Directed by J. F. Crook, the Horror Cafe was a single episode, unscripted television program which aired in 1990, that brought together a half-dozen of the most notable names in horror fiction at the time. The event was hosted by Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Books of Blood), with novelist Lisa Tuttle (Familiar Spirit), Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Haunted Palace), Peter Atkins (Morning Star, Hellraiser II), John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing) and author Ramsey Campbell (The Hungry Moon, The Influence).
The premise of the show and focus of the conversation was to create “the ultimate horror movie for the end of the Millennium,” this and many other topics, including the importance of art and the nature of horror, are all brought under discussion amidst the backdrop of a German expressionist studio.
The episode is excellent, but, as Zachary Paul of Bloody Disgusting remarks, “What a shame this didn’t become an ongoing series of specials. Each episode could’ve highlighted a different group of creative minds given a unique brief to inspire their ideal horror movie.” That is certainly something I should very much like to see today.
Carpenter: We’re all going to that uncertain end of darkness. I think that’s everybody’s fear.
Barker: The thing that scares me is banality. The banality of the culture we actually live in.
Peter Atkins: To experience it [fear] and walk away from the theatre or close the book actually puts us back in a position of control. We actually control that fear. So, the fear that in real-life we have no control over—whether its fear of the unknown, fear of dissolution, fear of whatever anybody says—whenever that experience is turned into a fiction, whether its cinematic or literary, in some sense, its a saving grace that it is a fiction, that we can walk out, that we can close it. It gives us back that control.
Carpenter [to Barker]: When you’re talking about society, you’re anesthetized. The movie that changed my life was a film called ‘It Came From Outer Space,’ 1952—Harry Essex wrote the scrip, Jack Arnold directed it. 3D. Glasses on. This meteor comes screaming out of the night sky and blows up in my four year-old face. And I felt something. And I got up and I was shrieking in terror. But I’ve gotta tell you, a couple of seconds later, it was the greatest, because I felt such a high. I survived the meteor hitting me right in the face. It came out of the screen. Blew up in my face. I wanted to do that. I wanted to experience that because I was alive. It told me I was alive.
Corman: It was earlier suggested that what we’re doing is giving a negative experience, I don’t think it’s in any way a negative experience, I think it’s a positive, and very helpful, experience. Both on the basis of what John said and also if you go into a Freudian interpretation—I don’t want to go too deeply into that—
Barker : Freud’s under the table.
Corman: Right—where he should stay, at least for the moment.
Carpenter: I think you have to appeal to a universal emotion in people. Not their thoughts but their emotions. You have to get down to their feelings. And it has to be universal. It has to work in India. It has to work in the United States. It has to work in Great Britain. It has to work everywhere, emotionally. A big monster, that’s scary, it walks through that door, we all react the same way.
Campbell: Do we?
Carpenter: The thing in the pit [from The Hungry Moon] in your story, the thing that’s down there, if it was real, and it came out, I guarantee you, everybody at this table, we’d all run away from it.
“I knew what I wanted to make, and I felt like ‘you know what, I wrote a traditional Hellraiser story with Revelations and I got raped by the fans. I’m not going to try and appease the fans anymore.’ I’m going to make a film for me and I have a very strong idea visually on where I want to go with the story and its going to be very different. I’m going to make a food for me and offer everybody a bite.” (“Interview with Gary J Tunnicliffe”. 60 Minutes With. Archived from the original on 12 November 2017. Retrieved 7 February 2017.)
The Hellraiser films are not so much a “series” (as in, a continuation of a story or set of stories) as they are a reworking of various different motifs and considerably smaller number of characters into completely self-contained vesicles (which I do not mean as either a good or bad thing, it is simply the best description which occurs to me). The only consistency throughout all of the films and what holds them all together is the presence of the mysterious puzzle-box known as the Lament Configuration and the bizarre, other-dimensional beings known as the Cenobites (koinos, “common”, bios, “life” | used to refer to members of a communal, religious order).
