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The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker – A Literary Review

“Everything tires with time, and starts to seek some opposition, to save it from itself.” 
― Clive Barker.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the 1987 horror classic, Hellraiser (see our retro review here) and its ongoing franchise. Today we will be taking a look back at the novella, The Hellbound Heart, on which the film is based upon. The Hellbound Heart is a horror novella by Clive Barker, first published in November 1986, and produced as part of the third Night Visions anthology by Dark Harvest. 

After the success of the movie, the book was re-released as a standalone title by Harper-Collins in 1988 along with an audiobook recorded by Clive Barker and published by Simon & Schuster Audioworks. The novella itself retains the gory, visceral style that Barker introduced in his series of collected short stories, The Books of Blood and Damnation Game. The story focuses on a mystical puzzle box called Lemarchand box – the movie calls it the Lament Configuration box – that opens a gateway to unforeseen worlds most notably the labyrinth, known as the Leviathan. It takes us on a journey of the forever thrill-seeking Frank Cotton, who has submitted his will and initiation  into further explorations of self-sensory pleasure. He believes he has indulged in everything the world can offer. In the forever hope of carnal pleasure, Frank is left wanting more and more clearly enough is never enough.

I began analyzing the sheer vastness of the universe which consisted of not just Hell Priest or lead cenobites aka Pinhead, becoming the name adopted by the many billions of fans that quite frankly makes Hellraiser what it is today an epic monster franchise series.

Due to the franchise and focus on Doug Bradley as the ever-immortal Pinhead, the novella and original tale is overshadowed by its very own monster, and has become something more than The Hellbound Heart, the novella first set out to achieve. In its original incantation The Hellbound Heart is a love story of erotic proportions, mainly concerning Rory, Julia and Frank’s chase for everlasting thirst and exploration of pleasures unknown to man. Frank’s ever self-compulsive need to open gateways to the cenobites in their Faustian offerings of higher dimensions of pleasure. But in Frank’s case, a pleasure that is equally self-destructive neurosis in the further development of the self and will.

The Hellbound Heart is stoked in Catholic symbolism, which, is if one searches deep enough, follows similar replicas of ritualistic attainments. This was Clive’s way of trying to show the true horror of martyrdom, which is equally suffering and takes on such nihilistic extremes in Frank’s case. 

The opening sequences show Frank having taken refuge in his grandparent’s house after locating the owner of the box in Dusseldorf. Frank obtains the box and commits to a seven day ritual over a seven-day period, which consists of dove’s heads at peculiar compass alignments. Seven being of great significance to the holy qabalah. Other objects included is jugged urine and hypodermic needles at peculiar compass alignments. The story itself is stoked in metaphorical dark angles.

If one observes the Catholic artwork from the past, the needles could indeed be metaphors for the seven rays of occultism. The rays being interpenetrated as pins, other items worthy of note are severed dove’s heads clearly in mockery of the spiritual dove (the holy spirit), and its significance in mystical attainment. Meaning Frank won’t be rising the spiritual ladder of attainment, he will be sliding down instead. Clive claims and nearly every source work claims that the Cenobites are a mixture of punk rock and S&M, but I personally feel his occult studies were very attuned whilst writing The Hellbound Heart, and I have it on great authority that in the movie adaption, when Frank obtains the box, a glass of absinthe lays in full view and in the background a Caribbean hoodoo symbol was painted by Clive on the set whilst shooting that particular scene. This give us more than a feel that this is the work of  a great master, and not some shoddy spook show produced by Hollywood to say. “That symbol looks cool. Let’s use it, kids.”

After some time, Frank carefully caresses the box in circular movements the box begins to show movement. He is greeted by a mysterious music chime that seems to orchestrate and open up the angles of the room to another realm. He is then greeted by the Cenobites, who are known to be The Order of the Gash and ask him what he desires. Frank is obliterated into sensory overload and his mind, 0rgasmic. With the tick of every second, Frank soon becomes confused by the contortions and what looks to be sacrificed and damaged creatures… perhaps even victims of Lemachard’s charm. After Frank’s wish is granted, he is swept into the Labyrinth and came to know the Leviathan.

Frank’s brother just happens to be Julia’s husband, Rory, the third one in the lover’s triangle. The couple shortly move into the grandparent’s house after Frank’s fatal encounter with the Cenobites. Rory is unaware that his wife Julia, had an affair with Frank one week before their wedding, and has been hell bent on obsession ever since of rekindling her love affair with Frank. On the moving day of Rory and Julia, Rory cuts his hand on the spot where Frank sacrificed himself to the Cenobites – thus igniting the racial DNA that awakens Frank into this realm once again.

The Hellbound Heart takes on a strange turn as the story itself becomes an almost vampire novel. Julia, forever enthrallment and obsession in bringing Frank back into this realm, and Kirsty playing the good Samaritan as Rory’s friend – following Julia as she seduces and picks up men in allurement to resurrect Frank. The Hellbound Heart still stands as one of the greatest erotic horror tales ever written, and if anything, is a novella of unconditional love. A tale of time without remorse. And even through this, we endure the human condition with the mystery of Lemanchard box. I think it would be in fair judgment to leave it on these last few notes.

The Hellbound Heart Quotes

In his introduction to the Lesser Key of Solomon – also known as Clavicula Salomonis Regis or Lemegeton Goetia – Aleister Crowley argues that the work of demonic evocation is merely a form of psychological self-exploration. Lemegeton Goetia has since become a relatively well-known book of magic and has even been featured in places like the graphic novel Promethea by Alan Moore, James Blish’s novel Black Easter, and Kevin Kauffmann’s Forsaken Comedy trilogy.

About lfmccabe

Lee Francis McCabe is a British born aspiring Author/screenwriter who began writing at a young age. He commenced professionally at the age of 21 in the form of screenplay writing, resulting in three films produced in the UK, and two films produced in Cape Town / South Africa. His favourite authors include Ramsey Campbell, Bret Easton Ellis, William S. Burroughs, Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark and Richard Matheson. When he’s not talking film or literature, he’s busy writing fiction and chasing surrealism whilst trying his hardest not to sound like an enlightened asshole. He holds a degree in Media and Journalism, as well as Screenplay writing and Filmmaking.
Lee resides in Cape Town/South Africa and is working toward becoming an established author.

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