One type of reading and film that I love more than anything, in fantasy or Science Fiction, is horror. And when we talk about horror, a name immediately comes to mind: Clive Barker.
I have a lot of time to write this article, three or four months. I wanted to write an article that pays tribute to this writer who I particularly like but, with the lessons and my extra-scholastic activities, I had not really had the time until then.
So I could have learned something positive from this confinement, I hope you enjoy it!
To show you his genius, I’m going to tell you about Hellraiser and his universe.
It all started with a book.
I have always been fascinated by this fabulous story of puzzles from ancient times that, once resolved, open doors to hell. And then one day, a man contacted me to donate me a box from the merchant, an artifact that I had coveted for years.
Last night, fighting fear and envy, I performed the ritual deciphering the pattern of lamentation.
After so much research, I thought I knew the secrets of the Hellraiser well.
But the mechanism came to life, the box opened …
only then did I understand …
For this article, I thought it necessary to make a little warning.
If you are under 16, impressionable, or a stranger to artistic darkness, I kindly suggest that you avoid this article.
If on the other hand you cherish modern mythologies, the creation of universes and its hazards; if you are fascinated by horror and its symbols then be ready … For you are entering the most infernal cathedral in the fantastic galaxy: Hellraiser.
Before starting our descent into Hell, I would like to invite you to take the place of a creator of horror stories for a moment. As you are a demanding creative person, your secret ambition is to invent an original and detailed universe.
We will find memorable abominations, striking images, rich concepts and depth that will allow you the most incredible freedoms. An idea then comes to you and you open your notebook, contemplating the infinite possibilities:
We need protagonists with whom all will identify, but above all charismatic antagonists, with inhuman powers, with a legendary and terrorizing appearance.
Thus the work will mark minds, inhabit the nightmares of generations, and allow the world to dream and fantasize through your cathartic visions.
The twentieth century has seen a rich and complex horrific culture explode, with many iconic figures, many of whom have become classics.
So it’s hard to come up with totally new things … Especially since you’re in 1986, and the heyday of horror is at its peak. What else do you have left to create? How not to reproduce? How to shine brighter than the others in an already dazzling galaxy?
Now imagine that you are … Clive Barker.
You are a fantastic young writer, full of ambition and talent. Your first collection, “Book of blood” has a good press and the great Stephen King himself, repeats to anyone who wants to hear it, that he saw the future of horror … and that his name is Clive Barker.
You feel it. You are at the threshold of your creative career and you are seething with crazy concepts and the desire to shape the refined nightmares that inhabit you. Besides, for some time now, a story has obsessed you. You feel that it is different, that it conceals a dizzying richness and glows with a black of darkness.
After a feverish and passionate writing, your novel finally comes out and is entitled: “The hellbound Heart”.
Even if the literary success is satisfactory, the world has not yet become aware of your history and its potential. Cinema would be ideal, but the studios have already approached you twice and what they have done with your story has disappointed you.
So if it takes a film for the world to know, it’s you or nobody.
This is how Hellraiser came out in 1987. Direct adaptation of “The Hellbound heart”, produced by Clive Barker himself. The 35-year-old has just arrived in Hollywood and intends to seize this opportunity to make an impression.
Passionate about the horrifying thing, Barker achieves a real tour de force. With a limited budget and no cinematic experiences, Barker easily invites himself into the pantheon of universal horror. All thanks to powerful concepts and creatures that are second to none in pure terror.
Thus the world discovers Hellraiser and its mythology, of which here is the almost perfect narrative invitation:
“There is a magic box in our world, carved out of wood and covered with gold … It is said to allow us to discover pleasures that the mind cannot imagine.
Unfortunately, for those who own it, the box is actually a key that opens direct access to hell. From this portal emerges the most sadistic creatures that hell has carried: the Cenobites. “
The film is a success because in addition to a striking and poisonous story, a recognized soundtrack and involved actors, it gives birth to a new icon of genre cinema, which the public will baptize Pinhead.
