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Literature / The Hellbound Heart

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The Hellbound Heart is a novella by Clive Barker. As the story that first introduced the world to the Cenobites, it naturally contains plenty of Body Horror and fetish material.

This was the book that Clive himself adapted and directed into Hellraiser, which launched the entire Hellraiser franchise. Clive wrote a sequel novel, The Scarlet Gospels, in 2015.


The original novella provides examples of:

  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Frank resorts to this in an attempt to lessen the sensory overload the Cenobites inflict. While it doesn't help there, leaving behind "part of himself" does lead to his escape when his brother Rory unknowingly spills blood on it.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Lament Configuration opens a gateway to the realm of the Cenobites for anyone (un)fortunate enough to figure out how to open it.
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  • Asshole Victim: Frank is subjected to an eternity of torture (twice), but he is such a murderous sleazebag that he totally deserves it.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Well maybe for some.
  • Big Bad: Frank Cotton turns out to be this.
  • The Blank: The Engineer (a fifth Cenobite known by reputation to Frank at the story's beginning) doesn't show up until the end. This may be a questionable example if he was only given human shape by virtue of occupying Julia's wedding dress.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Cenobites inhabit a dimension of pure pleasure... only their idea of "pleasure" is so far removed from what is "normal" that an ordinary human would consider it weirdly discomfiting at best, agonizing torture at worst. The Cenobites don't consider their victims to be victims at all: they're giving them what they think they want. Those who use the box with better understanding are people who are addicted to the extremes of sensation, both pain and pleasure, and often blurring the line between the two before ultimately erasing it completely. The Cenobites are effectively priests of an S&M religion.
  • Body Horror:
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    • The Cenobites themselves provide plenty, let alone to what they do to those who open the box.
    • The state Frank is in after having spent some time in the Cenobites realm. He's little more than a desiccated corpse with one eye and exposed nerves. Julia even comments to herself that it should be impossible for anything like that to be alive.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The Cenobites; aside from the the soul rape you forever endure if you seek ultimate pleasure, they are quite amiable. They try to warn Frank about what he's getting into before he commits to it, and do not renege on their deal with Kirsty.
  • Dark World: Where you go when you open the box.
  • Deal with the Devil: When it comes right down to it, this is what the whole series is about. The pursuit of ultimate pleasure or forbidden knowledge, wherein the seeker places their trust and fate in the hands of unknown entities of supernatural origin. The Cenobites deliver. It's just that, in true Deal With The Devil style, the ultimate pleasure that the seekers get is not usually the kind they want.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Frank Cotton spent all his time trying desperately to escape from the Cenobites and their realm of infinite suffering, participating in the murders of several men to revitalize himself. When Kirsty lures him into a trap by goading him into confessing his true identity (having taken the identity—and skin—of his brother Rory), the Cenobites swoop down to reclaim their escaped prisoner. Speared by a dozen hooks and his body stretched almost to the breaking point, Frank screams in horrible agony—then stops. In his final moments of life, experiencing unbelievable pain, Frank stares silently across the room at Kirsty, and flicks his tongue across his teeth in a lewd gesture that sums up his entire personality and life. Then his body comes apart.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: While anyone familiar with the way Clive depicted them in his own film can easily figure out which Cenobite is which, the descriptions don't match up completely to how most people have gotten to know them.
    • Pinhead is not the leader and is described as having a more feminine voice than the booming masculine voice of the film. He/she does have the grid pattern and the pins are described as having bejeweled heads.
    • Butterball still has his eyes sewn shut, but is the apparent leader of the four.
    • Chatterer is described as having his eyes swollen shut and his mouth disfigured, but is never described to the degree of detail his movie version is famous for (having his teeth exposed and having his mouth wrapped in chains).
    • Lastly, the Female has her movie version's signature mutilation. It's not on her neck, but much further down in another area of her body.
