Book Review : Clive Barker - The Hellbound Heart (1986)
"There's no such thing as almost," he said, still staring out of the window. Then, after a pause: "I want to be out there. I want to have it all again."
The name Clive Barker is probably familiar to you, but you might not be able to pinpoint who he actually is. Not if you aren't an avid horror reader. But everyone knows the Hellraiser movies and their poster boy Pinhead. If you don't have the slightest idea what they are, you might've been stranded in a spaceship orbiting around the moon for the last thirty years. Well, the entire Hellraiser mythos was based on a novella Clive Barker wrote and adapted himself into a movie.
It's called The Hellbound Heart, it's ridiculously short and it pretty much revolutionized horror when it came out.
The Hellbound Heart is the story of Frank Cotton, a soulless hedonist who travels the world seeking the greatest forbidden pleasures. When he summons creatures from another realm who are "experts in pleasure", Frank drops from the face of the Earth only to be accidentally summoned back in the house his brother Rory shares with his wife Julia. The same wife Frank banged before their wedding. It's not really Frank who came back, though... more like, parts of Frank. Namely, his brain, lungs and spine. Frank needs blood in order to be whole again. And he will use the enraptured Julia to get it.
Clive Barker's early material is notorious for being extremely transgressive and The Hellbound Heart is no different. It veers out of its lane and redefined what horror was supposed to be, back then. Whenever you think you've figured out where the scares are coming from, it throws you off and keeps you guessing. When the Cenobites first appear, it sets the tone for a supernatural horror story, right? Extreme pleasure seeker, otherworldly creatures, classic set up. The Hellbound Heart transforms into a Hitchcockian thriller when Frank disappear and it suddenly becomes Rory and Julia's story. Then, Frank comes back and it becomes supernatural horror, a Hitchcockian thriller and body horror. Why be just one thing when you can be everything?
I know what you're going to ask me (and presumably why you clicked on that review): is the book different enough from the movie for me to read it? What are the major differences, Ben?
Well, there aren't that many. Since Clive Barker wrote the novella, the screenplay and directed the goddamn movie, he kind of stuck to his guns and it's fine. There are minor differences: Larry is named Rory, Kirsty isn't Rory's daughter but a horny friend who's jealous of Julia (it doesn't have any impact on the storytline, really) and, perhaps the most important addition, there's an entire chapter at the beginning dedicated to Frank trying to open the Lemarchand configuration. That chapter alone makes reading The Hellbound Heart worthwile. It allows you to better understand who the Cenobites are and why would anyone right in their mind would try and contact them.
The Hellbound Heart does make the same point than the movies make, too: the boundless quest for extreme pleasures will render you a soulless beast, incapable of distinguishing pleasant sensations from the painful ones. The book does it much more subtly than the movies, though, because it's insanely short. It clocks at 164 pages, but I believe it was stretched by friendly formatting. Not sure that thing was over 100 pages long when it was first turned to an editor. Anyway, if you want to initiate a friend to the Cenobites and the Hellraiser mythos, I highly suggest starting to with the first three movies (Hellraiser II is a thing of beauty), but it you want to go the extra mile and understand the series better, The Hellbound Heart is short, sweet and packed with crucial information delivered in a violent and blook-soaked way.