This man with a bluish complexion, wearing nails and adorned with dark leather joined without waiting the Freddy, Jason and other Leatherface at the table of our nightmares.
The film will even have the right to a direct sequel, Hellbound, of which Barker will co-write the screenplay. This quality sequel takes us to hell and shows us a little more of the cenobites.
On opus 3 and 4 Barker is only a consultant… and from the 5th to the 10th, B’arker is overshadowed by a franchise that will sink into the obscurity of dispensable films.
At the origin of this disintegration, the transfer by Barker of its copyrights to producers, and this from the first film. And very quickly the saga escapes him … to the point of making Hellraiser the biggest missed event in the history of horrific cinema. We are watching new releases, but more out of nostalgia for the first films than out of real hope.
Above all, we are watching, a little guilty, for the arrival of new cenobites, which even in a bad film, remain fascinating and unhealthy monsters.
Unfortunately, the films do not deliver many mythological elements and achievements without souls will end up killing the franchise.
But the good news is that beyond the film and the first novel, other books and comics give life to an extended universe.
The Extended Universe
So this is where our journey into the hell of Leviathan begins.
Any story of the saga begins with a mysterious box that one day ends up in the hands of a person.
But the box chooses such victims at random?
Before talking about this evil artifact, I must reassure you, the box does not arise randomly in your life … It only appears to have a certain number of profiles.
After having gone through all the stories of the saga, it is possible to identify large families of candidates for damnation, in order to understand what profiles are looking for recruiters from hell:
1 The explorers :
Who hasn’t dreamed of knowing more about the secrets of the world? Like Frank in the original story, explorers are looking for secret knowledge and forbidden pleasure.
It is therefore not surprising to find among our victims 2 journalists, a photographer, an explorer, a librarian or even a disillusioned detective.
Whatever the purpose of their research, it leads them into obscure corners of reality and reason. These profiles have in common the quest for a hidden truth and this thirst for knowledge implacably leads them to the box, when it is not she who comes to them.
It is often symbolic of the price to pay for those who seek what a human should not know.
2 Scientists :
Another family even more dedicated to empirical research into the unknown.
We thus find a doctor, a researcher in virtual reality, a virologist or even a researcher in physics. Either his jobs are close to death, or they raise moral and ethical questions which the box monsters are fond of.
3 The lost souls :
Even darker profiles. The box often arises in the hands of desperate people, either to shorten their suffering, or to quench their thirst for revenge … towards those they consider responsible.
We find there, a depressed woman who committed suicide in her bathtub, a regiment of ex-soldiers traumatized by the horrors of war. But surprisingly, the box appears twice in the hands of abused children, who without knowing it will invoke cenobites to suppress their toxic entourage.
4 criminals :
Despite the apparent glimmer of justice suggested by the latter two cases, the box often arrives in the life of the ill-intentioned who make up this family.
These candidates evolve in badly famed circles with often absent morals: bettor, delinquents, members of gangs or sexual predators and even serial Killers.
They are somewhere the most anticipated candidates in our traditional understanding of Judeo-Christian hell.
5 the leaders :
The family with the most members, bringing together all those who exercise and abuse power over others. It is fascinating to see that its elected representatives occupy different levels of society.
From the shady promoter, to the manager of a nightclub, to a tortured horse trainer and an unhealthy producer, one who abuses his position is one of the club’s favorite candidates.
The same goes for the authoritarian power exercised by a state or an administration: one thus finds soldiers, police officers and even a prison guard. This family also includes leaders, dictators, business leaders and a bloody tale from the Crusades.
Finally something that could seem incongruous, there are also several fundamentalist religious who think to invoke God only harvest Cenobites.
There is finally a last family, that of the creators but it is too early to evoke this strange specificity…
You would think that I have not yet revealed the Mythology of the saga, but we have just mentioned its heart: it is in the realm of human darkness that the Cenobites hunt. Their appearance is the crowning of a human life doomed to the dark side. Then resonate this quote from the author:
“Each of us is a book of blood. When we open it, everything is red ”
It is therefore not surprising to see in the tales of the saga direct references to dark periods in our history. From violent colonizations to fratricidal wars, from slavery to apartheid to Nazi horror, Hellraiser keeps reminding us that the darkness of his Cenobites has nothing to envy to that of humans.
