Clive Barker Exclusive: “Why Do You Choose Any Story to Tell? Because It Excites You”
Clive Barker — writer, artist, and master of the horror genre — speaks exclusively with Amazon Studios about the true nature of fear, finding the right arena for his stories and his Neverland dreams.
What separates great horror from the things that go spatter in the night?
Clive Barker: Metaphysical despair. That the world is meaningless and we’re just bouncing around on it and when we’re finished we die and that’s the end of it. That’s scary. That’s existential. When Sartre put the idea of existentialism in front of us at the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of human hope was possibly at its lowest ebb. The bombs were going off. Europe was trashed. Economies were in ruins. And worst of all, we’d learned new ways of killing each other. Existentialism arose from the ashes of Auschwitz and Hiroshima and we had to address that very seriously.
There are horrific moments in movies (and not necessarily horror movies either) when something is evoked that has an awe-inspiring emptiness. When we are imbued with the sense that the cosmos is huge … and empty.
Pascal says, “We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.
What that phrase evokes is the sense of a limitless empty meaningless space we as human beings have no control over and a total inability to impress meaning upon.
We think we have the power to impress ourselves upon the world in some fashion — through having a family, through feeling love, through our associations with political parties or to a church — and when we feel those connections we feel momentarily safe. And that’s horror; it is only momentary. It’s about reducing our sense of importance. Most horror says, “You think you’re fine and fancy, don’t you. Well you’re not. You’re meat.” That I can be so easily erased. In my estimation, all of that is as far from a simple ‘boo’ as it gets.
You tell stories in so many different arenas (books, movies, comics, video games) … how do you decide which is the right one for a particular idea?
Barker: I don’t. They choose it for me. I’ll start something with the intention of being a novel for example, and through one circumstance or another, it will end up a comic book. Or a movie. I’ve found that the story will end up being the format it wants most to. I just try not to get in the way of that.
If you could create a mashup with one of your worlds with one of someone else’s, which would you choose?
Barker: Neverland and my very real, very personal world. As a child it was always Neverland that caught my imagination. I didn’t read Narnia till quite a lot later by which time some of its charm had waned. I was rather too old for it. I was a very shy kid. A very solitary kid. I couldn’t play games in the play yard. I wasn’t the kind of guy that played war. You have to remember this was twelve years after the second world war. It’s all everyone still talked about. And the cleanup is going on all around us. And we still had ration cards. It’s bizarre to think this, but that’s what was going on. So there was me feeling like a solitary little kid and when the wind came along, I was just carried away. I’ve always loved the sound of the wind. The sound of the wind to me is about the far away. And there was just something about Neverland that I adored. As a child I used to see myself as Peter Pan and still do to some extent, I suppose.
What has been the hardest story for you to tell?
Barker: My life story. It’s an ongoing story, and I don’t know what happens at the end yet.