I have a suspicious feeling that I am not the only person who has gone back in time to revisit some of Clive Barkers’ earlier work. After watching Hellraiser 2022, I could not help but go back and watch the original 1987 film. However, thanks to the internet, you can now go even deeper into the lore of this franchise. I admit I didn’t know who Clive Barker was in the ’80s. Back then, I watched a film and went on my way to the next one. The funny thing is, I have never looked back; until now.
After finding out the original film was adapted from the novella The Hellbound Heart, I knew I had to read it. The story was first published in 1986 by Dark Harvest as part of its Night Visions anthology series and was finally released as a stand-alone title in 1991 by HarperPaperBacks. Before I discuss the novella, I would like to talk about my first memories of the film and my most recent viewing.
For some strange reason, all my earliest memories of watching films as a child took place in my living room, curtains closed on a sunny day to help soak up the atmosphere of the latest VHS release. However, I remember watching Hellraiser in those exact circumstances, and I will never forget it. The impact of Hellraiser was quite impressive, I was around eleven years old, which may feel a little young to some, but in the 80s, it felt like all my friends knew about horror films just as much as I did. Pinhead was the main talking point on the playground, but I already understood that the story was pretty perfect from an early age. Frank’s story felt like an adult version of Indiana Jones, and the Lemarchand felt familiar to me, even as a child, like something we are looking for in life. The Cenobites are supposed to be frightful, but somehow, they kept you wanting more. I’m surprised how much horror gets a bad reputation in society! Hellraiser feels like a modern fairy tale, and this story taught me to avoid the dangers of life far more than any dreary classroom lesson. I think it’s a true testament to Clive Barker’s writing that he managed to speak to so many individuals at a specific moment in time.
Hellraiser stands up with some of the greatest modern cinema films ever released, the originality of a New Hope, the anxiety of Alien and the sheer impact of the Matrix. Fast forward to 2022, and I have just watched the original film again, for the first time in over two decades at least, and it didn’t disappoint me. However, time round, the reasons for my enjoyment were vastly different.
Yes, the film looks a little dated. Alternatively, there is a quality to the production that you cannot replicate anymore. I always remember the early Hammer Horror films on television from a very early age, and they felt like a big part of British culture. I felt the Hammer flavour in this film, especially with the score. However, when that puzzle box opens for the first time, British horror films will never be the same again. Considering the budget for the film was under a million pounds, every penny counted. Frank’s physical appearance in the movie still looks as creepy and realistic as it did all those years ago. The score is wonderfully composed. The camera work is intense, and the American overdubs add something to the dream-like quality of the story. And finally, the simplicity of the sets and filming locations fills you with a feeling of claustrophobia. It was a masterpiece in 1987 and still feels like one today. However, it will always be the story that stands the test of time.
The Hellbound Heart isn’t that far removed from the original script for the movie, and hoorah for that. This novella is a fantastic piece of writing. There are some subtle changes that I enjoyed. The story revolves around Frank Cotton, his brother Rory and his wife Julia, and Rory’s close friend Kirsty, who still holds a flame for her friend. The Cenobites are used less in this tale, but it works for me. Fewer Cenobites means more drama, and I think this is where Barker impresses me as a writer. I like an intelligent writer, but not one who is arrogant enough to keep dragging you out of the story with heavy dialogue. After all, you want to appeal to everyone, regardless of background and education. Barker manages to do this in such a unique way that after a while, you no longer see the words and your mind is transported to another world that he has created for you. The writing feels familiar, his characters are recognisable, and you hear similar stories every day, minus the gore and horror.
“Bile burned in the back of his throat, and a morsel of yesterday’s beef that had lodged between his teeth sent spasms through his system as it exuded a droplet of gravy upon his tongue.”
Each character in the story reminds me of one person’s psyche, probably my own. I have my dorky side and can come across as someone who is a little beige. However, I do have a dark side that is just as important to appreciate from time to time. Life is an experience, and you should try to enjoy it as much as possible. I’m not tied to a ceiling in chains, dressed in leather gear all the time, only on special occasions. Jokes aside, I love how Barker shows you life in its purest form, lust, greed and unconditional love to name a few. I don’t know what else to add at this point because if you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil it for you, and if you have, you should already know what I mean. The story is simple but highly effective. The Hellbound Heart is just as good as the film adaptation, if not better. You know it’s fantastic, and after the first few lines, you can feel the quality and honesty soak straight through. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy the experience.
“He had made a mistake opening Lemarchand’s box. A very terrible mistake. ‘Oh, so you’ve finished dreaming,’ said the Cenobite, perusing him as he lay panting on the bare boards. ‘Good.’ She stood up. The tongues fell to the floor, like a rain of slugs. ‘Now we can begin,’ she said.”
And finally, my Hellraiser fandom is starting to feel alive again. At age eleven, I thought movies were created by magicians that were far out of reach from my part of the World. Nowadays, the World feels a little smaller, and I can easily find out anything about the history of the film in a couple of seconds, and the eleven-year-old in me is smiling at such a thing. I have recently purchased the Books of Blood in an instant from Kindle and had my hardcopy of Clive Barker’s Dark Worlds delivered to my front door. Maybe I could have done more to find these books earlier in life, but I was too busy trying to be a Frank, and I don’t think the local library appreciated my leather chaps.
Happy Halloween. Please let me know in the comments below what you think of Hellraiser 87 or The Hellbound Heart. If you enjoyed visiting today, please give me a follow, like or share, if you feel like it. If not, thank you for visiting today. Adios Amigos.