spliced together.” The film was tepidly received at the box office, ultimately clawing back just $8.8 million of its $11 million budget at theaters.

Barker was devastated. “We opened the picture that Friday,” he says. “I got up Saturday morning and it was the first time I ever contemplated putting an end to my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but I was so down. I’m exaggerating—I would never have done that. But I felt like it was a total f---ing waste of my time.” A quarter of a century on, Barker maintains that, “If we had been able to put it out aggressively the way that I made it, then Nightbreed would have had a chance of being what Star Wars was to the science-fiction audience.”

James G. Robinson, meanwhile, seems genuinely surprised to discover Barker was not happy with his film as it was released to theaters. “Well, you know, it’s not his film—it’s our film,” he says. “We all collaborated to make it. But I think he did a good job. And whatever changes that we made—additions, deletions—I don’t think there was anything radically done to his film. That’s all part of the process.”

It is easy to blindly agree with an artist whose work is altered by corporate hands and then fails to attract an audience. Where’s the fun in siding with the suits? But, in fairness to Robinson, Morgan Creek, and Fox, there is no guarantee Nightbreed would have fared any better at the box office had the company released Barker’s cut or marketed it differently. For all anyone knows, it could have done worse. The truth is, Nightbreed may simply have been ahead of its time. “Monster films have always been popular,” Robinson says. “But I do think that the amount of people that like them has, and will, wax and wane. I think most certainly there’s far more people that are fans of these kinds of films [now] than there were, say, 25 years ago.”

Seen today, this horrific-yet-romantic tale of engaging grotesques is recognizably a Clive Barker joint. But there are times when it also resembles American Horror Story or a movie by Guillermo del Toro, whose own, much more successful, directing career has in large part rested on his ability to make monsters appealing. “Is it fair to say that del Toro is more like a Clive Barker movie in this particular case?” Barker says. “You’ve seen Hellboy 2. There’s a sequence in the middle where for 15 minutes they go into this lusciously rich world of very strange creatures and it is entering Midian. It’s the same beat as appears in Nightbreed. Neither of us are stealing; we are just both monster-lovers. I was looking at Fellini’s Satyricon—there are a lot of things in it which obviously I was influenced by, and there are scenes which have the same sense of fantastical reality. What I’m saying is, we all as imaginative filmmakers are each influenced by the generation which comes before us and hopefully then influence the generation which comes after.”

Vincent Keene as Lude and Tony Bluto as Leroy Gomm in NightbreedShout! Factory

After Nightbreed, Barker made just one more film—1995’s magic-themed, Scott Bakula-starring Lord of Illusions—and then hung up his directorial jodhpurs to concentrate on writing and painting. Although Lord of Illusions was another box-office disappointment, Barker claims the real inspiration behind his retirement from directing was a desire for autonomy over his creative works—an autonomy he believed he would not be granted in film. “Life’s too short to deal with these assholes,” he says. “I’m talking as a man who loves making movies. It’s not that I don’t love the process. I would have loved to have had another six movies under my belt by now. I really would. But I haven’t that much energy to spend arguing with people.

“I regret it—I won’t lie to you—I regret that my life has not contained more movies. I’ve been able to produce things. I produced Gods and Monsters and a few other things—but it’s not the same as directing.”

The theatrical version of Nightbreed did have its fans, including cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky, the maker of El Topo, who reportedly described it as "the first truly gay horror fantasy epic.” It is a review that particularly pleases the openly out Barker. “That was extraordinary,” he says. “Nightbreed is about outsiders, and obviously as a gay man, my outsiderness is in some measure to do with my homosexuality.”

The “lost” version of Nightbreed swiftly acquired legendary status among Barker devotees, including Ryan Danhauser, a prime mover behind the “Occupy Midian” movement—a collection of fans who agitated for the release of a director’s cut. Since 2012, Danhauser has co-hosted The Clive Barker Podcast, which he founded with fellow Barker aficionados Roger Boyes and José Leitão. “I think the fans had known that Nightbreed wasn’t treated fairly,” he says. “So I went to a book-signing [in 1995] and at the end I said, ‘Okay, so when can we expect the Nightbreed director’s cut on laser disc?’ And he said, ‘Oh, soon! And it’s going to be 25 minutes longer, and it’s going to blow your mind!’”

