Take It To The Limit

December 14, 2009

I just watched Clive Barker’s Dread. I’m a huge Clive Barker fan. Have been for years. His recent work (since Coldheart Canyon) has left me a bit off, but I still consider him one of the best working writers today (let alone horror writers). So why do adaptations of his works always fall flat on their faces? It’s not like his work is particularly arcane or opaque. The stories are relatively clear and straightforward, generally speaking. So why is there always such drastic deviation from the source material? And it’s not even the big things that get changed. No — generally the hard stuff gets filmed and then they screw up on the little things that, when aggregated through the narrative, make or break the story.

It’s like how Midnight Meat Train deviated from the source material drastically in the last five minutes and that — I think — actively ruined what could have otherwise been a phenomenal adaptation and the best horror movie of the year. Dread is in the same boat as Midnight Meat Train. The ending is so fundamentally different from the short story that I actually felt ripped off. I’m usually not a stickler for adaptation’s felicity to the original. Hell, Blade Runner is a brilliant movie despite not being anything like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. But in this case what I watched wasn’t Clive Barker’s Dread it was Some Other Guy’s Movie About Fear That He Wrote After Reading The Books of Blood.

Seriously. Dread is a tight, terrifying story. The movie sets up the premises and characters well enough (despite some pretty deplorable dialogue). And then it drops the plot within sight of the finish line. It would have been a good ending, too, if it were some other film. But it’s not some other movie. It’s Dread and as such it’s a total disappointment. I can’t recommend it to anyone. And I was watching it as charitably as possible!

More fiction tomorrow.

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3 Responses to “Take It To The Limit”

  1. Andrew Galley said

    The same thing happens with Stephen King’s works, which are nearly always dreadful when adapted to the screen (at least, the horror stuff is, The Shawshank Redemption was a very good movie).

    In King’s case, though, I would pinpoint the fact that King has fairly bland ideas for stories, but he’s a really top-notch prose crafter. So I dunno if that gets us any closer to a satisfying answer. I’ve always thought of Clive Barker as a bit of a reverse-King, in that I think his writing is a bit balls but he’s just overflowing with incredible ideas. You’d think that that would adapt well to a visual medium…

    (I dunno what the visual aspect of Dread is like; certainly I loved the visual design of Nightbreed, but that’s not exactly a stellar movie either)

  2. gezaechs said

    It’s odd that I almost instinctively expect a higher quality of adaptation from Barker’s works than I do from King’s. Maybe that’s because I keep dreaming of an adaptation of ‘In the Hills, the Cities.’

    At the end of the day, though, neither of them has had very good adaptations done of their work (barring two or three maybe). Perhaps it’s something to do with how literary narratives translate to other media.

  3. bradellison said

    All in all, I think King’s had an okay adaptation record. Lot of stinkers, sure, but you’ve also got The Shawshank Redemption, The Stand, The Shining, Carrie, The Dead Zone, Stand By Me, It, Salem’s Lot, and Christine, all of which I’m prepared to defend.

    And I’d argue that King translates pretty well to film, because he writes very straightforward, visually oriented stories driven by plot and character.

    Barker, on the other hand, has always seemed to me to be more about mood, tone, and language. The stuff that gives his stuff its kick is the more intangible, abstract stuff that doesn’t translate as well into film.

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