Do we love The Hellbound Heart from Bafflegab Productions? Oh Hell, yes we do. Five star reviews are not easy to come by here on Exciting Stuff, but releases like this are what that fifth star is there for.
The original novella “The Hellbound Heart” by Clive Barker was the basis for the first – and still the legendary – Hellraiser movie, but Bafflegab delivers a version of Hell that’s truer to the novella, and more emotionally logical than the movie was.
The story of Julia Cotton, a woman trapped in a loveless, undersexed, underthrilled marriage to the nicer and duller of two brothers remains, with Rory the nice guy and macho Frank both being played by Tom Meeten. Kirsty, who was one of the family in the movie, is returned here to being a friend of Rory’s, who dislikes Julie and fancies her own chances with the more respectable Cotton brother. And the twist that brings this dysfunctional foursome into contact with the Cenobites – a pack of extreme S&M ‘angels’ from Hell, summoned by something called the Lemarchand puzzle box – remains the same, although again, the audio version is truer to the novella than the film, with the lead Cenobite, affectionately known by fans as ‘Pinhead’, being played with a girlish, almost childlike glee by Evie Dawnay – a far cry from the movie’s masculine version, played by Doug Bradley, but nevertheless deliciously right.
Casting Tom Meeten as both Frank and Rory Cotton allows for a vocal similarity that’s believable as well as thematic (two sides of the coin of modern masculinity), while Neve McIntosh brings new levels of weary despair to Julia in this audio version, revealing more of the character’s desperation to feel, to love, to be part of something with a man who brings her sensuality to life. The story of Frank’s involvement with and escape from the Cenobites, his need for blood and bodies to revive himself, and Julia’s procuring of them is all here, but there’s something that’s made clearer in the audio version than in the movie – Barker’s splitting of post-modern maleness into insipid obsequiousness and vicious machismo is brought back together as Julia’s ‘whole man’ at the end, in a way that works much more effectively with this cast.
Alice Lowe’s Kirsty feel more alive and pro-active in this version too, more driven by her love of Rory than Ashley Lawrence’s movie version – the lines of loyalty and action are much clearer when she’s fighting for a potential partner than they are when she’s fighting for her father. But Lowe gives Kirsty something believably 21st century too, something slightly selfish that allows us to wonder if even she is on the right side of the ethical divide.
As for the Cenobites, Barker’s most indelible signature-stamp on the popular culture of horror, Dawnay plays the ‘Pinhead’ Cenobite with a gorgeous, courageous difference from the Doug Bradley movie version, and as such she both claims the role and owns it in its new audio format. Slightly androgynous in her distance from human concerns, as the Cenobites are all supposed to be, but with a breathy female tinge, she’s a Borg Queen of pleasure and pain that makes you want more Barker adaptations from Bafflegab. Her subordinate Cenobites, while losing out in terms of the visual aspect of the movie, give her good support, but as with the movie version, this is very much Pinhead’s show, and Dawnay deserves extras props for steering away form a well-known and much-loved movie version, and making the role her own.
The pace of this release is punchy, but the depth and the layering of story and character mean you emerge on the other side of it feeling like you’ve been through a much fuller-length wringer. The scares are en pointe and the elevated performances from Tom Meeten, Neve McIntosh, Alice Lowe and Evie Dawnay make for a Hellbound Heart that feels both classic and new at the same time, both right and fresh. Paul Kane delivers a gorgeous adaptation that allows longstanding fans to nod and revel in Barker’s horror genius, while inviting newbies into the embrace of the Cenobites with a bright, intelligent, twisted tragedy of desire and its consequences.
Bafflegab’s been edging ever closer to the horror genre for a few years, but in its new straight horror adaptations, it feels like it’s found its true audio home. The Cenobites are back, as bright and as terrifying as ever, and they have such delights to show you…
The Hellbound Heart will be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading retailers on April 27th 2018.