August 10, 2010

Rabid Reads: "The Hellbound Heart" by Clive Barker

Title: The Hellbound Heart
Author: Clive Barker
Published: HarperCollins (2007); originally published in 1986
Pages: 164
Genre: Horror
ISBN 978-0-06-145288-8

I can't even remember how long it's been since I saw Hellraiser, but I'm pretty sure the movie resembled little of this novel of Clive Barker's. My memory has been known to betray me on occasion, though.

The novel comes off as a ghastlier version of British horror than what I've read before, with a house haunted in a roundabout way by a race of being from another dimension known as the Cenobites. Actually, they simply lay in wait for anyone who can solve the intricate puzzle box that has existed for ages. I'm not too familiar with Lovecraft's work, but I suspect this novel might be more akin to that brand of storytelling.

In a little townhouse Frank, a lecherous and insatiable rogue, manages to unlock the box and discovers a portal into a world that he believes promises new discoveries in lust, debauchery, and unparalleled hedonism. Instead, he is thrust into a hellish distortion of his desires. With the house seemingly abandoned, Frank's brother Rory moves in with fiance, Julia, in tow. While Rory is illiterate to the messages inside the house, Julia comes in contact with a ravaged form of Frank who wishes to escape back into the real world.

The book is remarkably brief, basically a novella, and still manages to feel like a full-length novel. The horrors feel real enough as you read, but there is a bit more distance from the gore than I usually find with Barker's early work--welcome to some readers, a disappointment to others. I found it was a satisfying read, but I admit to failing in seeing its place on such a high pedestal. It's good, don't get me wrong, but I found the erratic viewpoint in sections to be distracting, plus the Cenobites played a disappointingly minor role.

I'd still recommend it to any horror fan who has yet to read it, though I'd encourage them to ignore the hype and try to read it with a fresh slate. Also, don't expect Pinhead to make any cameo appearances.


  1. It's been a long time for me as well, but to the best of my recollection the film adaptation was somewhat faithful to the source material (for better, or for worse). I figure that whatever differences emerged during filming were due to Cliver Barker's direct involvement in the film version, so I figure it was faithful to his specifications, more or less.

    Either way, I rather enjoyed both.

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  3. Actually, I think this is one of Barker's least-read works; it wasn't widely available in any of his short-story collections back in the 1980s and there was no real movie tie-in edition (only this:, not exactly screaming at a reader from the shelf). Still, I remember enjoying when it came out in its own paperback in 1992 after I'd read everything of his to that point; I wasn't sure I would given the amazing film adaptation. I think his longer novels have overshadowed it.

    ALSO: avail yourself of some Lovecraft post-haste!

  4. Chicken Wire - Good to know. I'll have to rewatch it if I ever get the chance.

    Onipar - Neat. Thanks, man. I'll check that out for sure.

    Will - Yeah, I've only read a few of Lovecraft's stories. I've noticed some folks have been putting up podcasts of his works, so an audiobook format could really get me in gear.