Hero Whipped: Hellraiser

Note: Images below are gory and may be found disturbing by some. Proceed with caution.

If this is your first time reading one of these posts this is where I discuss my return to the comics medium after a long hiatus. The journey to that return in chronicled in this post and this one. Since detailing that journey subsequent posts have usually been on topics surrounding one particular character and the depiction in various media.

Now in discussing Hellraiser as a franchise I do realize that I am not dealing with a hero. When you’re dealing in the horror genre, particularly as the franchises spawn sequels and spin-offs, you are more concerned with the villain. In the case of some truly unfortunate films it’s the antagonist you prefer because the protagonist(s) are lacking.

When discussing Hellraiser specifically one interesting aspect of the property is that it really does illustrate another area wherein prose, film and comics have some overlap. Specifically I am thinking of the connection between auteurs, or writer/director if you prefer, and comic creators. Naturally the link between those and author exists there too. For one of the films, a book and now a few comics series that title is held by one man: Clive Barker.

The Hellbound Heart (1988, HarperCollins)

The Hellraiser concept was first introduced in a novella by Barker entitled The Hellbound Heart. This story was first anthologized in November of 1986 and was released as a standalone book after the success of the film.

Clive Barker is one of the few artists working today that one can truly call a renaissance man. There is virtually no creative endeavor he hasn’t sought out – he writes novels; has written and had plays produced; he’s a photographer; and he paints, hundreds of his works now form the illustrations for his Abarat series. Prior to writing and directing Hellraiser, he’d acted as writer or director on a number of films including SalomSalomé, The Forbidden and Rawhead Rex. When the narrative of The Hellbound Heart was to come to cinemas he took on both challenges.

Hellraiser was one of New World Pictures most successful titles and a work of visionary horror. Though Barker did have input in the sequel and the third film his control over the film series was never equal to what he had that first time around. The results have never been the same again either. Considering that it’s a world of his crafting that he executed on film so brilliantly the first time around, it was folly. If you’re brave enough to watch the decline of the series, it is a sad thing; one I didn’t have the stamina to write about.

Hellraiser (1987, New World Pictures)

However, with horror franchises on film that tends to be the case. It’s a case of gradual decay and occasional slight resurgence after the studio takes control of its fate and the creator of the entity eventually moves on to bigger and better things. However, Barker’s name still has caché, and is so synonymous with Hellraiser, for obvious reasons, that Dimension has taken to using his name in sequels he had nothing to do with. This has caused Barker to publicly disclaim these assertions stating that the story did not come from his mind or any other orifice of his body, to paraphrase.

It is lamentable when a film franchise falls that far from grace. There is a reboot in the works, which he is producing that may right that, but there is all that wreckage in the past and only the original film stands as a masterful work of horror. That is, of course, if you limit yourself to film.

Recently, Barker has taken to writing for the comics medium for the first time. Since Hellraiser joined the Boom! Studios line-up he was the guiding force behind a 20-issue series, followed by a 4-issue mini-series and now a new Hellraiser ongoing series has picked up a different thread of the mythology. Barker is not always credited as authoring the script, but has been, and is definitely guiding these tales.

Hellraiser Annual #1 (Boom! Studios)

Just sating that creator/auteur urge of having someone who understands the world and how to tell new stories within it would be enough for most. However, the series have also been fantastic so far. I’m fairly selective about monthly titles and have never dropped them off my pull-list and more often than not these titles have been at or near the top of best issues of the month. Many times they show what the medium can do. The artwork, typically done by different artists, appropriately and seamlessly, is gorgeous and lush. The writing is smart and the structure intricate. It lends itself to re-reading, and reading in trade, but also works in single-issue format, I believe. That’s a hard trifecta to pull off.

Fans of the world, the antagonist Pinhead and the heroine Kirsty Cotton would likely be pleased by this run of books which is ongoing. Fans of Barker in general should be glad that there’s yet another outlet for his creative genius as in June Boom! will debut his first original 12-issue limited series called Next Testament.

It seems that both Barker and the Hellraiser have found a new place to call home, the comics medium. That’s a good thing for both of them, but it’s an even better thing for fans and we should all be reading.

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What Should You Want a Franchise to Do Next?

I cannot say I’m a die hard Die Hard fan, not just because that’s a pun, but also because it’s true. However, what the chatter about the latest Die Hard did reveal to me is that even in disappointment, which is the fairly universal reaction to the latest installment, there are different grades of frustration. Furthermore, differing thoughts on what the future of the franchise should be by those who hold it dear.

