Book Versus Film: Hellraiser/The Hellbound Heart

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Clive Barker is one of my favourite horror writers, his stories of the macabre and grotesque always leave a very satisfying, yet overwhelming feeling of disgust and intrigue as you read his stories. He was and still is the master of Body horror,  and his stories tend to question and put forward the most interesting aspects of humanity before twisting it in new and disgusting, blood-curdling ways. Fan of horror will know some of Clive’s work, as most of his stories were adapted to film, from the Midnight Meat Train, to the Iconic Candy Man, he has created some memorable monsters and interesting stories. Among the horror greats like Freddie, Leatherface, Chucky the Killer doll and Jason. One icon has stood in the background and watched (for better or worse), and that is the legendary Pinhead.

First appearing in Clive Barker’s horror novella The Hellbound Heart first published in 1986, it also introduces us to one of the most recognisable horror objects in all of literature and film, a puzzle box called The Lament Configuration. Just one year after the novella was published Clive Barker wrote and directed, ‘Hellraiser’ based on his book, I was fortunate enough to come across the audiobook for the Hellbound Heart, and was surprised to find there were a few differences to the film. So let’s dig into the celluloid see with:

The Plot

After looking for the ultimate pleasure, hedonist Frank Cotton, finds a mystical puzzle box that promises to give him what he has been looking for. However, when he opens it he realizes too late that that he has unleashed the Cenobites, hellish beings from another realm who knows no difference between pleasure and pain. Frank’s actions soon have dire consequences for his family.

The film follows the story of the book rather closely. The opening of both the film and the book does are very similar They both open with Frank, a nihilistic hedonist who has grown tired and unsatisfied of the world’s pleasures, sitting in the middle of a room with the box, in the middle of solving it. He summons the Cenobites and they take him back to their realm for an eternity of torture and torment. The book does go a lot more in-depth with Frank and you understand more of what he is doing and why he is doing it than you do with the film.  Larry is called Rory in the book, Kirsty is his friend who is in love with him and not his daughter. Julia is pretty much the same person in the book and the film.


Spoiler Alert: If you want to find out about the film or the book before I discuss this, please go read and watch it first!


I very surprised that there wasn’t much change between the book and the film, other than a few character stuff, what I liked is how in depth the character of Frank was, in the film he is basically meant to be the villain, and within the book he doesn’t actually start out that way. I’ll explain more when I get to characters. However, there were small details that were changed for the film, for example, the opening is drawn out a lot longer.

You do meet Frank sitting in the middle of the room, holding the puzzle box but he also has a few added things, a bucket of urine for the Cenobites to drink etc. You also find out that Frank thought the Cenobites were going to be beautiful women, instead, they are mutilated and sacrificed beings who appear to be sexless. Frank is confused and scared by this but when they offer what he thought would be pleasure he takes it. What is important to note is that the Cenobites do offer him a way out multiple times saying that it might not be what he expects it to be, while in the film they just appear and take him away making the act of just summoning them being seen as consent. Frank accepts their offer and he is immediately overwhelmed with extra sensory experience, he senses become extremely heightened. Touch, Sight, Smell, Taste and even memories are completely enhanced pulling him towards madness almost instantly and he immediately regrets it. He’s pulled into the world of the cenobites only leaving a bit of his semen when he climaxed from the encounter. After that plot of the film and the book merges together and the film follows the book very closely.

Rory/Larry and his wife Julia move into the house sometime after. While exploring the house Julia finds herself drawn to the room where Frank was taken. There she remembers the affair that she and Frank had before she was married to her husband. In the film, it is shown as a passionate affair that slowly turns violent. However, in the book, this is shown from two points of view, that of Julia’s and that of Franks. While with Julia it was seen as this loving yet passionate affair, with Frank it’s seen as a means to an end, in the book its description is likened to rape, but Julia has become obsessed with Frank and seems to only be with Larry/Rory for financial stability. In both the book and the film Frank comes back when Larry/Rory cuts himself, however in the book it is when Rory/Larry’s blood mixes with the semen that was left behind from the beginning of the book. The book doesn’t have that awesome scene from the movie where Frank’s body builds itself up again, however, he is in the wall and can’t really move around. Using Julia’s obsession with him, he asks her to bring him bodies. Both the book and the film follow the same path until the end.

It is really only small changes that make the book and the film different from each other.


The book is a lot more in-depth the characters, making their motivations a lot clearer than the films.

Film Frank isn’t as developed of his book counterpart, just being the catalyst for everything that happens as well as the ‘human’ villain of the movie. Book Frank is bored with life having explored and exhausted all of life’s pleasures for himself. He seems to have a nihilistic outlook on his life only wanting to feed his hedonism. Like in the film he looks for the puzzle box for ‘otherworldly’ pleasures mistakenly believing that the Cenobites would be beautiful women for him to dominate. However, he is met with the Cenobites, and he does lament that this wasn’t what he thought it would be and that he thought it would be like the women he’s had before (like Julia). In the end his need for feeling and his hedonism completely overpowers his judgement and even after the Cenobites warn him that once he begins he can’t go back, he continues to pursue it until it’s too late, he even admits this himself. In the film Frank is seen as this bad seed, who comes in and seduces Julia away from her husband, using her for his own means. In the book his view of Julia is simply, ‘because she was there’, he freely admits that she was pretty much easy, and in his own opinion believes that she only gives off the impression that she was prime and proper. He states that in any other situation he would have taken her away, and then admits that he would have gotten sick of her immediately and that she simply wasn’t worth the trouble nor the effort. The whole basis of the relationship between Frank and Julia is simple, he uses her for his own means. Helping him escape the realm of the Cenobites is no different.