With its fantastic charge, the saga could have gone headlong into the most uninhibited dark fantasy, but more often than not, stories are born on the contrary in very realistic contexts that reflect our world. This often puts us in front of what we would prefer to avoid …
It’s time to tell you about the box.
Based on the movies, we know very little about this strange artifact: It’s a cubic shape with mysterious patterns. Regarding its origins, the film “Bloodline” reveals that in the 18th century, an architect versed in the occult arts would have manufactured it. His name was Philippe Lemarchand.
But, as we said, the films do not reveal anything about the magnificent and sophisticated complexity that gets impatient on other supports
Let’s retrace the journey of this mysterious engineer together to understand his role and his motivations … And since I was lucky enough to be able to go through it, I will give you the contents of his diary.
We are in 1740.
Philippe Lemarchand, architect and artist, worships the sacred and mysterious geometry of the Cenobites… Increasingly involved, Lemarchand embarks on a frantic quest for knowledge on this subject. He says he goes through the enigma of Albertus Magnus, devours the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Agrippa or Pic de la Mirandole, all of which refer to the Cenobites. (The technique of credibility of mythology requires the convocation of historical figures and troubles.) At the end of his research, Lemarchand became obsessed with these legendary cenobites. Although he thinks that some of these writings are fabulous, the architect leaves the domain of reason.
He gradually slides towards the unhealthy by examining works of frightening anatomy and especially by devouring biographies of Gilles de Rais. This lieutenant of Joan of Arc committed such atrocious misdeeds that he became the inspiration for The Bluebeard, very present in our collective imagination.
He was accused during his trial of the murder of 140 children and Gilles de Rais is often mentioned as one of the first documented serial killers in history.
In the diary of this sinister character, The merchant discovers that a cenobite would have guided the murderer in his low works, but especially that there is a box containing a magic formula which would make it possible to invoke the monster. Activating his occult networks, he manages to get it.
It was therefore not Lemarchand who invented the first box. On the other hand, he analyzes it until he understands its mechanism. His frustration runs away as he approaches supreme knowledge, with forceful sketches and calculations.
To complete his apprenticeship, he activated the mechanism one evening and finally invoked Baron, the famous cenobite who had dictated his actions to Gilles de Rais. The cenobite observes Lemarchand’s sketches and feels his obsession with order and symmetry.
Baron accepts that Lemarchand manufactures his own mechanisms to invoke cenobites. He thus becomes the first human to have the right to make boxes.
Let’s now enter the depths of myth.
First of all, it is no accident that brings up the box in your life. These are the cenobites who spotted you from hell and send you the puzzle, but we will come back to this point a little later …
For the boxes to be mythical and credible, it is therefore necessary to create a story for them, but also a striking appearance and operating concepts.
In terms of appearance, there are a multitude of different designs. The shape is overwhelmingly cubic but this look is not exclusive. To convince yourself, just browse the cursed pages of the Sigillum Diaboli, a work that lists the appearances and effects of all the boxes.
On the walls of this one, mystical symbols and shapes on which, certain precise finger movements must be applied, in order to activate the mechanism. All the inscriptions on the box draw references to Indian myths, to the Jewish cabbala, to the treatises on demonology or even to the Bible, as if the box were an overlap of several cursed knowledge, a key to darkness.
Once the puzzle begins, a music box melody is heard, which grows as the resolution progresses. The final click sounds, the box sets in motion, pivots on itself and metamorphoses, subject to a sinister logic. At the end a bell rings, like an infernal knell. You can hear the stone on the walls groan and fall apart as you approach the cenobites. Then the walls of the room move away and a bluish light shoots out of the darkness.
Ill shadows emerge, they are there. And unless there is a market or a miracle, they will leave with you to let you know hell.
Just before seeing what happens to the unfortunate elected officials, one last point on the magic boxes. While they are practical, they are not the only way to appeal to the Underworld.
