Two films by Clive Barker: The Forbidden and Salome

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The Forbidden.

Clive Barker announced late last month that arrangements were being made for a remake of Hellraiser. This isn’t the first time such an announcement has been made so we’ll have to wait and see what comes of that. I think I’m in a minority of people who’ve always been well-disposed to Barker and his works (the early stories in particular) but have never really enjoyed Hellraiser. I saw it when it was first released, and was disappointed that Barker and co. hadn’t manage to successfully negotiate the pitfalls of making a British film for demanding American producers. The soundtrack that Barker commissioned from Coil was dropped (a serious error); the film’s awkward mid-Atlantic tone makes suspension of disbelief difficult, and considering Barker’s success as a storyteller the narrative is often confused and disjointed. Without all the memorable imagery it’s doubtful it would have had much of a lasting reputation, or birthed so many sequels.

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The Forbidden.

Barker and his theatre colleagues made The Forbidden in 1978, a 35-minute 16mm film of entirely negative images which shows how different Hellraiser might have been if fewer capitulations had been made to the marketplace, and to the clichés of horror cinema. Both films concern an occult ritual, an occult puzzle, and the subsequent consequences of the ritual. Where Hellraiser has to connect its most striking scenes with mundane business such as Julia’s murder spree and screaming teens, The Forbidden presents its imagery as raw data, leaving it to the viewer to piece together its fragments.

Barker’s work since Hellraiser has been almost completely generic so it’s surprising to see something of his that’s this open and abstract. In tone it’s closer to the films of Derek Jarman or Kenneth Anger than anything else, especially the sequence of Barker himself dancing with an erection, something which will ensure this doesn’t get many TV screenings. (Barker has referred to Kenneth Anger when discussing the film.) The final section, featuring a man being lovingly flayed by a number of scalpel-wielding hands, offers the same spectacle as Hellraiser‘s skinless Frank but without any of the accompanying frenzy. This won’t necessarily be on YouTube for very long so watch it while you can. The uploaded version is from the Redemption DVD, music included. Since the film is silent you can watch it with a score of your choice; I’d suggest Coil’s themes for Hellraiser.

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Salome.

Where The Forbidden is a successful piece of avant-garde cinema, Barker’s 17-minute dramatisation of Salome (1973) is closer to a well-made home movie. This is silent as well, and even has the quality and feel of a very old silent film. For an amateur work it still manages to convey a greater sense of dread than some of the other Salomé-related films which have been featured here, and I believe that’s the director himself playing the femme fatale.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Salomé archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Clive Barker, Imaginer