In a series packed to the hilt with wild, depraved, maddening, but most importantly, adaptable stories, why chose the 12 page introduction as the basis for a 90+ minute script? It’s a precursor of things to come in the anthology, but the film is not a precursor to more Clive Barker adaptations from the same group of people. It was an odd choice to me, but I’m relieved to say that it ended up being a good choice.
John Harrison and Darin Silverman’s script actually melds together the anthology’s two framing bookends (the other half being ON JERUSALEM STREET) into a surprisingly cohesive, totally engrossing feature length film that never indicates that its largest inspiration is only 12 pages long. In fact, the only bad part about the film is the inclusion of ON JERUSALEM STREET, which Harrison actually uses as the framing introduction for his adaptation. The problem is that its only real purpose is to play into modern horror film conventions, as if the audience needs to be told that what they’re about to see is a scary story. Chop it off, however, and BOOK OF BLOOD is actually a quite finely crafted ghost story with more than a few earnest jolts and jaw dropping moments.
The story is largely identical Barker’s 12 page short: Simon (Jonas Armstrong) shows signs of oneness with the paranormal and is thusly exploited by Mary (Sophie Ward), a teacher-cum-novelist who writes about supposedly real-world hauntings. Mary and her technical assistant have found a house that was recently host to a shocking and unexplainable murder, so their plan is to set up cameras and have Simon sleep in the creepy bedroom. Hopefully they can sell a few thousand airport-bookstore novels with whatever happens to him. What does happen, however, is so extreme that it begs the question as to whether Simon is faking it all or whether they’ve finally stumbled onto an honest-to-Devil haunting.
For the large part, a lot of Harrison’s technique employs jarring musical queues, but unlike most ghost stories these days, his scares don’t rely exclusively on crushing your ear drums. For example, when the audience is shown early on what happened in the house to cause mournful parents to flee it in great haste…oofh, it’s a stark, never-gonna-forget-that-one kind of vision. It’s a moment so wicked I could recommend BOOK OF BLOOD based on it alone, but fortunately it’s not the only ‘wow’ moment in the film. I’m a particularly huge fan of how Harrison conveys the spirits in his film, which waft about like diaphanous visages. They don’t charge at the camera, they don’t open their jaw and scream; they’re just there to carve their story into a mortal’s poor flesh. It’s a classic concept of a ghost and I love that.
There’s an interesting, very Barker-esque interplay between sex and death that works well to charge the script’s air with an otherwise one-dimensional tension. And kudos to Harrison for casting Sophie Ward as the mature woman responsible for almost all of the horror/eroticism blending. If this was a Hollywood film, we would have been asked to buy someone like Cameron Diaz as a professor, novelist, and cougar, and I don’t think I need to explain how groan inducing that would be. Instead we have Ward, a strong British actress not afraid to go to whatever places the role calls for. Jonas Armstrong is good for the majority of the film as well, though a few of his grimaced attempts at conveying total body pain aren’t where they need to be.
Then again, these less-than-stellar moments are all confined to the less-than-stellar ON JERUSALEM STREET opener and closer. Had Harrison and Silverman’s script taken a linear approach to telling the two stories, there’d be a lot less eye rolling out of the gate. But hey, considering 90% of the film is a flashback to a better and more interesting story, the bookends aren’t a dealbreaker. The ghost events that occur between more than compensate for the difference.