Friday, July 29, 2011


Directed by John Harrison

Jonas Armstrong - Simon McNeal
Sophie Ward - Mary Florescu
Clive Russell - Wyburd

     A paranormal expert discovers a house that is at the intersection of so-called "highways" transporting souls in the afterlife.

     To me, one of the problems with horror movies isn't so much the movie as it is the studio releasing the movie. Yes, about 50 percent (I'm being really nice here) are pure crap and barely watchable unless you're in a large group of friends and making fun of it. When you do that, the movie doesn't seem as bad, even though it still is, and the pain of watching it is diminished by a significant amount. Yet the real problem is that the really good films that are original and presents fresh ideas causes the studios to balk at it cause they don't know what to do with it or understand it. A friend told me that if the makers of the film can not explain it in less 10 words the bigger studios usually say no. Take for example Del Toro's At the Mountains of Madness. Sure it would have cost  a fair amount at the start up, but it would have more than made up it's cost after release, yet the studios didn't understand really what it is. Another problem now is the studios do not know what to do or how to promote a hard "R" movie anymore that's not a remake. Thankfully a good portion of  the more original genre movies are being made independently or with minimum big studio help which allows the director to have more control of the movie they're making.

     Just to let you know, there will be spoilers in this review!

     I think the one thing the studios are most worried about in horror movies is that if there really isn't a happy ending with the protagonist walking away triumphant they're lost. Or they just don't understand a set-up that lasts half the movie. Just like in the short stories the movie is based on, Simon has been staging fake hauntings through various tricks. Now this I can see pissing people off that didn't know what was really happening due to they invested all that time being fooled. Yet, if this turns them off of the movie, they shouldn't be watching it anyway as that is only half of the story. There is a reason why it's set up the way it is, and I thought John Harrison did a very good job bringing Barker's stories to life for the viewers. Though I do have to complain that the title story from the books wasn't the best choice for a movie due to originally it was framed as book ends for a large collection of short stories of which the stories are literally written on Jonas Armstrong's Simon McNeal. But what comes from it is a compelling film, though slow, for the first hour, picks up very quickly after.

     Armstrong is a decent actor in his own right, alas he seemed not quite there for half the film. He does wonderfully when weird things start happening, which is good, but it's during the actual human interaction between him and Sophie Ward's Mary Florescu, that he doesn't seem smug, just that something is missing, even though he's supposed to be infatuated with her. Sophie Ward though does the best, acting wise, in the movie as she seems to believe in the story that is trying to be told, as most of the movie rests on her. I do like that at the end of the film she is obsessed with writing the stories from McNeal's skin down and is selling them and that she got rich from the suffering McNeal endures. I should note that over half the movie nothing really happens, as during that time the relationship between McNeal and Florescu goes from a hired help to one of lust until she discovers McNeal's betrayal of her and later his painful ability. It's due to this that she becomes obsessed with McNeal's skin and not so much the person.

     I was happy to see that the movie has great atmosphere and doesn't skip on the gore and blood, being that stories are carved and cut into McNeal's skin. The effects were effective when they were used and one of the highlights of the movie to me was the dragonfly scene. The setting, as well as the choices of colors used through most of the run time of the movie helps give it a gothic feel that you rarely find in American made films, but yet British made horror seems to have in spades. The slow build up of the relationship does take away from some of the horror and dread that should be there more, but the pay off toward the end of the movie almost makes up for it. While the atmosphere is what gives the movie more of it's unease and suspense of what might happen, it's when the "Highway" is fully seen that you actually understand the scope of what is being watched. I will admit that while the script could have been tighter in parts of the movie and slows it down, as well as hampers the movie a little bit, it's not enough to destroy the movie thankfully.

     Even though she's not dead, it's the aftermath of the face off that is fun to see!

     You really don't understand, do you? They've been waiting... for someone to listen. For someone to hear their stories.

     Clive Russell nearly choked on the blood/water in his final scenes.

     Jonas Armstrong had to have his entire body waxed and cast so the makeup and prop department could craft his character's skin to fit and match his torso perfectly.

     Over 100 extras were used for the sequence with the spiritual highway.

     Clive Barker referred to this as essentially "a haunted house" story.

     In the UK, Clive Barker's Books Of Blood were released as Books of Blood Volumes 1 through 6. In the US though, Volumes 4 through 6 were released as The Inhuman Condition (Vol. 4), In The Flesh (Vol. 5), and Cabal (Vol. 6). The title for the US version of Cabal is original to that version of the book and replaced a story from the original book. Cabal was made into the 1990 film Nightbreed.

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