First published back in November of 1986 by Dark Harvest Publications within their third volume of the ‘Night Visions’ series of anthologies; Clive Barker’s classic tale ‘The Hellbound Heart’ sets in motion one of Barker’s most successful franchises, creating a truly iconic addition to the horror genre. The tale was later re-released as a standalone novella by HarperCollins in 1988, after the outstanding success of the film adaptation ‘Hellraiser’ (1987) which was directed by Barker himself.
Frank is a self-confessed moral degenerate whose life is spent in an endless search of the greatest pleasures known to mankind; no matter how despicable or taboo they may be. Frank’s constant quest leads him to a mysterious cubic box known as the ‘Lemarchand Configuration’ that was created by the master craftsman Philip Lemarchand. Learning of the puzzle box, Frank successfully tracks it down in Dusseldorf, and then returns to the UK to the home of his recently deceased grandparents. And there, whilst squatting in the confines of the attic, Frank solves the box’s puzzle which opens a gateway to hell itself.
Coming forth from this gateway are the Cenobites. Angels to some, demons to others; these tormentors from hell exist to deliver endless suffering to their victims; merging the extremities of pain with the farthest reaches of pleasure. Frank is dragged to hell by the Cenobites to spend eternity in endless torment.
The house in which Frank was taken from is subsequently inherited by Frank’s brother Rory. However, during the move, Rory accidently cuts himself and blood is spilled directly upon the area where Frank’s ritual was performed. And now, the sudden connection with this life-blood causes Frank to be able to gradually tear himself back into our world.
Rory’s wife Julia has always held a flame for Frank, ever since they spent a night of passion together the week before she was set to marry Rory. Now, with Frank emerging from his realm of unimaginable torture, Julia learns of Frank’s gradual reincarnation and so begins to help him to obtain his human form back again. Julia has now begun to add to the blood spill on the attic’s floor by killing random victims in the very room where Frank is now beginning to materialise.
Believing that Julia is cheating on Rory, Kirsty (both a neighbour and close friend of Rory’s) enters their new home, only to be confronted by the returning form of Frank. Somehow she manages to steal the Lemarchand Configuration and escapes from Frank’s grasp. However, after fleeing from the house, Kirsty collapses in the street in a state of utter exhaustion.
Later on, after awakening in a nearby hospital, Kirsty manages to solve the puzzle box that is now in her possession and the Cenobites are once again summoned. Bartering with the demons from hell, Kirsty manages to make a pact with them to return Frank, if they spare her. Now Kirsty has to fulfil her side of the bargain in order to save herself from the endless suffering that awaits her if she should fail...
Barker dives head first into the tale from the very outset, setting down the elaborate fundamental principles behind his redefined version of hell and the bravely reconfigured notion of evil.
Frank’s ritual to open the box’s gateway screams to the reader of an eroticism, which although projected as despicable in its taboo nature, is also somehow utterly compelling. And here, Barker floods the reader with wildly elaborate depictions of this ritualistic act, forming a vivid picture to each and every sensation endured by Frank.
One particularly strong aspect to the novella is how Barker successfully immerses the entirety of the tale in an eerie atmospheric depth that seems to seep through each and every page, forming a constant nerve-chilling undertone to the proceeding plotline. Furthermore, each character that is brought into play within the tight storyline is expertly fleshed out with carefully developed characteristics and personalities.
Barker maintains a constant undertone of menace throughout the novella, whilst expertly juggling the deeply-unnerving descriptive levels of blood-spill and gore. What is emerges is a haunting picture of these chilling acts and a whole new definition of what hell really is.
The inclusion of sadomasochistic tendencies, exaggerated in such an extreme fashion, develops a whole new notion of this hell. Redefined as a realm of ultimate pleasure devised from the constant endurance of endless pain, Barker has brought into question the whole basic principles of each and every religion, with hell’s servants being both angels and demons, depending on your point of view.
Barker taps into the terrifying unknown side of the human soul, playing with his dark ideas, whilst twisting each principle that would be thought of as a safe understanding of our human nature. This unleashes a thoroughly unnerving side to the very feel of what is being played out throughout the length of the tale.
‘The Hellbound Heart’ is bursting at the very seams with a (seemingly unlimited) imagination that has been harnessed and explored, to bring together a seductive trip into the erotic depths of limitless pleasure and pain.
The novella is a monumental piece of horror fiction that in its own way has redefined and reset the bar for shockingly extreme horror. Whilst reading the book it becomes frighteningly apparent that Barker loves to make the reader squirm in their seats, revealing to them the depravity that lurks underneath the flesh and bone of each and every one of us.
The 1987 film adaptation of the tale saw a number of minor changes to the storyline, with a far more pivotal role for the lead Cenobite (dubbed as ‘Pinhead’ by the fans). Although the film version still follows the storyline very closely, the novella offers a deeper insight into Barker’s concepts of hell and a far more involved understanding behind the nature of the Lemarchand Configuration. Furthermore, due to the very nature of the written format, the novella was also able to portray the colossal attack on the senses within the rituals to a far greater extent, with all of their subtle complexities realised in a way that allows the reader to envisage the true magnitude of what is happening with the utilisation of their own individually unique imagination.
The novella runs for a total of 128 pages.
© DLS Reviews