Books of Blood creeps into Hulu’s Huluween lineup with a psychological thriller edge. The anthology film derives from the book series of the same name by Clive Barker.
Barker has been known to haunt readers, and any film that has to do with the man also sends chills up your spine—Candyman, Hellraiser. This time, for his most famous works, actress Freda Foh Shen had no problem helping Barker, director Brannon Braga, and screenwriter Adam Simon uphold tradition.
Ellie Austin (Shen) is a retired nurse who seems like a lovely, hospitable woman. She gardens, she welcomes strangers into her home, she serves guests tea, is tender towards husband Sam (Nicholas Campbell). So when hypersensitive teen Jenna Branson (Britt Robertson) comes to stay with , Ellie treats her like a daughter. She mentors, aids her towards psychological breakthroughs, and meddles in her love life. What a sweet and caring woman! How could she not be in this totally gentle, trustworthy plot in a horror movie, right? We phoned Shen just to make sure.
By the time the Books of Blood script landed in Shen’s hands, her stage, screen, and voice-acting success had come from roles in Pacific Overtures, The Balcony, Ad Astra, Red Doors, Planet of the Apes, the animated Mulan and Mulan II, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, among others. However, her portfolio was about to get more horrifying addition. One of her agents happened to be a huge Barker fan. The agent shared one of the books with her, but on the first read, Shen became too frightened to continue.
“In terms of what could possibly be, our particular storyline—I could see the possibilities. Those are the scariest horror films,” said Shen. “I like thriller but not the horror genre. It’s scary, too scary—especially the visuals and especially when they are very close to real life.”
The story of Ellie, Sam, and Jenna is intertwined with two other plots involving a hitman (Yul Vázquez), psychologist (Anna Friel), and amateur ghost whisperer (Rafi Gavron).
Shen discovered several surprises in the plot on her first read of the script. The character of Ellie also came with the acting challenge of creating a character without revealing too much to viewers too soon. “My role is by far the most interesting..because of her multi layers.” Shen got the chance to portray a truly complex character with a compelling backstory.
Shen also enjoyed working with the cast of her storyline. During shooting, Shen and on-screen husband Campbell walked off set amazed at Robertson’s talent at such a young age. Their scene partner, to Shen, was rocksteady, dependable, and “really terrific.” She went on, “Britt is wonderful. She’s like so giving. She is so alive. She is so emotionally available.”
When she first viewed the finished Hulu feature, Covid-19 precautions prevented her from having the company to alleviate her fear of Barker’s tales. The need for the best wifi for an at-home viewing experience caused Shen to settle alone in the stairwell of a friend’s. Her nerves got a bit of relief at least. Scene after scene, the actor in her took over in self-critique. Her phobias took a backseat as she reexamined her role of Ellie that she shot nearly a year ago.
But don’t get her wrong! Shen confirmed that this movie is indeed scary and very visual. “[Viewers] are gonna love it. They’re gonna be scared.” She laughed and added with emphasis, “Yes! I definitely think they’re gonna be scared.” Eating while watching may not be the best idea for squeamish people and their stomachs, she warned. Comfort food ice cream though would put her heart at ease if she watched again.
Check out what more of the team and cast behind Books of Blood had to say below. For those who dare to be scared, the film is available now to stream on Hulu.