The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

by Kristopher Cook
Read Time: 4 minutes

Quick and dirty! That’s the best way to describe Clive Barker’s debut novel, The Hellbound Heart. Originally written as a short story, then expanded into a full-fleshed out book, and by fully-fleshed I mean the publishers just increased the font size.

Clive Barker

Born in Liverpool, England Barker rose to fame in the ’80s with a series of short stories, one of which was The Hellbound Heart.

The Hellbound Heart author, Clive Barker
Author, Director and Screenplay Writer – Clive Barker

He later directed a movie adaption of The Hellbound Heart (Film titled: Hellraiser). This increased his popularity in the mainstream and allowed him to continue selling his books until today.

Stephen King went as far as saying, ‘I have seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker.’

While on the subject of King, it’s interesting to see their careers at a parallel to each other.

Barker has received much of his success from The Hellbound Heart and Candyman, whereas King has been able to write bestsellers throughout most of his career consistently.

It’s worth noting that King’s books, such as Carrie and Needful Things, are much easier to get involved with when compared to Barker’s Books of Blood series.

The book centres around Frank Cotton, a hedonistic guy who believes he’s experienced all the pleasures the world has to offer. While in Africa he buys a Lament Configuration puzzle box from a merchant and brings it back to his home in England.

It’s here that he unlocks its mysteries, releasing a portal to another dimension and summoning the horrific Cenobites, who take him captive for their sadomasochistic experiments.

No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.

Clive Barker, The Hellbound Heart

Repetition Numbs the Senses

Hedonistic lifestyles are put under the microscope with Frank becoming more and more dulled to the sensation of alcohol, drugs and cheap sex. This is still prevalent in today’s society, apart from now we have a more significant addiction of our own; social media.

Take Instagram for example. It’s easy to waste 30 minutes to an hour mindlessly scrolling through images of beautiful landscapes, expensive lifestyles and fun party environments only to be brought back to reality when you put your phone down.

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker - Front Cover
The Hellbound Heart book cover. See how clever the image is, even upside down?

Imagine you are given the opportunity to feel an even greater high and it can all be found in one small box. All you need to do is complete the puzzle and unlock it.

Who wouldn’t turn that down?

There’s also a theme of masochistic violence running throughout The Hellbound Heart.

It starts with Frank’s obsession to have higher, more pleasurable sex and then morphs further with the Cenobites introduction.

Taking Frank captive and torturing him for their own pleasures is disturbing in any context, but it creates a strange juxtaposition.

Frank isn’t likeable in the slightest. He has no redeeming qualities, he has an affair with his brother’s wife, and he’d sell his own Mother if he knew he’d profit. But given the amount of detail within the book, the scenes still churn my stomach.

Frank’s biggest lesson; there’s no gain without sacrifice.

Pandora’s Box, or a derivative of such, can also be seen in the Lament Configuration puzzle box. It holds all of your biggest desires, except when you open it, you’ll wish you hadn’t.

The Now Iconic Pinhead

Think of a leather-clad bondage nightclub owner, adverse to sunlight who’s acupuncturist had a heart attack, only managing to stick the pins in his head.

He’s not prominent within The Hellbound Heart, however, when creating the film, Barker realised he needed a more central villain; thus promoting pinhead more blatantly.

It’s this iconography that has made the cenobites such a huge part of modern horror, alongside Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.

Closing Thoughts

The book must be applauded for the way it throws you headfirst into the dark underbelly that is Frank’s life. Although he’s a despicable character, he does still remain true to life, like the weird guy who lives next door.

You know, the one who drinks on his deckchair in the front garden all winter.

My biggest problem with this book is its length. It doesn’t allow for much character development, so when a character is killed off, it doesn’t feel emotionally impactful.

However, don’t let that put you off.

It’s gruesome, it’s punchy, and above all, it’s an easy read. That seems a weird sentence to write for a book that’s so depraved. I guess that’s where Clive Barker’s talent shines through.

He can keep you on the edge of your seat, all while turning your guts.

For anyone who enjoys a good horror book, I’d certainly recommend The Hellbound Heart.

If you’ve read The Hellbound Heart, let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Did you enjoy it? Is it Clive Barker’s best work yet?

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