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Ben Austwick [Film Festival 09.03.09] movie review horror

Year: 2009
Directors: Anthony DiBlasi
Writers: Anthony DiBlasi & Clive Barker (short story)
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Ben Austwick
Rating: 5 out of 10

Clive Barker's Books of Blood is a masterpiece of horror writing, an extensive collection of short, sharp, intelligent and above all scary stories that have already given us the classic horror film Candyman. The author himself wrote and directed Hellraiser, one of the best horror films of the eighties. His work comes with some pedigree then, and the promise of another adaptation from the Books of Blood, in this case Dread, one of few stories in the collection to follow a thriller rather than fantasy format, was a tantalising one. But director Anthony DiBlasi struggles to make the story work on the big screen, confounded by the brevity and simplicity that makes it work so well on the page.

Quaid, an intense and slightly annoying Boston student played by Shaun Evans, is obsessed with other people's fears and what he sees as their reluctance to confront them, let go and live their lives to the full; though this is explained in more vaguely philosophical terms by the character himself, plundering Nietzsche in po-faced statements that set the tone for a ponderous, flaccid set-up that takes an age to bare fruit.

Eager to explore his theories, Quaid ropes in two reluctant fellow students, Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) and Cheryl (Hanne Steen), to interview classmates on camera about the childhood roots of their fears. One relates an accident that left him temporarily deaf and gave him a morbid fear of silence; another the sexual abuse she was victim to and the disgust she now feels at the thought of eating meat. Others are outed as fakes, eliciting violent reaction in Quaid who, it seems, has childhood issues of his own. Some of the movie's scariest scenes flash back to the terror he faced as a young boy, in violent, bloody segments out of joint with the rest of the film.

Quaid prises Stephen and Cheryl's fears out of them as well, and as he becomes more unhinged and obsessive executes his plan to confront all with their dread in cruel and ingenious experiments. This simple idea is the bare bones of Clive Barker's original short story, but in order to make a feature-length film DiBlasi felt the need to add the lengthy preamble, an unsuccessful attempt to flesh out the story that leaves much of the film feeling superfluous. Worse, the central character is changed from Joshua (called Steve in the short story), the boy with the dread of deafness, to Stephen, an entirely new character, who is given a fear of car crashes irrelevant to the story. This fudges Barker's clean, logical ending quite spectacularly, for reasons I can only guess at.

It has to be said that when Barker's wickedly twisted plot comes into play Dread finally becomes enjoyable. A need to bring the film's other strands to a head muddies the waters a little, but a story this good just can't be kept down, as Quaid's subjects are cruelly put through the wringer in their own private Room 101s. It remains though that it's a bit galling to see Barker's unpretentious, direct writing, the brevity of which is its very strength, made into such a meandering, flabby film.

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Rick Archer (10 years ago) Reply

Oh I really disliked this move - 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back. I generally like Clive Barkers writing and so always look forward to seeing an adaptation of his work. However have to admit that the short story this was based on was not one of my favourites but I tried to keep an open mind.

The only interesting point about the movie for me was the character with the birthmark - who I dont actually think was in the Barker story? - but forgive me if I'm mistaken as I really havent read it in a long long time. I found her character much more real and beleivable than the other character with a birthmark at Frightfest ie Sturgess in Heartless.

Wasnt really that engaged with the whole studenty "lets record peoples fears on tape" psych study thing. I'm sure I've seen this kind of scenario in another movie but cant think where. The whole lets explore peoples "Dread" thing through this study just didnt interest me much at all - in fact I thought Case 39 dealt with the subject of "Dread" far more effectively where the little girl/demon Lilith would find out what someone most feared and then make them live through it.

Thought the character of Quaid was such an obvious psychopath and obnoxious - surprised me why the other two students couldnt see this and stay well clear of him.

I was very tempted to get up and walk out of this one - but I hate doing that with movies - and decided to stick with it to the bitter end in the hope that Quaid would receive the big shining axe through his cranium that he so utterly deserved. Suffice to say I didnt like the ending at all.

"Dread" - no "Dread-ful" yes.


Ben Austwick (10 years ago) Reply

I think we're pretty much in agreement!

I don't *think* the girl with the birthmark is in the original short story, but have to admit to refreshing my memory with a plot synopsis on the internet as it's been a while since I read the short story as well. I do remember it being one of Barker's shorter, simpler stories which makes this film's spun-out flabbiness all the worse.

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