More than a decade ago, Stephen King told the world that he had "seen the future of horror and it is named Clive Barker."
Today, after having published some of the most original horror stories to hit bookshelves in years, and turning a cinematic bad guy who has a pin cushion for a head into a worldwide icon, Clive Barker has shown that King wasn't blowing smoke.
And although it's been several years since Mr. Barker actually has written an all-out horror story -- his latest works have been high fantasy and, of all things, a children's story -- his newest film, "Lord of Illusions," is a return to the genre for which he is best known.
Based on one of Mr. Barker's short stories ("The Last Illusion"), the film opened Aug. 25. "Illusions," which Mr. Barker wrote and
directed, stars Scott Bakula as Harry D'Amour, a New York detective who specializes in the occult and gets pulled into a mysterious case involving a dead illusionist, his widow and the cult leader who had given the magician otherworldly powers. Like all of Mr. Barker's heroes, D'Amour walks the thin line between good and evil as he tries to solve the case.
Mr. Barker said having Bakula, best-known for his portrayal of time-traveling, body-hopping scientist Sam Beckett in TV's "Quantum Leap," as his leading man gives the film an interesting edge.
"Scott Bakula is a very fine actor who's an everyman," he said at his Los Angeles home last month. "Playing Sam Beckett, he was an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. He was always a regular guy, a very nice guy.
"To then put that personality into a Clive Barker movie," he continued, "an interesting dynamic appears, one which would not have appeared if people did not know who Scott was."
Still, Mr. Barker said Mr. Bakula had no trouble filling the shoes of the troubled D'Amour, a man often overwhelmed by the scope of his work.
"What's doubly interesting is that there is a dark side to Scott," Mr. Barker said. "It was not at all difficult for him to enter this world, to immerse himself in this world."
The world that Mr. Barker speaks of is often dark, dreary and -- especially on celluloid -- rather bloody. His first directorial effort, "Hellraiser," unleashed the aforementioned Pinhead upon audiences in 1987. It also was an inexpensively made film that turned into a worldwide phenomena that has spawned three sequels, the third of which will soon be released.
Although Mr. Barker had little to do with the fourth "Hellraiser" installment -- he was directing "Illusions" as the other film was being shot -- he still feels tied to the characters and the "Hellraiser" mythology.
"There is still this piece of connective tissue, this umbilical cord, that refuses to be severed between myself and Pinhead," Mr. Barker said. "And part of that is because you love your children, whether they come from your loins or your mind."
By looking at him, you'd never know Mr. Barker has begun a journey full of its own horrors -- that of middle age. At 42, the native Liverpudlian is still extremely youthful and charming, a laugh or smile always at the ready for the last fan waiting in line during a two-hour book-signing session.
Mr. Barker first grabbed the horror world's attention in 1984, with the first installments of his "Books of Blood," an original, imaginative collection of horrific short stories that earned him praise from readers and critics alike.
With more recent books like "Weaveworld" and "Imajica," Mr. Barker has turned away from gore and focused on what he calls "fantastique" -- stories of high-fantasy, mysticism and imagination, with healthy doses of eroticism mixed in. The most recent of these adventures is "Everville," just released in paperback. A sequel to 1989's best-selling "The Great and Secret Show," the novel is the second Book of the Art, a series that co-stars "Illusions" Harry D'Amour in an epic tale about humanity, Armageddon and what lies beyond our own reality.
Mr. Barker also is the creator of "The Thief of Always," a children's book about a young boy who goes to play at a kids-only fantasy land, only to return home and discover that in the few days he was gone decades have passed in the real word. In late 1996 or early 1997, "Thief," will be brought to the big screen as an animated musical.
Because Clive Barker, writer, has moved beyond the traditional blood and guts story, he is enraged by mega-chain bookstores )) that stack his novels in the horror section.
"The people who go to horror shelves for thrills and chills are not going to find comfort in 'Imajica' or 'Thief of Always'," he said. "And it feels to me as though I'm not getting through to an audience that might like 'Imajica' because it's not on the high-fantasy shelves. That just frustrates me."
Not that Mr. Barker has completely turned away from the horror genre -- "Illusions" is proof enough of that. To turn his short story into a motion picture, Mr. Barker said he elaborated on the themes and plot lines of the source to make it even more frightening.
He did this most unconventionally, however. Rather than simply heaping on the monsters, blood and gore, Mr. Barker eliminated some of the creatures of the short story and replaced them with a new villain -- a cult leader named Nix. After all, Mr. Barker said, it's what we can relate to, what we can smell and see and feel, that scares us most.
For the same reason, the eternal battle of light vs. darkness lies at the heart of "Illusions," a struggle the viewer can personalize, even on the smallest scale.
"I am much concerned with how evil manifests itself in our world and how good manifests itself and how good deals with evil," he said. "And I'm not talking about an abstract evil. I'm not talking about the devil (as something people can blame for their problems). I'm talking about what human beings do to human beings.
"And I think one of the things that horror movies have always done is that they've been very clear about that. I can't be zen about it and say, 'It happens.' The world is made of opposing forces -- they are a constant presence in our lives. And I don't believe that's just the way it is, that nothing can be done about it.
+ "You have to wage the war."