One of the big problems with Barker's work though is that his stories feel perfectly suited to the page. It is not just that he deals with difficult to film, taboo material (though that does not help!) but also that a lot of the emotional power of the work seems to come about less through the fantastical events and amazing creatures on display but through the passages of internal monologue inside the character's heads. Once the surface layer of imagery gets translated into actual pictures it almost kind of ends up crudening the dark poetry of Barker's imagination somewhat into almost laughable imagery (for example the most notorious scene in Rawhead Rex kind of plays out through the eyes of a father and his internal reaction to loss, rather than detailing the actual visceral event too much). Even Barker's own directed films have suffered from that problem to a certain extent!
A story like "The Life of Death", which I love as kind of a "Typhoid Mary meets Looking For Mr Goodbar" tale full of irony and almost too ripe ironic metaphors would be difficult to adapt simply because a lot of its power comes from the internal ponderings of the traumatised into morbid introspection main character that ends up externalising and transforming the world around her. Adapted purely for the surface 'action' of the story however, and it might make the character seem spectacularly (even maliciously!) dim-witted!
I think there is something fundamental about the way that words on a page can describe a horrific scene but still allow for a kind of distanced perspective - an intellectualised approach to the horrific - that allows Barker's best work (which the Books of Blood are) to describe events but in such a way that would otherwise be overwhelming or unbearable (or almost laughable) if actually visualised. Something like the moment inside the tomb in "The Life of Death" would be overwhelming to almost a tackily bad taste extent if portrayed on screen, but the clinical description in text form allows for the dead to somehow retain their dignity whilst being clinically observed by the main character. She is thoroughly contaminated by the sight that she witnesses whilst the reader is spared such close contact.
Having said that (and this is a silly aside but domino's comments made me think of it) I have long imagined an adaptation of the Books of Blood. I have always thought that the best way of tackling the material would not be to stretch the stories out into features (much as I love Candyman it is the dazzling exception that proves the general rule) but keep them as short pieces for them to have their maximum impact. If I were tackling it, I think I would want to adapt the stories as an anthology film that takes the five or six characters from the wraparound title story of ghostly shenanigans turned real and then after they get thrown into hellish purgatory use that as a premise for re-casting the same set of actors over and over again in a few of the other stories, each time having the actors familiar to us having their memories of their past lives and each other erased and placed into the new context of each story. Do a Cloud Atlas and have the lead of one story become a supporting character in another, or even just make a 'cameo appearance', which could cause all sorts of resonances between the different stories. I would perhaps even go further and have the entire environment re-shape itself at the climax of each story into the opening of the next one, usually done to a music cue!
The one transition that I really liked imaging happening would go (to the rhythm of We Come 1 by Faithless
) from the ending of one of the more urban set stories (say the bonfire end of The Forbidden, which inspired Candyman) into the island setting of Scape-Goats, by showing a tower block get submurged with water the camera looking inside out at the rising water level until the windows break and flood the interior before transitioning outside to a vision of all of the buildings deep underwater, with eventually the buildings themselves crumbling apart and providing the rubble of a sea bed, before the camera moves up to reach the surface and the yacht from the next story hoves into view, the various characters lying there in first positions ready for the new story to begin!
The benefit of a structure like that would be that a film could be quite faithful to the meat of the short stories themselves, but there would also be room for a filmmaker to go completely wild with imagery in the interstitial, gristly connective tissues linking between them!