Hellraiser: Who Leviathan Attracts

With Valentine’s being around the corner love will be in the air. Good for those who celebrate. Personally, I’m not a fan.  Pink and red clash too much.  Also, you can miss me with those chalky heart candies.  

Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I still wanted to do an article that fits the spirit of the holiday.  What better than the horror franchise started by author Clive Barker, Hellraiser? There’s nothing quite like chains and gore to fit in with this holiday of affection. On that note, this article will contain major spoilers and delve into sensitive topics so this is your warning if that makes you uncomfortable. With that out of the way, I shall proceed.

For the uninitiated, Hellraiser was based on Clive Barker’s novella, the Hellbound Heart. The original story and the first movie were about beings summoned through a puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration.  Upon their arrival, these beings, known as Cenobites will then find the person whose desire attracted them, then blur the line between pleasure and pain for them with the aforementioned chains above.  I’ve watched most of the movies in the series. My recommendation is the first to third films, then the 2022 remake.

I only recommend the third movie because it does conclude a character arc. Then in the following movies, the plots just feel forced. Given such a creative premise, it’s a shame it took several decades since the original trilogy for there to be a good movie under the Hellraiser name. The most intriguing aspect of them isn’t solely about the Cenobites. Don’t get me wrong.

Lore is cool and all, but I find it fascinating how far people go in those films for the sake of experience.  That’s the reason for the Lament Configuration’s existence in the first place. It attracts people who need that next fix in life. This isn’t exclusive to sex either. For example, in the novel and first movie, we are introduced to the puzzle box through the character Frank.

He’s not the greatest guy in the world, having slept with his brother’s wife behind his back. Then later on coming onto his own niece. Although, in the story, Kirsty was just someone Larry was friends with and not his daughter or related to him in any way. Larry was Frank’s brother. Frank sought out the configuration for purely selfish reasons. I think it may have been said that he and Larry used to be close.

However, in the first and second films, it’s clear that all he cares about is himself and his pleasure. That’s the keyword there. I’ll elaborate on that in a bit.  For now, let’s say things don’t exactly end up well for Frank.  The Cenobites rip him apart and put him in the floorboards of his apartment. 

Then he has to convince Larry’s wife, Julia to keep giving him blood to revive him. Then after all that, he still ends up getting taken to the Cenobites dimension. I don’t know if there’s an official name for it, but for lack of a better term, I’m calling it Hell.  Anyway, it’s a whole thing with Frank. He even tries manipulating Kirsty to save him by posing as her dad.

Again, things don’t work out for him. Frank’s fate is ironic. Up until the puzzle box came into his possession, he was never satisfied. He needed the ultimate high, so to speak, or rather, he thought he did.  The Cenobites trap him in a place where his senses would constantly be stimulated.

Does that finally satisfy him? No, he wants to escape which he tried and failed to do by tricking his niece. I guess it’s true when they say you can have too much of a good thing.  In Hellraiser II, something intriguing about the Lament Configuration is revealed.  Philip Channard, one of the movie’s antagonists,  was a psychiatrist who was also fascinated with the puzzle box.

 His obsession goes leagues above Frank’s to the point of abusing and using his patients as a means to learn more about it. His ventures prove unsuccessful until he uses Tiffany, a patient specializing in puzzle-solving who manages to figure out the configuration, thereby summoning the Cenobites.  That means they go after her, right? Well, no, Philip, who was observing her along with Julia the entire time, is horrified to find Tiffany getting ignored and instead finds that he’s their target. Why was this case?

In Pinhead’s own words, it’s desire that summons them. Since Tiffany had no desire for them, they didn’t bother with her. There are some discrepancies with this depending on what’s considered canon.  For example, in addition to the movies and books, there are comics of Hellraiser. They explore other ways of calling upon the Cenobites aside from the puzzle box.

I haven’t read any of the comics, but I do know of one where this soldier gets trapped and has to crawl through a network of tunnels. When he makes it out, it’s revealed this was a Cenobite puzzle. The reason I think this contradicts what Pinhead said is I don’t see how the kind of desire that attracts him would play a factor there.  If someone were trapped in the same place, they would unwittingly be summoning the Cenobites by finding their way out, desire or not.  Granted, I only know a little about that particular comic so there’s a good chance I’m missing something.

Also, I don’t recall Kirsty having that kind of desire when she solves the puzzle box in the first movie. I mean, I guess you could argue her want was avenging her dad and that subconscious desire allowed her to unlock the configuration.

Going back to Philip, how does he react to the situation? By fleeing. It’s sort of the inverse of what happened with Frank. Someone eager for experience versus someone hesitant to accept it. 

However, you could argue that due to Philip having prior knowledge of the configuration made him more hesitant. Plus, he was a lot more paranoid than Frank.The Cenobites do get him eventually which shows another difference between these characters. Whereas Frank rejected their gift, Philip relished in it. What fascinates me about this is the juxtaposition of overeagerness and hesitancy. 

I’m sure we all can think of at least one thing we were afraid of trying, but once we did we realized we enjoyed it. Think of trying some food you thought looked odd or that weird powder someone offered you at a party. Now, replace those two things with sadomasochism and you have Philip’s character in a nutshell.  What I think is the deciding factor compared to Frank is as I said, it’s implied Frank might have been a halfway decent person in the past. Philip on the other hand, had always been crazy and would even hurt animals growing up. 

He loved inflicting pain but was frightened by the prospect of it being done to him. It’s the can dish it out but can’t it mentality, except in this case, he could. Finally, we get to the most iconic Cenobite of all, Pinhead. Before I continue, I should specify I am referring to the one portrayed by Doug Bradley, not the one in the novels or the remake. 

His backstory is the last revealed of the antagonists I’ve mentioned here. 

Given his personality, his authority over the other Cenobites, and his overall demeanor, his past would have to be the most twisted of all. That’s not the case. 

As a matter of fact, his is noticeably tamer when compared to Frank’s or Philip’s. He used to be a veteran of the First World War by the name of Elliot Spencer. After the war, he was left shell-shocked with survivor’s guilt, causing him to fall into hedonism (most likely as a coping mechanism), and eventually come to possess the Lament Configuration. 

You know the rest.  From a creative perspective, why make this choice for the character? Well, thinking about it I see two answers to this. One, it’s a sympathy play.  After all, who doesn’t enjoy a good tragic backstory?  

I think they can work when they don’t feel forced. The problem here is sympathy tends to get dampened for those who wantonly torture people for the pleasure of it. Therefore, I think the second reason is more fitting and that would be falling from grace. What makes it scary is that it shows anyone could fall prey to the Cenobites under the right circumstances.  The spectrum going on here was someone who was a horrible person, someone who wasn’t as horrible, and someone who was legitimately decent. 

All of them became victims of Leviathan. The juxtaposition between Elliot Spencer and Pinhead is what sells this for me. 

I’ll conclude this article with a thought exercise. Let’s say for the sake of argument, the Lament Configuration or even the many ways to summon the Cenobites were real.  None of the Hellraiser media exists. 

You wouldn’t know anything about these creatures beyond vague rumors of them being “ones that can offer you a unique experience”.  Someone tells you they know of a way to summon them.  Would you or was there any point in your life that you would’ve taken them up on the offer?

I’d need to know more before trying anything, just in case. For some, though, unchecked curiosity can be such a strong emotion.

Happy Valentine’s.