(Trigger warnings for various unsavoriness.)
I like my horror with a heaping helping of cheese (Slither, Night of the Comet, Cabin in the Woods), so I have never read any Clive Barker, and I’ve never seen Hellraiser. So when my sci-fi library book club picked Hellbound Heart, the book the movie Hellraiser is based on, I was not sure what to expect. I mean, I was expecting gross stuff and a guy with pins in his face, but I was not expecting such unlikeable characters.
If you want to read about awful stuff happening to awful people, this novella is for you. Frank is a jaded jerk, who has drunk and drugged and sexed himself around the world and is now soooo bored. He got hold of a mysterious puzzle box that’s supposed to open the gates for the Cenobites to come through if opened, granting the keeper of the box a universe of extraordinary pleasure. He opens the box and quickly finds out that for the mangled, demonic Cenobites, pleasure = pain. He gets dragged into their dimension and soundly tortured (mostly off-screen, so not too graphic).
Julia is married to Frank’s sweet brother Rory, and after Frank disappears, they move into the family home. She starts hearing weird noises in the creepy room that’s always cold, and figures out that Frank is there, somehow inside the walls (and without any skin). He asks her for blood to help him escape, and she agrees because they had a tryst before the wedding and she feels drawn to him. EVEN THOUGH that tryst was very very rapey (Frank had not “wasted time with the niceties of a seduction”). She has rewritten the scene in her mind, because “Memory sweetened events of course…now, in remembering it, the bruises were trophies of their passion, her tears proof positive of her feelings for him.” FUCK. NO. You enjoy your skinless torture, Frank.
But Julia thinks she’s in love, so she starts luring hapless adulterers to the house, where Frank kills them and sucks them dry, slowly rebuilding his strength.
Things progress about as you’d expect from there, with the Cenobites not being too happy about Frank attempting to escape. Don’t be looking for happy endings, but then, none of these people seem to really deserve one. Murdering for love is not romantic! Cheating on your husband with his flayed brother is nasty!
I don’t think I’ll be reading more Clive Barker. The writing itself seemed a little juvenile – I bet High School Me would have been much more impressed with this. Oooh, so edgy and cool, and 29 is so ancient and worldly! Excuse me while I barf and cry.