Clive Barker: Raising Hell

by Andrew Davis

Windy City Times

Friday January 11, 2008

On the weekend of Jan. 11, Chicago will be all things Clive when legendary ( and openly gay ) horrormeister Clive Barker head to Chicago to promote three different forms of media: his paintings, the movie Hellraiser ( Has it been 20 years already? ) , and his latest book, Mister B. Gone, which is centered around a demon named Jakabok Botch. A game Barker talked with Windy City Times about all three as well as everything ( and everyone else ) from his childhood to Sir Ian McKellen.

Windy City Times: I don't think a lot of people know about your artwork. However, they say, "He's a great writer," and they know of your films.
Clive Barker: I think you're absolutely right, Andrew. For a lot of people, it will be the first time people see my [ paintings ] . The reproductions in the book are fine, but they are reproductions. The bulk of the pictures I'm showing in Chicago are 60" x 48", so we're talking about pretty large pictures. There will also be smaller pictures, so people will be able to come in with $200 and be able to leave with a picture. We want to make the gallery experience a fun one.

WCT: If you had to put your art in a particular genre, what would it be?
CB: I would say "expressionist." It's very colorful and it lends itself to fantasy. It's fantastic. If I was really pressed, I'd [ categorize ] it as surrealism, but [ painter ] Andr? Breton wouldn't have me anywhere near the surrealists [ laughs ] because I do think the pictures through and a true surrealist doesn't plan his [ works ].

I'm also showing a few pictures from [ my ] Abarat books [ a five-part series ] . With Abarat, I paint the books and then finding the stories in the paintings-a very different way of writing a narrative. I'm putting all of these together in what looks to be a five-book series; I'm currently writing book three. There will be paintings from books that are not out yet-and I'll be selling these as well.

WCT: Your background is steeped in horror and fantasy, and some people would wrongly assume that you had it rough growing up. However, you had a pretty normal childhood.
CB: Completely normal. I really don't get this theory [ that I had to have a twisted childhood ] . I think the strange thing is that if you get a bunch of horror writers together in a room, they are, by and large, a gentle group of people. I think the fact that my works have an element of the supernatural and the fantastic is cathartic for me, purging some of the dark elements. That is one of the misconceptions that people have: They feel that [ horror writers ] are a bunch of twisted people who watched their favorite dog run over by a truck or that I was left in a well by my father. I live in a normal postwar ( born in 1952 ) [ place ] in Liverpool.

WCT: I was surprised-maybe even a little horrified-to discover that it's been 20 years since Hellraiser first was in movie theaters.
CB: Trust me: It horrifies me.
Here's a footnote: Recently, a young woman told me that she loved [ Barker's 1992 book ] The Thief of Always. She said, "I loved it," and I smiled-then she said, "I read it in elementary school." Boy, was the smile wiped off my face.

WCT: And they're remaking [ Hellraiser ] .
CB: Yes. It's being written and directed by two Frenchmen [ Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury ] . They actually made a very good movie called ? l'int?rieur, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. [ Producer ] Bob Weinstein hooked them up with me. They're going to remake [ Hellraiser ] -and radically re-design it.

WCT: And you're OK with that?
CB: I am, Andrew. I look at it this way: The film that Clive made is the film that Clive made. I made it my way, and it wouldn't make sense to try to remake it. So what they've done is take the basic elements and reconfigured it in a way that makes a lot of sense-and they have a lot more money. I had $900,000 and 23 days to film it, and was paid the morbid sum of $21,000 to write and direct it.
Horror has changed three or four times in the past 20 years. [ Special effects ] have become more sophisticated, and now we have "horror porn," as it is called.

WCT: Like Hostel.
CB: Yes, the Hostel films and the Saw movies-pictures that take from their subjects' suffering. I lose interest in those movies pretty quickly. I don't have a moral objection to them; I just get bored by them.

We know what it's like to be at a party, but not be able to express our true feelings. ... I think we need to be more sympathetic. To be gay in the heart of America is no easier than it ever was.

