If there was ever a mythology that seemed tailor-made for a horror film franchise, it’s the one Clive Barker created in his novella The Hellbound Heart. Barker must have thought so as well, as the film version, Hellraiser, marked his directing debut. Hellbound: Hellraiser II pushed beyond the original story, and despite a few problems it managed to recognize, and capitalize on, the promise contained in Barker’s original piece.
Then came Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, and the wheels began to come off. As the series progressed to the fourth, fifth, and sixth films (and more after that, although I haven’t cared to keep track at this point), this rich and promising mythology got bent, scraped and bruised by a succession of hacks who turned in one direct-to-video disaster after another. It seemed that everyone who was getting money to make a Hellraiser movie was missing the point; they kept trying to turn Pinhead into some avenging, crusading demon out to punish the sinful. What they didn’t see was that, in the beginning, the Cenobites (yes, there are more of them than just Pinhead) viewed the pain and suffering they provided as a gift, a reward, a pleasure reserved for those determined enough to call them.
Hollywood seems to have forgotten that. Thankfully, BOOM! Studios has not.
In 2011, BOOM! put writer Christopher Monfette together with Clive Barker and gave them a new venue to explore the Hellraiser mythos – a new, ongoing comic book series. They were joined by artist Leonardo Manco, and together the trio sought to tell a story that would incorporate elements from the original novella and the creatively successful entries of the film series – i.e., the first two movies – while creating something new that would continue to fulfill that mythology’s potential.
That initial series went 20 issues before it was replaced by a mini-series called Hellraiser: The Road Below (written by Brandon Seifert with art by Haemi Jang), which was followed by a new series called Hellraiser: The Dark Watch (Seifert with artist Tom Garcia) that is still going strong. Throughout these changes the story continues to follow threads laid out in those early works.
I’m not one to get into a lot of spoilers so I’m not going to spell out the plot here, but there are a few things worth touching on. In the first issues of BOOM!’s first series, we get a truer characterization of Pinhead – he’s a high priest of Hell, and he’s obtained his position because he absolutely believes in the truth and integrity of what he does. It’s not as simple as punishing evil-doers; he views the gifts he provides as too pure, too holy to be bestowed on just anyone. He’s not satisfied with the victims he has access to and he’s grown bored with his role, and that boredom leads him to Hell’s highest ranks where he demands new opportunities.
Change he wants, and change he gets, but just what those changes are I’ll leave for you to discover. Suffice to say his demands bring him back in contact with the one human who ever managed to intrigue him: young Kirsty Cotton, who survived her first encounters with the Cenobites but was forever transformed by them. What happens next has caused rejoicing in some fans and pure outrage in others, and it seems to be one of those creative decisions (made, I should point out, with Barker’s complete involvement and approval) for which there is no middle ground.
It’s a daring direction to take, and I applaud the creators for taking the chance, and for really running with it. How it will ultimately play out is anybody’s guess, but hopefully they’ll continue to figure out smart ways to carve up the status quo. For me, it’s enough to have a property that at least understands the dark heart of the Hellraiser story, and is unafraid to explore it fully. If you’re expecting to read about a Pinhead who is basically a hellbound superhero, you might want to turn your attention elsewhere. If you’re looking for something a little more challenging and more in line with Barker’s nasty original vision, then you’ve come to the right place.
They have such sights to show you…