Author Interview: Paul Kane, The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy

Recently, I reviewed here The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, one of the finest and most thoughtful (and enjoyable…) movie companion books I’ve read in a long while.

This week, I had the opportunity to interview the book’s author, Paul Kane, about his work in print, and also the Hellraiser films in general:

MUIR: Tell me how you first came to the idea of writing a companion to the Hellraiser films. Obviously you hold the films in high esteem, but what inspired you to pick up pen and paper, so-to-speak, and engage in this serious, well-written analysis of the franchise?

KANE: The simple answer to that one was it didn’t exist. I’ve been a fan of the series and especially the original movie since I first saw Pinhead looming out at me from the video store shelves when I was in my teens. Over the years there have been some excellent publications connected with both Clive Barker and the series – two by Stephen Jones spring to mind, Clive Barker’s Shadows in Eden and The Hellraiser Chronicles but none that systematically traced the production history or examined the themes in great detail.

Just after completing my BA in History of Art, Design and Film in the mid-90s I got involved in a comprehensive A-Z book of directors working in the industry, and one of the entries I chose to do was Clive, which meant doing a bit of research on Hellraiser, Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions. When the company I did that work for had plans to set up an imprint doing short examinations of major movies, I suggested one about the first Hellraiser, something I’d originally been working on with a view to pitching it to the British Film Institute (like the excellent one they’d published concentrating on The Exorcist written by Mark Kermode). I wrote about 15,000 words of this while I was finishing up my MA in Film Studies, so I was noticing more and more with each fresh viewing. Sadly, the imprint vanished and left me with a manuscript I couldn’t get rid of, particularly as the BFI was easing up on their Modern Classics series. I approached a number of film book publishers, but only McFarland suggested I expand the book to incorporate all the movies and the comic series, as well as collectables, and it pretty much took off from there really. I had a few doubts about taking on all that work, but my wife, the horror writer Marie O’Regan, persuaded me to go for it because she knew I’d regret it later if I didn’t. But all in all it’s taken about eight or nine years to get there. So, to answer the question – it’s a book I felt needed to be written and would appeal not just to those interested in film analysis, but to fans of Hellraiser and of Clive’s work in general.

MUIR: Among all the horror franchises out there today, what quality (or qualities) do you think differentiate Hellraiser from the pack? What is it about this series that keeps you coming back?

KANE: When it first came out in 1987, the thing that really differentiated Hellraiser from the rest of the horror pack was that it worked on more than just a superficial level. Compared to the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday 13th and Halloween sagas, this series had something quite serious to say about family life, about obsession, about love. It didn’t just have a killer ripping teens to pieces or quipping as they did so; which is no slight on those particular movies, I’m a huge fan of them too, I’m just saying that Hellraiser brought something new into the mix. A major reason for this was the Cenobites, who are actually not the villains at all when you think about it – Frank and Julia are much more ruthless and evil than they are! So I’d say the complex formula, and the mythology that’s grown from the original set up – introducing the dark god Leviathan, as well as other demons that serve him – is what continues to intrigue me and makes me want to return. It’s a mythology that can, and has, expanded in many different formats with many people adding to the creative pot.

MUIR: How do you feel the Hellraiser films have developed over time? I wrote in my review that I thought the films have gone downhill, but I hold the early entries in high regard. What is your perception of the films? Are they still worthwhile, and why? Was the fourth film the travesty I thought; or do I need to watch it again? Can you rehabilitate it for me?

KANE: I think anything that continues to add to a mythology like this one should be applauded; writers and directors have at least attempted to do something new with the material every time. Hellbound introduced us to Leviathan and the corridors of Hell only hinted at in the original. Hell on Earth gave us Pinhead’s back-history, which fans were crying out for. Bloodline showed the history of the box’s maker, Lemarchand, while Inferno grafted a detective/film noir storyline onto the source material. Hellseeker brought back Kirsty, Deader tackled what might happen if there was a group that could fight the Cenobites, and Hellworld looked at the fanbase and how this has stretched across the internet. Of course, all had their individual faults – from the ease with which Channard defeats the four original Cenobites in Hellbound to the teen killer scenarios of Hellworld, which are a far cry from Clive’s initial concepts. But at least some of the blame for the dip in quality was down to lack of money available and studio interference. The script for Peter Atkins’ original vision of Bloodline is phenomenal – if that had been made, and indeed there is a Yagher director’s cut in existence which was attempting just that, the series might not have gone the way of straight to video/DVD. But the ambition outweighed the budget and then the producers started to moan about Pinhead not being in it until the second section and, well, you get the picture. I think the people in charge of the later films thought they knew what fans wanted – stick Pinhead in there and they’ll be happy – and yet really didn’t understand what made the franchise so special in the first place. All the sequels have something to offer, though, as people will see if they read my book.

MUIR: What was it like getting to interview the great Clive Barker? Doug Bradley?

