Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Monday, 18 July 2011

‘Demons to Some’ (from Chapter 3 of The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy) by Paul Kane

There can be no denying the Cenobites’ contribution to making Hellraiser a milestone of the genre. Their total screen time is approximately seven minutes, but their impact is out of all proportion to this. Yet their introduction - or lack thereof - may certainly have something to do with the phenomenon. At the start of the film we are only granted extremely quick flashes of them: the Female Cenobite in close up, Pinhead’s hands as he picks up pieces of Frank’s face, a shot of him standing up with the nails in his head visible. Then they are gone. After this sudden sensory overload, we are deprived: all is quiet, and the camera is free to pull back and away from the room where we just encountered them. Just as the box does with Frank and Kirsty, this piques the audience’s curiosity and forces them to ask questions about exactly who these strange beings are. How can it not? We know they must be integral to the story, but why? 

When we do finally see the Cenobites properly, it is the look of them that captivates. At the time audiences had never seen characters like these. They were totally original, a tricky thing to accomplish in a cliché-driven genre like horror. The closest precursors are actually from a different, though obviously related, genre: science fiction. They are the members of the Spice Guild in David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sprawling epic Dune (1984). The entourage who bring on the monstrously mutated Guild Navigator at the very beginning of the film for a meeting with The Emperor are dressed in long leather or PVC robes and have pus-ridden sores. The look of the bald Bene Gesserit witches also resembles that of the Female Cenobite, and Baron Harkonnen’s playthings have open bloodstained wounds. Whether or not this influenced former Dog Company costume designer Jane Wildgoose is open to speculation, but there were other very real and traceable lines of origin. 

When he first came down to London, Barker found himself illustrating a couple of centerfolds for some S&M magazines, which later were investigated by Scotland Yard for their content. The magazines were burnt, which Barker found to be ‘the ultimate compliment’ (1). His interest in the taboos of society has always been great, and when researching the Cenobites he definitely returned to this hunting ground. One magazine in particular proved invaluable: Piercing Fans International Quarterly, which showed people with hooks inserted in their flesh, bodies dangling from chains - itself following the heritage of men like Fakir Musafar, the human pincushion who warranted a feature in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. There are also people in the Philippines who regularly practice piercing themselves or hanging from hooks embedded in their skin as a kind of spiritual experience, while Native Americans practiced a similar ritual for their Sun Dances. Going back even further in history the most prominent examples would have to be the Spanish Inquisition and their various pieces of equipment for deriving pain from their victims, as well as the writings of the Marquis de Sade (2)

The look of the Cenobites was to be a kind of modern primitive, but perversely stylish, with clothes that intermingled with the wounds they had inflicted on themselves. Barker also had the initial sketches he’d come up with to help everyone visualize what he wanted, plus of course descriptions in The Hellbound Heart like this one:

‘Why then was he so distressed to set eyes upon them? Was it the scars that covered every inch of their bodies; the flesh cosmetically punctured and sliced and infibulated, then dusted down with ash? Was it the smell of vanilla they brought with them, the sweetness of which did little to disguise the stench beneath? or was it that as the light grew, and he scanned them more closely, he saw nothing of joy, or even humanity, in their maimed faces: only desperation, and an appetite that made his bowels ache to be voided.’ (3)

So his message to the costume designers was quite specific when it came to the Cenobites. Says Jane Wildgoose of a meeting she had with him:

He gave me some very clear indications of what he’d like and then I did my research… My notes say that he wanted: 1) Areas of revealed flesh where some kind of torture has or is occurring; 2) Something associated with butchery involved. And here we have a very Clive turn of phrase. I’ve written down ‘repulsive glamour’. And other notes I’ve made about what he wanted is that they should be “magnificent superbutchers”. (4)

The ‘repulsive glamour’ comment is imperative as it’s something Barker has referred to a lot. The beauty of horrific images and even the attraction we have to them as observers. To quote him: ‘I certainly get a lot of letters from people who think that Pinhead in Hellraiser, for all his strange disfigurements, is sexy, endearing. There are more things going on in other words in these kinds of strange disfigurements than simply saying this is disgusting, this is repulsive’ (5). Pinhead is very much the embodiment of this mode of thinking, which is one of the reasons why his character has endured and reached the heights of horror movie icon. But what are the others? 

