The Hellbound Heart By Clive Barker

by Christopher O’Halloran (@BurgleInfernal)

There are authors who write to change the world. Those who are able to create such beauty and wonder in words that a reader’s life is forever changed. Authors who astound with their brilliance.

Then there’s Clive Barker—often credited with kickstarting the splatterpunk movement—doing his best to make your stomach turn and your skin crawl. In a novella that blends the concepts of pleasure and pain, there is no shortage of opportunities for Barker to crawl into your eyes—or ears if that’s how you choose to invite him—and track in the mud of his delightfully demented mind.

Cover of The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker


Clive Barker was born in Liverpool five years before Lennon and McCartney would climb on stage together. Today, he’s a man who wears many hats. More than just a prominent author, Barker earns his living as a screenwriter, director, playwright, and visual artist who has found success in every avenue. His writing is not beholden to genre; his fantasy titles (Imagica, Weaveworld, Abarat, etc.) perform as well—if not better than his horror. Barker’s literary career began with short stories, most notably the six-part Books of Blood series that featured tales later adapted for film like The Midnight Meat Train, Rawhead Rex, and the Candyman series.

But his most iconic creation—the now-classic villain, Pinhead—would come from Hellraiser, his adaptation of The Hellbound Heart.


The Hellbound Heart opens on Frank Cotton, a hedonist obsessed with reaching new heights of pleasure. During a ritual to summon the Cenobites, Frank finds himself caught in a real monkey’s paw situation where creatures from another plane serve him more than he ordered. To recover from the consequences of his ritual, he must rely on his sister-in-law Julia to collect the meat he needs to reclaim his mortal body. 

A love story for the ages.


So, for all you playing the Clive Barker Drinking Game, we have:

Erotic grossness
A supernatural force that must be summoned
Mankind is the real enemy
Characters you don’t care about
All the body horror

“No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.”
~Clive Barker

Clive Barker is anything but subtle. HOWLers immediately developed strong reactions to his prose, some even praising his use of sensuality. One member went so far as to coin the phrase “horny-making.” @QueensEnglish noted the saucy aspects of the story: “It’s pretty awkward reading this at work during breaks. I felt like I was doing something wrong.” @Mantis Shrimp aptly provided the novella with an alternate title, 50 Shades of Hellbound. Barker’s use of eroticism slips in alongside the violence. He involves all the senses. HOWLer @Senobyte (a first-time reader of the book despite what his username would imply) found Barker’s use of smells particularly fascinating, commenting on the strange mixture of vanilla and gore that is introduced early on.

Whether it was his style that kept us reading (“I expect Barker level prose from everyone and am often disappointed,” says @The_Left_Reverend) or the continuous escalating tension, we mutinied against the plan to split the portions into our usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday discussion sessions and demanded we discuss the entire book on Wednesday. “I always read this book in one sitting,” says @SemaphoreRaven, “so stopping midway through feels so alien to me. For some reason it was my go-to reading material when I wanted a long bath and it got dropped in the water at least once.”

Though entertaining at face value, there were deeper metaphors to be examined. HOWLer @drthoss had many interesting observations. He brought up how in Renaissance paintings, it is “difficult to distinguish between the facial expressions of those terrified and those filled with ecstasy,” suggesting that Barker’s conjunction of the two is a timeless subject. He explained that Section 28 was around at that time, which made homosexuality illegal—a law that wasn’t repealed until June 2000! Users like @thea-maeve and @Mantis Shrimp imply that Barker’s sexual orientation might have slipped into the novella at subtle points, notably comparing the puzzle box to a vagina and the difficulties certain characters experience while…solving it.

When it comes to the characters, Barker shapes each one with a dirty shade of grey that makes you root for nobody but the villain. @Senobyte noticed the use of many horror tropes: the evil and sexual female, the virginal heroine, the naive husband, and the devious sex fiend who should be careful what he wishes for. Barker isn’t content to simply utilize these tropes. He provides his own interesting takes on them, twisting familiar concepts into something more fresh and less predictable.


  • There’s no reason NOT to read this book. Short and sweet, full of action and dread, and a small albeit memorable cast of characters, Hellbound Heart splits and tugs open the boundaries of desire and pleasure for all to comprehend. It’s a beautifully written, sinister masterpiece.

  • The Hellbound Heart is an interesting examination of sensuality and the juxtaposition of pleasure and pain. Barker’s prose is enjoyable and the plot of this short book is solid, albeit the beginning and ending were the best part.

  • The prose is excellent, the visceral images are gory in all the best ways. It will make you want to pick up that Rubik’s Cube from your childhood.

  • This book brings you puzzles, hateable characters, and lots of blood and gore, all weaved into a tale of a relationship gone awry.

  • Barker has a wonderful way of making even the most gore soaked scenes sound poetic.

  • DELICIOUS if you like eating blood and guts. 

  • Reading Hellbound Heart feels like drinking a glass of red wine: dreamy and sensual, but also dark and sinister. 

  • The real star of this book is the imagery. Barker’s descriptions are both sexy and vile. This one is meant to be read on a dark stormy night with a heavy pour of red wine. 

  • Helluva good read. 5/5 would read again. 

  • Damnation never read so good.
    ~Mantis Shrimp

  • Nasty, BDSM-inspired horror-fantasy. Good novella, not Barker’s best. I wish it were longer! I think my opinion of it might be shaped by the film, which is the rare case where the adaptation is superior. 


Finding a flaw with this novella is harder than a hedonist in the lair of the Cenobites. If you require likable characters to have a good time, The Hellbound Heart might not do it for you, but if gory descriptions, a lightning quick plot, nefarious schemes, and clever dialogue can make up for that, you’ll like this story as much as every other HOWLer did. It’s a classic for a reason!


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