Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Hellraiser is often listed among the greatest horror films ever made. Its cautionary tale of desire and despair is spine chilling. Through the film, we learn of the Cenobites, sadomasochistic beings, who enter our world through a mystic box. They do not differentiate between pain and pleasure. To summon these monsters is to become their prisoners.
This is what happens to Frank Cotton. In his search for heaven, he finds the Cenobites and a fate worse than death. Frank reaches out, from his prison, to his adulterous sister-in-law, Julia. Julia can aid Frank in escaping his jailers, but it will require blood. This is no easy feat and they mustn’t draw the attention of Frank’s captors.
While most horror fans have watched Hellraiser, fewer have read the novella on which the movie was based. The Hellbound Heart was first published in Night Visions 3, edited by George R. R. Martin. This initial anthology release in 1986 was followed by a stand-alone publication of the novella in 1991.
The Hellbound Heart follows a similar trajectory to that of the film. Much of the narrative is familiar with small name changes, such as Rory Cotton (Frank’s brother) being renamed Larry in the movie. As expected, the written product is a bit more nuanced than its motion picture adaptation. How Frank acquires Lemarchand’s box and what is known of it before his encounter with the Cenobites is altered quite substantially.
However, by far and away, the biggest change is the ending. Whereas the conclusion to Hellraiser is about good’s triumph over evil, The Hellbound Heart is much more reflective. Both suggest the horrors of Lemarchand’s box are cyclical with more to come. Yet, while the film spawned numerous sequels, no attempt was ever made to follow up directly on the conclusion of The Hellbound Heart.
This lack of a follow-up makes the last three paragraphs particularly poignant. While it seems counter intuitive, by leaving it open-ended, the conclusion is much more definitive. Kirsty (Rory’s friend and would-be lover) is calculating. She doesn’t simply give in to impulse when making decisions. Our fates are guided by our choices, both good and bad. Frank and Julia made very poor choices. I have a feeling that Kirsty will never succumb to desire, no matter how long she has to “wait and watch.”
The Hellbound Heart is among the greatest literary achievements of Clive Barker’s career. It is a reminder of why he is a true master of horror. Read as a stand-alone or as a compendium to the Hellraiser films, The Hellbound Heart is essential literature for all fans of the genre.