Essentially, what struck me as most interesting to write about was examining the logic of differing plans through the spectrum of my feelings on other series’.

One of the first I heard can be succinctly described as “Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That.” In other words, “Why end the series on a sour note?” However, if I were to apply that to a series I truly liked there would need to be something that I wanted to see salvaged. Because on the surface it can seem a contrarian statement to say “Man, that wasn’t very good, they’ve got to make another one.” However, I do get the sentiment. I think a series in my mind that has gone off course but can still be righted is say the Final Destination films. So far as Die Hard goes, I don’t think a third generation is an eventual solution or becoming further spy-oriented. Again, not a die hard, so I won’t over-speculate.

Hellraiser (1987, New World Pictures)

As opposed to continuing and just fixing the story, another reaction that’s possible it to want to go back to square one. I doubt this would be satisfactory to Die Hard fans. I know it’s a course of action I would accept as a fan of the Hellraiser concept and works wherein Barker was involved, that series is so far from healthy, restarting is the only way to come close to his intention for the character. Especially when the last film prompted Barker to respond that this particular plot it didn’t even come from his a-hole much less his mind, one wonders how worried about being true-to-form Dimension really are. In Die Hard terms, I find it hard to believe an attempt that doesn’t involve Bruce Willis would be made any time soon. The reboot option may only come when he’s really, really old and plays a humorous cameo wherein my generation and those above can tell the youngins that he made the first one and it was better.

So righting the ship and a reboot are options, but not viable ones in this series. The other two options that are theoretically possible would be a prequel, which also doesn’t makes sense here, and just ending it. These two seem to be the two hardest options to accept when your the fan of a franchise. Usually my litmus test about a prequel, or a tale in the same realm being told, is involvement of the originator of the series, like if Rowling pursued other wizarding stories or pursued a new strand of tales with her triad.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001, Warner Bros.)

Another determining factor is: is there room for narrative growth? Lucas had plans for more Star Wars, so now that the decision about proceeding on a new installment belongs to someone else; it’s happening and that’s fine by me. The reported stand-alones are too. The differentiation between the Star Wars and Harry Potter properties is one of time and ownership. So far as we know, lest we get new indications otherwise, Rowling’s world-building is complete. Lucas’ plan was always longer.

Few franchises have a grand design, and that prompts many follow-ups to come about due to responding to questions such as “Well, why not?” or “Well, what now?” Those with a grand design seem to have more staying power, and those who are consistently trying to re-invent the wheel are gambling more.

In the end, I believe “The Ain’t Going Out Like That” school should be the one we feel a film falls into least. A desired abandonment, as nihilistic as it may sound, could be the preferred reaction to most disappointing late-franchise sequels. The cessation of installments ends the false hope, that no matter if we know better, that part of us always holds onto believing that an intangible piece of the first film’s magic will come along into the second, third, fourth and fifth. So perhaps rather than wanting it to be fixed perhaps a franchise we feel is broken should be left alone until it heals or dies.

61 Days of Halloween: A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Series Revisited

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Each year, since I’ve started doing 61 Days of Halloween anyway, I’ve selected a long-running horror series to view in its entirety in rapid succession. I’ve already done Halloween, Friday the 13th, Children of the Corn, Hellraiser and Final Destination. Now, whether I spawned write-ups or not on each individual film has varied, what it does serve is to track the trajectory of the series, to follow certain narrative threads, concepts and plot points through the series.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a series I should’ve done earlier. There is a a slasher trinity in 80s, it just stands as a fact whether I like it or not. I’d peg the Nightmare on Elm Street series 3rd overall, and I still do having seen it all. Essentially, what it boils down to is that it’s a great, great concept that’s never executed to it maximum effectiveness.

One issue that always plagued the series as a whole is the rendition of Freddy Krueger. In Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, a film which does great things with simulacrum and reflexivity, there is a great joke where Heather Langenkamp (playing herself) is confiding in Robert Englund (also playing himself) that she’s having nightmares about Freddy. Englund responds something to the extent of “What, like, me as Freddy?” Heather responds, “No, scarier.”

It’s a wonderfully perceptive joke by Craven. Over the course of the original series, Craven only is involved in the first two, Freddy becomes more frequently a vehicle for one-liners and clownishness. It ends up being the situation, and whether or not we have any sympathy or identification with the characters, that determines whether or not we’re involved. Freddy does have an arc in the series, which is gravitates towards comedy. Jason and Michael Myers stay virtually the same, we may learn more about them, but they as symbols do not change; they don’t speak, they rarely if ever show their face and they haunt in their same way.

