Of all the horror movie franchises that came about in the 80s and 90s, Hellraiser was always my favorite. Sure, I liked the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and Friday the 13th and Childs Play were good too. I loved Halloween. But Hellraiser was different for me. Other than Halloween, I wouldn’t go back and watch those moves over and over again. Hellraiser I could always watch and be as absorbed in the movie after a tenth viewing vs the first time.
So, imagine my surprise when I got a little older and a little wiser and realized Hellraiser was based on a book. And not only was it just based on a book, the screen play was written and the movie was directed by the guy who wrote the book! What that means to me isn’t that the book and movie are going to be exactly the same but it does mean they will have the same feel, and cover the same themes and the film does exactly that.
The realization that Hellraiser was more than just a slasher horror movie brought Clive Barker to my attention. So, I went out and found a copy of The Hellbound Heart (the novella Hellraiser is based on) and I was blown away. I’m always hesitant to say the cliché, “the book is better than the movie” when talking about books based on movies because they are each their own unique thing.
A book is going to give the reader different perspectives than a movie is going to give a viewer. The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser are no different. The book is different than the movie. It gives you different information and it is presented in a different way, but the theme of each is the same, focusing on pleasure and pain and the needs of one’s own ego.
While there are a few differences in characters, the biggest difference is the inclusion of the now famous Pinhead character. While in Hellraiser and in all its subsequent sequels, Pinhead is the lead antagonist, the book looks at the Cenobites as the antagonists. The Pinhead character itself is only briefly mentioned. This has more to do with the state of horror movies at the time it was made.
Other horror movies had the iconic villains we know about today, Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and the Hellraiser movies needed a singular villain to feature if they wanted to compete with the other franchises. Because of that we got Pinhead. This gives the viewer a single person to focus on instead of just a group of Cenobites. But it is something that is not necessarily needed in the book. So, it’s not there and I think both the film and the novella are better because of it.
The Hellbound Heart is my go to Halloween read. I don’t always read it in October, but at some point, in the fall, I will pick it up and re-read it. In my opinion it’s one of the most underrated horror books of all time. The length has a lot to do with that.
My copy runs at 164 pages. There is not a word wasted and the reader still gets a sense of the background and motivations of each character. It is concise and tells the gruesome story in the minimum amount of words needed to tell it.
Barkers most famous works are his Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart has the same feel as all the stories in that collection. I don’t know if they were written around the same time, but I would venture to guess that they were and given that they were published around the same time, I’d almost go so far as to say The Hellbound Heart should be considered an extension of the Books of Blood because of how closely it relates to those stories.
The movie is also fast paced and there is very little need for build up. It opens with the box and gets the viewer right into the story. Again, there are very few, if any, superfluous scenes in Hellraiser and it makes the film re-watchable even after all these years.
One of my favorite things I’ve started doing recently is not reading too much about a book or movie or tv show before I start watching it. I like the element of not knowing what is coming up. If it’s recommended by someone I trust, that’s good enough for me. So, if for some reason you haven’t read The Hellbound Heart or seen Hellraiser I think you’ve waited long enough. This is the right time to go pick up these classics and give them the attention they deserve.