Master of Horror Writing: An Interview with Clive Barker

Clive Barker

Clive Barker

Interview excerpt from Marvel Age Magazine

Marvel Age Magazine: Do you like writing screenplays? How would you compare it to writing prose?

Clive Barker: Well, I’ve never written anything I didn’t intend to direct. So to me it’s simply the first part of the process. I’m not sure if I would enjoy doing it if I didn’t. I wouldn’t consider ft a finished thing. I think it was director Paul Schrader who said that a screenplay “Is an invitation to a collective work of art” A screenplay is a blueprint. I realize that I’m still a fledgling at it, and I’m still at the beginning of my directing career. Although the invitations are out there.

MAM: What interested you in making the leap from writing prose to directing film?

CB: Writing is such a solitary business. As I said, it was something like fifteen tor eighteen months writing Imajica, and In that time I really haven’t Interacted with too many people. Movies Is more of a communal experience. When you get it right, you have made a benign family unit. When things turn out right, you really enjoy yourself. I miss that atmosphere. Directing compensates for those times when I’m locked away writing. It’s the part of me that enjoys getting out. It’s very therapeutic. If it wasn’t for my working in films, I’d be very insular and cranky.

MAM: In general, how difficult is ft to get your material past the censors? Are the Americans more lenient than the British?

CB: I’ve had problems with my movies. I’ve had problems with the Hellraiser movies in particular. So I’ve had to censor specific bits of my work, yes. Clearly, I make movies for adult sensibilities. I view film as a metaphor for a state of mind. It is never my intent to upset people in a negative way. If they were upset by the film, I would hope that it would be in a positive way, so that they could think about the issues in the film and draw their own conclusions about them. That just doesn’t interest me. I don’t think it’s fair to compare Hellraiser with Friday the 13th, either. I don’t find “Slasher Movies” very interesting at all. Pictures, like Hellraiser are fantastic, like dark fairy tales.

MAM: I was going to ask you this later, but since you brought it up – do you think It’s a good thing that the “Slasher Films” have all but died out?

CB: Oh, yes! And may they long rest in peace! They were never great fantasy, and I found thorn to be completely unimaginative.

MAM: Why’d you cast David Cronenberg for Nightbreed?

CB: Cronenberg Is a very interesting man. Very urbane and civilized. And he makes these crazy and demented movies!
So I thought he’d fit the role of Decker perfectly especially when he’s beneath the mask of the serial killer. I also found it interesting to watch the contrast between David Cronenberg the moviemaker and David Cronenberg the actor.
MAM: Of all your films, Nightbreed was the biggest Do you prefer working with the huge budget, or do you think that low-budget has is charms?
CB: I don’t think the budget was huge. Today, even modest films have a budget of fifteen to twenty million dollars, and Nightbreed was certainly nowhere near that. It was a bigger film than Hellraiser; and certainly had a bigger budget. I enjoyed having the larger scope for that picture.
HELLRAISER was a very small film and those limitations helped with the claustrophobic mood. So to answer that question, I’d have to say that it would depend upon the script and the story you are trying to tell. It would be very difficult to try and do Nightbreed on Hellraiser’s budget. And it’s very possi-ble that Hellraiser wouldn’t be as good on Nightbreed’s budget.

MAM: Well, from my own experiences in “Low Budget Land,” I’d say I’d rather have the extra money. Especially when you’re dealing with special effects.

CB: Well, yes, for special effects, of course. What films did you work on?

MAM: Street Trash? I played one of the bums.

CB: I saw that film! It was very inventive I liked the colors of the melting people, and the energy of the film. It was very good.

MAM: Okay, enough about me, already. You’re an accomplished artist. You’ve done some of the cover illustrations on your books, and you’ve released portfolios of your work. The question before you, Clive, is do you design characters visually before writing about them?

CB: Always. I think that it adds life to the creatures you invent. The creative writing process begins with drawing, with the development of image. I did this for my screenplays as well. All of the Hellraiser and Nightbreed creatures were created this way. It is the way I set everything down.

MAM: On a similar train of thought, my friend George was flipping through a book called Lost Magic Kingdoms, and noticed a startling similarity between Cabal’s facial markings and the designs of the Maori tribesman Of New Zealand. The markings constitute a language, which tells your life story It’s actually carved into the face. Was this character, or any of your other characters, influenced by other, primitive cultures?

CB: Absolutely. it was a completely conscious effort. That’s rather obscure, and I’m surprised you picked upon that. The spiral is a classic form, very symbolic. Lost Magic Kingdoms is a wonderful book, with beautiful photography and very Informative.
So, I do look everywhere, and I do see a kind of new tribalism. You don’t have to go to New Guinea to see ear, nose, and cheek piercings anymore. In Los Angeles, all you have to do is step out onto Santa Monica Blvd. to see all kinds of tattooing.
Forty years go, you wouldn’t see people doing these sorts of things with their bodies, at least not in Western culture there has been an eruption of new tribal forms In our culture. It rather pleases me to see Pinhead tattoos on peoples arms. It’s simply more mingling of civilized images with tribalistic displays.

