Friday, May 26, 2017

Christian Themes in the Movie "Hellraiser"

In a couple previous posts I've made on the movie Hellraiser, I've discussed the character of Frank Cotton and the theme of godly versus worldly sorrow (see 2 Corinthinians 7:10). Seeking Biblical truth in a horror film centered on sadomasochism may seem quite strange--and many will see it as just as excuse to justify watching a movie with gross and immoral content--but there's actually a good bit of thought in there.

Below are some Christian themes I've noticed in the film:

Godly vs. Worldly Sorrow

2 Corinthians 7:10 states the following:  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. The article above goes into more detail, but I'll summarize a bit for the TL; DR crowd or for those who might not be interesting in visiting a Christian website. "Godly sorrow" is sorrow for the immorality of one's actions--the disrespect shown to God and harm done to others. "Worldly sorrow" is regret for the personal costs of sin only.

And in Hellraiser (and the novella it's based on, "The Hellbound Heart") "worldly sorrow" is epitomized by Frank Cotton. Frank is an unrepentant hedonistic pleasure-seeker who in the book describes having smuggled heroin and in both the book and film seduced his own brother's fiancee. The book elaborates by describing how the only reason he doesn't "snatch her from under her would-be husband's nose" is that he would soon tire of her and have his vengeful brother after him. He grows bored with "dope and drink" and endless fornication and seeks out the Lament Configuration, which promises wonders and pleasures beyond human comprehension.

Well, the ones bringing said wonders and pleasures have some very different ideas of what constitutes fun. Frank is abducted by the Cenobites and subject to gross physical and sexual abuse, which he escapes purely by accident. He regrets his involvement with the Cenobites--this early draft of the "Hellraiser" script shows how deeply the Cenobites have traumatized him--but not the immoral lifestyle he has led. This same early draft of the script depicts him attempting to rape his own niece when he sees her for the first time in years, and in both the book and the film he treats Julia as a means to an end, disposing of her when she is no longer convenient. In "The Hellbound Heart," he seems interested in applying some of what he learned about pleasure and pain in Hell to Julia if only she would set him free, which implies he intends to go straight back to sleeping around if not worse once he's fully reconstituted.

And in the end, Frank's worldly sorrow leads to death. In his desperation to rebuild his mutilated body, he and Julia murder several people so he can feed on them. When Kirsty threatens to expose him, he murders his own brother, and when he and Julia attempt to kill Kirsty, he accidentally stabs her and then feeds off her remaining life-force rather than trying to help her. He attempts to kill Kirsty (his niece in the film, a friend of his brother in the book) and is ultimately reclaimed by the Cenobites, dismembered alive and returned to Hell. In Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, he ends up getting killed by the damned Julia, who uses the exact same words he told her before he tried to consume her.

Conscience and Universal Knowledge of Morality

The first two chapters of Paul's letter to the Romans are something I have always had problems believing. Romans 1:18-32, which states outright universal knowledge of the nature of God and universal human rejection of what they know to be true, is what Carl Sagan would call an extraordinary claim needing extraordinary proof. Furthermore, many conservative Christians, especially Calvinists, have taken it so far as to claim that everybody knows the Christian religion specifically is true and simply rejects it out of desire to sin. Seriously, we're talking about people who call ISIS "God-haters," never mind that they're fanatics of a different religion rather than irreligious. Romans 2:12-16 describes how the laws of God are written on the hearts of Gentiles and in particular suggests the human conscience is divinely ordained. The conscience in my opinion is more malleable than that.

Frank's life before he's taken by the Cenobites is not discussed much in the film at all (beyond the whole "seducing/semi-raping his brother's fiancee" part), but the book describes his imagination as "fertile" when it comes to "trickery and theft" and among other things he smuggles heroin. He apparently owes a lot of people money, which he probably spent on "dope and drink" and prostitutes. However, and this is the important part, he knows what he's doing is wrong. The prologue refers to him growing bored and dosing himself with whatever opiate "his immoralities had earned him." This is from his point of view, not the narrator's, so even if he had "suppressed the truth in unrighteousness" (i.e. convinced himself superficially his behavior was not immoral despite knowing better), on some subconscious level he knows that his lifestyle is evil.