By solving the boxes, we actually perform a geometric ritual called Configuration. In the movies, the magic formulas are hidden in these puzzle boxes, but far more amazing configurations have existed. Some may take the form of a pocket watch, others the appearance of an innocent music box. We also find a configuration in -400 BC which appears under the appearance of a stone table in front of which incantations must be pronounced … Even more surprising, Lemarchand has for example constructed buildings in which the dark ritual is hidden . This is the case for a leprosy treatment center, for an artist’s pension in Paris but also for a disturbing building. For the latter, it is the journey made with the elevator that gives life to the configuration.
But it also works with a guitar if the chords played follow a certain pattern. But the configurations can also be hidden in the cardboard pieces of a puzzle to be assembled, in a crucifix, a crossword puzzle, a novel or even in the way of harvesting a wheat field.
They seem like there are more highways to hell than stairs to heaven.
What happens after the cenobites are present?
Several scenarios can occur:
As long as you have a bad contact, the view can go wrong and the cenobites will make dozens of chains end with a hook that will spread you in a sheaf of blood.
If on the other hand, you manage to arouse their interest, the cenobites can be tempted by a market. For example, to bring them more candidates for hell and therefore to work for them in the real world.
Useless to want to double them or to play with them if not return to the first scenario.
Let’s assume that the cenobites save your life, that does not mean that they can leave empty handed. So you have to sacrifice someone for you.
If on the other hand they consider that you are ready to leave with them in the lower kingdom, then the cenobites will carry out the weighing of your soul. Depending on the desires and impulses they discover there, they will reserve a spell for you which can vary, but in any case, rest assured that eternal suffering will be there.
If the infernal priests believe that your vices are sadly common then you will be just having fun and your destination is called the Well. There are other wandering souls like you, who have the common appearance of the skinned, who drag like a suffering herd on the desolate moors of the place.
This explains the presence of skinned in films. They are damned who managed to escape from hell with the help of a human, this is the case of Frank in the first opus or for Julia in the second. The sentence “Help me I’m in hell ”written in a letter of blood on the wall by the cutaway therefore takes on its full meaning.
To hope to become human again, they must kill people to recover their skin.
The population of skinned wells is subject to the yoke of cenobites who treat them like cattle and we will even see them rebelling against their masters.
How does one become a cenobite? After a human life turned to darkness, you are called through the box and your future companions come to pick you up. This is followed by a very unpleasant phase, which takes place in a reconstruction room.
This room can take several forms: it is sometimes an iron virgin, a medieval sarcophagus filled with deadly peaks, other times a niche with walls similar to that of the box, but more often than not, it is a bare room to the medical atmosphere. There is a new kind of surgical instrument, but also repulsive tentacles that search your brain.
The machine recomposes your body into an abject and fascinating form, which generally adapts to your psyche, but still, your appearance breathes torture, suffering and unhealthy eroticism.
Once the operation is complete, you are officially a cenobite. Your goal now is to harvest souls for your God Leviathan, or recruit new cenobites from humans.
The demons of the order of the hack, also have a role of police of the hell because their goal and to catch the rare damned who manage to escape from the limbo. The cenobites evolve in a very hierarchical caste with well defined roles, as in a classic religious order.
Before talking about their laws and their motivation, let’s dwell on their appearance, which is beyond measure in the horrifying genre.
Cenobites have the distinction of being as repulsive as they are fascinating. It was in the original film that the cenobites first appeared. The make-up and the game of the cenobites have laid the foundations of their school, even if the comics will reserve the most decadent expressions for us.
The choice of black leather is not trivial.
When we look at the occurrences of cooking in the Cinema before the release of the first film in 1987, we are already in a fairly marked imagination: in addition to the black jacket of bad boys on motorcycles, leather is associated with domination, sex and to the interlope places. He’s the offender’s uniform, the murderer’s glove. Leather is the ideal choice to combine attraction and repulsion, eros and thanatos.
The design of the costumes, between religious clothing and keeping of sm dungeon creates a particular contrast. To this dark sexual aura is added the gashes.
