A decade ago, Clive Barker barely eked out a living as a London-based playwright and illustrator. Then a three-volume collection of his ghoulish short stories, The Books of Blood, developed a cult following that included fellow horror-meister Stephen King. Barker has subsequently penned (or, more accurately, penciled) a string of best-selling, epic-length fantasy novels (Weaveworld, Cabal, The Great and Secret Show, Imajica). Like King, Barker has parlayed his literary success into brand-name horror-film status (Hellraiser, Hellbound, Nightbreed).
Barker has now written and directed Lord of Illusions, a sci-fi fantasy starring Scott Bakula. In his 40s, Barker has the youthful good looks of a choirboy -- but beneath that innocent charm and affability lies the dark, fervid imagination of a wicked sorcerer. The prolific author and filmmaker lives in a tastefully remodeled 1920s Beverly Hills home, which is appropriately adorned with ghoulish artifacts and artwork, including props from his macabre movies. But the most valuable asset in the three-story mansion, it soon became evident, is the cubic foot between its owner's ears.
Q: Would your parents say you were an abnormal kid?
A: I actually asked them that question a few years ago, and they said, ``If we would have known the word `analysis,' we would have put you in in.'' I was a weird little kid. I was very irritable, bored, frustrated. I felt my imagination bubbling inside my head without having any way to express itself. Given a crayon and paper, I would not draw a train or a house. I would draw these monsters, beasts and demons.
Q: Sounds like you were an only child.
A: No, I have a younger brother who is in every regard unlike me. We are loving siblings, but he was trained as a marine engineer and now works with video games. He's still in Liverpool, some five miles from where we grew up. Genetics -- isn't it weird?
Q: What does your family make of your work today?
A: I took my mom and dad to see the cast-and-crew showing of Hellraiser, and my name appeared in the opening credits, and my mom burst into tears -- finally, Clive gets his name on the big screen. I leaned over and said, ``That's going to be the most fun you're going to have for the next ninety minutes.'' They are pleased that there's a large audience for my work, but it's not to their taste and they'd be the first to admit it. It's just a part of me that's mysterious to them.
Q: What is the strangest thing about you?
A: The strangest thing is that this comes naturally to me. People regularly say to me, ``What kind of drugs do you do to write these kinds of books?'' And I quote Salvador Dali, who said, ``I'm a drug. Take me.'' Something I do every morning, I do with the same enthusiasm on a Friday night sober. I can't help doing it. And if the audience for fantasy and science fiction were to disappear tomorrow, and if the only way you can keep your house in Beverly Hills is writing cowboy novels and making Home Alone III, I would be out of here.
Q: You've wandered through cemeteries ostensibly for research purposes. What did you learn?
A: ``Don't get buried'' is a good one, because people don't look after cemeteries very well. [Laughs.] I don't think it hurts to focus on death every once in a while, because it focuses you on life. We shouldn't be afraid of it; it makes an ogre where there needn't be an ogre. Death is a fact. It's going to happen to us all. In the hour we're here talking, it's an hour closer for both of us.
Q: And what did you discover from observing autopsies?
A: I've held a brain in my hands, which is an extraordinary experience. The guy who had this brain yesterday encoded 84 years of experience in this little piece of flesh. You have to get past the ``Oooooh, that's disgusting'' response and appreciate the miracle: the way I look, the way you look, the way this house looks will stay in our heads until somebody takes the brains out of our skulls, and that's wonderful. Education teaches us to respond in a two-dimensional way, and there's something else going on there. It's like touching a snake. You are taught that snakes do all kinds of horrible things, and then you realize snakes are beautiful and luscious creatures to touch and be around. You have to supercede your education to realize what a wonderful experience having a snake draped around your neck really is.
Q: You grew up near Penny Lane in Liverpool. Who's your favorite Beatle?
A: John Lennon. He was the most articulate, and the vein of creativity seemed to run deeper in him. I went to Quarry Bank High School, and we all knew that Lennon had gone there. The desk I sat in had his name carved in it, and I thought, ``My Lord, I'm at John Lennon's desk!'' Then I realized, after comparing notes, that 70 percent of the desks at school had John Lennon's name carved into them, and they all couldn't have been John. The closest I came [to meeting a Beatle] was when I was photographed by Linda McCartney in '87 for my book jacket. She was delightful.
Q: We'd love to be a fly on the wall when you get together with Stephen King.
A: We talk about agents and deals and editors. [Laughs] I was at the Miami Book Fair, and a lovely girl came up to me and said, ``I'd love you to sign the back of my jeans.'' And while I was doing this, someone came up and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ``Mr. Barker, where do you get your ideas from?'' Now that's the question you want to strangle people for asking. I wanted to turn around and let some expletive fly, but I turned around and it was Stephen King... I read everything he writes because he seems to be the cornerstone talent. It wouldn't be possible for me to reach the number of readers that I do were it not for him. He's freed up people to read this kind of fiction without hiding behind a copy of John Updike.
Q: How do you celebrate the completion of a novel? Anne Rice told us that she indulges in a giant chocolate bar.
A: Oh, what an innocent pleasure! You would think she would go and drain someone's blood. I usually have more than one thing going at the same time -- a novel in the morning, a screenplay in the afternoon. So I see no reason to celebrate -- no wild parties or breaking out the champagne. I just start another one.
Q: Which is more fun: writing or filmmaking?
A: I was in Tokyo doing a mass interview with hundreds of journalists, and they asked me that. And I was stumbling around for an analogy, and I said, ``Writing a book is like masturbation, and making a movie is like an orgy.'' A hundred pens scribbled this down, and I said, ``I'm going to regret this.'' Ten days I'm in Japan doing interviews, and every other interviewer said, [Japanese accent] ``So what kind of orgy you have on set?''
Q: Ten years ago you were broke and unknown. What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
A: More of the same. I'm more aware of my physical limitations now that when I was 30, but they seem less important, because when we express ourselves imaginatively we reach beyond the limitations of the body. The most extraordinary thing that happens in my life is when I'm in the middle of writing a scene, and I'm in a territory that no one has been in before. It's the frontier spirit: Here I am in an unknown town, and my duty is to come back to my readers and say, ``What I saw out there was wonderful! Come and follow me!''
Copyright 1995, Lazar Productions.