Stephen Dressler interviews Philip Nutman

As British Correspondent for Fangoria magazine, Philip Nutman was responsible for bringing Clive and his early work to the attention of American horror fans. In addition to conducting several interviews with Clive, he also wrote detailed making-of articles on the first two Hellraiser movies and Nightbreed. Here he shares some memories of what it was like being around Clive Barker at the time he was first making his mark.

How I came to meet Clive is interesting in and of itself. It seemed to be one of those series of incidences that inevitably led to something happening.

I realized that in March 1995 when I met Stephen and Cheryl of Lost Souls in Atlanta during the World Horror Convention that it had been just over 10years since I first met Clive. It was February 1985, to be specific, during the filming of Underworld (a.k.a. Transmutations). I had first started writing for Fangoria in 1982, conducting interviews with several '60smake-up artists. In the Fall of 1983, I wrote my first on-location report for a low-budget movie, The Anger, which was filming in London. The whole production transpired to be a complete shambles. But the assistant production manager turned out to be a woman by the name of Sophie Pavlou--the wife of the director of Underworld and Rawhead Rex, George Pavlou.  As I talked with her, she asked had I heard of Clive Barker?  The answer was no. She told me about this amazing guy who was an artist and a writer who'd written some wonderful short stories and he was going to be doing a movie with her husband which was to be an adaptation of some French comic book, if I remember correctly. We made plans to stay in touch, but I never heard from her.

Six months later, I read a book review column by Ramsey Campbell concerning The Books of Blood which were about to be published in Great Britain.  Inevitably, it was a rave review and I took note of this, but the name failed to connect.

I can't remember exactly how I eventually heard about Underworld, but I made an appointment with the unit publicist to visit the location and do an article for Fangoria a couple of weeks after shooting had started. In the meantime, I realized that the screenwriter was the Clive Barker I had heard about. I had been searching for months for The Books of Blood but had never found them. As it turned out, two nights before I was due to do my set visit, I walked into a local bookstore and found all three of the first set of volumes. Needless to say, I sat up from dusk till dawn and read the mall in one breathless sitting.

I went to visit the set of the movie --a drafty concrete shed at Limehouse Studios-- on Wednesday, February 13, 1985. On arriving, I discovered that George Pavlou was remarkably shy, didn't like talking to the press, and the only reason he invited me on set was because his wife had remembered me and said good things. I asked the publicist if Clive Barker was supposed to be on set, but he wasn't. However, Clive unexpectedly turned up at the Studios an hour later. He knew of me through my previous Fangoria articles and was keen to do a quick interview. Even in those days, Clive was always rushing off to another meeting and he could only spare a few minutes. However, those10 minutes swiftly turned into 50, followed by the exchanging of phone numbers and an agreement that we would call each other the following week to arrange dinner to continue our conversation.

I had also promised to send him a rough draft of my article. Not wanting to compose the typical set visit article, I decided to write the piece as a pastiche of a Raymond Chandler-Phillip Marlowe novel (reprinted in Shadows in Eden) since the movie had a film noir influence. I was so psyched from talking to Clive, I went home and instantly wrote up a first draft and sent it to him.

The following Monday, literally 10 minutes after walking into my office at the BBC TV center, the phone rang.  It was Clive.  The first words out of his mouth were, "have you thought about doing this for a living?”  I said "what, journalism?  Not really interested.”  “No,” Clive stated, "writing fiction.”  I informed him that I had always wanted to do it but didn't know if I was good enough.  Clive's response, and I will quote him verbatim, was "Bullshit!  I don't ever want to hear you say that again. I think you're very talented and I would love to have dinner with you --are you free Thursday?"  I fumbled over my words in utter surprise, but this was to be the start of a series of frequent dinners, a highly fertile period of conversation and inspiration for me which lasted a couple of months. That really started my fiction career --Clive's enthusiasm, encouragement, and the big push he gave me had me up and running. I will always be indebted to him for that.

Much of the time, I would go up to North London and we'd hang out in Clive's apartment on Hillside Avenue. Interesting enough, this was the same street where Peter Straub had rented a house when he had written Ghost Story back in the mid '70s.