MAM: The Cenobites seem to embody a bizarre, sado-masochistic fantasy. They seem to be a cross between S&M and modem primitives.

CB: – and priests, don’t forget that!

MAM: Okay and priests. So with the exception Of the third influence, these are two subcultures of our society that are admittedly out of the mainstream. Why then, do you think they caught on so well in the mainstream?

CB: Who knows? I wish I knew. I think If Wes Craven knew that Freddy Krueger was going to be so popular he wouldn’t have sold the rights to him. You really can’t plan on that happening. You just hope that the “cult” thing catches on.
You never really sit down and say, “I will creates character and it will be the next craze, because it simply doesn’t work like that. There are so many variables to deal with, you’d simply never get anywhere.

MAM: There have been many fantasy characters based upon real life horrors; Dracula from Vlad Tepis, and Leather-face from Ed Gein. Do you base your creations upon anything like that?

CB: Not usually. My creatures are beings of fantasy. They usually come out of dreams in my brain, and not real-life. It’s never been a route that I’ve gone. I do look at serial-murder cases in the news. I’m as interested in that sort of thing as anyone. We’re all drawn to the darker side of humanity.

MAM: Okay here comes an obligatory interview question –

CB: Where do I get my Ideas?

MAM: No, but close. There’s certainly a link between erotica and horror, or sex and horror: They almost go hand in hand. Why do you think that’s so?

CB: I don’t think that’s so with most writers. There’s no link in Stephen King’s work. I really believe Steve to be the prominent author in horror. But the erotic-horror link is almost non-existent In his work. So it’s not inevitable.
I think it’s true about my work. I think it’s about the mind, about the body, about areas of focus. Erotica is about the body, about transformation. About losing control of the body, and the problems of flesh.

MAM: Getting back to David Cronenberg for a minute, he’s often said that his films are about the body and transformation.

CB: Yes! Exactly. One of the horror cinema’s great lines: It’s from Videodrome. “Long live the New Flesh!” It’s so perfect. The New Flesh will transform. A new evolutionary step is taking place. But David sees the transformation as a repulsive thing… revolting. In my written fiction, they enjoy or come to enjoy the transformations that happen to them. They see it as a good thing.

MAM: Vampires have also shared that tightrope between erotic fantasies and horror, so it seems to go back a long way.

CB: I tend to avoid that “bang on the nose” stuff. People have done it. It’s not interesting to me. I’ve seen examples of it when It’s done well, like Anne Rice’s vampire novels, but generally I don’t like it.
I was never really scared by vampires. Never interested. When I come to this material, I try to do what others haven’t done. I try to write about the things which scare me.

MAM: How much of what you write actually gets published?

CB: Well, I obviously do drafts. But I seldom come to the end of a piece and decide that it’s wretched. Probably 97 percent gets out there.

MAM: Do you have a writing philosophy, like” I do 1,200 words a day!” or do you just do what comes naturally?

CB: Yes. 2,000 to 2,500 words before I’m allowed to get up from my table. Every day, that much at least.

MAM: Are there any writers in or out of the genre who you admire?

CB: Well, to start, I don’t feel my work is limited to simply the genre. I call my
style of writing Fantastique, and it can be anything from Alice in Wonderland to Moby Dick. And I enjoy all sorts of people, most especially William Blake. Midsummer Night’s Dream, all kinds of poetry, folklores, and fairy tales. There are hundreds of authors.
In movies, the list is also huge, from the conventional names like Psycho, The Exorcist, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But it’s important to be aware of films from other cultures as well. There are some wonderful movies out there. The Japanese have some great films, like Kwaidan, a ghost story. It was very influential in my teens. It’s not all just men in rubber dinosaur suits smashing models.

MAM: Well, there are a lot of those. In fact, the day you toured our Bullpen, we were watching some exploding men with rubber fly heads.

CB: Oh, that’s right. Yes, well those things are wonderful, too. Another favorite is Eyes Without a Face by George Franju. It’s a very disturbing film. It’s just so important to be aware of what other cultures have to offer us.

MAM: Finally, any words for aspiring horror novelists?

CB: Keep it simple. Trust your imagination. Discover what is unique about your imagination. Don’t simply read a story and copy it.
I go into myself. Then I transcribe what visions I have. If those ideas are original, and you are devoted, you will go far.


From Wikipedia:

Clive Barker (born 5 October 1952) is an English author, film director and visual artist best known for his work in both fantasy and horror fiction. Barker came to prominence in the mid-1980s with a series of short stories which established him as a leading young horror writer. He has since written many novels and other works, and his fiction has been adapted into motion pictures, notably the Hellraiser and Candyman series.

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