The horror genre is one that lends itself exceptionally well to iconography. The vampire with fangs and cloak, the hairy werewolf and shambling zombie with tattered clothes. Every so often a film comes along that delivers a momentous villain; and usually the actor playing the role will be forever linked with it. From the Universal stable, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, who became so interlinked with his character he was buried in the cape, and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein with his flat head and stitches. Later, there was Christopher Lee playing the famous Count in Hammer productions, who must surely be a forerunner to Pinhead in every way. He is dignified but capable of unspeakable acts, tall and elegant but with an underlying barbaric quality. Bradley himself has commented, ‘That was very much an important element to me, that he had this love affair with the English language. Which as a demon from hell, committed to the sado-masochistic disposal of people, struck me as very exciting. When he spoke it was like an echo of Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward’ (6).

In the 70’s and 80’s, slasher killers like Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger fulfilled the role of iconic horror monster in a very different way: with visual or verbal one-liners complimenting their distinctive masks or ensemble. Then came Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lector to take us into the 1990s, which again has something in common with the Cenobite mentality. Fans of horror have always coveted their anti-heroes and famous examples become such a part of popular culture they are recognized by all. This isn’t something a director can plan in advance - many have tried and failed. It is simply that certain characters immediately resonate with audiences. 

Doug Bradley’s Pinhead is just such a character. To quote Barker again, ‘I think people came out of Hellraiser that first time they saw it, they probably said, “Hey, check out the guy with the pins in his head.”… I would love to say that, oh yeah, God, it was all planned. It wasn’t’ (7)

This popularity trend is due chiefly to three factors. First, the performance Bradley gives is exceptional. He pitches the character exactly right, understated when necessary, authoritative when required: quite simply a powerful and terrifying screen presence. In this respect he was following advice from Barker to ‘Do less. Do less’, ensuring even the slightest expression in make-up had a dramatic impact. What then comes across is a figure very much in control of the situation, and very confident in his own abilities. Pinhead is not a person to be crossed. The fact that Bradley takes the role seriously makes us as a viewer take him seriously. When questioned about the popularity of Pinhead Bob Keen, who came up with the make-up, had this to say in two different interviews: ‘It’s the combination of several elements. Perhaps the most important is that Doug gives an absolutely straight performance, and it was Clive Barker’s genius in Hellraiser to present a character who was significantly different, strange and aloof from his surroundings, for the audience to be drawn to him’ (8). ‘Ninety-five per cent of what Pinhead is, is what Doug Bradley brings to the role…And Doug’s voice was just fantastic. You hear him and he has these wonderful lines and the whole thing just grew and grew. So I think the look’s important, but I think that if the wrong actor had been wearing this, Pinhead would never be the success that he is’ (9).

It is a testament to Bradley, and more proof of his iconic status, that his lines in the film are the most quoted. Some were even used as taglines for the movie (‘Angels to some, demons to others’ and ‘We’ll tear your soul apart’). His choice for the voicing of Pinhead should also rate a mention here. Obviously he couldn’t have pitched it like the asexual character from The Hellbound Heart. ‘The voice I gave to Pinhead is anything but “light and breathy”, and certainly sounded like no “excited girl” it’s ever been my pleasure to know… For the voice I simply went with how I was hearing the lines in my head, which was low, slow menace’ (10). And the audio was enhanced even more in post production. 