Danhauser’s mind would remain unblown, however, thanks to Barker’s inability to locate the lost footage. “The people I sign books for at conventions have mentioned Nightbreed repeatedly and said, ‘Is there ever a chance that we will see the whole thing?’” Barker says. “I’ve always had to say, ‘Frankly no.’ I felt that, if it was there to be found, I would have found it by now.”

Anne Bobby’s character Lori comforts the creature-fied version of the character Babette in NightbreedShout! Factory

Although Barker has not directed a film since Lord of Illusions, he continues to develop movies under the banner of his production company, Seraphim, including 2008’s Bradley Cooper-starring The Midnight Meat Train and the documentary Jojo Baby, about the Chicago artist and drag queen of the same name. Six years ago, Seraphim vice president Mark Miller asked Barker for permission to look for the missing Nightbreed footage. “I spent a lot of my life steeped in Clive’s stories,” says Miller. “I’ve read the novels and I’ve seen the films, and Nightbreed just didn’t line up with the rest of the catalog. It started out with a single text message that I sent to Clive saying, ‘What if I gave it a go?’ And I went for it, unrelenting. What’s interesting is, everywhere I went, people said, ‘No one cares about a 25-year-old movie. Why are you bothering with this? I have no interest in it, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.’”

Following a tip from editor Mark Goldblatt, Miller’s search led him all the way to… a storage closet at Barker’s house, where he found some heavily degraded VHS tapes containing “lost” Nightbreed footage. After Morgan Creek granted permission to screen the material, Miller showed the footage at a convention hosted by HorrorHound magazine in Indiana in March 2010. The screening met with a mixed response. As Miller writes in a booklet that accompanies the limited edition three-disc version of the Scream Factory Blu-ray release, “This was by no means a proper edit of the film. This was a collection of scenes, in basic order. Many sequences still had scenes missing. Most of the effects weren’t even in place and, in their stead were graphics that read ‘Effects here.’ For the die-hard fans, it was undoubtedly a thrill. For most other folks, it was a difficult watch, at best.”

In an attempt to make that watch less difficult, a friend of Barker’s named Russell Cherrington oversaw a new version of the film that attempted to be as faithful as possible to Barker’s original script. This 155-minute iteration, which Cherrington dubbed “The Cabal Cut,” premiered at the Mad Monster Party Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on March 24, 2012, where it was received much more positively. It was also in Charlotte that the “Occupy Midian” movement was born, following an off-the-cuff comment made by actress Anne Bobby in the course of an interview she and Craig Sheffer gave to Danhauser for his podcast. “Craig Sheffer said, ‘If Morgan Creek doesn’t allow this to get put out on DVD, people are going to occupy Morgan Creek,’” Danhauser says. “And then Anne Bobby said ‘Occupy Midian!’ So that was the start of it.”

Bobby subsequently repeated her call to arms at the screening’s Q&A portion. “I got on the phone with José and Roger and we brainstormed,” Danhauser says. One of the fruits of that pow-wow was an online petition in support of releasing a new Nightbreed, which rapidly attracted the support of thousands. “I think we had 13,000 signatures on the petition,” Danhauser says. “And we had people on our website constantly saying, ‘Why isn’t Cabal Cut being screened in our neighborhood?’”

With a new, Barker-approved release of Nightbreed looking like an increasingly good idea from both a creative and a business point of view, Morgan Creek executive David Robinson—the son of James—and a producer named Michael G. Plumides began to reach out to potential distributors. “Without that support, without those voices, this wouldn’t have happened,” Barker says of Occupy Midian. “This is vox populi, it really is. As a creator, how can you not be moved by that? There were days that it seemed like it was almost like a dream.”

In the early summer of 2013, Morgan Creek struck a deal with Scream Factory, which joined the search for the missing elements, eventually tracking them down to what Miller describes in the Blu-ray booklet as “a Warner Bros. storage facility in the middle of Nowhere, USA.”

