Friday, December 7, 2018

Book of Blood (Great Britain, 2009)

(Spoilers.) The introduction of HD can only be seen as an event to rue. Since the advent of the HD DVD, one no longer knows for sure whether a film just looks like a TV movie because it was truly filmed on video or whether it was bestowed its cheap, flat and overly sharp TV look despite its original film stock. Book of Blood, in any event, has too much nipple and blood (not to mention discretely side-shot penis) and non-US accents to truly look like a Big Three* movie, but for all its neo-noir cinematography and inconsistently timed dollops of stale chills and effective grue and gratuitous nudity, this slow-moving and relatively uninvolving horror movie often feels like a Halloween night TV flick.
* ABC, CBS and NBC, the traditional "big three" commercial broadcasters that held sway in the US until FOX and cable circumcised them down to size. FOX News then totally circumcised the intelligence of the US public, and now we have Trump and a nation doomed to be the ultimate winner of the Darwin Awards. Reverse evolution takes many forms, baby. (Now buy me a jet. Jesus wouldn't have wanted for me not to have one, either.)
But no, Book of Blood is a "real" movie, based on two tales — "The Book of Blood" and "On Jerusalem Street (A Postscript)" — found in Clive Barker's book of the same name, and directed by John Harrison (a former friend and colleague of George Romero who functioned as executive producer for Romero's didactic and disappointing Diary of the Dead [2007]). Book of Blood is also a not-very-scary movie and a mess, but at least it features the beautiful Sophie Ward and… and… and… a lot of nice non-US accents and some pleasant shots of the Edinburgh skyline. Other than that, well, the movie did, obviously enough, supply employment for a lot of people, and employment is a very good thing. (People without employment are the spawn of Satan.)
For the most part Book of Blood is a haunted house movie, though a lot of extraneous stuff happens elsewhere. And as a haunted house flick, at times it brings to mind earlier such films like The Haunting (1963 / trailer) or The Changeling (1980 / trailer) or The Others (2001 / trailer), while never coming anywhere close to being half as involving or chilling or surprising as any of them. (It does, however, have an early scene in which a girl gets her face ripped off — fun stuff like that ain't found in any of the older films just listed.)
Book of the Dead opens with Sophie Ward's somber recital of the "fact" that drives the movie: "The dead have highways, running through the wasteland behind our lives, bearing an endless traffic of departed souls. They can be heard in the broken places of our world, through cracks made out of cruelty, violence, and depravity. They have sign posts, these highways, and crossroads and intersections. And it is at these intersections where the dead mingle, and sometimes spill over into our world."
Yep: when you die, you go to the great highway in the sky where you walk round forever yearning to talk about yourself with the living world. And if you're lucky, you stumble upon a place like the house in the movie, a place that is an inter-realm intersection, where if you're even luckier you can tell your story by cutting it into the skin of some uninteresting milquetoast like Simon (Jonas Armstrong) before you continue on down the highway. Of course, one wonders why such intersections are even needed, when elsewhere in the movie ghosts of the dead show up and do things far from the house, like playing ring around the rosy on a lawn or drowning a hired killer in an isolated cabin.
Though the supernatural crossroads of a house is the core setting of the movie, the Book of Blood opens elsewhere, in a diner where a hooded Simon is having a cup of java under the watchful eye of Wyburd (Clive Russell of Outpost: Black Sun [2012 / trailer]). Simon ends up strapped to a table in an isolated cabin — so guess what Wyburd is — the setting whence the movie moves into the dreaded flashback mode, one that even involves flashbacks within flashbacks.
The entire framing sequence, in all truth, reeks and feels of padding: were the film to simply tell its story, it would be too short and even more dialogue-heavy, and thus all the more turgid. Solution? The framework situation, which fattens the film and allows it to end with two more deaths… regrettably, the final death of Wyburd, an absolutely idiotic supernatural event coming from the far left field, instigates guffaws and seriously undermines an already seriously undermined movie. One must assume it is the dead masses that kill Wyburd, probably just because they can, for were Simon at all vengeful he would surely have rather waited until the person who hired Wyburd shows up. (To a clean, dry cabin and mildly moist dead body. Ghosts can really clean house if they want to.)
