Now that I’m “a writer”, people pretty much got me books for Christmas this year (could be worse, the uncle of a dear friend once made a passing comment that they “liked penguins” and resultantly drowned in a wave of penguin themed novelty gifts for years after). However, I was also treated (I say treated, it was on my Amazon Wishlist) to the Hellraiser Trilogy on DVD, definitely worth a review.
I haven’t seen Hellraiser, Hellbound and Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth together since I was a teenager, only catching parts of them on later night cable TV, but have always been impressed with the cold, unrelenting tone of the films. The colour pallet of icy blues and steely greys paints a grim picture throughout, creating a stylish and thoroughly unique horror world.
Hellraiser is the eighties, but (as yet – it is slated for 2012) remains mercifully free from remake hell, so I’ll provide a recap for the uninitiated. Hellraiser is based on a short story called The Hellbound Heart by a then little-known British writer, Cliver Barker. His fiction is rich, sexual and the darkest dark fantasy (absolutely not for YA). Barker’s work often explores the dichotomy of heaven/hell or pleasure/pain and The Hellbound Heart was no different.
After previous flirtations with book to film adaptations, the talented Mr. Barker also directed Hellraiser. It tells the tale of bored, sexually frustrated housewife Julia (played with frosty relish by Claire Higgins), a woman fixated on an affair with her brother-in-law, Frank. Her lover, however, has other ideas. His new toy is a sinister puzzle box, loaded with hooks that tear his flesh off for the entertainment of the demonic (or angelic depending on your feelings on super-kinky fun) Cenobites, led by the iconic Pinhead (Doug Bradley).
The only way for Julia to be reunited with Frank is to brutally sacrifice men for him, allowing him to gradually return to flesh. Like I said, not unkinky. Their plans are thwarted by plucky stepdaughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), every inch the 80s icon with perm and Miami Vice blazer.
What works in the first film is the noir tone, especially when compared to it’s counterparts A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. The gore factor is turned all the way to eleven, but aside from this, it’s an almost artistic affair, dwelling on Julia’s motivation more than the flashy Cenobytes. This stylish direction was later recreated for Barker’s equally wonderful Candyman.
Like so many 80s horror films, it’s perhaps best not to spend too much time thinking why everything happens. Kirsty’s character in particular suffers from the DON’T GO IN THERE, YOU’LL OBVIOUSLY DIE syndrome and unless you are seriously into S & M, it might be a stretch to understand where the “pleasure” is offered by the Cenobites (I doubt you’ll be able to buy their spinning pole of torture at Anne Summers for a while yet).
And to the sequel. I’d have left it there, but at present there is some discussion as to whether my book will go series or not. One publisher is keen on series, one isn’t, so examining Hellbound: Hellraiser II was almost homework.
The sequel, taking place hours after Hellraiser, sees young Kirsty recovering in a psychiatric facility before she inexplicably decides she’d like to venture into Hell to retrieve her father. Throw in a psychopathic doctor, the resurrection of Julia (now sans skin), loads of nods to Escher and you have a typical sequel. BIGGER, GORIER, SHOCKINGERIER.
Does Hellbound benefit from added wow-factor? No, of course not. The brooding menace of the first film is gone in a splatter, as mental patients hack off their flesh and everyone makes out with corpses. Tellingly, Clive Barker was only involved in Hellbound as a producer, giving a story outline for the film makers to flesh out. Some parts work. The Cenobites get slightly more to do and never lose their sadistic streak, toying with Kirsty, but that’s where all dignity ends. The rest is a gore stained, nonsensical mess. We shan’t even get onto Hellraiser III – you can imagine how silly things got there.
Can any sequel avoid the fate of Hellbound? It has to be bigger and better, right? One publisher described how a sequel needs to be “the same, but different”. Hellbound does have the same plot (Julia’s resurrection is identical to Frank’s) but throws in EXTRA. It’s the extra that spoils things. So does this mean I write the same book again? Same characters, same setting, new problems? Or is it time to leave the world I created and move on to something new?
I’m genuinely interested to hear thoughts on sequels, dear readers. I’m mid way through Mockingjay, book 3 of The Hunger Games and I’m reserving judgement until I’m done. Are sequels the way forward? Discuss.
As to the remake of Hellraiser. HANDS OFF. The Interweb initially suggested that Martyrs director Pascal Laugier would take the helm (a move approved by Clive Barker). However, for some mystery reason (presumably because it was in danger of becoming good), the project was handed to Patrick Lussier who directed horror low-point My Bloody Valentine. Expect a film a lot more like a sequel than an original.