Often the costume is mixed with the flesh. It is even often designed to provide permanent suffering to the wearer. What is disturbing about the cenobites is that despite the constant suffering they endure, they are cold, amused, calm and fanatical, worshiping the pain they present as ultimate refinement.
Pain is however what we have been fleeing from the dawn of time; so seeing creatures who have embraced it as a religion takes us into metaphysical malaise and makes them totally inhuman.
Cenobites can have very different aspects and dress. Most of them are humanoid but some are more of an abomination, an indescribable chimera. The bake and piercing look is dominant in cenobite but the environment has its originals.
We can especially meet demons dressed in white and red canvas. One of the chiefs of the order is even dressed in a Prussian general’s costume, when another cenobite with facial scarification presents all the paraphernalia of the American soldier.
Others have a more monstrous physiognomy, the deformed facies, the skin of another color … There are also animals which accompany them and serve them like dogs or bees.
The cenobite therefore offers the creators who shape them a great creative attitude with regard to the form they can hear.
The same goes for their characters: the disparity of personality in cenobites very often reflects the humans they were. Some are rebellious and do nothing but lead, others are cynical, some even try to keep a part of humanity in their decision.
The cenobites are extremely innovative for me because they have in their way enlarged the spectrum of what the cinema monster can evoke. Their moral ambiguity, the luminous aura that accompanies them, their chilling calm and their infernal cynicism go beyond the terror of classic cinema to transform it into a venomous fascination.
One of the phrases used by Pinhead to introduce itself is as follows:
« Demons to some, angels to others. »
This contradiction is therefore assumed, to place these entities on more intellectual and psychological ground, to blur their motivations and make them unfathomable. And therefore the classic Manichaeism of our society which opposes good and bad is ineffective here, and this is one of the many genius traits of Barker on the saga. This is due to the underlying philosophy of the Notch order.
Indeed, cenobites do not read the actions of men under the specter of good or bad actions, but assess your actions according to whether they have generated chaos or order. And that makes their value system more complex. For example, a cenobite will not try a serial killer because he has killed people. but rather he will assess his motivations and the consequences of his actions. In a way, chaos is associated with man and his freedom, the unexpected and the impulses of life. In contrast, order and structure are associated with control, law, oppression and the system.
Besides in Hell, this balance is somehow personified by two strange deities called Chidna and Basilisk.
These two antediluvian entities recall the double helix of DNA and symbolize the necessary balance between darkness and light. A quote from the master clearly expresses this balance between two forces:
“Darkness has its role to play. Without them, how would we know we are walking in the light? When the ambitions of evil become too grand, they must be thwarted, disciplined, and even sometimes extinguished. Then they will reappear again as it should. ”
The order of the world is therefore a clever combination of chaos and order. If this balance is disturbed, then Chidna and Basilisk will fight, thus alerting the cenobites that they must repair this anomaly by changing destinies in reality.
Because the job of a cenobite is to select people who have power over the world, to tip them over, but a cenobite must also answer to its hierarchy.
If he has failed to manipulate the right way, then he will be tried in a trial. Each judged cenobite will have to tear out the heart so that it passed without a balance in front of the members of the order. Because let’s not forget that at the end of the chain of command is their supreme God, Leviathan.
Cenobites are therefore a form of police force in the service of a religion, with the whole oppressive and rigorous universe that such terms bring together. Pulling the threads of the spirit, they manipulate destinies to twist them in their interest …
Some cenobites have been assigned particular functions which make the myth even more profound.
This is the case of Sister Flagellum, who is called the police. Flagellum is plunged into a deep meditative sleep from which it is drawn if its God Leviathan feels a disturbance in the balance of forces. She will refer them to the cenobite teams so that they go to resolve the situation on the ground, much like a damnation task force.
There is another major role played by a cenobite, very symptomatic of the depth of the Barkerian narrative. But to evoke it it brings us back to the very beginning.
How do the boxes end up in the hands of their victims?
