Ginger Nuts of Horror
Some stories become etched into the psyche of a horror fan, forming a pantheon of horror that stands as a list for all other stories to be held up against. Clive Barker's The Hellbound heart is one such story, the novella that spawned the who Hellraiser franchise and formed the basis of the first film, this classic tale of pleasure and pain has a gravitas attached to it the likes of which hasn't been seen in far too long.
However, with that gravitas. There is also a danger that its impact and power can become lessened and forgotten as a result of countless spin-offs and sequels. Sadly this has been the case with The Hellbound Heart; its importance in the history of horror has become sullied by a series of never-ending sequels and spin-offs, some of which were reportedly written by Barker himself, (I still maintain he had very little to with the Scarlet Gospels). So much so that many new fans to the genre are not aware of this classic and fundamental piece of horror literature.
When it was first announced that Bafflegab Productions were doing a new audio drama version of the novella adapted by Paul Kane, I must admit I was somewhat wary about the idea. Not that I felt Bafflegab Productions weren't so much up to the task, they have a great history of audio dramas. From The Bakers End series of comic tales, The Scarifyers series of adventures is a must listen to the excellent Hammer Chillers collection of short stories, they can indeed produce first-class audio dramas. Nor was I worried by Paul Kane's involvement, he is an excellent writer and more importantly a massive fan of the Hellraiser franchise. My fears came from the fact that after Hellraiser: The Toll, Hellraiser: Judgement and The Scarlet Gospels, it felt that it was time to lay the franchise to bed and let it die a dignified death. Anything less than an almost perfect adaptation would be a devastating disappointment.
After listening to this audio drama, I can safely say that this is the best thing across all entertainment mediums to exist in the Hellraiser universe. This is as close to perfection as you can get.
Obviously, with this being an audio drama, there is a lot of Barker's beautiful and elegant prose is missing, gone are the descriptive passages, leaving us with just the dialogue. While this may sound off-putting, and akin to the story losing some of its power, the experience of listing to this is not diminished in any way. This is mostly in part to the compelling and genuinely creepy musical score from Edwin Sykes and on point sound effects and design from Simon Robinson. These work seamlessly together to create a disturbing base layer of dread from which the actors can build on.
Simon Barnard, the producer and director, has assembled a cast manages to do the unthinkable and makes you forget about the film adaptation. Sean Chapman and Claire Higgens performances as Frank and Julia are branded into our brains, as an on-screen "couple" they were perfect together. It's a performance that would almost seem impossible to surpass, and yet Tom Meeten and Neve McIntosh's performance of Frank and Julia is sublime, within minutes you forget everything that has gone before, they aren't just playing the roles they become the roles. Frank is as nasty and driven as ever, and Julia is as cold and alluring as she could ever be.
Alice Lowe continues to cement her reputation as one of the country's finest actors, with her turn as Kirsty. While Kirsty was probably the easiest of all the roles to take over, as the original performance was exactly the best, Lowe's depiction of Kirsty is nothing short of exceptional. Lowe performance allows the full range of Kirsty's character to shine through, the wide-eyed girl, the frightened girl, and the girl filled with grit and determination to escape the hell she is tricked into; all come across in an engrossing delivery.
However the ultimate high point has to be the portrayal of the Prince of Pain himself, stepping into the role of Pinhead, or cenobite One as it should be named must have been a daunting task, Doug Bradley, despite others playing the character will always be Pinhead. However, there has always been contention with Doug as Pinhead, as he doesn't quite fit the description of the character in the novella. When I first heard Evie Dawnay, deliver the first line of dialogue I was, for a minute somewhat confused, and when it sunk in a huge smile spread across my face. This is the lead Cenobite I have been waiting to hear for nearly thirty years. And boy does Evie deliver; this isn't just a marketing gimmick this is the leading cenobite as it should be, ethereal, angelic, and apathetic to the pleas of us mere mortals. Dawnay is exceptional, and if there are any further dramatisations of the franchise, it would be a crime not to have her reprise this role.
Having Nicholas Vince appear as cenobite four, and the businessman was a nice touch, serving to link this production to the history of the story, and Nicholas doesn't disappoint in either of his two roles.
Paul Kane's adaptation of the story is assured and hits the mark. His keen eye retains the essential elements that make the story work while updating some of the terms to make it more relevant to modern age such as the use of emails and mobiles phones. This must have been a daunting task, but Kane has more than stepped up to the plate.
The Hellbound Heart had a lot of history and baggage to deal with, but this production has done the impossible and surpassed the original adaptation. You may shout heresy, but the combination of first-class acting, more faithful respect to the source material and a perfect soundscape makes this a superior adaptation. You may think you know this story, but you haven't even heard the half of it until you have listened to this.
You can purchase a copy of The Hellbound Heart direct from Bafflegab Productions by clicking here, or from amazon by clicking the button below