Clive had a favorite Indian restaurant in the neighborhood., and that's where we usually ate. Conversation often ran very late which meant I missed my last bus home, and I would end up crashing on Clive's couch for the night. I then had the privilege of having Clive make breakfast for me in the morning. When I say make breakfast, it was basically a cup of coffee and his asking, "do you want toast or cereal or both?" One particular morning after we had been up really late drinking, we were talking over coffee and he proceeded to thrust a copy of A Color Atlas of Forensic Pathology under my nose. This was a medical textbook filled explicit photos of the dead, and Clive, with a mischievous glint in his eye, opened the book to a page featuring a dead baby --a typical example of his dark sense of humor! This is part of what is so special to me about this period in my life-- the unpredictability, the inspiration. Our conversations were eclectic, invigorating. We talked about anything from jazz, art, painting, B-movies, literature, sick jokes, you name it. This was a major revelation to me because I had never met anybody who had such a wide range of interests and knowledge, all of which was underscored by a unique philosophy. You could see the ideas starting to coalesce that eventually grew into The Great And Secret Show and Imajica and everything else.

Another occasion sticks in my mind, several months after the almost weekly get-togethers had stopped due to Clive's career taking off like a rocket.  He was preparing for the filming of Hellraiser and had invited a mutual friend, novelist Nicolas Royle, and myself over from drinks. The night was freezing and I was coming down with what I assumed was a light head cold.  While we were hanging out, Clive suddenly produced a pile of visual reference he was using as a springboard for the Cenobite designs --a lot of very extreme, bizarre, sexual material, including copies of Piercing Fans Quarterly International. Showing us sketches for the Cenobites, he suddenly produced photos from which he had drawn ideas, and there was one particular image that I will never forget. It was of a man who was systematically splitting his penis in half (the picture can be found in the Re/Search book Modern Primitives).  Anyway, it turned out that I actually had the flu, and by the time I got home my fever was terrible, and I consequently hallucinated that image of the guy splitting his dick in half! Every time I shut my eyes, the vision was there!

Dead babies and genital mutilation --images from "Clive: The Early Years"!

Of course, I'd seen photos of dead children before, but not genital piercing and the kind of modern tribalism which has become so popular and passé. I think it's a reflection on Clive's talent as an artist that he can tap into the Zeitgeist and find and use images from the collective unconscious --even if they're images we've not yet familiarized ourselves with. Look at how much a part of contemporary culture tattoos and piercing have become.

I'm sure there are a lot of fans who are envious of the time I was fortunate enough to spend with Clive during that period, but then I envy Doug Bradley, Peter Atkins, and all those old friends who were with him at school and who played significant roles in the Dog Theater Company and all the other exciting projects he created before any of us had heard of him.

I'm certainly not going to claim responsibility for the existence of the movie Lord of Illusions, but after reading the original story, The Last Illusion, before it was published, I remember talking to Clive for nearly an hour on the phone, raving about what a great character Harry D'Amour was, what a wonderful story it was, how I thought he should do something more with the character of Harry and this could make a great movie. "I was thinking," Clive replied, "that I would like to do something more with Harry; do you really think it might make a good movie?" I told him he had to write other Harry D'Amour stories. Obviously the character had already made his mark in Clive's consciousness, but I got the impression that day my enthusiasm might have helped confirm whatever he was considering --and now,10 years later, we have the Director's Cut on tape and disc...

I miss those dinners, those nights of drinking and talking as he sat and sketched endlessly, but I'm delighted Clive has had the success he so rightfully deserves. It was a very special, fertile time for me, a catalytic crossroads which led to actualizing my dream of writing fiction for a living. And it was a great pleasure to watch someone else's creative career take flight up close.

The most exciting thing, though, is that I believe Clive has only just scratched the surface of what he's capable of doing.  As Steve and Cheryl and I and a room of 700 people watched Clive give a highly inspiring speech concerning our role as dreamers during his receiving the Grand Master Award at the World Horror Convention, I thought about the last 10 years. He's produced an incredible body of work, but I can't wait to see what the next decade brings.

Philip Nutman is the author of the Bram Stoker Award nominated novel Wetwork(1994). He has published nearly two-dozen short stories that have been printed in a wide range of anthologies and a number of which were reprinted in the Years Best Horror series. He also made a small contribution to the Hellraiser comics "series bible" which acted as the springboard for artists and writers. His story The Pleasures of Deception appeared in the second issue of the series. He is currently completing a new novel, putting the finishing touches to a short story collection to be published this year, and writing and producing a low budget crime movie, Ludlum's Law.