A box is always given, protected and recovered by a guard. In films, it’s always a strange individual who puts the box back is always the same: Initially a merchant, then an art seller, the guard appears most often in the guise of a homeless man with a beard unkempt and with crazy eyes, which seems to have a particular connection with the locusts.
Again, these are the comics that give us keys to understanding these famous guards. First of all they are shape-changers, they have the capacity to take the appearance that they wish to approach and seduce the target without it being suspicious. But how are these mysterious smugglers created?
Thanks to our famous cenobite with such a special role.
His name is Orno, and he has his own cabinet in the bowels of hell. To create a puzzle keeper, Orno chooses a damned that he calls “Raw Material”. He alters his soul by placing a bit of his own demonic spirit in it. He then returns his guinea pig to earth so that he can have sex with a woman. From this relationship will be born a child who Orno will take care to make orphan. Once he reaches 16 years of a life of sadness, Orno will reveal his true nature to him by offering him the box of which he will be the official guardian.
As a result, with the Hellraiser universe, we are witnessing a phenomenon which is after all quite frequent, which one could call “transmedia mythological development”. It’s the idea of expanding a fictional universe to other media than the one by which he was born.
For Hellraiser, it’s a classic journey to Hollywood for a successful franchise: we adapt a book to the cinema, and if it is successful, we then develop comics or video games to tell new stories and spread the universe. And if the adaptations are sometimes soulless commercial moves, there are cases where this passage is extremely beneficial for a work. This is the case for Hellraiser.
Making a fantastic film is expensive and we are subject to regulations that limit what we can show. With a comic, no problem. The only limit is the talent of the artist and the imagination of the authors.
In the work, the hell that Barker describes is very different from the classic hell representations. Where we knew a hell of red and burning limbo led by Satan, we find here a blue and icy labyrinth dominated by Leviathan.
The first visual representation of the labyrinth of the underworld is delivered in the second film of the saga named Hellbound, during a sequence which literally convinced me that the saga hid an incredible mythological potential.
We see there for the first time a reconstruction chamber and the making of a cenobite, but, above all, we discover a landscape worthy of the most dizzying nightmares. Perspectives that are lost from afar, abundances of senseless architecture, bottomless precipices …
The main inspiration for this representation comes from the work of Piranesi, a brilliant Italian engraver who lived in the 18th century. The latter unwound one day to create 16 engravings that would present nightmarish imaginary prisons.
In this suffocating world, one enters a monumental architecture, with multiple dungeons, suffocating and dirty, with walkways that lead nowhere to spiral staircases. They are also intertwined with pulleys, chains and other instruments of torture.
If the labyrinth also reminds of the Minotaur’s labyrinth, it also summons the architectures of Escher. We can safely quote the artist since a plan of the film shows one of his works.
For Piranesi, The link is especially strong when we contemplate the bowels of the labyrinth with its multidirectional corridors, its abyssal staircases and its general function of prison of souls. The fact that Barker wanted to quote Piranesi to make hell a prison place and cold is of a strong originality, which moreover suits perfectly the cenobites.
On the top of the walls of this labyrinth, the cenobites can walk, meet and above all pray to Leviathan, who overlooks this gigantic area.
When one descends from the crests of the labyrinth to enter its entrails, one enters a dark and dense area, with stairs which intersect to serve the various places of torture and other hellish abominations. The depth of this place seems endless, like the torments that stand there.
Since the cenobites are ancient humans, it makes sense, after all, to keep activities from their previous lives. So do not be surprised to know that in the labyrinth there are archives of operating theaters, an armory, but also a bar, a theater, or even places for political meetings.
Finally above this Leviathan plane labyrinth.
This name originates from the Bible where Leviathan is described in several books as a multi-headed sea monster who revolts against God.
We can also make the link with the eponymous book by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes uses Leviathan as a metaphor for the perfect state, ruled by an absolute sovereign who exercises total control over society. Written by Hobbes during the First English Revolution, Leviathan insists on the need for a strong and total social order to avoid society from sinking into a state of nature which, for Hobbes, is a chaotic war of all against all. This choice of name is therefore not trivial and its symbolism has its place in Hell.
