Pros: Great storytelling by Barker in a short amount of time, terrifying and interesting
Cons: You have to remove yourself from the movie
I realize it's been a while since I've written another Clive Barker review, but I've been knee deep in not only homework, but addicted to non-fiction. My most recent foray into the Barker universe had me reading his most famous novel, The Hellbound Heart, published in 1986, later made into a horror film called Hellraiser by Barker himself.
The Hellbound Heart is about a man named Frank who's looking for the newest way to get his pleasure and pain fix so he happens upon a puzzle box supposedly enchanted that will help with his experiences. Needless to say he gets tortured and sent to hell in a bloody pulp afterwards. Fast forward some time later and his brother and sister-in-law move into the said house (which is co-owned by both brothers).
After an accident involving Rory (Frank's nice brother) cutting his hand and spilling blood all over the floor in his old pleasure room, Frank starts to materialize, but needs help getting back his strength. With the help of Julia (Rory's wife, also Frank's little lover, what a slut), men are lured to the house where they are sacrificially killed and sucked dry of nutrients in order for Frank to come back to life. Kristy is Rory's friend and suspects Julia's treachery as being adultery, but she's not the only one suspicious because the minions of hell are also looking for Frank--because no one escapes from eternal damnation.
When I think of Clive Barker's work, I don't think of his other novels as much as this one because my mind conjures up the iconic images that he created within this work like the demonic characters and intriguing bloody bits. This was probably one of the weirdest factors within the book because I tried my hardest to separate the fiction from the film and it was very difficult for me because I grew up with the movie (don't ask) and just recently read the book. Both mediums are completely different. Personally, I enjoyed the film much better because it solves some of the knotty aspects of the book and makes changes that I think help the overall narrative (Kristy is Rory's daughter instead of friend in the movie among other things).
This was Barker's second novel after The Damnation Game and probably has more in common with his Books of Blood series of short stories. It's bloody and grim much like that collection and gets to the point much faster than some of his longer and bloated works, which I really liked. The Hellbound Heart moves at a staggering fast pace and clocks in at one hundred and sixty some pages, but the lettering (at least in my edition) is pretty big, which makes the pages fly by at a ridiculous page. I started the book and read two chapters a night only to finish it in a week (with a few nights skipped due to school).
Like the title suggests, I find this novel to be Barker's homage to Edgar Allan Poe and a worthy submission to the horror community as far as books are concerned. This is the book that really proved what he was worth in the genre and has many terrifying parts that are genuinely creepy especially relating to the demons. While you won't see the horror franchise's character, Pinhead, in this book (it's originally an androgynous demon creature), there are still some cool parts dealing with gore and sexual perversity among the villains. That being said, it goes without saying that some of the content may be too much for some readers as it gets pretty graphic like most of Barker's work.
The big question, like in all things horror, is: who's the real monster, the demons or Julia and Frank's game? This was the propelling notion that kept it an interesting and entertaining read, but also what makes the film so good.
I'm quite fond of Clive Barker's debut novel, The Damnation Game, but I think that it's within the pages of this book that he finds his voice and direction that has followed him throughout the rest of his career. I loved the brevity of the book as it had the balls of a long story, but the bulk of a shorter story and I loved how fast it moved.
The only thing that held me back from enjoying it to the fullest was that I could not possibly separate myself from the film so I found myself constantly jumping back and forth between the two in order to get the story, which was distracting. Again, it's totally my issue, but worth mentioning if you are a fan of the film as well. The Hellbound Heart is a helluva bargain and can be found in most used book stores upwards from $2.50--mine was definitely worth the cost.
© Jason Haskins, 2009
The Damnation Game (1985)
Visions of Heaven and Hell (2005)