The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

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This is a timeless tale of a Faustian deal gone wrong. Frank Cotton is the ultimate pleasure seeker, and thinks he has found the ultimate prize when he comes across the Lament Configuration, a puzzle box that opens the doors to hell and all the pleasures of the flesh. Frank gets more than he bargained for when he opens the box. He summons demons and they  take him to hell to suffer an eternity of pleasure and pain, with a heavy focus on pain. The story follows his attempts to escape hell after he discovers a loophole that allows him a chance at redemption. He enlists the help of his former lover and his brother’s wife, Julia, to kill and provide him with the blood he needs. Frank’s niece, Kirsty, is left to try to save her father from the clutches of Frank and Julia. To do so, Kirsty has to make her own deal with the devil.

This novella is one of my favorite stories that I’ve read countless times. It’s almost a fairy tale, with Julia more than adequately fulfilling the wicked witch, evil stepmother role. She is incredibly beautiful and seductive, in stark contrast to the pale, nervous and frail Kirsty. Larry Cotton is the loving, if inept, husband, oblivious to the mistreatment and frostiness he receives from his wife Julia. Frank, as the monster in the story, is pure selfishness and greed to the end. The fate he brings upon himself is richly deserved. The novella examines the idea of family, especially with Kirsty’s efforts to keep the family together. Barker’s writing, descriptions and attention to detail effectively draw the reader in and set the tone. It’s a short and satisfying book that you won’t be able to put down. It is a must-read in the genre and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Hellbound Heart was, of course, the book that spawned the Hellraiser film series, and one of the most iconic monsters in movie history, Pinhead, although that name never actually appears in the book. The success of Barker’s characters have meant the franchise has eight movies (so far),  a multitude of comics/graphic novels, including the current run from Boom Studios, which is excellent, and all kinds of other merchandise. There is a fantastic book that I’d recommend for further reading about the Hellraiser movies and mythos, The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy by Paul Lane. For some time, Clive Barker has been working on a follow-up story to The Hellbound Heart called The Scarlet Gospels, which will pit Pinhead against another of his well-loved characters, Harry D’Amour. There is no firm date for this title, but I can’t wait.

9/10

Book Cover Blurb:

Frank Cotton’s insatiable appetite for the dark pleasures of pain led him to the puzzle of Lemarchand’s box, and from there, to a death only a sick-minded soul could invent. But his brother’s love-crazed wife, Julia, has discovered a way to bring Frank back—though the price will be bloody and terrible . . . and there will certainly be hell to pay.