In Hellraiser, this volume of depths is also designated as the God of Flesh, Hunger, Desire, or Lord of the Labyrinth.
It is complicated to create a God in a fictional work, especially if one decides to show it. What form should be given to an abstract idea? Barker opted, not for yet another hackneyed classic demonic abomination, but for a surprising and mathematical form, perfectly symbolic of the concepts of Order and Structure. Indeed, the god of cenobites is an octahedron whose walls recall the esoteric ornament of Lemarchand’s boxes. Leviathan gravitates, lonely, dominating hell. It has the power to launch rays of black light which infiltrates your soul to reveal your sins to you.
The origins of this entity are unknown, but several clues point to the fact that it has been present since time immemorial. It is even said that he could be the fallen angel of the scriptures, but above all, this strange god is the one who makes the cenobites. It has the capacity to transform any human being into a suffering monster and thanks to its reconstruction chambers and its tentacles, it has total freedom in the grotesque and terrifying form that it will want to give you.
Leviathan does not speak directly, and to be able to exchange with him, it is necessary to go in his entrails. You can enter it thanks to a wall that unfolds and reveals endless markets. Once inside, the cenobites must play hard an organic organ made of supliciaries of hell to hope to communicate with this God.
In the film, his only form of external language is a tetanizing foghorn which spells the word “GOD” in Morse code.
So here we are at the top of hell.
After this painful journey, we can already note that the only thing that equals the darkness of Hellraiser is its black aesthetics and its mythological sophistication.
A connection with the Bible?
In most works wanting to install a contemporary mythology, these almost systematically refer to Catholic mythology, whether it be the films Freddy and the relationship of his famous killer with hell, the game Bloodborn and his pantheon of Gods who seek to procreate or the manga Berserk and its multiple references to the Inquisition…
For Hellraiser, the least that can be said is that Clive Barker has a unique approach to the issue. Like the character, she is amazing and complex.
In an interview book with Peter Arkins, one of the great screenwriters of the saga, Barker writes on the question.
He immediately confesses to trying in his writings to find the rhythm of the Bible, which he says is his favorite. He also has a sort of fascination with the figure of Christ.
Conversely, his vision of the church and of dogma exudes the most dissenting rejection there is. The work translates very well this oscillation of the author between fascination for the verb and the biblical symbols and detestation of what the men of church made of God. And the saga is dotted with games with religious symbolism, often to return the values. The word cenobite itself refers to an existing order. In contrast to the hermit, who lives in solitude and contempolation, the Cenobite monk lives in community.
By thus making reference to an existing order, Barker can thus criticize religion while retrieving the lexical and symbolic fields.
Pinhead is a nickname but its real dominion is “Hellpriest”, and the monster even marries its gestures.
In addition, the cenobites despise the God of men. This phrase from cult Pinhead is a perfect example:
« Do I look like some one who cares what God thinks ? »
Barker’s vision of hell is therefore not made of horned demons who plunge us into the pot of lava, but of a religious, calculator based on suffering.
And if we wanted to go a little further, we might wonder if the cenobites in their concepts are not very close to the Catholic religion. Indeed, among Christians, the supreme act that launched religion is the crucifixion of a messiah, who became a martyr to save men.
One can almost say that this act of torture is the basis of the Catholic religion. To the point that the symbol worn by its followers is an instrument of torture.
Even if this is presented as an act of supreme love, the fact remains that this myth bases its genesis on the suffering and sin of men. Just like the cenobites.
It is also fascinating to see that the Christ figure has the same right to its rereading with the female figure of Morte Mamme.
In the Barkerian myth, she is the sister of Leviathan, who captured her in a stone tomb thousands of years ago. She is named priestess of chaos and the image she represents is no big mystery.
Yet another camouflaged anti-dogma by the author who tells us that Jesus is a woman, that she is the impulse of life and chaos and that her goal is the destruction of the cenobites. Impossible not to see a political dimension when we know the place of women in religions. Thus Clive Barker seems to be in the grip of a fascination for the original biblical stories and the symbolic power of these myths, while castigating the purely evil deviation of our modern religions. For Clive Barker, God is imagination and imagination is God.