Of the 10 films to date, only Hellraiser (1st in the franchise), Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser: Bloodline (4th) and Hellraiser: Hellseeker (6th) can be considered any kind of proper series (Hellseeker only because it features the return of Kirsty Cotten, the protagonist of Hellraiser 1 & 2). This is especially true of the fifth installment, Inferno, which, though a very good movie, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with any of the preceding films in the series, save for the cenobites (and they are all different save for the Chatterer – who lost his legs somehow – and Pinhead, who only shows up at the end of the film). Despite the disparate styles and plots of the various films, they (by and large) maintained a continuous mystique and consistently raised questions concerning the principal motivating factor in human activity: Desire. After the abysmal outing that was Hellraiser: Revelation (9th in the franchise) – despite it’s excellent script – I was interested to see what the talented FX artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe could do with Barker’s material in the capacity of writer/director.
Hellraiser: Judgment (10th in the franchise), was released in 2018 and was directed by Gary J. Tunnicliffe, produced by Michael Leahy and was created with roughly the same budget (approx. $300,000) as its predecessor. I had absolutely no idea what the budget for this movie was before seeing it and never once did a single thing throughout my viewing thereof ever appear “cheap.” It is also worth noting that the idea (floated by some critics and reviewers) that around $300,000 is a “small budget” speaks volumes of the excess which is bred by a distance from any real fiscal instability, from any real poverty and the unabated hunger for spectacle for its own sake.
The plot of the film centers around three detectives, two brothers and woman, who are hunting down a serial killer known as The Preceptor, who kills according to the Bible. Every murder committed by The Preceptor corresponds to a particular “sin” described in the ten commandments and if that sounds almost identical to Andrew Kevin Walker’s script for Se7en that’s because it is. The generic (and often uneventful) police procedural is, thankfully, interspliced with numerous scenes of a otherword which we later learn is Hell. This extradimensional realm is, as per usual, populated by the ominous cenobites as well as another group of peculiar beings known as the Stygian Inquisition who appear to be headed by a horribly scarred and bespectacled human-like creature called The Auditor, who is responsible for processing the souls of those desired by Hell. The Auditor’s task is accomplished by sitting across from the prospect and inquiring into the nature of their past to unearth their sins whereupon the hell-clerk will type up a thorough documentation of the individual’s misdeeds on a typewriter affixed, not with paper, but human flesh. Ink is dispensed with for blood.
Two storylines run in concert. The first is that of detectives Sean & David Carter who are looking for a serial killer and who are quickly joined by a female detective named Egerton who is brought on by the higher-ups to both the expedite the case as well as keep an eye on Sean (who suffers from PTSD and turns to the bottle). The second storyline follows the Auditor processing souls in hell with the aid of various other grotesque and bizarre entities. The outer realm and the mundane collide when the Auditor absconds into his pocket dimension with Sean.
Process of the Stygian Inquisition.
Sean unintentionally puts a damper on the Auditor’s plans when he declares that “no one can judge him but God.” Shortly thereafter, a angel named Jophiel appears and demands that The Auditor release Sean, stating that God has plans for him. The Auditor is confused and reluctant, greeting the angel kindly but coldly. Shortly thereafter The Auditor seeks council with Pinhead, the leader of the cenobites about what to do concerning the angel and the human. Pinhead asks where Sean is and they both return to the rooms of the acquisition only to discover that the detective escaped. Later it is revealed that the Preceptor is none other than Sean and that the reason he was killing those who had broken the ten commandments was due to his intense religiosity and hatred for the modern world. Pinhead seeks to claim the deranged detective’s soul but the angel Jophiel intercedes once more and demands the man’s release; God wants him out in the world, deeming those he kills to be “acceptable losses.” Pinhead, knowing that Egerton will shoot Sean given that she knows he is the killer, upon his return to earth, happily obliges and Sean is swiftly dispatched by the police woman just as planned. This infuriates the angel who then threatens the cenobite.
