Clive Barker and the Ethiopian Gap

A few nights ago I visited Samir and we watched Hellbound and Lord of Illusions, both Clive Barker movies.

Samir was staying in a room he was subletting in the Marina- a very nice neighborhood about a block from the bay. The guy who normally lived there had left all his things, including some of his eclectic selection of art he had hung about his room.

The thing that interested me the most was a canvas painting I recognized as an Ethiopian piece, one of those Christian works which describe one of the tales of the saints or something from the Old Testament- I couldn’t read the captions. It’s fascinating to me how similar this genre of painting is to modern comic books- sequential art from hundreds of years ago! The characters even have the big googly eyes. Something else which is interesting- there is surprisingly little information on this genre of painting on the internet. One of those gaps in the web that I’m sure someday will be filled.

I hadn’t seen Lord of Illusions before… it’s a pretty brilliantly flawed film.

The movie starts with a cult scene in the Arizona desert – a “magician” and his depraved followers wallowing in blood and torture. Some of the followers stage a coup- they bolt a metal mask onto his head and bury him deep in the desert.

About twenty minutes in, all the characters are abandoned. Now we are in a hastily-established noir, set in New York with Scott Bacula as the Private Investigator. What is odd is, the story and the dialog are written to support a noir, yet Barker doesn’t use any of the visual cues that go with that genre.

We follow the PI to California. Why didn’t we start in CA? After all, Dashiell Hammet’s stories were always based in San Francisco. We didn’t even get to see anything in NYC. Anyway… he is on the case, following what amounts to a skip trace, and chases his quarry into a warehouse. The man leaves the way he came, panicked- but instead of following his target, the PI goes inside the building. This sets up a trend of Scott Bacula as the PI with ADD- rather than do the logical thing and stick to a give case, he tends to get sidetracked by random clues which turn out to be parts of complete other plot lines.

Eventually we get back to the cultists. Insane. What is really odd is there seems to be an attempt to establish that this is some kind of alternate world where demonic possession, magic powers, etc are commonplace, yet the script doesn’t really back this up at all. We hear that Scott was involved in solving an Exorcism, but if three lines were cut from the script, this can be entirely edited out of the movie! And actually, there is no plot reason the PI is in the story at all. You may have a problem when your protagonist can be edited out of the story and the plot remains intact.

Another thing that makes this movie funny is the blatantly homosexual bent of the director- the women are frumpy and used; even Famke Janssen looks like an insect. The camera spends a lot of time on mostly-naked men, oiled up and muscular. The men aren’t even built to appeal to heterosexual women; they mostly look like gym queens. This would be a good drinking game!

Of course, I love Hellraiser II. Blah. The music is “big” as Samir says. Something we realized- a possible reason this one is so coherent is they kept Clive away from his own movie. While he wrote the story and was a producer, it’s written and directed by two other people. They avoided the George Lucas problem!