He is He may be some of you who are not used to horrifying creations for whom this universe is undoubtedly dirty, shocking, depressing or repulsive. This prompts us to ask ourselves the question: how can we imagine such things?
Isn’t creation supposed to generate beauty, transcendence, a pleasure for the senses and the eyes?
And I, who am swooning in front of this universe, do I have problems? Am I a creepy person, feasting on the kind of metaphorical darkness?
It’s strange because I see the opposite.
Barker himself says that what is pornography for some is theology for others. Everything is therefore a question of point of view. As far as I’m concerned, I see in this work an incredible ode to creation. A declaration of love for the surreal adventure it implies.
Finally, I see in Hellraiser a reflection on the Artist’s sacrifices. After three months of living in this universe, I ended up thinking about it in my sleep. And one night, I dreamed of this cover of Comic:
We see a painter’s palette there. Brushes are blades and paint hemoglobin. And there I had the feeling to understand. Clive Barker explains that he writes as we paint, and that we only paint with his blood. No wonder, then, that we find our last family of damnation candidates here. The artists…
Inhabited by an intangible and devouring need, they are often visited by the cenobites in the saga. They come to find a young poet, a blind composer, two writers, a crazy painter … The work of a creator consists in deciding between structure and chaos, putting his soul into the configuration that is a work.
In Hellraiser but especially in life, Art is a sacrifice, an activity of a reclusive monk who would only have his imagination for God. It’s a life where places are scarce, where the waiting and learning are endless, where you have to undergo the opinion of people who rarely understand you …
The artist’s freedom is strewn with a thousand obstacles: how to earn something to eat? How to reach people? How to make a work that excites us ourselves? How to surprise yourself, surprise others and mark their hearts and minds? And how to survive a world that does everything to suppress the dream?
Barker is a free spirit, a man who fights daily against the idea of death, a man for whom the imagination is the greatest mystery of humanity. For whom the imagination is God. A man, finally, who is not afraid to rub himself in the dark in order to draw resplendent jewels from it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered a creator virtually. I am quick to marvel at multiple subjects, but feeling an intimate artistic shock in front of an artist’s mind is rare. And that’s what happened to me with this character that I’ve been contemplating from afar for years, without knowing anything about him.
On a sleepless night, I tried what I often balk at doing: knowing everything about the creator whose work I explore. For me the work is what interests me in the first place and I was sometimes disappointed when I discovered the person who was hiding behind. But with Clive Barker, the sensation was quite different, around 4am and after 20 interviews, I felt like I had found a mentor, an incredible model, someone I would like to count among my friends.
The sequence that touched me the most was an English interview where Barker faced a crowd of young people whose age was not so far from his at the time.
And all the questions from the public are curiously enough reactionary and suspicious. Hellraiser first of the name had just come out and everyone was suspicious of the singularity and the violence of the work. And Barker to enter into a soft, understanding and sensitive plea on the power and the necessity of the horror stories, on the strange beauty that they contain.
Seeing him justify himself in front of people who did not understand his sensitivity touched me in the messages they delivered, and his kindness confused me. So I often think back to his mantra:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you can be violent and original in your work”.
One of the beauties of this saga is to see the ambition of its concepts, the creative and symbolic freedom that it contains. What an emotion to contemplate the birth of a world with its geography and macrocosm, to follow its emblematic heroes and demons struggling in an abyssal mythology, with so many readings.
If I was talking about the opening cathedral, it is because every detail of this universe is coherent, finely chiseled and that it allows 1000 things, not forbidding anything.
We recognize here the work of a goldsmith of horror, of a watchmaker of the imagination … who would take the bias of art to reveal things that life does not show. The work then becomes like a revelation that speaks to everyone, like a metaphorical vision of our world.
I would like to end, with a little heavy heart, this trip in the meanders of this total artist with one of the sentences of which he has the secret:
“All that is imagined will never be lost”.