Hellraiser #1

“The tear began at the bridge of his nose and ran up, across his brow and down, bisecting his lips and his chin, then his neck and chest. In a matter of seconds his shirt was dyed red, his dark suit darkening further, his cuffs and trouser-legs pouring blood. The skin flew off his hands like gloves off a surgeon, and two rings of scarlet tissue lolled down to either side of his flayed face like the ears of an elephant.”

Given the above passage taken from Clive Barker’s short story, Jaqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament, it would be fair to say that he is a man who thrives on description – the more brutal the better some would say. Of course Barker hasn’t always been a writer, sometimes he’s chosen to show us vivid moving images of gore instead of very well described ones. The first of these efforts was the British horror movie Hellraiser, which introduced the world to Hell’s own S & M crowd, the Cenobites.

Now it would be fair to say that through a number of sequels which have steadily declined in quality the Cenobites, & in particular their leader Pinhead, have become somewhat misunderstood (which is a polite way of saying fucked up beyond all comprehension). So the fact that these characters are now back in the hands of the man that made them is something of a big deal. This is the first time that Clive Barker has directly revisited the mythos of Hellraiser since the original movie, even though his legion of fans has been eagerly awaiting his “Death of Pinhead” novel, The Scarlet Gospels for about a decade now. Being that I am one of the aforementioned legion & having never read either a Hellraiser comic or one of Barkers previous sequential efforts, I had questions as to how well it would all translate. The answer, I’m happy to say, is loud & clear.

Working with Chris Monfette, Barker has crafted a story that feels like an extension of his original movie rather than a simple spin off written to pay for his summer holiday. All of the quirks that made the first two Hellraiser movies so damn enjoyable are present & correct, as is all the imagery that goes with them. Despite having to stand behind Tim Bradstreet’s outstanding cover, Leonardo Manco does a bang up job of making Barker’s Hell look pretty damn hellish. While I can only imagine the expression that must have crossed his face whilst reading the script, Manco turns in some incredibly deft panel work that contributes well to the pacing of the story. Occasionally some of the more detailed line work can look a little mixed up but considering how much Manco has to put onto each page (especially in the scenes set in Hell) I still think his work does a fine job of standing up for itself & contributes well to the telling of the story.

So what of the story? Well all of the standard issue Hellraiser tropes are present & correct. Shiny macguffin that opens door to Hell? Check. People being turned inside out by flying chains? Check. Mystical murderous nutters dressed in leather. Check. Everything here is familiar territory for anyone who’s ever seen one of the movies, but Barker & Monfette have made sure it that it doesn’t feel stale. It’s not just the characters or the tropes that are familiar though, it’s the theme’s as well. Barker’s characters have always been concerned with the search for a deeper understanding that goes beyond the world around them & this story is no different. But this time its Pinhead that is searching for something new – after years of the same old schtick he’s bored & wants a change of scene. In short he wants to be human. But at what cost?

It’s this idea with its inversion of the typical Hellraiser plot that is the series biggest draw for me. I’m genuinely excited to see where the series will go with it. Despite Barker’s assertions that The Scarlet Gospels will be his final word on Pinhead, it’s quite clear with this series that he still has something to say about the character & I for one look forward to listening.