Seek the Original: Hellraiser

69.7% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

The Hellbound Heart
by Clive Barker

Bored of the vices of this world, Frank Cotton summons the Cenobites, creatures from another world rumored to hold the secrets to ultimate pleasure. But when he gets their attention, he is tortured instead. To these demonic creatures, pain is pleasure, and now he is imprisoned in their realm.

Julia, the wife of Frank's brother, finds a way to bring him back. It's a simple thing. He needs blood and flesh to come back. Julia brings him victims from a bar, Frank feeds and slowly he begins to come back.

It reads like a horror movie, with women in danger, running and screaming but still managing to fight back. The final sequence is quite suspenseful because there is a very real chance Frank will get away with this. I almost believed it, and I was happy to see Frank get what he deserves at the end. After all the Cenobites did to him, he did not come back a changed man. I'd think anyone would return to Earth humbled and mentally scarred, but Frank is still a lusty jerk, even after being tortured day and night for a year, coming back to Earth little more than a walking skeleton with meat hanging off it. He truly deserves whatever hell he has to endure.

It's a decent story, but it leaves me wanting to know more about the Cenobites, what they do to people and why.

compare that to...

Hellraiser (1987)
starring Clare Higgins

Clive Barker himself wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, so naturally it follows the original story almost to the letter. There are other embellishments, but overall it stays true to the original.

What I do like about the movie is how far it goes with the gore effects. The story is vague, at best, regarding Frank's condition and what the Cenobites actually did to him. The movie is able to show this, and the effects look pretty good. The film takes the gore and presents it front and center, and it helps the story quite a bit. The exception to this is Frank's undoing. The movie doesn't really show Frank getting torn apart at the end, but the story does.

What I don't like about the movie is the disconnect between Frank's voice and Frank the monster. Frank the human and Frank the monster are not the same actor, so the voice is dubbed, and the voiceover is all wrong. It reminds me of Duke Nukem: the voice is too disconnected from the action. His voice is too clear, too strong, lacking any inflection. Given his bodily condition, it should sound desperate, watery, raspy, clinging to life. Come on, Frank Cotton is a hunk of meat covering a skeleton. His voice should not be so nonchalant.

Another point: the story describes Frank's and Larry's voices being similar, which is how Frank passes for Larry at the end of the film. But the two actors who play Frank and Larry sound nothing alike, so there's no explanation for how he's able to sound like Larry.

Pinhead is described in the story. So are the chains with hooks into people's flesh. It'a all there, and being able to show it on screen makes it even better because it works so well visually.

The major difference between the book and the movie is how Frank comes back to the real world. In the story, the blood dissolves the divide between the Cenobites' world and our world. When he is not being tortured, Frank is kept in a cell with a view of the upstairs room. Larry's blood allows Julia to see him through the wall. That's when he asks for more blood. Julia takes the hint, and brings him blood, and this allows Frank to step through the barrier.

I like the story's reveal better because it's more logical. It shows that he's in a physical place, and that he's without skin and is little more than a hunk of raw meat that's somehow still alive. It's more subtle. The movie turns it into a gore opportunity, with Frank resurrected by coming up through the floor as a skeleton. The effect is striking and superbly done, but it implies he's like this because it's how he came back to the real world. The original story shows his condition is because of what the Cenobites did to him, and I like that better.

The weird two-headed closet creature that chases Kirsty is not in the story, and it shouldn't have been in the movie either, but, eh, it was the 80's. Ditto for the bone dragon thing at the end. Kinda lame. I prefer the original story's ending better: a Cenobite gives Kirsty the box, the Cenobites return to their realm with Frank, and that's it. She's now the keeper of the device that allows the Cenobites into our world. They don't chase her around the house, they don't destroy it, they don't send monsters after her.

It's not a bad movie, and it is faithful to Barker's novella. The practical effects are impressive, and the movie is quite a remarkable achievement considering the author himself wrote and directed it. Just like in the original, I cared more about the Cenobites than their victims. I wanted to know more about these guys, and apparently I'm not the only one, given how many sequels Hellraiser spawned.

(Oh, and the movie takes place in England, but only Julia has an English accent. Hmmm...)


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