Back to Hell: Andy Burns On Hellraiser #1 And The Return Of Pinhead

I was ten years old when I saw the first Hellraiser film. Yes, that’s right. Ten. Funny enough, I have a tougher time watching the movie now then I did back when I was just a kid. To be honest, I didn’t really get any of the concepts of Hellraiser and Pinhead and the Cenobites at the time; I just dug horror movies and had parents that didn’t seem to take issue with me watching them.

With his explorations of pain and pleasure and Hell, horror legend Clive Barker created a rich world in Hellraiser (and the novella The Hellbound Heart where the series originated) that was ripe for comic book translation, which is what Marvel’s sophisticated Epic Comics presented back in the late 80’s. The Hellraiser comic book was a quarterly anthology that ran from 1989 to 1992 and expanded upon the mythology of Pinhead and the mysterious puzzle box that, when opened, would unleash the Cenobites from Hell. Amongst the creators who contributed to the series throughout its run were names like Neil Gaiman, Mike Mignola and Alex Ross – clearly some comic book heavy hitters. While the series was great and is much beloved by those of us that picked it up back in the day, the anthology method meant that you’d never get an extended story in comic book form, which is something that Hellraiser would have been ripe for. Flesh forward (see what I did there) nearly twenty years later and finally we’re getting it, courtesy of Boom Studios and Clive Barker, the man who created the world of the Cenobites in the first place.

Released in stores last month and now available via the Boom Studios and Comixology App (which is how I read it for just $1.99 – Marvel and DC take note – that’s how you price a new release comic using the App Store), Hellraiser #1 is pretty much a de facto sequel to the first film, with an appearance from one of the core characters linking up the two (that’s all I’ll say on that). The gist of the story is that, after inflicting his own special brand of torture on humans foolish enough to open the Lament Configuration (that twisted version of a Rubik’s Cube) for centuries, Pinhead has gotten bored with his existence and seeks to make a deal that could change himself and the entire Hellraiser mythology for good.

Co-written by Clive Barker and Christopher Monfette and illustrated by Leonardo Manco, Hellraiser #1 was a welcome read. It captures the right feel from page 1 (yes, even comics read via an App have pages) and completely immerses you back into the world Barker created all those years ago. The art is suitably gory and creepy and definitely not for the squeamish. But more than all the dismemberment, it’s the story that really sucks you in. Fans of the series know that Pinhead was once human, and his yearning to engage that part of himself again makes for compelling storytelling.

In the pop culture world, the Hellraiser franchise hasn’t been treated well, with sub-par films flying under the radar and going straight to DVD. But the mythology of Hellraiser is one that’s far more complex and altogether interesting than so many of the other, more successful horror franchises. With Barker at the helm, really for the first time since the original film, the potential for the series to shine brightly once again is huge. For fans of Pinhead or horror generally, Hellraiser #1 is highly recommended.

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