Clive Barker breathes life into the horror genre

October 16, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

It is no disrespect to liken Clive Barker to that famous little girl who, when she was good, was very very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.

Barker has been happily and profitably horrid for most of his adult life, which just goes to show: You can't keep a bad man down.

First as a novelist and now as a film producer and director, he's brought a special slickness to the horror genre and almost by himself rescued it from its moribund dead end in the slasher pix of the '80s and listless Stephen King films of the '90s. And this year, it's Clive x 2, as his "Hellraiser III" had a hot run at the box office just a few weeks ago and now "Candyman" opens today.

"Hellraiser," said Barker merrily, "was baroque horror, overdone and grotesque but monstrously amusing. 'Candyman,' by contrast, is realistic horror, small-scale and definitely terrifying."

In the first, "Pinhead," a somewhat nasty lad who looks like Cueball after an amorous encounter with a porcupine in a leather jacket factory, is liberated from a stone frieze and decides, "I'll take Manhattan," by which he means he's going to kill a whole lot of people in a whole lot of ways.

In "Candyman," which unspools in a slightly more realistic version of the world, two grad students set out to locate the truth about a legendary serial killer who seems to stalk an inner-city housing project and quite literally encounter the guy, much to their own considerable grief.

Asked for the source of his sensibility, which is not exactly the world of Ward and June Cleaver, he responds: "My enthusiasm lies in urgently passing the parameters of any thesis -- to push the potential as far as it can go. That's the attraction of fantastic writing: to be an exorcise medium for the collective imagination. TV is full of banalities; politics is bankrupt. I want to go into other areas, to examine the roots of our taboos and find out what's there. I believe there are fascinating, vibrant, protean things."

He quotes his favorite poet, William Blake, to sum up his view of the difference in mind-sets between people: " 'We both read the Bible day and night/ but he reads black, and I read white.' "

He loves that difference.

"The melting-pot concept has led us astray," he says cheerfully over the phone. "I've always been drawn to celebrate what is unique in man, what makes him different from his brothers. I hate it when people try to be what they're not. You have to be what you are."

When it is politely pointed out to him that such might be interpreted as a recipe for social instability, he gives a rich and amused laugh.

"Of course it is. I hate the impulse toward homogenization. We're actually at our best as a species when we're tribal."

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