Unsurprisingly, Barker is delighted with Nightbreed: The Director's Cut, which has lost around 20 minutes of material from the theatrical version but gained 45 minutes of footage from Barker’s original cut. “It may have taken 25 years to get it there, but Mark was able to make sense of the jigsaw and return it to the state that I had always wanted it to have it in and make maybe not a perfect movie—certainly not a perfect movie—but a movie which I can be thoroughly, unabashedly proud.”

James G. Robinson, too, supports the new Blu-ray. Indeed, the arrival of the film in that format would not have been possible without what a Scream Factory spokesperson describes as “the passion and resourcefulness” of Morgan Creek execs such as David Robinson and Greg Mielcarz. “I’m happy any time somebody wants to buy a ticket to see any movie of ours,” James G. Robinson says.

Barker is keen to point out that he feels no will ill toward Robinson. “Interestingly, as time’s gone by, I’ve got to like Jim a lot,” says the writer. “If he hadn’t been in the business of making a movie with me, I might have been friends with him. But, you know, movies are not places to have friends. Movies are places to have, at the very best, cautious enemies.”

Craig Sheffer as Aaron Boone in NightbreedShout! Factory

The Blu-ray release is not the only Nightbreed news. In July of this year it was reported that Morgan Creek was prepping a TV show version of the story, although Barker has no more to add on the subject. “I’m sure there is a status, but I’m always the last to know,” he says. “We know that Morgan Creek was at one point saying they wanted to do something, and we know there’s interest, but I’m not going to lie and tell you I know anything more than that, because I don’t.’”

James G. Robinson knows more about it, but he’s not in any rush to say. “The answer is, there have been inquiries and there have been discussions,” says the Morgan Creek chief. “As far as where we are right now, I can’t tell you, because you really don’t know how it’s going to go, unless you finally have a contract in place.”

Barker remains a prolific: He’s currently finishing the fourth volume in his epic fantasy novel series The Books of Abarat; the second volume of Clive Barker’s Next Testament—a comic he co-writes with Miller—is due out in February; and a new novel, The Scarlet Gospels, which features both Pinhead and the Lord of Illusions character Harry D’Amour, and will be published in May. In fact, these days, Barker is very much back in the Pinhead business. The writer reveals he recently sent Dimension Films chief Bob Weinstein the second draft of his screenplay for a new Hellraiser movie, which Barker describes as a “very loose” remake of his original film. “I think the phrase is ‘reboot,’ although I’ve never really understood what that meant,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we sounded some fresh notes. The movie actually begins on Devil’s Island. I wanted to fold into the Hellraiser narrative something about the guy—the Frenchman Lemarchand—who made the mysterious box, which raises Pinhead. I figured, ‘Well, what would have happened to him?’ He might well have been taken to Devil’s Island and I thought that would be a pretty cool place to start the movie. We’re waiting for Bob to come back to us and see when we’re going to actually make the movie.”

Encouraged by the release of the new Nightbreed, Barker is even considering a return to directing—probably by helming one of the films he develops through Seraphim. “We’ve got some really cool things coming down the pike,” he says. “They’re movies which I’m able to watch over as a producer rather than as a director, [but] each time another thing gets added to the rest of the things that we’re doing, I get more tantalized by the idea of actually doing it as a director myself. So, I don’t think I’ll wait too long until I sign on for something myself.”

And if that doesn’t come to pass? Well, unlike so many of his characters, at least Barker isn’t dead. “I often wonder why that happened,” he says of his coma experience. “You know, making art and being frustrated at the business of making art, are not the easiest of experiences. I think my body and my mind said, ‘We’re shutting down for a while.’” Barker laughs explosively before continuing: “‘We’re taking a vacation from being Clive Barker! We’ll rest for a while!’ It’s been a slow build, it’s been a slow reconstruction. But I’ve always burned the candle at both ends, and maybe I paid the penalty for that. I feel great now and I’m very, very excited to be here at this moment.”

Clive Barker in 2011. Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic