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The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

By gp | Books | January 12, 2010 |

By gp | Books | January 12, 2010 |

I thought it may be difficult to re-read a story I enjoyed so long ago when the movie version has been on repeat in my house for the better part of 2 decades. I figured re-reading this after seeing Hellraiser over 100 times would be a stale waste of time.

It wasn’t.

In fact, if anything, The Hellbound Heart, the short novella that started it all, has been bumped up my favorites ladder. I’ve been trying to remember the nuances of the movie, but since reading this book, little pieces of what I thought I remembered have been fleeting. I can’t remember Hellraiser or any of the sequels (which of course, I own) mentioning the Order of the Gash, only referring to the demons as Cenobites. Little details that were changed for the movie (Kirsty being Rory’s daughter, for example) now seem just an irritant, after reading the story this time around. Barker added much more detail in so few words than I ever saw on-screen.

Frank Cotton is an asshole. He wants what he wants and he cares not whom he hurts. Having scouted the globe for new and aberrant pleasures, he sets himself on a quest for the Lemarchand Configuration, a puzzle box that opens the dimensional doorways into the Unknown. Having found the box, he squats in his deceased parents’ home and attempts to solve it. Once undone, the Cenobites show up to not only grant his wishes, but make sure he regrets ever having longed for something more. And then, back to Hell, with Frank’s soul in tow….

Rory Cotton has decided to refurbish his childhood home and live there with his wife Julia, and anyone familiar with her knows she’s no innocent. She had a pre-marital affair with her fiancee’s brother (and by pre-marital, I mean mere hours before the ceremony, on top of her wedding gown, in this very house.) While fixing up the home, Rory cuts himself and goes to find Julia, who is reminiscing upstairs in the room Frank had sexed her, the same room in which the Cenobites had found him. Tending to her husband’s wound, she doesn’t realize the floorboards are sucking up the fallen blood….

At a dinner party, we meet Kirsty, who is a bit unsure of herself and drinking a little much. After Julia excuses herself, she returns to the room to find… skinless, unformed Frank, who has just found his loophole, his Get Out of Hell Free card. He convinces Julia that she can bring him back from his torments and they can be together. After Julia relents, Frank informs her he needs more blood, setting her off to seduce men she meets in bars, and then murder them in Frank’s room.

Of course, Rory feels Julia’s growing detachment and has his friend Kirsty follow Julia around, hoping (or not hoping) to catch her infidelities. After Kirsty discovers nearly-formed Frank, they struggle and she runs off with the Lemarchand box. Kirsty is bloody, beaten, half-crazed, and therefore hospitalized. While in the hospital, she holds the box, trying to grasp all she has seen, and unwittingly opens it.

The Cenobite who appears understands that she was ignorant of what the box was, that it was not Kirsty’s intention at all to gain new insights, new juxtapositions of reality. But rules are rules, and a soul must be taken back. Through some bargaining, Kirsty assures the Cenobite that she can help recapture one who has escaped them, one Frank Cotton. She would have to trick Frank into revealing himself, into confessing what he has done, and then (maybe, just maybe) Kirsty’s soul wouldn’t be torn apart.

Overall, what should have been a quick read, wasn’t.

I found myself pausing and constructing every paragraph, the familiar images of actors and locations and special effects took on new life this time around. Barker is a master of saying so much with so little.

Anyone who enjoyed Hellraiser or any of its sequels (Bloodlines is a favorite) will enjoy reading The Hellbound Heart.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of gp’s reviews, check out his blog, Guity Partner.

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