Pinhead, however, is none to happy being threatened with “pain” and decides to torture and dismember the angel and, after sufficient suffering, kills her. All the while the Auditor had been slinking and when the angel is dead he moves to the cenobite’s side and notes that he should not have acted so rashly, for God will surely punish him. Indeed, this is just what happens as a bright, white light envelopes Pinhead, who is transformed into a human and banished from Hell, forced to live amongst the mortals, presumably, for the rest of his days. He cries out at the loss of his “sweet suffering” and then screams. Credits rolls and at their end two Mormon missionaries appear at a house in Germany, peddling their creed, once the door is opened the Auditor’s voice is heard, welcoming them in and signalling that they are soon to be processed by the Stygian Inquisition. It is here that the film ends.
Whilst nowhere near as dense in symbolism and metaphor as some other Barker-inspired films such as The Midnight Meat Train, the film does offer some peculiar and unexpected critiques. One of the most unexpected to me was the criticism of the “anti-modern savior” in the character of Sean Carter, The Preceptor. Whilst his religiosity and hatred of other human beings acts as Sean’s primary source of motivation (especially when coupled with his desire for revenge against his brother and wife who were having a affair behind his back), he also takes sadistic pleasure in what he does, despite the fact that he feels considerable remorse afterwards (as he states in his confessions to The Auditor). Sean’s revenge against his traitorous brother and wife is understandable and his disdain towards those who act wholly without any moral consideration, is also, if not righteous, again, understandable. Yet, at one point later in the film, when he confronts his brother, he screams that he would kill every single human being alive if he was able due their sinfulness, completely neglecting his own past transgressions (beating his dog, slaughtering other humans in war, torturing and murdering those who broke the ten commandments) and the fact that he is precisely the kind of monstrous personality he decries. Sean then is, in many ways, analogous to the self-righteous religious radicals who use the phrase “modernity” with disgust and style themselves as revolutionaries despite being wholly chained to a tradition which has never even existed, those who state how much they cannot stand the modern world, even as it sustains them, those who state that they hate everyone, even as they spout fascicle platitudes of brotherhood and unity under God; those whose plans for change all invariably boil down to nothing more than murder and violent repression on a monumental scale which is always permissible so long as they are the ones carrying it out and so long as it is done in the name of their favored deity (who can, of course, do no wrong, and they, as the instruments of providence, likewise are absolved of all). Unlike this common crop of self-loathing, hypocritical, hysteric, psychologically damaged loons, Sean is, at least, willing to admit his murderous intentions. This vain, human wailing is sharply contrasted by the opening of the film which shows Pinhead and The Auditor discussing the increasingly outmoded nature of the Lament Configurations; they note that the interconnectivity of technological systems has rendered the puzzle boxes relatively ineffective as conduits of desire; people aren’t interested in rituals and puzzle boxes anymore, but rather, the liminal sea of the internet. Instead of bemoaning this, the two denizens of the outer world see this as a opportunity to try out new methods of their own, namely the pocket-dimension houses of the Stygian Inquisition who lure their victims via internet transmissions. Where The Preceptor flails and cries out, the cenobites and the inquisition adapt. And yet, just like many humans, Pinhead falls victim to his own hubris whereas The Auditor never overplays his hand and it is for this reason that it is he alone who stands triumphant at the end of the picture.
What is most interesting about The Auditor, in terms of his personality, was how polite and dutiful he was, in contrast to the cenobite, Chatterer, who is erratic and violent when unconstrained by his master; so much so that when Sean helps hurry the auditing procedure along, The Auditor treats him kindly, gifting him a reward of inhuman knowledge; yet he is, at the same time, completely sanguine about inflicting suffering, if it is necessary to complete his task. This contrasts with the cenobites who enjoy suffering for its own sake. “I am a man for whom pain is nothing more than a common currency,” The Auditor states flatly, during his interrogation of the child murderer Watkins, who had been reticent in divulging his sins, “I will spend some on you… if you like?” One can easily image The Auditor as having been a overzealous DMV worker in his previous, human life.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable film, well-crafted and with something to say. I’d recommend it.
