Release Date(s)2009 (September 22, 2009)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
These are scary times for the horror genre and I don’t mean in the monsters ‘n’ chainsaws sense. On the one hand, the genre is as popular as it’s ever been (though pundits are still quick to feign surprise whenever an R-rated horror flick tops the weekend box office). A quick scan at festivals like Sitges, Fantastic Fest in Austin, Toronto After Dark and many, many more will attest to the fact that creative filmmakers from around the world are continuing to make dozens of new, original horror pictures every year.
Unfortunately, most of those will never be seen in a cinema. They are destined to unspool before a few lucky festival-goers, then quickly be relegated to home video. It wasn’t like this even ten years ago. Today, if a horror movie isn’t a remake or a sequel, odds are it won’t be coming soon to a theatre near you.
Take Book of Blood for example, a perfectly entertaining little movie that Lionsgate has unceremoniously dumped to DVD and Blu-ray for no apparent reason other than it doesn’t have the word “saw” in the title. Sophie Ward stars as paranormal investigator Mary Florescu. In Edinburgh, she hears about a supposedly haunted house and decides to check it out with her technical assistant, Reg (Paul Blair). She also invites along one of her students (Jonas Armstrong), a supposed clairvoyant whom Mary hopes will act as a conduit for whatever lurks within the house. The fact that she’s also got a bit of a thing for him doesn’t hurt.
Well adapted from two short stories by Clive Barker (The Book of Blood and On Jerusalem Street, for those of you scoring at home), the movie explores Barker’s usual fascinations of sex and death. John Harrison, director of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie and the 2000 mini-series version of Dune, stages the action effectively, building suspense but happy to cut loose with a surprisingly gory effect or two when needed.
The movie stumbles occasionally... for instance, I could never figure out why these three characters, whose lives are so steeped in the paranormal, never EVER believe each other when something freaky happens that the others don’t witness. But by and large, the movie works. I thought it was just as enjoyable as Barker’s Candyman and, as far as haunted house movies go, about a zillion times better than the recent, atrocious remake of The Amityville Horror.
The image on the Blu-ray is very pleasing, although unless you caught this at a festival screening, there’s really nothing to compare it with. Even niftier is the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which strikes a perfect balance between quiet but clearly understood dialogue and loud, made-you-jump sound effects. It’s a very effective sound mix. The sole extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette. It’s more interesting than the usual puffery, with on-camera interviews with Clive Barker, John Harrison, the cast, and many key crew members, but still a bit underwhelming. A commentary would have been nice.
Book of Blood is a fun, creepy horror movie that deserves a look. From a bean-counter’s perspective, I suppose releasing it straight to video makes sense. It has no big stars, although names are rarely necessary in horror movies, and the last time Clive Barker’s name was used to sell a big-screen release was Lord of Illusions back in 1995. But I, for one, am sorry to see Hollywood trying so desperately to turn every trip to the movies into a capital-e Event. Smaller movies like this can play just as effectively in cinemas as the big guns. Bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes, it’s just noisier.
– Dr. Adam Jahnke