‘So intent was Frank on solving the puzzle of Lemarchand’s box that he didn’t hear the great bell begin to ring. The device had been constructed by a master craftsman, and the riddle was this–that though he’d been told the box contained wonders, there simply seemed to be no way into it, no clue on any of its six black lacquered faces as to the whereabouts of the pressure points that would disengage one piece of this three-dimensional jigsaw from another.’clive barker
I watched the original Hellraiser movie (1987) back in the late 1980s. I thought it was such a unique idea for a horror movie and can still remember being freaked out by the Cenobites, especially the teeth-gnashing one. What are Cenobites? They are demonic beings that will “tear your soul apart” if you summon them. The hell priest who became known as “Pinhead” didn’t scare me, I just thought he was cool. What a fantastic character design!
Its voice, unlike that of its companion, was light and breathy—the voice of an excited girl. Every inch of its head had been tattooed with an intricate grid, and at every intersection of horizontal and vertical axes a jeweled pin driven through to the bone. Its tongue was similarly decorated. “Do you even know who we are?” it asked.”
After learning that writer/director Clive Barker based the film on his novella The Hellbound Heart, I saught it out. I didn’t know Barker was already a published writer when he made Hellraiser. I quickly went on to read his excellent Books of Blood stories and his 1987 dark fantasy novel Weaveworld. I recommend the Books of Blood but Weaveworld left me cold. There are some good ideas in the book, but I found it to be too meandering and it kind of lost me in its weaving narrative. As far as I remember, many of the stories in Books of Blood are very good examples of the genre; I must get around to re-reading them.
All these years later, a new film version of Hellraiser has recently been released. I enjoyed it, but I’m not going to go into it here. I’ll just say that I liked the new Cenobite designs and was quite surprised by how gory it is. Chains ripping skin and flesh are back and look to be impressive practical FX, not CGI thank goodness. Watching the film made me want to revisit Clive Barker’s original novella, so I picked up a copy.
I was surprised by how well The Hellbound Heart holds up. I’d forgotten how good Clive Barker’s early writing is. The opening chapter is simply stunning in how much it pulls you in and whets your appetite for what is to follow. Barker doesn’t overexplain the plot or get lost in paragraphs of purple prose. He keeps it tight while still producing moments of lyrical beauty as well as hair-raising horror. The fine line between pleasure and pain is a major theme of the story and the author clearly enjoys writing about sex and sensuality as well as body horror.
If I had to criticize it then I would mention the lack of character development. We don’t really get to know much about the few characters beyond the pleasure-seeking Frank Cotton. But it should be remembered this is a short novella that is content with creating atmosphere and building up tension. It will excite you just as much as it disturbs you. And it will leave you wanting more, especially more about the Cenobites.
Thanks so much for reading!
-Wakizashi, *wondering whether to read The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker*