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Monday, 27 June 2011

"To Hell With You...." an article by Paul Kane

It’s almost twenty-five years since the world witnessed the birth of a very special genre mythology. Hellraiser, though only a small budget movie, would forever change the landscape of modern horror, flying in the face of the stalk and slasher movies so prevalent at the time and giving us characters the likes of which we’d never seen before. And it all started in the imagination of one man, a dreamer named Clive Barker; now, of course, a household name as a bestselling author, film-maker, producer and artist.

The seeds of the original film were sown when Barker was very small. For instance, his grandfather was a ship’s cook and would bring him back exotic presents from his voyages – one of which just happened to be a puzzle box from the Far East...Barker was also fascinated by a book on anatomy called De Humani Corporis Fabrica by the artist Andreas Vesalius (1543). This showed skinless figures in classical and relaxed poses, a definite inspiration for the way a certain skinless Frank would look in Hellraiser.

At Quarry Bank School in Liverpool, Barker met collaborators that would be pivotal to the series later on: Doug Bradley and Peter Atkins. But it was his talent for writing and directing plays that would bring such like-minded people together and eventually culminate in the Dog Company, a theatre group who put on plays like Dog, Nightlives and The History of the Devil – the latter again displaying his penchant for all things Hellish, as well as his love for the tradition of Grand Guignol theatre.

It was around this time that he also wrote short stories to amuse his friends in the company; tales that would end up collected in print as Clive Barker’s Books of Blood (the first three volumes of which were published by Sphere in England in 1984). Here there were also hints of what was to come in Hellraiser, particularly in stories like ‘Hell’s Event’ (demons competing for human souls) and ‘The Inhuman Condition’ (a character solves a knot puzzle and summons demonic forces). If that wasn’t enough, the writer’s inaugural book, The Damnation Game, was a take on his favourite version of the Faust myth by Christopher Marlowe. All these would end up in the melting pot when it came to penning the novella on which Hellraiser would be based.

Published in an anthology called Night Visions, alongside old friend Ramsey Campbell and Lisa Tuttle, Barker’s ‘The Hellbound Heart’ was the perfect genesis for the mythology, revolving around the Cotton family: hedonistic Frank, who solves a puzzle box he thinks will bring him the ultimate high, only to come face-to-face with demons who equate pain with pleasure; brother Rory – changed to Larry in the film; his wife Julia, who had once slept with Frank and will now do anything for him; and family friend Kirsty, changed to Larry’s daughter in Hellraiser. After film-maker George Pavlou made such disappointing adaptations of his work for Underworld (aka Transmutations) and Rawhead Rex, and with two short art-house films under his belt – Salome and The Forbidden (the latter also featuring hooded monks and a skinned man) – and with the aid of producer Christopher Figg, Barker set about finding finance for his own cinematic version of ‘The Hellbound Heart’.

Funding came in the shape of Roger Corman’s New World company, to the tune of $4.2 million, while actors attached to the project were Shakespearian thesp Clare Higgins (Julia), Sean Chapman (Frank) and heavyweight American actor Andrew Robinson from Dirty Harry (Larry). ‘Larry’s character is interesting. The way I’m approaching this is to also play the evil brother in a manner of speaking,’ said Robinson at the time. ‘For me they are one character and the way I’m playing the role is that there are seeds of Frank in Larry, even if Larry is a decent man.’ Fresh-faced US actress Ashley Laurence (Kirsty) also came on board after impressing Barker and Figg during a reading: ‘Clive tried to explain one scene to me, “Your uncle is in your father’s skin…” It seemed really weird but I just went with it. I always wanted to play a part that would allow me to explore raw emotions, not just being pretty or witty.’

To play the ‘Cenobites’, the demons that come when the Lament Configuration is solved, Barker drew on the talents of former Dog Company members Simon Bamford (Butterball), Nick Vince (Chatterer) and Doug Bradley (as ‘lead Cenobite’), who was actually given a choice of this character or removal man – which went in the end to another Dog Company member, Oliver Parker. ‘It seems odd to me now,’ said Bradley later, ‘but I very nearly settled for the latter. This was going to be my first movie, so why would I want to be buried in latex?’ Finally, for the imposing Female Cenobite, Barker employed his cousin, Grace Kirby.

In the technical stakes, make-up effects were in the safe hands of Bob Keen, who had worked on Return of the Jedi and Highlander, with stand-outs being not only Frank’s skin suits (sported by Oliver Smith), but his lengthy resurrection sequence and the Cenobite make-up. Cinematography was handled by veteran Robin Vidgeon and music by Christopher Young, who delivered a masterful score (originally the music was to have been provided by rock band Coil). And so the film was shot in London – at a reputedly haunted house in Dollis Hill, and a soundstage not far away.

‘With Hellraiser, we’re delving into the dark side of desire,’ promised Barker. ‘This is an extremely dark story, but there’s visual grace and elegance present…The imagery we’re employing is, as far as the creatures from hell are concerned, something that hasn’t been done before. They’re like sadomasochists from beyond the grave,’ coincidentally the working title of the piece. He didn’t disappoint, and upon its release Hellraiser recouped its production costs in just three short days.

Audiences were thrilled, not only by the visceral and outlandish content, but the relationships at the core of the movie and – out of all proportion to their screen time – the Cenobites. In particular Doug’s ‘Pinhead’, as they were now calling him, was singled out as a more eloquent horror icon. Unsurprisingly, plans were already afoot for a sequel. ‘Hellraiser was designed to be a showreel, and that showreel became a big success,’ said Barker, and although he still wanted to be around as executive producer he had no wish to actually write or direct a follow-up. This would be the territory of two men. Peter Atkins was an old school friend of Barker’s who had shown him some of his fiction and who Barker was convinced could come up with a great screenplay, in spite of having no experience in this field. ‘I spent an evening with Clive and he told me the story. I borrowed the previous Hellraiser script. I had no idea what scripts looked like, but I knew the rhythm of movies, and two and a half weeks later I had a first draft,’ admitted Atkins.

Tony Randel worked for New World and visited the set of the first movie – even helping out to such extent that he was given a ‘thank you’ in the end credits. ‘I wanted to bring something new to the sequel,’ said Randel. ‘I knew it would feel contextually the same because Clive and I have a similarity of styles to start with, but I wanted to enlarge the scope of the picture. It eventually encompasses the entirety of hell itself, which creates a kind of inverse claustrophobia: you’re in this vast open space where anything can happen, which can be more oppressive than being in a closed, inescapable place.’

Set in a psychiatric hospital just hours after the events in the first film, this brought back Kirsty – now on an Orpheus-like trek to rescue her father from Hell. Little does she realise, however, that the head Doctor Malahide (changed to Channard for the film, and played to perfection by British actor Kenneth Cranham) wants to visit Hell too; so much so that he brings a skinless Julia back using a mattress from the house and a very disturbed patient obsessed with self harm. Support came from the characters of young puzzle-solving mute Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) and junior doctor Kyle (William Hope from Aliens). The Cenobites were also back with a bit more time on screen, and with a new Female Cenobite (Barbie Wilde) in tow. Not only that, we got to meet their dark god, Leviathan.

Opinion was divided over Hellbound: Hellraiser II when it came out in 1988, with a strictly hate it or love it response from many. The main bone of contention appeared to be the ease with which the demon version of Channard defeated the other Cenobites, including Pinhead (a lack of time and money for a decent scrap). In fact, Pinhead’s popularity was growing by the month – so much so that plans were scrapped to make Julia the recurring villain of the franchise. ‘Clive’s original wish was that Julia…would be the Freddy Krueger of the series,’ Atkins explained. ‘What happened, of course, was the public got in the way. They fell in love with Pinhead.’ Nevertheless, it would be a few years until another sequel would come about.

When New World disintegrated, it left the question of who owned the rights to the Hellraiser series in doubt. Eventually, Lawrence Kuppin – erstwhile New World co-chairman – along with Harry Evans Sloan and Bob Bennett, set up Trans Atlantic Pictures and planned to bring out a number of horror sequels, including Hell on Earth (1992). A number of ideas had been batted around in the interim, such as an Egyptian Hellraiser and one where Pinhead would become a kind of Jason slasher figure tormenting teens. In the end Atkins came up with a Pinhead-focussed movie that explored the origins of the character, hinted at in the preliminary scenes of Hellbound. The demon’s human alter-ego, a British Captain called Elliott Spencer, attempts to stop the monster breaking free from the Pillar of Souls and causing chaos on Earth. The only person who can stop him this time is TV reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell).

Set and shot completely in the US, and with an America crew, the choice of director was, oddly, UK-born film-maker Anthony Hickox, after Randel had a disagreement with the producers. With only the horror comedies Waxwork, Waxwork II and Sundown: Vampire in Retreat to his credit, Hickox was also a controversial choice. But his fast-paced style and action-orientated set-pieces did reinvigorate the series, helping it do well at the box office. ‘Hell On Earth is exactly what I was looking for,’ said Hickox in his defence, ‘a serious horror movie… In this story Pinhead becomes a central character and the audience learns about his history. I think this film really ties up the other two. It completes the trilogy and helps fill in gaps in the entire story.’ Barker returned to help out in post-production, also promoting the movie alongside Candyman.

At a wrap party one of the cast uncannily predicted what might happen in the next film by suggesting, ‘They should send Pinhead into space!’ While this wasn’t the major impetus for Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), the storyline – which covered three different timelines and three incarnations of Lemarchand, designer of the box (all played by Bruce Ramsey) – did have a framing sequence set on a space station. The most troubled shoot in Hellraiser’s history, it was hampered by lack of money to realise Peter Atkins’ ambitious script – especially an extended version of the 18th Century section – a change in directors when effects man Kevin Yagher quit, to be replaced by Joe (Curse of Michael Myers) Chappelle, earning the film the notorious Alan Smithee moniker, various other crew changes, a fire, a strike and a case of chickenpox. ‘Essentially, I wanted to make a story about the box and be true to the fans by detailing the history of where it came from. My whole idea was that I didn’t want to do a Hellraiser IV where Pinhead slaughters a bunch of people,’ said Yagher admirably. ‘It was less painful for me to walk away than to sit there and watch it day to day. Then I could just see the final thing and say, “Well, they did this and they did that to it.” But I didn’t have to see every step. It’s like pulling butt hairs out...’

A couple of things the movie had going for it, though, were Gary Tunnicliffe’s make-ups (Gary had joined the crew for Hell on Earth and did such a great job, he’s still working on them today) and Valentina Vargas as sexy new Cenobite Angelique. ‘For the first time in my career, I’m playing a villainess in a horror movie, and I’m really loving it,’ she gushed. ‘In the third story, Angelique is a Cenobite because she’s surrendered to Pinhead, but in the first two tales, she’s like a serpent because she’ll trick, seduce and manipulate people. They’ll think they’re in Heaven until she turns around and backstabs them.’

Bloodline received only a limited theatrical release, yet it’s a testament to the Hellraiser fanbase that it did as well as it did, paving the way for another potential sequel. In spite of some excellent pitches for Hellraiser V, one of which – by the award-winning duo writer/editor and Hellraiser I-III unit publicist Stephen Jones and author Michael Marshall Smith – would have seen a return to London and to the heyday of the mythos, producers at Miramax who now owned the franchise plumped for the creative team of Scott Derrickson (writer/director) and Paul Harris Boardman (co-writer). Left to their own devices they came up with the straight to video Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), which followed the mental disintegration of policeman Thorne (Craig Sheffer) who is investigating a death linked to the box. Fans of the series were less than pleased when Pinhead only featured for a few minutes at the end of this one. Doug Bradley was also put out: ‘Dimension…sent me the screenplay and they clearly wanted my opinion and I had two opinions, one was that I didn’t think it was good enough, and the second was that I was surprised that I was in it so little.’ Derrickson’s response to criticism, which also came from Barker himself, was an open letter to Esplatter in which he stated, ‘The Hellraiser franchise had (in my opinion) travelled too far in one direction and had quite simply run out of steam. The only interesting path to take in creating another sequel seemed to be the path of total reinvention.’