Perhaps the best thing about the Nightmare series consistently is that it does come of with very creative ways to have Freddy attack anew, or to explore a new aspect of the Dream paradigm. In a similar manner to the Children of the Corn series, the second Nightmare film is perhaps the most unfortunate and furthest removed from the intentions of the tropes established in the first. In this one, Freddy is able to lodge himself in his victim’s mind in his sleep and he bursts forth with a body anew whenever he takes over. It’s a symbiotic, quasi-Dark Half oddness that doesn’t befit the rest of the series.

Similar to the Halloween series which follows Jamie Lloyd for a few films, there are the Alice Johnson movies in this series. Some under-served ideas occur in her films in both Dream Master and The Dream Child wherein you have very interesting concepts that don’t get the kind of films that live up to how fascinating the ideas folded into it are.

Aside from New Nightmare, which flips the script literally, Dream Warriors is the best new ground covered. It reintroduces Nancy years later in a pretty great evolution of her character becoming a mental health professional with a unique insight to her young patients’ nightmares.

Now, as I mentioned above, in ranking the iconic 80s-started series, I put Halloween above Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I would do so anyway, but having the two other series involved in the farce that is Freddy vs. Jason doesn’t help. And, of course, the way that film ends, even taking it for what it is, didn’t please me in the slightest.

So, the concept is great and was original upon its inception. In horror movies the “it was only a dream” escape was always a cop out. Here, in this series, there’s nothing more dangerous than dreaming. It’s not only a dream. That above all is most refreshing.

Now, this film, like the other two iconic franchises of the 80s, has been re-imagiend for the 21st century. I already wrote plenty about it in my initial review, but it did find a new avenue to make sleep attack when you least expect it. It was also a set-up part one that could’ve been improved upon in part two. However, the good news/bad news is that apparently the pie is split too many ways to make a sequel financially desirable; so for the time being Freddy’s dead anew. If and when he’s resuscitated let’s hope his persona leans towards the remake, and that the film makes no apologies for his villainy and the dream concepts are fully enforced.

The Flip Side: Seeing the Movie Then Reading the Book

Asa Butterfield in Hugo (Paramount)

Recently I re-posted a series of articles I wrote on The Site That Shall Not Be Named (no it’s not the Dark Lord’s site) about how to divorce oneself from the source material when you’re watching an adaptation of a beloved book, comic, TV Show or what have you. If you want to read that series start here, otherwise bear with me.

In that series I really tackled a problem many face but mainly it pertained to books and their readers the most. To be more specific people who happened to have read the book prior to watching the film, which is a tough transition.

However, a twitter friend of mine and blogger in his own right, recently posted this intriguing entry:

People who follow me at all know I read a lot.

I read books now more than ever, used to read more newspapers and magazines.

But, I hear all the time, I want to see say “Hunger Games” but I need to read the book/books first. I personally prefer seeing the movie first.

Books are a totally different format, richer, longer, have subtext, a medium of words. Film is a medium of images and sounds, and quite a bit shorter at around 90-120 minutes. The average screenplay is 95-125 pages long, the average book is around 300 pages. It’s simply different.

For me a good example of this is Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo”. Although the book the “Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick is very cinematic, and the look is in the movie, Scorsese adds scenes, depth of character and a few other things I don’t see in the book. I did see “Hugo” before reading the book, and think if I read the book first I would have used my image of the book to cloud the movie and not loved the movie for what it did well but get trapped in comparisons.

An example of a book I did read first which clouded my judgment of the movie is “Jurassic Park.” I quite enjoyed Micheal Crichton’s novel, and I missed several scenes (especially the river scene) that were in the book in the movie. Although Spielberg does a good job with it, I find actually the monster movie “The Lost World” to be more fun. I think this is partially because my view of the book hurts the movie.

Another example for me from a recent movie is “The Hunger Games.” My wife has read through this series twice already, and I am still around 20% in the first book. I quite enjoyed the movie, and wonder if my judgment of the book would have clouded how I see the film.

Basically movies and books are entirely different mediums. If you try to make the movie just like the book you get boring movies like Chris Columbus’s Harry Potter 1 and 2, which although good and nowhere near as rich to me as Cuaron’s version that shares the vision of the book but doesn’t feel the need to get everything in Harry Potter 3 (still the best of the series to me.
What do you think?

The general points up there I agree with almost without exception. I wanted to quote the post mainly for context and also as shorthand to expound on my observations on this opposite phenomena I didn’t examine.

