Pinheads and Candymen: All Clive Barker Movies Ranked

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.

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