    • Lemarchand's Box is solved by taking it apart instead of changing its shape. It's also described as having black lacquered faces and a mirrored interior; The Scarlet Gospels retcons this and makes the box look like its film counterpart. Although at the end of this novella Kirsty does wonder if there are other such portals, it would make sense there also is one closer to the movie version to be used in the sequel.
    • Frank is described as being overweight with a large mustache, neither of which are present in the film. Frank's brother is named Rory instead of Larry. Kirsty is described as being plain-looking (something which can't be said of Ashley Laurence), harbors an unrequited crush on Rory, and is in many ways a wet blanket compared to her film counterpart.
  • Evil Feels Good: Frank's motivation. Julia eventually comes to this conclusion as well.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy:
    • Frank Cotton releases four demons with the magical cube, which looks quite like a toy. They don't exactly reward him, although it's technically neither a reward nor a punishment. The Cenobites' job is to bring the summoner to the heights of "pain and pleasure". The summoners don't really understand what they're getting into.
    • Julia is on the receiving end as well. She ends up a disembodied head that gets dragged off to Hell by the Engineer.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Pretty much how the novella plays out. On one hand, we have the Cenobites, avatars of an inhuman, otherworldly evil. On the other, Frank Cotton, a man full of all-too-human depravity and cruelty.
  • Eye Scream: One of Frank's eyes was missing when he escaped Hell.
  • Final Girl: Kirsty.
  • For Want of a Nail: A rather literal example. While trying to cut away part of a window form, Rory slices his thumb open with his chisel and bleeds all over the floor. It's this blood that Frank first uses to reconstruct his body and return to the world of the living. If not for that accident, Rory and Julia might have just gone on living in the house, and Frank might have stayed in Hell.
  • Gorn: It's a Clive Barker story after all.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The word "cenobite" originally referred to a monastic living as part of a religious community. It sort of does here too, after a fashion.
  • Hooks and Crooks: Cenobites attack their victims with hooks on chains.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Cenobites are horrifyingly scarred and mutilated monstrosities.
  • Love Makes You Evil: What Julia feels for Frank is likely more a kind of deep, lustful obsession rather than actual love, but it still turns her into a murderer.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: The Cenobites, but also most of the people who knowingly use the box. The latter tend to regret the choice, however.
  • No Name Given: In the original text, the Cenobites were never given proper names.
  • "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: In Julia's own words, the copulation of her and Frank had "all the aggression and joylessness of rape", but that "memory had sweetened events" and made her realize her feelings for him.
  • The Power of Blood: Frank's key to escaping is absorbing the blood and tissues of living people.
  • Punny Name: The Order of the Gash, considering that "gash" is both a type of wound and a vulgar slang term for female genitals.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Defied}. Julia's "affair" with Frank is implied to actually be rape, though Julia's memory of the event sweetened the experience, making her want more.
  • Religion of Evil: The Cenobites themselves in the original novella, as servants of the Order of the Gash (the word Cenobite means a monk or nun in a convent).
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Lament Configuration again.
  • Sense Freak: The Cenobites. Albeit to a very, very extreme degree.
  • Sensory Overload: When Frank makes his deal with the Cenobites, the first symptom is that all his senses are ramped up a million-fold.
  • Summoning Artifact: The Lament Configuration is one and Kirsty wonders if there are others.
  • Straw Nihilist: Frank, who has descended into shallow nihilism after a lifetime of hedonism. It's what originally drove him to seek out the Lament Configuration.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Frank. He tracks down Lemarchand's Box because he thinks the Cenobites will be beautiful women who will teach him new methods of attaining sexual pleasure. However, he's disgusted to see that they're all heavily pierced and mutilated, and even at this point it doesn't occur to him that their offering of "sensual experiences" may not fit the classic English definition of the word — which even the Cenobites themselves repeatedly warn him about. But he figures it out. Quickly.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Frank accidentally stabs Julia in a confrontation gone wrong, and kind of just keeps on rolling. No biggie.
  • Welcome to Hell: Literally, in this case.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Julia's affair with Frank mere hours before marrying Rory.


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