Julia is, in my opinion, kind of the real villain of the book as well as just a hopeless person at the same time. She is pining for a relationship with someone who she could basically never have, and she makes it easy for Frank to take advantage of her, which he does. She has a romanticised memory of meeting Frank and it continues on keeping her obsessed with the man. In the book, she fully believes she can be with Frank when he escapes from the Cenobites, and for a time Frank makes it seem that way. In the book and the film, the affair is depicted as Frank coming in and her being taken instantly by him, and in turn, Frank uses this opportunity and takes what he wants from Julia. While she has the memory of their ‘passion’ as something sweet, the book instantly shatters that stating that  it had ‘all the aggression and the joylessness of rape’ and that over the years, Julia’s memory of events had softened and blurred to what she believes it was, causing the obsession to grow. Her obsession with Frank goes so far that she believes if she brought bodies when he asked, that it would make him docile and he would be at her whim. However, when he able to touch her, it is shown that it doesn’t he is not soft with her, and she still continues to believe that she will be happy with him, forcing herself, as she did with Rory/Larry, to be with Frank. While she looks her nose down at Kirsty for her crush on Rory in the book, her relationship with Frank is pretty much the same, both women were willing to do anything for the person they are in love with.  Although I’d like to say that it seems Frank’s character development from the book went to Julia in the film, while she does ultimately kill for Frank, she was very reluctant to begin with, and without words she questions everything that she does. Especially when it comes to her husband, when he gets close to finding Frank, in the film she is visible scared that Frank will do something to Larry, then when you read the book it casts doubt on that scene from the film. Since in the book, the only reason why she calls Rory away is that she didn’t want him to find Frank because he wasn’t ‘ready yet’. I believe in the film, Julia truly does love Larry, however, when Frank comes back in the picture and she has to kill for him, he slowly turns her against her husband. In the book, she was pretty much ready to kill for him from the beginning.

Kirsty in the film is Larry’s daughter, Julia is her stepmother and there is no love between them. The story pretty much plays out the same as the book but instead with Kirsty trying to save her father from Frank and Julia instead of Kirsty trying to save the love of her life from Frank and Julia. In the book Kirsty is timid and didn’t have the guts to tell Rory what her feelings were, thus ending up in the friend zone. In the book she keeps trying to find out if Julia is cheating on Rory/Larry has if that will make him call off his marriage to Julia.

Rory/Larry is just completely clueless about everything that is happening around him. Completely clueless to the affair that his brother and his wife had, completely clueless to Kirsty’s feelings towards him (in the book). Rory sees Kirsty as just a friend and while he picks up on there being something wrong with Julia throughout the book, he never really shows much interested in finding out what is actually wrong. Larry in the movie does even less, but he does care very much about his daughter.

The Cenobites are the biggest changes from the book and the film, there was a lot that was cut out of the film but for good reason. In the book, the pinhead cenobite isn’t actually named and was meant to be female, much like the film they are just background characters and don’t actually play a big role in the book. I have to admit that the film did a brilliant job bringing the Cenobites to the screen, they look just as gross and grotesque as I always thought the monsters from Clive Barker’s books were meant to be. Most of the dialogue in the film is lifted from the school and I found myself saying the words as I was reading them and hearing Doug Bradley’s voice speak them since it’s so ingrained in my mind. It’s actually pretty awesome.

Film or Book

“No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.”

There is no way that I can choose  one over the other, while the film goes through the beats of the book it totally captures what the book lays out perfectly. The book puts more depth into the characters fleshing them out, Frank Cotton and his motivations, for example, he doesn’t start as a villain, he becomes villainous through his actions. Sure he wasn’t the greatest guy and he is very selfish. The story would have never happened, if Julia had never been obsessed with Frank, her obsession with Frank fuelled this story.

Her desire completely fuelled the story, all of their wants fuelled this story. Some would argue that Rory/Larry is an innocent in all of this, and while he is the least wanting of all the characters, he does want. Or as the cenobrites would say he have desire and he is completely blinded to it. His desire for Julia, makes him completely blind to everything that is happening around him, even when it comes Kirsty. It’s true what they say of course, ignorance in bliss but in the end, his ignorance didn’t do him any favours. In the end, to me this is a tie, because the film is just as great as the book, with the book giving a lot more detail. I would suggest watching the film first then reading the book, to get those little nuggets of character development, the book almost acts as a side dish to the film and you have to devour them both to get the full delicious experience.

“We know what you expected,” the Cenobite replied. “We understand to its breadth and depth the nature of your frenzy. It is utterly familiar to us.”

Like this review and want to read the book? You can check it out on Audible, and GoodReads. Want to check out the film or another opinion on it? Check out Desudeascon’s Hellraiser review series. So, have you read the Hellbound Heart or Seen Hellraiser? Which do you think is better, book or film?


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