Hope came in the shape of a director willing to listen more to the fans. Rick Bota set about trying to take the elements of the mythos and weave them into a worthy sequel, with the help of screenwriters Carl V. Dupre and Tim Day, who were also admirers of the earlier movies. Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) also promised one of the most mouth-watering reunions of all time. Yes, Kirsty would be back to confront Pinhead once more! ‘I got a call from Doug Bradley at home,’ said Ashley Laurence, ‘and kind of out of the blue he said that he was doing Hellraiser and that the director was talking about the fact that he would love to bring back the Kirsty character in a cameo. And [Doug] thought he would take matters into his own hands and call me at home to see if I was interested...’

Given the popularity of her character, however, it seems now that an opportunity to expand the storyline was wasted; and even the dramatic meet-up between the two was shortened (you can see the full version in the DVD extras). In spite of being underused, Kirsty’s presence is felt in every frame, as we follow the trials and tribulations of her husband, Trevor (Dean Winters), to their ultimate and satisfactory conclusion.

So enamoured with the Hellraiser universe was Bota that he stayed on to direct the subsequent two sequels, shot back-to-back in Romania. Hellraiser: Deader was based on a Neal Marshall Stevens original script and had the mythos elements grafted, often quite clumsily, onto it. Said Stevens, ‘In addition [to] the script being changed to incorporate the Hellraiser mythology, it was also changed in locale from the lower East Side of Manhattan to London and Romania. Most painfully of all, the second writer [Day] felt the need to “sex up” my scare sequences with “boo” moments that they did not previously possess because I think such moments suck.’ Thankfully, Eight Legged Freaks’s Kari Wuhrer turned in an excellent performance as newspaper reporter Amy Klein, exploring the use of the box in underground culture but becoming entangled in the mythos herself. ‘I love, love, love Rick Bota,’ Wuhrer said of the director. ‘He is the most fun, hard working, creative, and energetic person I can say I had the pleasure of working with. He made us all laugh, he made me feel creative and strong and important, like what I had to say mattered.’

Hellraiser: Hellworld, conversely, was set once more in America and concentrated on a fansite that was offering invites to a Hellraiser party hosted by Lance Henriksen – supposedly the most ardent fan of the series ever. But when the teens who arrive are killed off in various ways, and the Cenobites show up, the boundaries between fantasy and reality look set to break down. Speaking about the project, effects man Gary Tunnicliffe offered: ‘There’s lots and lots of gore…and there will be an appearance by Chatterer. Doug is coming back to do Pinhead again.’

Right now, interest in Hellraiser is at an all-time high, and not just because of the 25th Anniversary. A ninth film in the series – Hellraiser: Revelations – was filmed at the end of 2010, a brand new imagining of the franchise is on the cards in the future from Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer, BOOM! studios have just begun releasing new Hellraiser comics material penned by Clive himself – and all that’s before we get to the Hellraiser story he has written for his next collection, and of course the long-awaited Scarlet Gospels which pits the Prince of Pain against another Barker favourite, detective Harry D’Amour from Lord of Illusions...

Whatever the future of Hellraiser is there can be no doubting its huge impact on the genre: giving us one of the most enduring franchises of all time and a true horror ‘hall of fame’ icon in the form or Pinhead. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip to Hell as much as I have, but no tears please – you know as well as I do it’s just a waste of good suffering…


For an even more detailed study of all the Hellraiser movies, Paul Kane’s hardback book The Hellraiser Films and their Legacy, introduced by Doug Bradley with behind the scenes photos and Clive Barker sketches, is available now from McFarland books (as well as,,, and others). Visit Paul’s website at for more details.

© Paul Kane 2011.

Revised from an article first published in Scars magazine.


To hear Paul Kane read from his own fiction as well as discuss the influence of Clive Barker be sure to come to our Twisted Tales event on August 5th: Hellbound Hearts.

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