In Which Frank Quotes the Bible

In the film, when Frank is speared repeatedly by the Cenobites, his last words are, "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). That's the shortest verse in the Bible, in which Jesus mourns for His dead friend Lazarus, whom he later resurrects. I'm not sure what Frank is referring to in that context--according to some Googling, the line was ad-libbed by the actor and Barker decided to keep it.

Sunday, May 21, 2017


Awhile back I saw Friday the 13th VII in order to prepare for a live podcast with some friends. Sufficient to say I didn't enjoy the movie that much, but one thing that stuck out to me was how they did nothing with a potentially intriguing implication villainous psychiatrist Dr. Crews knew more about Jason Voorhees than he was letting on. This reminded me a heck of a lot of Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 in which heroine Kirsty Cotton warns the director of the mental institution about the horrors of the Cenobites...who it turns out the director has been researching for some time.

So here's how I would have written Friday the 13th VII if I had to follow the same basic plot. Beware spoilers...

Act One

*No opening recap of the earlier films in the series. The camera starts on the lake floor and pans up around Jason's body before we meeting young Tina and her dysfunctional family. The death of Mr. Shepherd plays out like it does in the canonical film.

*Flash forward ten years later. Tina, her mother, and Dr. Crews arrive at the cabin and the events of the film proceed roughly the same. However, we start getting hints that Dr. Crews knows more about Crystal Lake's bloody history than is quite healthy. In the canonical film his binder of news articles about Jason Voorhees is discovered relatively late, but here we'll see him reading it and hurriedly putting it away when Tina or her mother catch him. He'll still continue his emotionally-abusive "training" to force Tina to manifest her powers, which will be important later.

*The teens having the party next door are still there, but there are a lot fewer of them and they're more developed. I'd keep Nick as the male lead and Tina's love interest, the rich snob Melissa, the nerdy writer guy, the Robin-Maddy-David triangle, and leave the rest out. This means the two black characters aren't there, but the fact the Teen Slasher Meat don't have any black friends at their party could be used to imply they're racist. They're not supposed to be sympathetic, right?

*Tina still frees Jason from the bottom of the lake like in the canonical film.

Act Two

*As Tina and Nick grow closer, Jason begins stalking the partying teens, killing the guest of honor and his girlfriend en route like in the actual film. Dr. Crews still hides the evidence Jason is present (I think it was a blade of some kind left embedded in the door), which combined with his earlier reading about the Crystal Lake murders from the previous films makes his actions a lot creepier.

*Jason's rampage continues, picking off another late-coming couple (if there absolutely must be a skinny-dipping scene, perhaps it can be here) before moving on the main house. Tina is aware of this due to her visions, which Dr. Crews uses as "proof" to her mother Tina needs either further "treatment" from him or she'll need to be returned to the mental hospital.

*Tina overhears this and runs away like in the film. Dr. Crews and Tina's mother pursue as Jason heads off through the woods toward the party house.

Act Three

*When Dr. Crews and Tina's mother find Tina's wrecked car, she finally has enough and browbeats Dr. Crews to explain his behavior or they're done. From what I know about mental-health law, Dr. Crews can't have Tina committed against her will on his word alone, so I imagine a lot of his threats are just bluff. He finally reveals that he wanted to use Tina to free Jason, which has already been done, and now he needs her to kill Jason. This will not only destroy Jason permanently (he'll know he's been "killed" before and thinks something supernatural is needed to get rid of him in the long term), but he thinks will finally giver her control over her powers. He points out that it took psychological stress to get them to manifest before--this is the ultimate make-or-break.

Well, Tina's mother isn't having this and tries to ditch Dr. Crews. Dr. Crews in turn uses Tina's mother as a human shield like in the canonical film, leading to her death at Jason's hands.

*The fleeing Dr. Crews runs into Tina and tells her that Jason Voorhees has killed her mother and only she can avenge her death. Tina sees through his bullshit immediately and her powers manifest, crippling him. She then realizes that Jason is making his way to the party house and abandons Dr. Crews. Jason arrives, Dr. Crews tries to bargain with him (claiming that he deserves credit for freeing him from the bottom of the lake), and Jason kills him anyway. Karmic Death?

*Jason beats Tina to the house, cuts the power like in the movie, and kills off most of the remaining teens. Tina then confronts him and apparently kills him with the power lines and the rain puddle like in the canonical film. I would emphasize how surprised and frightened Jason is--per TVTropes, this is an Oh Crap moment from him. With Jason apparently neutralized, Tina makes her way back to the house where Nick and Melissa are. I liked how Melissa lived longer than the others, so that stays.

