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Clive Barker's Book of Blood

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // September 22, 2009 // Region 0
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 17, 2009 | E-mail the Author
"You know what? You tell a good story, friend...but sad to say, I'm not moved. I don't feel...anything."

I know the feeling. How can a horror flick with a title like Book of Blood -- and Clive Barker's name on the marquee, even -- be this boring?

Culled from the bookending stories of the six volume anthology series that first announced Barker as a force to be reckoned with, Book of Blood shies away from his intensely visceral imagery in favor of a more traditional haunted house tale. Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward) has penned a few mildly successful books about the supernatural, and after setting up shop in Scotland as a
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visiting professor, her eyes focus on a chance to prove to the world at large that there is some sort of life beyond this mortal coil. Her gearhead assistant (Paul Blair) doesn't need all that much convincing to sign on, and Mary also ropes in a dashingly handsome student of hers (Jonas Armstrong) whose clairvoyant gifts look as if they may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries held within a house plagued by so much death and destruction. This being a Clive Barker adaptation and all, it kind of goes without saying that there's a sticky sexual undercurrent as Mary becomes more and more enthralled with young Simon, blinding her to the dark truth that surrounds them...

I respect the fact that director/co-writer John Harrison tries to approach Book of Blood as an atmospheric haunted house film in the classic style rather than just another depraved splatterfest, but the execution's fumbled every step of the way. He's rooted the movie around wholly uninteresting characters without any spark of personality. The actors behind them are competent enough, sure, but they're not up to the task of salvaging writing this bland. What's supposed to pass for scares are awfully routine: loud banging noises, off-screen gutteral screams, a laughably clumsy tumble off a balcony, hordes of insects skittering around, casually strolling spooks who look as if they picked up their costumes with a $30 gift certificate at a strip mall Halloween shop, a water fountain suddenly spewing out streams of blood, otherworldly flashbacks to an era long since passed... A haunted house movie certainly doesn't need to lean on an eight-figure CGI budget or barrel drums of stage blood to be effective; The Changeling unnerved me with just a red rubber ball bouncing down a staircase, after all. That approach does demand a strong sense of atmosphere and an intense investment in its characters, though, and Book of Blood never has more than a shaky grasp on what it's trying to do, exactly.

As compelling as the skeleton of a premise looks to be -- an arrogant invasion into a gateway to the afterlife, otherworldly messages etched into living human flesh, blind passion eviscerated by the sting of betrayal -- there's just not a movie here. At 40 minutes, Book of Blood may have left more of an intense impact, but glacially plodding along for 100 minutes straight...? The movie just feels endlessly padded with filler, enormous stretches creak ahead without anything happening, and even such potentially gripping stretches as the discovery of fraud drag on and on and on without any sense of rhythm or pacing. There is briefly some gruesome imagery -- a couple seconds of a teenager's face being torn off and the messages slowly carved into Simon's skin -- but hardly enough for Book of Blood to be able to lean on splatter as a crutch either. The characters are much too bland for me to bother caring what happens to 'em, the execution is uninspired and routine straight across the board, the movie mistakes a glacial pace, absolutely nothing happening, and a handful of lazy jump scares as a classic approach to horror... I mean, what does it say when the framing story is a couple hundred thousand times more compelling than the actual movie? Playing more like leftovers from Masters of Horror only dragged out to twice the length, there just isn't anything bobbing around in here to make Book of Blood worth tearing into. Skip It.

There's enough of a boost in clarity and detail for it to be obvious that Book of Blood is a newly-minted Blu-ray disc, but don't hold out hope for much more than that. The digital cameras being lugged around here really don't hold up all that well under low light -- what little fine detail might be left slinks into the shadows, contrast flattens out, the image can get annoyingly soft, and black levels devolve to more of a milky gray -- and this being a haunted house flick and all, that describes somewhere in the ballpark of...oh, 85% of the movie. Book of Blood tries to lean on its bleak, desaturated palette to carve out an unsettling atmosphere, but all it really does it make an already bland movie that much less interesting to watch. Fine detail sporadically impresses when there's some sort of light source beaming away -- the intricate characters etched into flesh, particularly, and one bar scene is sharp enough that I could make out the tiny text on a note posted far in the background -- but much of the detail and texture looks to have been digitally smeared away. There's also one exterior shot where a static iron gate jitters violently, and that looks to be some sort of hiccup in the VC-1 encode. Because this Blu-ray disc isn't encoded with Lionsgate's usual codec of choice, I'm guessing this was originally hammered out for a high-def release overseas, and maybe that's why it doesn't come close to living up to what I've come to expect out of the studio's day-and-date releases.

Book of Blood is served up on Blu-ray at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and its VC-1 encode fits on a BD-25 with plenty of room to spare.

Even Book of Blood's 16-bit DTS-HD Master
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Audio soundtrack seems like kind of an indifferent shrug. The six-channel mix takes a stab at fleshing out an unsettling atmosphere -- swirling whispers, half-yelped screams, creaking wood, and the flutter of dragonflies -- but it really doesn't amount to much, and the tepid low-end and flat, lifeless sound effects don't exactly ramp up the intensity either. When Mary first steps foot in the house early on, her dialogue is supposed to echo a bit, but the mix is botched badly enough that her voice reverberates from the surrounds before they're belted out up front. Admittedly, I didn't spot anything quite like that throughout the rest of the movie, but that's really distracting, and it's kind of embarrassing that this made it through any sort of Q/A pass. The soundtrack is only effective when it's hammering out a jarring, twelve megaton jump scare, and there are really only a tiny handful of those in the first place. Otherwise, it's as bland and uninvolving as...well, everything else about Book of Blood.

Also included is a Dolby Digital stereo track (192Kbps), and subtitles are offered in English (traditional and SDH) and Spanish.

The disc opens with a few high-def trailers -- Saw V, The Midnight Meat Train, and The Haunting in Connecticut -- but the one and only option under the 'Extras' menu is a making-of featurette.
  • Book of Blood: Behind the Scenes (19 min.; SD): With most of the cast and crew in tow, Book of Blood's making-of piece touches on adapting these short stories into a feature-length film, its stabs at genuine eroticism over the usual direct-to-DVD cheap thrills, lining up the cast, why they landed on this particular Scottish backdrop, production design that draws its inspiration from classic horror as well as film noir, the elaborate prosthetics work, and the parade of visual effects. It's a routine behind-the-scenes featurette but is still decent enough.

The Final Word
Why isn't this an anthology again? Book of Blood might've been more effective if its runtime had been carved straight down the middle, but dragged out to feature length, especially in an adaptation this aggressively mediocre...? Movies based on several other stories from Clive Barker's six volume anthology series -- including "Pig Blood Blues" and "Dread" -- are lurking somewhere off in the shadows, but if they're anywhere as tedious, uninvolving, and unexpectedly routine as Book of Blood, Barker's name on the bill ought to be more of a fair warning than a selling point. Skip It.

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