Pinheads And Candymen: All Clive Barker Movies Ranked

Last week was the 25th anniversary of Candyman, and one horrendous physical effect aside, it still holds up beautifully today. Key among its strengths is a trait shared through almost all of the fiction written by horror author Clive Barker and the films that bring his work to the screen – a wicked, dark, and endless imagination.

From the earliest of his features in 1985 to the latest in 2009, they've run the gamut from instantly forgettable to instant classic, and while the stories are varied, that common thread between them remains. He creates worlds both gorgeous and grotesque, sometimes on the same page or frame. Ideally, he'll soon see an adaptation resurgence similar to the one Stephen King is currently enjoying.

Until then, though, there are nine legitimate Clive Barker movies that are based on his work or feature his direct involvement, not counting sequels, shorts, and outliers. (Quicksilver Highway is an anthology only partially based on his work, The Plague sees him attached only as a producer, and Saint Sinner borrows the name from one of his comics but uses nothing from the plot.) So while we daydream a Hulu series based on The Great and Secret Show, a Guillermo del Toro adaptation of the brilliant "In the Hills, the Cities," or Barker's overdue return to the director's chair with a face-off between Pinhead and Harry D'Amour in The Scarlet Gospels, these are the movies we're left with... So why not rank them?

9. Underworld (1985)

Source: An original story idea and screenplay co-written by Barker

Plot: A private eye searching for a missing prostitute finds a madman, mutants, and really bad drugs instead.

Barker's very first feature adaptation (also known as Transmutations) remains the least compelling, and it's hard to understand why exactly. There's a hard-nosed private dick, a mad scientist creating monstrously deformed people, and a seemingly doomed romance at its core... but the damn thing is just so endlessly boring anyway. Director George Pavlou's debut sees him trapped in the 80s with bad fashions, vibrant colors, and a saxophonist hiding just out of view. Plot turns and revelations that should excite and horrify are horribly dull instead, and we're left not giving a damn about the ex-lovers or the misunderstood monsters.

8. Book of Blood (2009)

Source: Books of Blood: Volume One ("The Book of Blood") and Books of Blood: Volume Six ("On Jerusalem Street")

Plot: A paranormal researcher brings a young psychic into a haunted house, but the man's connections with the spirit world leaves him scarred with their stories.

Barker's original stories open and close his brilliant, six-volume fiction collection and serve as introduction to the tales – the stories in the books are the ones written all over the young man's body by the dead – and a closure for his character. Director John Harrison (Tales from the Darkside: The Movie) crafts the pair into a feature here, but it's lacking more than mere context. The ghostly shenanigans are more loud than frightening, and while there are some solid and gory practical effects on display, they can't make up for the stretches of fairly generic haunted house drama along the way. The ending is still pretty cool though, as the ghosts share their tales and the young man "listens."

7. Rawhead Rex (1986)

Source: Books of Blood: Volume Three ("Rawhead Rex")

Plot: An ancient, god-like creature is resurrected into modern times and proceeds to maim, murder, and eat his way through a small town's populace.

Director George Pavlou's second go at a Barker adaptation is even more maligned than his first, although to be fair, very few people have even seen Underworld. It's understandable to some degree, as the film is something of a mess in almost every regard, but damn it, it's still an entertaining romp. The big appeal, for me at least, is that it's an honest-to-gosh monster movie. Too many horror films are content focusing on ghosts, vampires, killers, and such, and while that's fine, I will always be most partial to actual creature features. It doesn't hurt that that Rex also munches down on a little kid and behaves in some not-so mildly sacrilegious ways, too. Fans will want to pick up the brand new Blu-ray, as it features a restored picture and some fun new extras.

6. Dread (2009)

Source: Books of Blood: Volume Two ("Dread")

Plot: A college student exploring the truths and limits of people's fears sees his own brought to bear against him.

Barker's short story is a one-two punch of setup and ironic twist, but writer/director Anthony DiBlasi finds a bit more meat on its bones with his adaptation. The core story remains with a trio of students researching fear, each with their own past trauma, but while it builds in a similar direction DiBlasi goes darker with his conclusion than Barker dared. I'm not convinced it wholly works – the story's end is more satisfying – but it's hard to argue with the terror we're left with as the end credits roll. Twilight's Jackson Rathbone is the "name" here, but it's Shaun Evans as the increasingly demented Quaid who commands your attention.

5. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

Source: Books of Blood: Volume One ("The Midnight Meat Train")

Plot: A photographer traveling the city's subway system discovers a serial killer and a secret world beneath the streets.

Director Ryûhei Kitamura's (Versus) entry into Barker's filmography is easily the slickest of the bunch in regard to its cinematography, as the city and the subway's interiors offer up a stainless steel nightmare. Kitamura's camera moves with the violence to capture the motion and mayhem as heads roll and eyeballs pop from their sockets. It's very bloody, but while we get a lot of the wet stuff, we also get too much of the almost cartoon-like CG blood. Bradley Cooper takes the lead here and does good work with it, but he's given a love interest who adds little to the story aside from filler. Happily, the film retains the tale's ending, albeit with a bit too much explanation, and keeps it an unrelentingly dark tale of old gods and a new world.

4. Lord of Illusions (1995)

Source: Books of Blood: Volume Six ("The Last Illusion")

Plot: A private investigator is hired to watch over a dead man's corpse, but he soon finds himself in a battle with demons, magical forces, and other hellish threats.

The last of Barker's three directorial efforts is his most elaborate, and it's a fantastic blend of noir, fantasy, and horror that should appeal to fans of HBO's classic Cast a Deadly Spell. Scott Bakula is terrific as the P.I. with a supernatural history, and it's clear he's having fun with the genre mash-up. Barker shows an eye for cheese at times, but he also captures wonder, old Hollywood, and some terrifying sequences early on as creepy cult members awaken. The director's cut is the way to go if you haven't seen it yet, as it fills some narrative gaps and adds more character depth. While some of the optical effects feel dated, it's still tied with the film below for the one I most want to see a sequel to.

3. Nightbreed (1990)

Source: Cabal

Plot: A man is framed for murder, and his attempt at escape lands him squarely in the land of monsters.

This is the Barker film I saw more than once in theaters (three times), and like Dario Argento's Phenomena, this is my favorite of the filmmaker's works, even if I don't believe it to be his best. Barker's always been a defender of monsters, and this tale sees him embrace that idea more so than any other. The creativity on display in both the creature designs and their elaborate mythology is visually impressive, Danny Elfman's score is among his most underrated, David Cronenberg cameos as a coldly creepy serial killer, and the third act is a whole lot of mayhem as local yokels attack the monsters' home turf. It's cheesy at times and silly at others, but it's also unlike anything else you've seen. The extended cut is closer to Barker's original vision, but while it remains a must-watch for fans, the theatrical is still the most cohesive version.

2. Hellraiser (1987)

Source: "The Hellbound Heart"

Plot: A young woman visiting her father and his new wife discovers a portal to hell (of sorts) accessible via a small puzzle box, but the demons it summons aren't interested in playing games.

Don't listen to Roger Ebert's misguided claim that it lacks imagination. Barker's feature debut as director is a modern classic (even if its eight sequels aren't) that blends family dysfunction, a love-fueled female serial killer, and beautifully-designed – and highly original – demons into a tight tale about the hells we make for ourselves. It's especially creative on a clearly limited budget – one that becomes more evident in the final ten minutes or so – and terrific turns from Andrew Robinson and Clare Higgins (along with great work by composer Christopher Young) seal the deal. Another sequel is on the way, and the long-threatened reboot always remains a possibility (despite having lost filmmakers as varied as Pascal Laugier and Todd Farmer over the past decade), but ignore what might be and just enjoy what is.

1. Candyman (1992)

Source: Books of Blood: Volume Five ("The Forbidden")

Plot: A woman researching urban legends learns that the tale of the "Candyman," a demonic figure who is summoned by saying his name into a mirror, is very true.

Barker's tale once again crafts a modern mythology from both the real and imagined, and Bernard Rose's film turns it into a masterpiece of horror. (Just ignore that horrible bald cap at the end.) Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd create a powerful couple, of sorts, and each finds emotion in their respective pursuits. Sharp cinematography, a memorable score by Philip Glass, and some truly creepy sequences come together for a horror movie that plays on old fears in supposedly modern societies. Barker's building a legend here, and the construct is a beauty to behold. Neither sequel finds the same power, but they're worth watching for Todd's performances, if nothing else.