Home Horror BooksFiction Based on the Novel By: ‘The Hellbound Heart’ by Clive Barker

Based on the Novel By: ‘The Hellbound Heart’ by Clive Barker

by Waylon Jordan

Hello readers! It’s Monday morning, and that means it’s time for another round of Based on the Novel By, a series that digs into horror novels and the films they inspired. This week, we have The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker.

Horror Pride Month begins tomorrow here at iHorror. The series spotlights the LGBTQ+ creatives who have helped shape the genre into what we know it as today, and Clive Barker is a prime example of exactly this kind of author, filmmaker, and artist. We’ll say more on that later, but for now, let’s dig into The Hellbound Heart!

Who is Clive Barker?

It seems almost impossible that any genre fan might not know the answer to this question, but just in case…

Born in 1952, Clive Barker is a multi-hyphenate creative who rose to fame in the 1980s when his series of collections published under the Books of Blood title were first unleashed upon the public. The multi-volume set gave birth to numerous adaptations on their own, not the least of which was Candyman.

But Barker was already causing quite the stir in English theater before his dark, imaginative stories were released. He had already formed an avant garde theatrical troupe, The Dog Company, in the late 70s. Among its members were Doug Bradley who would later play Pinhead in the movie Hellraiser which was adapted from The Hellbound Heart.

Life was not always easy for the young author. He has openly discussed the fact that he worked as a hustler in the early days of his career when writing was not paying the bills.  However, with the release of Books of Blood things began to turn around for the author. He would go on to publish some of the most imaginative, game-changing horror literature of the latter part of the 20th century, including books like SacramentImajicaCabal, and Coldheart Canyon to name just a few.

Though he has had numerous health concerns in recent years, Barker continues to see new adaptations of his work brought to life including an adaptation of Books of Blood which ran on Hulu last year. He also attends various conventions when he can.

The Hellbound Heart

The Hellbound Heart novella was first published in 1986 in the third volume of Night Visions, an anthology series with a revolving slate of editors. In 1986, it was George R.R. Martin so in a way, we have the Game of Thrones author to thank for birth of this iconic horror story, as well.

The novella opens as Frank Cotton, a hedonist devoted to experiencing every form of pleasure he can find, seeks out a puzzle box called the Lemarchand Configuration. He has been told that, when solved, it will open a portal to a world dominated by the heights of pleasure and ruled by creatures called The Cenobites.

Of course, he finds the puzzle box, takes it back to his deceased grandmother’s home, and solves it, but to his horror he discovers The Cenobites rule a hellish dimension where the line between pain and pleasure has been blurred to the point that they cannot tell the difference between the two. Frank is tortured and then torn from the world, taken to the Cenobites’ hellish dimension where he will be tortured for all eternity.

A while later, Frank’s brother Rory moves into the house with his wife, Julia. Rory has no idea that Julia had an affair with Frank before their wedding. While up in the attic, he accidentally cuts his hand. The blood that falls on the floor mingles with the semen ejaculated by Frank before he was taken into the hell dimension, opening a portal that allows Frank to return to the world in the form of a desiccated living corpse.

Julia discovers Frank is back and begins helping him build his new body by seducing men to follow her up into the attic. Rory’s co-worker Kirsty–who is in love with him–thinks Julia is having an affair and tries to expose her. She accidentally solves the Lemarchand Configuration and then things get really weird…

If you wondered why I mentioned that Barker worked as a hustler in his early years, it is because this story seems to have been inspired by some of his experiences there. The look of the Cenobites leans heavily upon S&M and leather culture. The inherent queerness of the characters and the story is palpable throughout the tale.

In just under a year, The Hellbound Heart had make its way onto the big screen.


When The Hellbound Heart became Hellraiser, a large part of the story remained intact, with a few exceptions. Rory became Larry and Kirsty became Larry’s daughter from his first marriage instead of a co-worker in love with him.

Yet, we still had Frank the hedonist, Julia obsessed with him, and of course, the Cenobites. It was that last element that stood out for most viewers and remains some of the most iconic horror imagery of its day.

Drawing again on his experiences as a hustler and in the S&M scene from the late 70s, Barker created Cenobites that were larger than life and somehow as sensual as they were sadistic, but none loomed larger than the Hell Priest who would come to be known as Pinhead.

Played by Doug Bradley, Pinhead walked the line between terrifying and intriguing with alacrity. We were repulsed by him and his cohorts and yet we wanted to know more. Funnily enough, Bradley was not the only theater colleague Barker brought along for his venture into film. Nicholas Vince appeared as the Chatterer Cenobite after Barker approached him about the film.

“It was my first offer for a feature film,” Vince told iHorror in his Horror Pride Month interview in 2020. “I wasn’t going to say no! Clive’s imagination fascinates me. He makes me think. He challenges me, but he’s also enormous fun to be around. He’s just a very funny man. We worked very long hours on those movies because he was always having new ideas. I always got overtime on those shoots because he would just follow his imagination.”

Despite very, VERY mixed reviewed from critics, Hellraiser became an enormous fan favorite that spawned a franchise with more entries than you remember–or want to remember anyway–so few of which lived up to the original.

Still, Pinhead, the Cenobites, and the world of Hellraiser and The Hellbound Heart live on. It was only recently announced that Hulu would be creating a series based on the mythology. Further, the original novella inspired its own sequels in novel form, notably with The Scarlet Gospels which Barker released back in 2015.

Of course, this is only a surface level examination of the process of taking The Hellbound Heart from page to screen. For more information, I highly recommend the extensive documentary Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II.


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