Saturday, December 4, 2021


The other day I watched Labyrinth on the elliptical at the gym and while ironing some clothes. The thought hit me that it has a lot in common with, surprisingly enough, Hellraiser and its sequel Hellraiser 2: Hellbound. Beware spoilers for all three films.

Firstly, both franchises have significant stepmother-stepdaughter drama. Hellraiser protagonist Kirsty Cotton and her stepmother Julia clearly don't get along at the beginning of the first film and once supernatural forces get involved, it escalates into outright violence. In the second film, once Julia has been thoroughly corrupted, she explicitly refers to herself as the wicked stepmother and the evil queen and mocks Kirsty as "Snow White." Meanwhile, protagonist Sarah Williams is openly disrespectful toward her stepmother Irene in Labyrinth, and Irene clearly does not know what to do with her. Knowing her stepdaughter's interest in fantasy, Irene complains that Sarah treats her as a "wicked stepmother."

Furthermore, at the beginning of the film when we first meet here, I get serious Julia vibes off Irene. They're both dressed formally (albeit for different reasons--Irene and Sarah's father are going on a date and Julia just seems like an ice-queen in general) and their hairstyles are somewhat alike. Although there's more open hostility between the two than between Kirsty Cotton and her stepmother Julia in the first Hellraiser, Sarah is several years younger than Kirsty and significantly less mature. Perhaps Julia and Kirsty were similarly hostile when Kirsty was a young teen, although if that were the case I doubt Kirsty's father Larry would have been so foolish as to assume a now-adult Kirsty would want to live with them in their new town or later ask her to help him figure out why Julia is acting so strangely.

Later, when Sarah becomes frustrated by baby Toby's crying, she wishes the Goblin King would take him "far away from me." The crying abruptly stops and when Sarah goes to investigate, we see goblins in the walls, moving under mattresses, etc. That gave me major Hellraiser vibes, especially given how Kirsty's sinister uncle Frank Cotton's personal hell in the second film involved sensual women under sheets (who disappeared when he removed them), how doorways to Hell formed in the walls, etc. You can see some of that in the clips below.

Also, Kirsty in the first Hellraiser solved the puzzle box and summoned the Cenobites completely ignorant of what the box actually did. She was curious about this device that her undead uncle was so protective of, started fiddling with it, and then this happened. 

Like Kirsty, Sarah had no idea that her frustrated wish to be rid of her baby half-brother would actually summon a supernatural being. And although Jareth and his goblin cronies are significantly less rough than Pinhead and his crew are, there are definitely similarities. Here are two YouTube clips depicting Sarah summoning him and his arrival:

The Goblin King is nowhere near as dangerous as Pinhead--the latter is a Dracula-like sadist who attempts to welch on his bargains, while Jareth is more whimsical and kid-friendly--but both are dangerous and sexual creatures with an unhealthy interest in the young, brunette female protagonist.

Oh, and there's that. Pinhead describes himself as his crew as "explorers of the furthest reaches of experience, demons to some and angels to others" and they subjected Frank to "pain and pleasure indivisible" when he was under their control. The almighty TVTropes describes the Cenobites as "the priests of an S&M religion." In the climax of Hellraiser, Pinhead attempts to abduct Kirsty, telling her that, "We have such sights to show you," while the in second film, he confidently allows Kirsty to freely wander his realm, informing her that, "We have eternity to know your flesh." 

The sexuality in Labyrinth is a bit more subtle given how this is a children's movie, but Jareth's infamous bulging crotch has been discussed at length online, we see David Bowie as Sarah's mother's new boyfriend in a newspaper (a romantic rivalry with one's own mother?), and Jareth gets very testy at the notion of Sarah kissing Hoggle, a dwarfish creature whom she befriends in the Labyrinth. This culminates in Sarah essentially getting roofied and dancing with Jareth at a ball, a scene that is downright rapey. And Jareth later straight-up propositions Sarah, telling her, "I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want. Just fear me, love me. Do as I say and I will be your slave."

Finally, both franchises have elaborate mazes. Sarah must solve the titular Labyrinth in thirteen hours to rescue her brother from Jareth, while Kirsty briefly ventures into the Cenobites' realm when she solves the box in the first Hellraiser film. The second film features a more extensive exploration of the Cenobites' maze-like realm.

So although rarely does one associate a children's fantasy film (albeit one with some significant adult subtext) like Labyrinth with the sexual horror of Hellraiser, there are an interesting number of similarities.

1 comment:

  1. Adult sexuality, its ethics and morality, and its complexities, is such a complicated maze for us all to explore. We can find true and lasting friendships, but we can also find misery and lifelong pain.