Book of the Dead is one of those kinds of movie that not only makes use of idiotic plot devices to drive the plot, but has a plot that is best fully understood only after one has read a synopsis somewhere. Top Idiotic Plot Device Award go to the idiotic plot device of Simon convincing Mary (Sophie Ward of Waxworks II: Lost in Time [1992 / trailer] and A Demon in My View [1991 / trailer]*) that he's psychic by fixing her car tire to pop while she's driving — it's not like he would actually have to be clairvoyant to know that on that specific rainy night: 1. She would drive down the same street he's trudging at the very same time he's trudging; 2. She would see and recognize him through the rain; 3. She would stop and offer him a lift, thus giving him a chance to look at her car's tire and say "No thank you but drive carefully"; and 4. She wouldn't have a major accident or die when the tire pops. (Oh, wait a minute! He is clairvoyant… but didn't he say he lost the ability while still young lad?) 
* Both being way better movies than this one here — which says a lot about the quality of this one.
As for top plot point that needs synopsis clarification: that Simon stops aging after he becomes a "book of the dead" is so ineffectually communicated in the movie that the viewer seriously scratches their head at Mary's sudden head of white hair — especially since her face is still so wrinkle-free and young. (Please: tell us the brand of skin moisturizer she uses — we'll take a crate.)
Found nowhere, neither in the movie nor in a synopsis, is why, if the dead can write all over the walls of the haunted bedroom, they even need or want to carve their stories into Simon's skin. Give 'em a ton of pencils and their stories could be told more quickly and effectively and fully on the walls of the room than epigrammatic and one-by-one on Simon's body. In turn, considering how boring most people's lives are while alive, it is hard to believe that the tales the dead tell are so intriguing as to make Mary rich after she starts writing them down — but then, much of Book of Blood is hard to believe.
We'll totally skip talking about — no we won't — the whole bit about how quickly Simon gets into Mary's pants by first standing naked in front of her and, later, telling her that he masturbates when he can't sleep and then pulling her hand down between his legs… OK, admittedly: the latter scene turns out to be a dream sequence, but into her pants he does eventually get because, basically, as so many porno movies realistically reveal and any man who isn't an incel already knows, all a man really needs to do to get a woman to spread her legs for him is to show her his cock. Fact: sooner or later, guys, if she sees it she'll crave it. (See: Lasse Braun's serious 1986 study of the phenomena, The Flasher, featuring Harry Reems and Billy Dee.)
Speaking of what women crave, can someone clarify the what and the why of whatever cravings Mary had that she would go through the unconvincing evolution from serious scholar to disappointed lover to cold and heartless scrivener of the dead?
Much of Book of the Blood is shot to look as if it is a darkly colored film noir, and this dour look is perhaps the best things about the movie. To say that the acting is variable is an understatement, and the movie is never engrossing enough to allow the viewer to truly get involved in or care about any of the characters, much less care about the narrative or plot developments. And what's with the dragonflies? (Like, they're even less scary than cockroaches.) And, sorry, but just because one character calls Simon a hunk doesn't make him a hunk — from start to finish, he remains what he truly is: an ineffectual milquetoast of an actor who looks more like he wants to hold onto Mama's apron strings than have Mary sit on top.
All in all the Book of Blood is a drudge and a snore and a total disappointment that is 100% instantly forgettable. You want a haunted house film? Then go for something better, like The Haunting (1963) or The Changeling (1980) or The Innocents (1961 / trailer) or Haunting of Hell House (1973 / trailer) or Crimson Peak (2015 / trailer) or Stir of Echoes (1999 / trailer) or Housebound (2014 / trailer) or The Woman in Black (2012 / trailer) or even House (1986 / trailer) or House (1977 / trailer).
Even this movie is scarier
than Book of Blood
trailer to Monster House (2006):

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