Secondly, as already suggested, the mystery surrounding the Cenobites at the start of the movie is vital. Who are they? Where did they originally come from? Why do they do the things they do? These questions are only vaguely answered in Hellraiser, and no background information is given at all. This mystique is part of what makes the Cenobites, and Pinhead especially, tantalizing. In conversations with Barker, Bradley was told that the character had once been human, but gave him no indication as to when this had been. Consequently there is also a melancholy behind the performance, a remembrance of something Pinhead had once been but can’t go back to; a longing for his humanity. In successive films this was expounded upon and he was given a back history: a British Army Captain who sought the box after enduring the horrors of World War I. The other Cenobites, too, were depicted as once being human before their transformation in the labyrinths of Hell. It could be argued that the characters lost something that contributed to their success in the original film. Granted it gave the Cenobites much more emotional depth - allowing us to relate to them. But the unknown is often more frightening than the familiar. In Hellraiser for the time being that enigma, the puzzle of the Cenobites themselves, remains a secret. 

We must also mention briefly the Cenobites as metaphors for our deepest, instinctive fears - and we are always attracted to what we fear the most. Chatterer, with those wires pulling back his lips, revealing gums and teeth, crystallizes a very real anxiety about being eaten, possibly alive. On a more modern level, he brings with him connotations of dental work too, the anxiety we all feel about this particular profession. Butterball represents fear about gluttony, of having overeaten until fit to burst - as he literally has. The stitches used on his flesh could be seen again as phobia about the medical profession and operations; which combines nicely with the terror of going blind when you realize his eyes are stitched shut under those sunglasses. The Female Cenobite’s vaginal gash in her throat is clearly a representation of man’s fear of female sexuality. The very fact that it is on display, not hidden, gives it the power to shock (and led to a raft of nicknames amongst the crew to diffuse the alarm – such as ‘Deep Throat’ and ‘Cunt-throat’). As for Pinhead himself, he represents the greatest fear for both men and women: that of being penetrated against our will. He has been violated by the nails, not once, but dozens of times. And they remain there as a constant reminder of his defilement. 

The third reason for the iconic status of Pinhead is that he was used to promote the film through posters and cinema trailers. His became the official face of Hellraiser. The marketing people at New World quickly recognized this potential, bringing Bradley back in for a photo shoot after filming had finished. When it came time to put the black contact lenses in, they discovered that one had melted, so the actual poster images show Pinhead with Doug’s blue eyes…But it makes very little difference to the overall image, which was exploited in the first instance to draw audiences – up on billboard posters in the U.S., Australia, Japan. Then was used to make money through merchandise. 

Directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had shown that films could be veritable goldmines when it came to spin-off merchandising, with Star Wars (1977) and E.T. (1982) both earning more from this than actual box office returns. With slasher anti-heroes doing the same for the horror genre, it was perhaps no surprise that soon after Hellraiser’s release cups, T-shirts and jackets adorned with Pinhead appeared, backed up by promotional campaigns. Today, Pinhead models, toys, badges and just about anything else are available: further enforcing this icon’s standing in popular culture. Can it be a coincidence that the video and DVD of the film has remained a constant seller, when it has Pinhead on the cover? As intelligent and as interesting as the film is, there should be no refuting the Cenobites’ hand in its cult status.

1) Clive Barker Speaking at UCLA, Feb 25, 1987.   2) The Marquis de Sade (Donatien Alphonse François de Sade 1740-1814) was possibly the most infamous writer in French history. His published work gave rise to the term ‘sadism’ – the enjoyment of cruelty, often with a sexual bent. Arrested after many scandals and condemned to twenty-seven years in various prisons, he wrote sexually explicit material including Les Journées de Sodome (The 120 Days of Sodom 1782-85), Justine (1791), and a ten-volume novel Les Crimes de L'Amour (Crimes of Passion 1800).   3) Night Visions edited by George R.R. Martin (Arrow, 1987) p. 205.   4) The documentary featurette Hellraiser: Resurrection U.S. DVD.   5) Fear in the Dark TV Documentary (1991)   6) ‘Doug Bradley: Pinned Down’ in Hellbreed # 2 (June 1995) p. 21.  7) The documentary featurette Hellraiser: Resurrection U.S. DVD.   8) The Hellraiser Chronicles p. 80.   9) The documentary featurette Hellraiser: Resurrection U.S. DVD.   10) Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor p. 211.

From The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy © 2006 Paul Kane by permission of McFarland & Company, Inc., Box 611, Jefferson NC 28640.

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