KANE: Oh, words can’t describe it. I’ve been fans of their work all my life so it’s hard not to get a little star-struck when you first meet someone you admire. However, after you get past the initial ‘wow’ factor, you get chatting and you discover that both Clive and Doug are really down to earth and such terrific blokes. I first met Doug when we approached him to do the introduction to the book. Marie and I invited him along to a British Fantasy Society Open Night and we had a whale of a time talking Hellraiser all night; he was telling us lots of stories about the series. The last time we saw him was last Christmas when we had a little mini-launch in London which Nick Vince (Chatterer) and Barbie Wilde (Female Cenobite from Hellbound) came along to. We all had such a nice night. Clive, we’d been in touch with since he did an introduction to one of our projects back in 2003/4, and we’d been trying to get him over to FantasyCon for a couple of years. Finally, he was able to make it in 2006 and I interviewed him on stage – that was such a brilliant and enjoyable experience for me. But even better was just having a quiet chat and drink with Clive and his assistant Julia away from the limelight. He then took time to go round all the tables at the banquet on the Sunday and sign things for people; he was just a lovely, lovely guy.

MUIR: You write in detail about the influence of Hellraiser on other films and television shows. Can you go into that a little bit here? Where are some of the places you find resonances of the franchise? Do you feel the films are generally more influential than they’ve been given credit for being?

KANE: Yes, I think that’s probably true. In the book I mention examples like Scorpius from Farscape. How can anyone look at him and not think: Cenobite. Similarly, it’s entirely possible that the appearance of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation could have been influenced somewhere down the line by the Cenobites – they’re just like futuristic versions of them. All of which is quite ironic, because, as I mention in the book, there are certain similarities between the Cenobites and some of the characters from David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune, so it’s all kind of circular really. Even if these things are subconscious, they’re there and surely can’t just be coincidence?

MUIR: What would you personally want to see in a remake of Hellraiser? Is a remake a good idea? And if the film is re-made, do you think some elements (like the monster that chases Kirsty in the original…) should be discarded?

KANE: Well, the remake’s been announced, so it’s only a matter of when now. The good news is that Clive is writing it. I think I’d like to see him remain faithful to the concepts from the original, which I’m sure he’d do anyway, but at the same time inject new life into the series. The rubbery look of ‘The Engineer’ should be done away with, definitely, if they decide to bring him back. I reckon they’ll come up with a whole new design for him anyway now – but would be wary of using too much CGI and going down the Star Wars route. I like my monsters solid, and believable. The main sticking point, of course, will be how much money the makers will have to play with.

MUIR: I enjoyed reading your analysis of the Cenobites and particularly your study of how they exploit different human fears; I also thought your comment about them only appearing in seven minutes of the original film was very observant. Why do you think there’s such a fascination with Pinhead and the other Cenobites?

KANE: Sometimes less is more, which is definitely the case with the Cenobites in the first film. They’re only on screen for a fraction of the movie, yet are the highlights of it. Much of this is down to the mystery of them – we know nothing about them at all in the original. But a greater part of their attraction is the way they look, the things they have done to themselves. Clive’s description of them as ‘Magnificent Superbutchers’ sums it up nicely. As an audience we want to know exactly how they came to be and why they look the way that they do. During the course of the next few films, we find that out, which I’d argue takes away a little of what made them scary in the first place. However, it did make their characters more rounded and real, so I guess there was a trade off. As for why Pinhead was so popular, well, it’s not every day you see a man with nails banged into his head – there’s something oddly compelling about that and, if you look at some of the Hellraiser messageboards and what the women write on there, quite sexy too. The actors beneath the make-up are also fundamental to the success of the Cenobites, for example Doug’s excellent speeches as Pinhead are part of what makes the character so great. He’s an intellectual demon, just as likely to spout Shakespeare as he is to slit your belly open. That kind of contrast is what people find so fascinating.

MUIR: Which do you think the most underrated Hellraiser film, and why? The most overrated?

KANE: Probably Bloodline. I know it looks a mess and was chopped to bits by the studio, but at the same time there are some wonderful ideas and moments in there. Pinhead in space might sound ridiculous, but I think it actually works here, and again it’s down to Doug’s performance and one of those speeches again as he gazes down and looks at the Earth: “A garden of flesh!” As it stands, it’s still better than the movies that came after it, but the potential of it makes you want to cry. It could have been the best addition since the original or Hellbound.

MUIR: What do you think the Hellraiser films tell us about humanity, and the human condition?

KANE: On the negative side, it speaks to us about our greed, our appetites – however warped they may be – and the way we continue to sell each other out to save ourselves. But at the same time the mythos contains heroes and heroines that have integrity and courage; think of Kirsty and Tiffany venturing into Hell to try and save Larry – how many of us would have the guts to do that? They are role models to look up to and give us hope.

MUIR: Finally, do you have any other projects in the offing? Any other horror films you’re hoping to study?

KANE: I always have projects in the offing, in fact I’m working on multiple books at the moment. Because I have the fiction string to my bow I have to divide my time been writing horror fiction and non-fiction. I have a couple of fiction books coming out soon, the first of which is a two-novella collection of stories featuring my humorous horror hero Dalton Quayle, and the second is a hardback collection of more serious psychological and supernatural stories. In the non-fiction stakes I’m working on one project with Marie that’s extremely exciting, but can’t say too much just yet. We’re really enjoying ourselves with it though. Another book I’m working on is more biographical in nature, and I’m doing some groundwork for another film book; but again, I can’t really say anything other than watch this space and keep checking my news page on the Shadow Writer site every month…

MUIR: Thanks, Paul, for joining us here to discuss your book. I found your analysis very involving and well-written, and I recommend your book wholeheartedly to readers on the blog. In addition, I will be looking forward to your next project with great interest.

Readers interested in ordering Paul Kane’s book can order it directly from McFarland here. Or, get The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy at Amazon.com.

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