*Jason arrives, kills Melissa, and the prolonged battle between Jason and Tina takes place. In the process the house is blown up. Jason is apparently killed again, only to attack Nick and Tina again.

*However, instead of Tina's dead father somehow coming to life again to save the day, Tina uses her powers to impale Jason on something big and heavy and toss him back into his watery (living) grave. Goodbye until Jason Takes Manhattan.

*There's an epilogue in which Nick and Tina ride off into the sunset. As they leave, the camera pans back to the lake for an ominous ending...

Monday, May 15, 2017

An Early Draft of HELLRAISER: Script Review and Commentary

The other day I found this early draft of the script for Clive Barker's horror film Hellraiser. I read it and liked what I found, so here's some commentary...

The Good

*The opening is much better than in the canonical film. It's very scary and vivid, while at the same time leaving a whole lot up to the imagination. It also avoids the canonical film's problem of having Frank getting the hook-chain treatment as soon as he solves the box but Kirsty able to wander about and actually talk to the Cenobites. We don't see just what exactly happens, although once we meet Frank and he tells Julia what happened, we know that it was him who solved the box and is the particular victim you can hear screaming over the others. The opening script also keeps the Cenobites mysterious--you don't really see them at first, unlike in the canonical film where you see the Female Cenobite and Pinhead full-on.

*The Cotton family drama, like the canonical film, is shown rather than told. Neither Larry nor Julia say their marriage is unhappy, nor do Kirsty or Julia say they dislike each other.

*Frank's tale of his suffering at the hands of the Cenobites is much more interesting than in the canonical film. He's showing Julia the box and reflected in its shiny surfaces we can see what Frank experienced in Hell. The thing that comes to mind is the Nightmare Fuel flashback to the destruction of Sandleford Warren in the animated Watership Down film, and some kind of animation might have been the only way to really get some of the trippier aspects of it done. Accomplishing this with the limited special-effects budget Barker had might not have been possible...hence Frank's "pain and pleasure, indivisible" spiel with the images of him spinning around covered in blood.

*Speaking of Frank, he's more developed as a character. His evil is amplified in the attempted rape of Kirsty (his own niece!), but at the same time he's so clearly traumatized by what the Cenobites did to him that he's actually sympathetic. Also, that Julia is nothing more than a means to an end to him is made clearer much earlier in the film, foreshadowing how in the climax when she's accidentally mortally wounded Frank feeds on her rather than making any attempt to help her.

*Steve, Kirsty's British boyfriend, is much more useful than in the movie. In the script he visits her in the hospital and is, unknown to him, taken hostage by the Cenobites who Kirsty can see but he cannot. When they sneak her out of the hospital however it was they did it (I think they used the portal Kirsty opened to transition her out of the hospital), he finds her gone and takes the puzzle box for himself. He then makes his way to Larry and Julia's house and, however ineffectively, helps her battle Frank.

*I liked Kirsty's "what took you so long" take-down of the Cenobites. She's been at their mercy for a time, but now that she's fulfilled her end of the bargain, she can (to an extent) give them the what-for. And the Cenobites actually explain their rationale.

*There's no Puzzle Guardian character, whom I thought didn't really add to the story and whose sudden transformation into a dragon at the end of the film ate up money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

The Bad

*Some of Larry's discussion with the workmen goes on for a little too long. He doesn't really need to explain everything about his family situation to them. The workmen are also blatantly rude to him. Maybe British movers are a rougher crowd than I'm used to, but mouthing off to the guy who signs your checks is not a good idea no matter where you live.

The Verdict

Had Barker went with this, Hellraiser would have been an even better film than it already was. 9.0 out 10.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Preserving the "Nicor" Cover for Posterity...

This past weekend I signed a contract to have my short Viking horror story "Nicor" included in anthology. Part of the contract was that it be exclusive to them for two years. That meant removing the Kindle edition from Amazon. Since the story is available for free online it wasn't really a great seller, so this was not something I had a problem with. I don't anticipate putting it back up.

That said, I would like to preserve the "Nicor" cover, created by Alex Claw, for posterity. So here you go...

By the way, if you want to get this story and a bunch of others, you can chip in on the Kickstarter. Not only can you get cool prizes, but you will also make sure the collection will be well-advertised and that there will be plenty of resources available for the third anthology.