Saturday, 21 October 2017

Open to Question - Clive Barker

"It's mine, for better or worse." says the softly spoken Barker in this interview from 1987. He is answering a question from an earnest interviewer about the vision of psycho-sexual horrors he conjured up in Hellraiser, released earlier that year.

The interview, below, is a fascinating watch for several reasons. It's a window into the mindset not only of Barker (a floppy-haired, charismatic man who looks a decade younger than he was when this was shot) but also the British public. An audience of very 80s Scottish youths grill the film maker on his 'obsession' with violence and his contribution to the media boogie man of the day - the 'video nasty'. This was a term invented by the press earlier that decade to describe extreme horror movies that were circulating as video tape became a household media. Hellraiser was lumped-in to this category with the likes of Cannibal Ferox and Barker eloquently describes why he feels this is unfair.

Today these questions seems trivial. We live in a world where google will show you anything you want, from real life piranha victims to (probably fake) creepy pasta stories about Russian sleep deprivation experiments. We are in an age of deregulation and and we accept the state having little control over such content.

Another thing of interest is Barker's critique of building figures of horror into anti-heroes. He cites Freddy from Nightmare on Elm Street and argues that make Freddie a joker rooted for by the viewing public is damaging. Little did he know that his creation Pinhead would, arguably, become a similar icon. Thanks to Barker's masterful work, Pinhead grew into a spiky poster-boy for the early 90s alt/metal/horror scene. The (pretty abysmal) Hellraiser III even lurched into horror-comedy territory. Hell, I've even got a replica puzzle box in my spare room. I should get a replica Freddie glove to put next to it, just to annoy Barker.

So take a pew and watch this window into the late 80s. In the words of Pinhead, "We have such sights to show you."


  1. I love Clive Barker. Coldheart Canyon remains one of my most favourite novels.

    I also own all of the Hellraiser films and have to agree with Barker's standpoint. True the films are quite visceral but not gratuitously so. I also agree with your point about Hellraiser; Hell on Earth being terrible (although it's my other-half's favourite which says a lot about their tastes) because they had forgotten what Pinhead truly stands for; he's not the star of the show nor is he meant to be the antagonist (something sadly repeated in Hellraiser; Bloodline).

    Indeed the original novella (Hellbound Heart) is a morality tale wherein the cenobites are a mechanism of judgement for the misdeeds of the antagonist. That's what Pinhead's character serves as; the consequence of opening Pandora's Box. How and why the antagonist opens the box is entirely determined by their own inner darkness.

    That's why in my opinion, Hellraiser: Inferno, Hellseeker and Deader remained true to Barker's original intention.

    1. I dunno Gretchin, in the first movie the shot that's often cut is when Frank slices a living rat in half (Barker mentions but dismisses this as a 'mechanical rat' in the interview, but that's like saying the Cenobites are 'just actors'). Arguably that is the most gratuitous shot in the movie. I think the repeated hammer blows that kill one of the victims were also reduced by censors, as showing multiple blows adds nothing to the plot or themes.

      Good point about the Cenobites just being a mechanism. I seem to remember that Pinhead didn't even have a name in the script. He was just called something like 'First Cenobite'.

      I think I've seen some of the later movies, but certainly not all of them. Which would you recommend most?

    2. I guess I must be jaded; I'm a big horror fan and am probably inured by the much more unfettered films that have come out in the last two decades.

      You are right, Pinhead was actually coined by the fans, he was listed as 'Lead Cenobite' (or First - I can't remember) in the first film's credits.

      I will assume you've seen the first three films, so: Bloodline is like its former; far too American for my tastes, but its good for some history of the Lament Configuration.

      Inferno is very underrated and it has a strong cast (the lead is the same guy from Nightbreed) however its plainly obvious that its influences hints strongly in the choice of title.

      Hellseeker is brilliant but suffers a little from sequel syndrome. It does see the return of Kirsty Cotton (with the same actress, Ashley Laurence) however she doesn't play the lead (and its really only a cameo appearance). It is also more creepy mystery than visceral horror.

      Deader is by far my favourite sequel, but is only thinly connected to the larger franchise. It is more like a standalone urban myth with a very Lovecraftian undertone. Still, it's shot in scenic Bucharest.

      Finally, Hellworld. Typical American teenage screamer-Horror tripe whose only saving grace is Lance Henriksen and the talented studio design team.

  2. Hi there,

    Thanks for finding this. Barker has always been something of a writing inspiration: I don't write horror, but I've always found his artistic way of writing "pulp" very impressive, especially in the Books of Blood. Les Edwards' comic of Rawhead is still amazing (and horrible).

    You might find this interesting. It's a bit overlong, but it's Barker, Ramsey Campbell and other horror writers talking about what they do.