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Hulu’s ‘Books of Blood’ is too anemic for its own good

Hulu’s ‘Books of Blood’ is too anemic for its own good

Hulu’s ‘Books of Blood’ is too anemic for its own good
October 15
12:33 2020

“We all die. But sometimes the tales of our passing are so shocking that they must be forever carved into our collective memory. There is a place where these horrors are transcribed by the dead. And they want their stories told.”

As an anthology film, “Books of Blood” chronicles three stories exploring the depths of human misery. In “Jemma,” a traumatized young woman (Britt Robertson) runs away and takes refuge with a seemingly benign elderly couple (Freda Foh Shen and Nicholas Campbell). In “Miles,” a professor (Anna Friel) falls in love with a man (Rafi Gavron) who claims to be able to speak with her dead son. In “Bennett,” a criminal (Yul Vazquez) sets out to uncover the so-called “Book of Blood” from its hiding place but has some encounters with the supernatural.

Books of Blood” is the latest adaptation of horror-fantasy author Clive Barker’s acclaimed six-volume short story collections of the same name. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Barker’s stories have been the basis for the “Hellraiser” and “Candyman” movies among many other one-off adaptations, such as “Nightbreed.” At their best, Barker’s horror combines gory horror with a sexually charged undertone.

The “Books” themselves have not been immune to the big screen — “Candyman” itself is adapted from a short story in volume five called “The Forbidden,” and a 2009 movie tried to adapt multiple stories in anthology format to a critical beating. Now, TV director Brannon Braga and Hulu are hoping to do the books justice with this new one, promising something more faithful to Barker’s originals, with even the opening crawl praising them.

Their supposed dedication cannot be seen in the final cut, however. Hulu’s “Books of Blood” is largely passionless and thin on anything horrifying. Barker’s distinct style is almost entirely absent and the whole production carries a stench of cheap direct-to-video.

However, there are some positives — while “Jemma” takes a good while to get going, the twist is pretty messed up and perfectly Barker, plus the acting is pretty strong all around. The twist ending is also pretty haunting for what it’s worth. “Miles” also gets some decent moments in character dynamics between the alleged psychic and the professor, especially as it builds.

The movie has some good bones to it, but what it lacks is well-prepared meat — character depth, sustained atmosphere and more Barker-esque horror.

First, the pacing is all over the place. “Jemma” moves at a snail’s pace without much really happening until about halfway, being about 10 to 15 minutes too long. Meanwhile, “Miles” manages to be well-paced, but again, not much really happens until the very end. “Bennet” kind of just goes everywhere in a haphazard effort to connect all the stories.

To add to this, the script is very barebones. There’s not much three-dimensionality to the characters aside from Jemma. Even the casting for “Bennett” feels off — these hardened gangsters speak in forced slang and try way too hard. Vazquez looks way too old to be in the role of an arrogant, brash gangster. Meanwhile, there’s just hardly anything to “Miles,” even with the promising setup.

The special effects are also a mixed bag — the climax of “Miles” involves some really hokey CGI as does “Bennett,” while “Jemma” invites some really good body horror and the actual “Book” is pretty disgusting and gnarly.

Then there’s the fact this movie doesn’t feel at all like a Barker story, but like a cheap “Tales From the Crypt” knockoff. While Barker’s unique horror begins to surface with the twist in “Jemma,” it very quickly submerges for almost the entire rest of the movie.

The biggest sin, however, is this — there’s no style to it. Visually, it’s fine if nothing else, but there is an overriding sense of sterility to the scenery. The seaside town in “Jemma” is too empty, “Miles” is largely set in an a series of uninteresting furnished studies and hospital rooms and “Bennett” starts to get creepy, but ends abruptly. Director Braga can’t seem to do anything interesting with the environments.

“Books of Blood” is too long for stories with too little going on. If anyone is looking for Barker’s distinct brand of horror, the first two “Hellraiser” films, plus “Judgement,” are worth checking out, as is “Candyman,” which also has a very promising reboot/sequel out next year. To those looking for a great horror anthology, check out “Trick ‘r Treat” (one of Jaden Oberkrom’s recommendations) or the first two “V/H/S” movies. As for “Books of Blood,” these underwhelming stories are best left on the shelf.

Final rating: 1.75/5

Featured image: Courtesy Hulu

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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