The Hellbound Heart - Clive Barker


Here we are with another horror read for spooky month. This time it's a look back at Clive Barker's little known book The Hellbound Heart.

It's funny when we look back at books that we have read previously, and  the things that we take away books, both then, and now.

About the Book

The classic tale of supernatural obsession from the critically acclaimed master of darkness--and the inspiration for the cult classic film Hellraiser

From his scores of short stories, bestselling novels, and major motion pictures, no one comes close to the vivid imagination and unique terrors provided by Clive Barker. The Hellbound Heart is one of Barker's best--a nerve-shattering novella about the human heart and all the great terrors and ecstasies within its endless domain. It is about greed and love, desire and death, life and captivity, bells and blood. It is one of the most frightening stories you are likely to ever read.

Frank Cotton's insatiable appetite for the dark pleasures of pain led him to the puzzle of Lemarchand's box, and from there, to a death only a sick-minded soul could invent. But his brother's love-crazed wife, Julia, has discovered a way to bring Frank back--though the price will be bloody and terrible . . . and there will certainly be hell to pay.

Whenever The Hellbound Heart is mentioned, so is a comparison with the film, and I am afraid that they are going to mentioned side by side by me.

Mostly, when you see an adaptation from book to film, the book is usually a different beast to the film. However, with Clive Barkers seminal horror they are very close, with some minor changes and some expansive parts on the part of the film that are not in the book. Yep, there is no Clive Barker cameo in this book devouring a handful of locusts.

The main changes come from differences in name. Larry in the film is Rory in the book, and Kirsty is not the daughter but a friend of Rory’s who is secretly in love with him.

Now I read this many years ago after being introduced to Clive Barker after seeing the film. When I read this many, many years ago, I don’t think that I appreciated it for what it was. In fact, I recall being a little disappointed because what I thought I would be getting was more of the Cenobites, who they were, what they were and maybe a more fleshed out back story (I know! there may be some naivete there, but I was quite young at the time). And added to the fact that I had not long read Cabal (later filmed as Nightbreed), and the Damnation game, I was expecting something like this. Obviously, it was nothing like either of them and my first impression was ‘I will stick with the film thank you very much’

However, it occurred to me later in my life after watching Hellraiser again, was that in actuality, I was focussing on the wrong thing in both the book and the film i.e., much like any teenage boy – the monsters. I then realised my younger self did not really get the other bits. The tale of obsession and the pursuit of dark pleasures. That was the bit that I got later on and then I subsequently read The Hellbound Heart again, with the recognition of the actual tale not the visuals.

Yeah, I know, I suppose everyone is going to say ‘Oh no, I got it straight away!’, but I will be honest, I didn’t! And it was not until I was not as focussed on what was front of my eyes, but to the layers beneath that I finally got it and got an appreciation for the book.

As you know, the book tells the story of Frank, Julia, Rory and Kirsty.

Frank is …. I don’t know how to give a positive spin on Frank because there isn’t one!

Julia is in love (lust) with Frank, and after having a bit of a thing with him before getting married to his brother Rory and now she realises that she doesn’t like Rory and that she is obsessed with Frank.

Rory is in love with Julia

And Kirsty is in love with Rory

In essence, it’s like Bouquet of Barbed wire with lots of blood.

I found that on this reading rather than the horror aspect of the story, i.e. the cenobites, the killing of men for their blood etc, it was the obsessional tones of the book that I found almost cloying in their representation. Not just Julia’s infatuation with Frank and the promise of dark delights, but also Kirsty’s unrequited love for Rory, and in turn, Rory’s almost blind obsession with his wife. There seems to be this circle of toxicity between the four main protagonists that is soul destroying (literally!)

I mean, Julia’s obsession with Frank is totally contaminated and she spends a large amount of time determining what she wants from the twisted relationship. She realises that he woke in her passions that she did not know existed, and like Pandora, she can never put these feelings back in their box and subsequently finds that she is not happy with her lot in life, and in order to escape uses the subversive demands of Frank as a means to escape that she does not want.

I think more than anything that I took away from the story this time, is that I felt that this is Julia’s story, and I never really picked up on that previously. I didn’t realise how much the pivotal events revolve around Julia’s desperation to change the path that she is on and how much she will do to change her fate in order to leave the mundanity of her marriage to Rory.

In terms of characters, I have to admit that apart from Julia, I find most of them a little flat to be honest, particularly Rory, who kind of blunders around and doesn’t do much of anything really, and similarly with Frank to be honest. I didn’t find any particularly fleshed out nuances to his character, and I don’t in the film to be fair. It is the two female leads that are the most interesting for me, and Kirsty doesn’t really come into it until the end. For most of the story she is a mirror to Julia, although it is the flip side to Julia’s darkness. Her love for Rory is a lighter obsession than Julia’s. It Is not until we get to the last act of the story that we Kirsty’s character really comes into its own and she does what she can to try to save Rory.

In addition to this, there is the underlying themes of differing sexual proclivities and the tale of repressed sexuality. I found it to be a fascinating tale of love and lust and the effect that this can have on the psyche, but also Julia’s desperation to escape from a loveless marriage and the underlying exploration of sexuality. 



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