dorkin’ out about movies: Hellraiser
As I stated in the first post of this blog, and as as some have noted since, the name of this blog is a Hellraiser reference. (Well, I suppose it’s technically a reference to Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart, which was the basis for the films, but I’ve actually never read the book.) When I first saw Hellraiser as a teenager I was fascinated, to the point of watching almost all of the increasingly-execrable sequels. Although I now regret ever making myself watch tripe like Bloodline, I still own and watch the original film and the first sequel on a regular basis.
I do have my issues with Hellraiser 1 and 2, particularly from a feminist standpoint. (Yes, I know – horror movies are sexist?! Get out the Crayolas and color me shocked!) The first one heavily employs the tiresome plot device of a Woman, Ruled by Her Emotions, Who Will do Anything for Her Ne’er-do-well Lover With Whom She Has Hot Sex. Sigh, grumble, snarl. That particular female character returns as the main villain in the sequel, and although she is slightly more entertaining to watch this time around (and gets her revenge on aforementioned sleazy lover, who betrays and murders her in the first film), she’s still not smashing any cinematic boundaries when it comes to the characterization of malevolent ladies (actual line: “Now I’m longer just the wicked stepmother. Now I’m the evil queen.” Aaaand there’s your character development, boys and girls). Kirsty Cotton, the protagonist of both films, is a lady, but since she comes across as an obnoxious dolt most of the time, I can’t really champion her as a feminist-horror role model. (A choice line from the second movie: “When I think, I hurt.” You don’t say?)
So what’s the draw for me here? The Cenobites, also known as the Heirophants and Theologians of the Order of the Gash (and we have a blog title, ladies and gentlemen). They’re all former humans who discovered and solved a mystical puzzle box, which pulled them into a supernatural realm of endless physical pain. Inspired by S&M, punk fashion, and Catholic religious orders, they appear as pale, mutilated beings in yards upon yards of black leather. When the box is discovered and solved, either by some hapless sucker or someone who actually knows what they’re getting into, they appear. Are they villains? Depends on your point of view, I suppose. As Pinhead puts it in the first movie, they are simply “explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others.”
And they feature the only truly awesome female character in the two movies:
In later movies, the female Cenobites tend to be a lot more along the lines of “sexy ladies in cut-out vinyl jumpsuits with some skin-flaps pulled back here and there.” Which I guess goes with the whole S&M sexuality/pleasure-in-pain theme, but it’s in such an obvious and safe way. This Cenobite lady, however, does not fuck around. Her costume is virtually the same as Pinhead’s – a long leather dress-like thing, some cut-outs around her stomach but no cleavage or any real emphasis on her lady assets. Her voice is unusually deep and scratchy (probably meant to reflect the way the massive hole in her throat is pinned open) and her head is shaved except for a few stray wisps. There’s hardly anything of conventional filmic lady-sexuality here – there’s still a sexual element, for sure, but it’s taken a rather unconventional form. And she’s just as harsh and relentless as any of the male Cenobites, wielding a formidable-looking hooked knife in a very intimidating manner.
The folks who made an action figure of her gave her a backstory (former nun!) and described her: “She is the fierce virgin demon in the Order of the Gash, with a heart of tar so black that it is incapable of love and sympathy. Incredibly violent, she is all but uncontrollable, even by Pinhead. Left-handed, impatient and relentlessly cruel, she wields sharp razors of both steel and tongue. To know her is to suffer the full tortures of Hell for eternity.” AWESOME.
Besides my fangirl adoration of the lady Cenobite, there’s a more general element to those characters which I’m fond of. Yours truly is the bearer of a mood disorder which has put me pretty severely out of sorts at times, occasionally causing me to do things that left physical scars. So I like to think I know a little bit about how pain can sometimes be something you seek out – something that actually makes you feel better, in a way. I don’t do that kind of thing anymore, but I still take on sometimes-painful challenges when I’m feeling blue (long-distance bike rides ’til my lungs hurt, and other such things along those lines). And when the pain is incidental (getting a tattoo, burning myself in the kitchen), I am able to deal with it better by thinking of it not in terms of an inconvenience but an experience that I can master.
So yes, badass lady characters and the sometimes-healing power of pain are what keep me watching Hellraiser. Plus “Order of the Gash” conjured up an image of a nunnery filled with cranky metalhead feminists. Plus it’s a puerile vagina joke. YAY!