I completely agree with the assertion that one musn’t read the book before seeing the movie. The book is not Cliff’s Notes to the film. The film has to sink or swim on its own merits. With regards to The Hunger Games, I liked it but I knew innately that there was backstory and subtext from the book only being hinted at on screen, however, it didn’t ruin the film for me.

With regards to subtext allow me to make a minor semantical point: yes, many films are surface only but when you study them you learn to read them (I’m not being poetical, we say that) and seek the subtext. Some films are what they are; vapid or brilliant there’s not much else going on, those are few. There will be more forthcoming dialogue simply because the examples are ones I so closely relate to but I will transition, believe me.

Another thing that even I didn’t really examine in the prior series is that there really isn’t a direct correlation between pages in a book and a screenplay. One can make it, and I have, for a mathematical argument but truly the literal conversion of book to film can have so many more variables. A good example would be Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. I stuck with it and finished it and liked, despite it being the most challenging read of my life. Such is the stream of consciousness and transition from reality to memory to fancy to dream that it makes it a very involving and exhaustive experience. Were you to take certain pages out of the book and transcribe them to screenplay form you could have so many changes of time and location that one novel page could be three to four screenplay pages. Again, if you’re a completist and being literal. A good film of the book would have some of those montages implied in the writing but not all of them.

Certain writing styles do imply montage as Eisenstein talks most about in the book of his I’m in the midst of and what can be done in a paragraph of prose may take a page or more in a screenplay depending on how you decide to exploit it cinematically. This is just further food for thought when thinking about taking something that’s purely text and turning it into visuals.

With regards to the example of Hugo above it’s amazing that we both reached virtually the same conclusion about the film having inverted reading schedules. I took The Invention of Hugo Cabret out of the library and devoured it because it was a quick read, liking the story much better than the presentation thereof and then though I knew Scorsese and Logan made certain changes I felt they enhanced the film and made it the best of 2011.

Sam Niell in Jurassic Park (Universal Pictures)

With regards to the Jurassic Park films, I actually tried to read the book and I failed to complete it despite needing to write a book report on it. That did not diminish my desire to see it or affect my view of it. I absolutely adored every second of it. Being a budding cinephile and a kid who at more than one point wanted to be a paleontologist it was, and will remain, one of the most exhilarating movie-watching experiences of my life. It’s magical. On the other hand, I didn’t try and read The Lost World, I disliked it a lot. How much? This much. I was pleased to learn in my Spielberg class that part of the reasoning behind his doing The Lost World was that Universal had been begging him for a sequel since 1982 and he would not hear of it being E.T.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros.)

As for the Harry Potter films: I love them and I love the books. My love for both is separate but equal, to re-appropriate an old phrase. I always read them before I saw them but with the few production delays they had the gap between reading and viewing grew as the films moved on. My favorite is The Half-Blood Prince, it’s the apex of the story cinematically and in the books I feel so much of what was built in the series lead to that point. The Prisoner of Azkaban is great but like many of the films they stumble at the goal line, metaphorically speaking but that one just loses the ball entirely with the very last image and piece of voice over. Only part of the issue with the first two films is Columbus. The other part is that the books steadily grew in size through the course of the series. Slavishness to the novel was easy, and maybe a requisite to establish the franchise at the beginning. As the books grew slavishness became more difficult to accomplish, nearly impossible, thus the films truly came into their own as a separate but equal enterprise.

So having said all that in the interest of piggybacking and elaborating on points I previously made; What about seeing the movie first and then reading? I am very intrigued by the idea but I do not have much practice with it. I have a few candidates in mind to try it with but let’s see what case studies I have (Yes, we are quite literally discovering it together, hence why I wanted to write this post).

Jack Nicholson in The Shining (Warner Bros.)

The Shining

I decided to pick up a Stephen King book because I saw The Shining. I was just into High School and it was the first time I enjoyed being scared. I was averse to horror before then. I learned from King and went on to read many that he read. However, the film and the book are very different beasts. I had no problem with having a cast in my head, King even acknowledges that in a foreword or afterword of one of his books, but like I said it was different. I didn’t dislike it. I don’t disagree with King’s comments about Kubrick either, yet I still enjoy Kubrick’s riff on the story more than the book or the mini-series. Do I skew to the movie for having seen it first? Yes. However, then there’s The Hunger Games. I tried to read it as a library book. Hardly started. I then saw the movie still knowing next to nothing and would likely enjoy the book more.