WCT: Something else that surprised me was that you were an executive producer in the movie Gods and Monsters, about the life of Frankenstein director James Whale. How did you get involved in that movie?
CB: I got involved very early. [ Director ] Bill Condon and I got to know each other because I wanted him on [ Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh ] ; I fought like hell to get him. He got the back end of the critics' enthusiasm from the first movie. Bill and I would talk about our passion for James Whale, who was gay. Both Whale and I come from the same portion of northern England, and the third person in this equation, [ Gods star ] Sir Ian McKellen, comes from there-so when Bill suggested McKellen, it seemed to have a glorious inevitability about it. I could not imagine anyone else in the role-the high camp which he plays with this gloriously beautiful young man [ Brendan Fraser ] . The fact is [ Whale ] knows he never is going to sleep with this man; he just wants to look at him.

Initially, Ian rejected the movie; he said it was too negative. ( He's very political, as am I. ) I figured if I could just get him at my house, which [ legendary actor ] Ronald Colman lived in, and Elizabeth Taylor's house was just down the road. Ian loved the gossip [ element ] that surrounded the [ neighborhood ] . ... Ian was amazingly empathic in that movie. It was my story, Whale's story and Ian's story-when he saw that synchronicity, that connectedness, [ McKellen ] said, "I'll do it."

There's this book called The Monster in the Closet, which analyzes-with wit and insight-why gay men are particularly good at this kind of fiction. I think it was to do with the monster being the outsider, and we have a sympathetic grasp of what it feels like to be that outsider. We go to these movies for the monster. We don't go to see Van Helsing; we go to see Dracula. I know [ writer ] Anne Rice isn't gay, but if she were a man she surely would be-and I don't think she'd argue that point.

We know what it's like to be at a party, but not be able to express our true feelings. ... I think we need to be more sympathetic. To be gay in the heart of America is no easier than it ever was. The war [ for gay rights ] isn't over. You look at the caucuses, and you [ see ] what Romney calls "normal" marriage, which I guess means that mine is abnormal. Pardon my language, but fuck him.

WCT: Let's move on to your latest book, Mister B. Gone. Usually, a writer puts a bit of himself or herself in his or her book. What does this book say about you?
CB: I put everything about me in this book. I won some battles [ regarding the book ] , but lost some others. The American publishers did a marvelous job of presenting the book as it genuinely aged, with the water-stained pages. I wanted to take my name off the front, but of course they would never go for it.
The idea is that this book precedes the Gutenberg Bible, for reasons the narrative [ makes clear ] . Mister B. Gone is a character called Jakabok Botch, who opens by saying, "Burn this book." He says, "I am a devil in charge of this book and you can choose to burn it; or you can choose to read it, and live with the consequences." I thought it was a neat, fun thing to do.

WCT: And, of course, that will draw the reader in.
CB: Well, yes. That scene offered me a platform to talk about story-about why we're attracted to story and why it holds us the way it does. It also let me talk about good and bad, and why we're attracted to the bad. It also allowed me to write in the first person, which I do very [ rarely ] . I've written one short story and one novel, Galilee, in the first person because you need the voice in your head; I wouldn't know how to fake it. It just so happens that Jakabok Botch was clear in my head; I could talk to you in Botch all night and I would know his point of view all the time.

WCT: How do you feel your works have evolved over the years?
CB: I don't know that they have, Andrew. I think they may simply have changed. Very early in my career, I worked with Michael Christopher Figg, who is the producer of Hellraiser. Chris was a devastatingly good-looking Oxford man who had worked with David Lean, the man behind Nostromo, his last unfilmed masterpiece. [ Editor's note: Lean was planning an epic production of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo when he died from cancer. It was even made into a BBC miniseries. ] Chris knew me in my early 30s, when he knew I'd be juggling careers throughout my life.

Chris had a brief but pertinent story for me. Lean was with Noel Coward; he made a war movie, [ In Which We Serve ] , that I think was partly directed by Lean. Lean reportedly said to Coward, "Master"-and everyone called Coward [ that ] -"how are you able to do these many things?" [ Coward ] said, "I find that people are constantly refreshed by doing something different, so my advice is to always pop out of another hole." I've taken that to heart, always popping out of another hole. I don't really add to my polish so much as move laterally to the [ point ] where I feel I can grow. ... It's fun for me to make things fresh for myself and to never go back over old ground.

Clive Barker will be at Packer Schopf Gallery, 942 W. Lake, on Fri., Jan. 11, ( 5-9 p.m. for his art exhibition ) and Sun., Jan. 13, ( 1-3 p.m. for sign Mister B. Gone ) ; and will be at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, on Sat., Jan. 12 ( at midnight ) to introduce Hellraiser. See www.packergallery.com and www.musicboxtheatre.com for more.

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