The Hellbound Heart
|Cover artist||Clive Barker|
|Publisher||Dark Harvest, HarperCollins|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover), Audiobook|
The Hellbound Heart is a horror novella by Clive Barker, first published in November 1986 by Dark Harvest in the third volume of their Night Visions anthology series, and notable for becoming the basis for the 1987 movie Hellraiser and its franchise. It was re-released as a stand-alone title by HarperCollins in 1988, after the success of the movie, along with an audiobook recorded by Clive Barker and published by Simon & Schuster Audioworks. It retains the gory, visceral style that Barker introduced in his series of collected short stories The Books of Blood. The story focuses on a mystical puzzle box and the horror it wreaks on a family that is unfortunate enough to come across it.
Frank Cotton is a hedonist who has spent his life in a selfish, single-minded pursuit of the ultimate sensual experience. Having lived a life of world travel, engaging in countless crimes and every sexual experience known to mankind, Frank is now a nihilist, his pursuits having left him feeling unfulfilled and still wanting more extreme experiences. Jaded to the point that conventional sexual activity now leaves him completely unstimulated, Frank hears rumours of the Lament Configuration, an artifact he learned about on his travels, a puzzle box that is said to act as a portal to an extradimensional realm of unfathomable carnal pleasure. Locating the owner in Düsseldorf, Frank obtains the box by performing "small favors" and returns with it to his deceased grandmother's home in England. Frank prepares a shrine consisting of bonbons, flowers, severed doves' heads, and a massive jug of his own urine, offerings for the box's inhabitants: The Cenobites, members of a religious order dedicated to extreme sensual experiences.
Opening the box, Frank is confused and horrified when the Cenobites, rather than beautiful women, turn out to be horribly scarified creatures whose bodies have been modified to the point that they are apparently sexless. Nonetheless, when they offer Frank experiences like he has never known before, Frank readily agrees, despite the Cenobites' repeated warnings that it may not be what he expects and that he cannot renege on an agreement to return to their realm with them. With Frank as their newest "experiment," the Cenobites subject Frank to a total sensory overload, at which point he realises that the Cenobites are so extreme in their devotion to sadomasochism that they no longer differentiate between extreme pain and extreme pleasure. Frank is sucked into the Cenobite realm, where he realises that he will be subjected to an eternity of torture.
Sometime later, Frank's brother, Rory, and his wife, Julia, move into the home. Unknown to Rory, Julia had an affair with Frank a week before their wedding; she has spent the entirety of her marriage obsessing over and lusting after Frank, and has only stayed married to Rory for financial support. While moving in, Rory accidentally cuts his hand and bleeds on the spot where Frank was taken by the Cenobites. This serves to open another dimensional schism, through which Frank is able to escape, his body now reduced to a desiccated corpse by the Cenobites' experiments. Julia finds him and promises to restore his body so that they can renew their affair.
While Rory is at work, Julia begins seducing men at bars and bringing them back to the attic, where she murders them and feeds their bodies to Frank, whose own body begins to slowly regenerate. Kirsty, a friend of Rory's who is secretly in love with him, suspects that Julia is having an affair and attempts to catch her in the act; instead she encounters Frank, who attempts to kill her; Kirsty steals the puzzle box and flees the house, collapsing from exhaustion on the street. She is taken to a hospital, where she solves the puzzle box and inadvertently summons the Cenobites. The Cenobites initially attempt to take Kirsty back with them, until she tells them about Frank; skeptical that one of their experiments could have escaped, the Cenobites agree to leave Kirsty alone in exchange for Frank's return.
Kirsty leads the Cenobites to Frank, now wearing recently slain Rory's skin. Another altercation ensues, during which an unrepentant Frank inadvertently kills Julia. Assured of Frank's identity, the Cenobites appear and ensnare Frank with a multitude of hooks and return with him to their realm. Downstairs, Kirsty sees Julia's disembodied head calling for help, which is apparently unsuccessful as the Engineer's bright head appears under her veil (implying that they are dragging her too). Leaving the house, the Engineer bumps into Kirsty, entrusting her to watch over the box until another degenerate seeks it out. Looking at the lacquered surface, Kirsty imagines that she sees Julia and Frank's faces reflected in it, but not Rory's. She wonders if there are other puzzles, that might find a way to where Rory resides by unlocking the doors to paradise.
- ISBN database: Night Visions III
- ISBN database: Hellbound Heart Cassette (June 1988)
- The Hellbound Web – Collectibles – Audio Recordings
- Badley, Linda (1996). Writing horror and the body: the fiction of Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Anne Rice. Contributions to the study of popular culture 51. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 96. ISBN 0-313-29716-9.
- The Hellbound Heart Encyclopaedia
- The Night Visions anthology series, on the SF Site
- The Hellbound Heart Bibliography @ www.clivebarker.info