Pet Sematary

Miko Hughes holding a copy of Pet Sematary

Here’s one where if you make me pick which one I like I’ll kick, scream and refuse. I love them both so, so much.

Storm of the Century

Colm Feore in Storm of the Century (ABC)

Ha, I’m such a cheater because this is a screenplay but regardless I may be in a minority but I really enjoyed it in both incarnations.

Hellraiser/The Hellbound Heart

Doug Bradley in Hellraiser (New World Pictures)

Clive Barker brings such imagination and originality to everything he does it’s hard to be disappointed but it is a somewhat different interpretation of the vision than the one he put on screen I find. Similarly, he’s working on a comics series of Hellraiser now, which is incredibly good.

The Exorcist

Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow and Jason Miller in The Exorcist (Warner Bros.)

With all apologies due William Peter Blatty the movie rips the book to shreds quality-wise. However, the reading experience was just fine.

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption/The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption (Columbia Pictures)

It wasn’t a tainted reading experience in any way and it’s evidence of why Frank Darabont is Stephen King’s best adapter.

The Body/Stand by Me

Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O'Connell and Corey Feldman in Stand by Me (Columbia Pictures)

In a similar way to Stephen King’s reaction to Darabont’s The Mist he also loved this one because of a crucial change Rob Reiner made for the better. Reading it was fine, watching it more lively. In this case it might’ve tainted it in my mind from having seen it so much.

Apt Pupil

This story as written is outstanding. Yes, the cast remained the same but the story delves into the psychology of the situation in ways the film scarcely attempts. You should read it.

The Langoliers

The Langoliers (ABC)

Augmented by having seen it first in part because I love the mini-series up until the very end. It’s like King says, the story just falls into place so smoothly and that translates on to the page and the mini-series is great until one of the worst third act blunders, and effects shots ever.

Misery

Kathy Bates and James Caan in Misery (Columbia Pictures)

How can having Kathy Bates in your head not make it better?

Cycle of the Werewolf/Silver Bullet

The Cycle of the Werewolf (Signet/Berni Wrightson)

It’s a totally different beast entirely. It’s a short little book with Berni Wrightson working his magic illustrating it, giving you new images to focus on.

Creepshow

Creepshow (Berni Wrightson/Signet)

Quite frankly with the premise of Creepshow being tales in the style of old EC Comics how can it not be a good comic book, seriously?

Burning Secret

Burning Secret (Vestron Pictures)

I’m surprised I had forgotten this one. This tale is quite literally the perfect example of this list. I saw this film by chance on Netflix. I was rather intrigued by it and was curious to read the book. The book was rather short and a quick read. The adaptation is great because it develops cinematic subtext without using any of the inner-monologue inherent in the prose. What this does is create an air of mystery and a questioning of motives, at least to an extent, which never happens in the book. The strength of the book is that you get explicit detail about the thought processes of each character. In short, you get slightly different but very well-realized renditions of the tale. In each version the medium is exploited brilliantly.

These are likely the only examples I can be completely certain of. Having thought on them: Yes, the argument does have merit. It can be better and more enjoyable to watch and then read. This might mean that The Hunger Games and A Song of Fire and Ice are in my future.

61 Days of Halloween- Genesis

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Genesis

Genesis (Waken Productions)

If the aforementioned Aftermath is not your cup of tea you needn’t worry because you can still stream the prodigious talent of Nacho Cerda by watching Genesis. Immediately you are shown a list of awards this film has one so you are clued in that this is a different sort of ride.

While managing to be agonizingly beautiful this film will forever redefine the lyric by Elton John “If I was a sculptor…but then again, no” as a weird symbiosis between sculptor and statue is formed.

This is a film that redefines the living statue but also excels in filmmaking prowess. The original score and cinematography work in perfect harmony to heighten the drama of the tale. Here again the effects are great as we see a metamorphosis slowly building.

Through creatively lit and cut together dream sequences the subject of the statue is given meaning as this tale isn’t whimsical as many which feature the motif and adds additional information to the transformation scenes. These scenes end with a wonderful POV shot.

Again Cerda puts his protagonist alone and in solitary work so he need not speak. Here again Cerda creates sort of a gruesome fascination in what is going on in the film, in this film especially I was reminded of my first viewing of Hellraiser. Yes, I did just liken Cerda to Clive Barker that is the height of effectiveness that these short films reach.

While there may be a shot or two extra at the end that could’ve been judiciously trimmed or lost this is still a brilliant piece of work and one that can be appreciated by a much wider audience than Aftermath.

9/10