Putting aside many of the age-old questions concerning the validity of the concept of Human Nature one can with absolute certainty say that there are Human Universals, that is, Human Generalities. Everyone who exists was born and everyone who was born will die. Everyone feels the pangs of hunger and thirst, of dread and envy, jealousy and admiration, lust and love, of purpose and purposelessness. This is so easily observable that is wholly beyond contention (“but what if we are all brains in a vat in a vast simulation?!” Some cheeky fellow will doubtless interject at some point – mischievous rogues).
The acceptance of this a priori supposition then establishes some very fertile ground for purpose in fiction. Purpose is the first and most fundamental thing any given writer should ask him or herself before proceeding with a given piece of work (indeed it is the first of things which one should ask oneself before doing anything). “Why am I doing what I am doing? Why do I write stories at all? What do I wish to convey in it’s pages?” (and it should here be noted that if one does not wish to convey anything at all then there is no point in writing to begin with, the art that is only for the self and goes not beyond might as well stay contained within the brain! What is it then but a dream?) “What is the purpose of my art?”
Naturally, only you, the reader, can answer such questions in their particulars but there are some general principals that might help us better establish and define our aims as fiction writers. First and foremost among those principals is that if a story does not speak, in some meaningful way, to any Human Universals, then it simply will not be read with any regularity – or even if it is, it certainly isn’t going to be remembered (indeed, why should it?). But it isn’t enough merely to speak to the human soul, as it were, but also to do so in a clear and cogent way, that is to say, a understandable way. It is, of course, fine enough to write for a specific audience in mind (the case of Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra is here illustrative: his work was oft found difficult to interpret at best and downright incomprehensible at worst; the US literary critic, Harold Bloom described Nietzsche’s only fiction entry as “unreadable”).
Writing with a specific audience in mind is highly recommended; however, writing in such a way that no one but one’s own self and some small cadre of philologists and linguists (such would be the kind to say, Underworld is a masterpiece because despite it’s endless meandering without coming to a point, DeLillo is very good at making symbolic representations of waste-fixation as a American by-product which lays bear the soul of the post-industrial age – or some such tosh) is hardly the way to go for the simple fact that one is then, essentially writing in another language which will be totally incomprehensible to the common man and often, to the not-so-common man as well.
There is a tendency among post-modern novelists to zealously seek after originality at the expense of anything else (not all post-modern artists are guilty of this, obviously, but it is a general trend I have observed) and that anything else is generally a coherent and clear theme (again, DeLillo is a supreme example of this, he writes a lot of words but rarely says anything; there are implications, suggestions galore, but everything is tangential to something else which isn’t defined, or if so, poorly. Everything is obscured and referential, so much so that the obscure references and the inertia of his language itself become the whole point of the text – though he does, of course, have his high points).
This is a tendency to be avoid if you wish to approach art as a form of social communication (it seems lost on modern man that this was the purpose of nearly all ancient art – not the selfish, narcissistic impulse to stroke the ego that says, “Look at me! I feel something fragile and fleeting; observe it nonetheless, for such is my importance!” – but rather the communal sharing of a given societies highest ideals and aspirations for the purposes of civilizational lift).
Once one has acquired the knack for both clarity and purpose (and clarity of purpose) one should turn the mind’s eye to the directionality of the story itself. It matters not how far from terrestrial reality one flies upon the back of that great bird, creativity – whether you are writing about ancient dragons, or orcs, or cosmic horrors – certain human factors will always remain visible to be plucked out by the discerning no matter how phantasmal, grotesque or fantastical the setting, plot, characters or dialogue. Why is this – because you aren’t a dragon a orc or a cosmic horror, how could you possibly think as one?!