"The Hellbound Heart" Book Review
Written by Giuseppe Infante
Published by Harper Perennial
Written by Clive Barker
1986, 176 pages, Fiction
Released on October 2nd, 2007
The Hellbound Heart follows a dysfunctional family's encounter with the Lemarchand Configuration, a mysterious puzzle box synonymous with summoning the Cenobites; a group of demonic beings from another realm of extreme pain and pleasure. The novella is the source material for the film Hellraiser, and is infamous for introducing 'Pinhead,' the lead Cenobite with a grid of pins nailed into his head. Unlike the franchise's terrible sequels, in The Hellbound Heart, the Cenobites are not the focal antagonist, though they are always up for a kill. Frank Cotton is the deviant looking to spill blood for his escape, as the Cenobites captured him when he opened the gate to their dimension through the puzzle box. After his brother Rory and sister-in-law Julia move back to their childhood family home, the two find the remnants of Frank's squatting. When Rory cuts his hand, blood lands where Frank was taken and it opens a portal to the Cenobite's dimension, enabling Frank to escape their world.
Clive Barker's novella about sadomasochistic monsters on the hunt for a nihilist prick explores greed, lust, obsession, dominance, and marital issues. The character of Kirsty plays a crucial role in this dysfunctional family. Though she is not related by blood, she is a close friend to Rory and is treated like family. Blindly, he has no idea she is secretly in love with him. This makes for an interesting dynamic between Julia and Kirsty. Barker does a fantastic job breathing life into all of his characters, making you love and hate them more and more as the story unravels.
Written in what is now known as Barker's signature of elegance, piss and grit, this style at the time was new in horror fiction – now you can find his influence all over the genre. When the Cenobites first appear, Barker's prose begins to shine with polar sensation:
Why then was he so distressed to set eyes upon them? Was it the scars that covered every inch of their bodies, the flesh cosmetically punctured and sliced and infibulated, then dusted down with ash? Was it the smell of vanilla they brought with them, the sweetness of which did little to disguise the stench beneath? Or was it that as the light grew, and he scanned them more closely, he saw nothing of joy, or even humanity, in their maimed faces: only desperation, and an appetite that made his bowels ache to be voided.
The juxtaposition of the Cenobites appearance with their scent gives these beings a distinct touch, thus leading to Frank wanting to shit himself. As Frank shares dialogue with them, you cannot help but get chills from Barker's concept of the Cenobites:
The thing's face broke open, its lips curling back: a baboon's smile. "Not as you understand it," came the reply. Frank made to interrupt, but the creature raised a silencing hand. "There are conditions of the nerve endings," it said, "the like of which your imagination, however fevered, could not hope to evoke.
That last sentence is diabolical, pure horror – there is no need for bodies to dismember in this prose, though it doesn't hurt (or does it?). The illustration used by Barker captures the gruesome appearance and spine tingling interaction with the 'Demon Priest,' as Barker officially named 'Pinhead' in the recently published, long awaited sequel, The Scarlet Gospels.
Without giving too much away, this story is one that sticks for the long haul, fulfilling a thirst for pain and pleasure. Stephen King says in his essay, "Why We Crave Horror Movies," that we have anti-civilization emotions that "...don't go away and need to be periodically exercised." Reading The Hellbound Heart would be like hitting the gym hardcore. Sometimes you need to feel dread, fear and terror to cleanse one's self, and reading this book should do the trick. Don't expect blood to be shed on every page, because this story is not just about the guts spilling all over the place. Imagine feeling every orgasm you've ever had all at once… followed by getting torn to shreds. Barker not only exemplifies gore, he delves into the psyche of his characters, sucking you into Julia, Kirsty and Rory's supernatural encounters with brother Frank and the Cenobites. But don't worry – there is just the right amount of blood and guts to spare.
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