A carnal visage of thrill-based plotting that is both fast and to the point…that being the tip of a meat hook.
This tale is told from differing points of view. The story’s initial character, Frank, is wrought with hedonistic addictions that can no longer be satiated through earthly delights. Instead, Frank, uses his seedy contacts in the underworld to push his fingers through quivering portals which grant access to other planes of existence.
Clive Barker’s prose is airy and meaty at the same time. When the gate opens, this author is off to the races and deftly capturing the horrific tones he aims to achieve. Along the way he manages to let storyline stub its toes and scrape its knees along the ground just enough to make sure the reader is paying attention (without overdoing things).
The characters in this fast-paced novella all have issues. Each of them wrestles with banal afflictions based in selfish desires. Barker manages to intertwine their journeys through familial relationships and themes of unrequited love—contrasted by base desires. Each person’s fate is wrapped up in the others. Then Barker throws open a supernatural gate to hellish dimensions, and lets the demons feast on all the weakness and short comings that have been laid bare.
The demons, Cenobites, are unique entities that have managed to capture horror fans everywhere in their unique yet familiar perspective. Barker etches out the barest flesh of this secondary world and utilizes the fantastical elements sparingly, mostly preferring the humans to bring about their own demise (as they wont to do) and letting the Cenobites play clean up. There is always a choice, perhaps not a clear choice or an easy choice, but the characters in this novella all take matters into their own hands. And pay for their choices.
I must say that this short story took me back to younger days, when I would stay up late cracking the spine of an old Stephen King tome—every once in a while looking up to make sure that a dimensional rift hadn’t opened up behind me without my noticing. It’s a fun tale of terror that moves along at an impeccable pace and takes enough shots at your gut to make you think twice about our baser human leanings. In contrast to King, however, Barker’s prose is much less wordy.
The story has a good mix of immoral complexities and supernatural interferences to give the characters a healthy dose of agency and make you concerned about their wants/needs/goals, whether from aghast or earnest emotion. You simply have to find out if they might pull this off, or if you know they won’t—how far they’ll get before it all comes apart.
All in all, a solid read. If anything, I would have liked to see more of the Cenobites, but perhaps that was the point. Too much of the supernatural element might have lessened the effect.
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on iTunes, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).
Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/review-the-hellbound-heart-1986-by-clive-barker