The master of horror on The Scarlet Gospels.
Master of horror Clive Barker tells Joseph McCabe all about bringing t wo of his greatest creations back to the page
ew tales of modern horror have been so impactful as Clive Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart”. The author’s acclaimed 1986 novella introduced the extra- dimensional sadomasochistic Cenobites; the most famous of which – thanks to Barker’s own 1987 film adaptation Hellraiser – became the pop- culture icon known as Pinhead. Yet the ever forwardlooking Barker refused to cash in on the popularity of his creations, and, rather than pen or direct a string of Cenobite sequel stories, moved on to other projects, some of which featured his haunted occult detective Harry D’Amour, introduced in his short story “The Last Illusion”, and on screen in his 1995 adaptation Lord Of Illusions.
Now Barker is bringing his most popular characters together in The Scarlet
Gospels, which positions the two as mortal adversaries. The novel depicts Pinhead as one of the primary reasons for Harry’s unique career path, and finds the demonic entity attempting a complete takeover of Hell. In fusing the two worlds, Barker has attempted one of those rare works that functions as both a gift to fans and the realisation of a personal vision. But when he speaks with SFX from his home in Beverly Hills, he tells us he paid little mind to such peripheral concerns when writing.
“I only know one way to experience the writing,” he says, “and it’s always damned enjoyable. The excitement of writing is that I generally have no idea where I’m going next. I’m usually just along for the ride. If I stepped outside of that and thought about what these characters mean in response to some sort of zeitgeist, I’d be doing myself and the readers, I feel, a great disservice.”
Since much of The Scarlet Gospels takes place within Hell, and presents Barker’s most thorough investigation yet into its landscape and hierarchy, we ask him how long the ideas it incorporates have been percolating in his mind.
“Does forever count?” he laughs. “Seriously, I have wanted to share this vision of Hell for
“The excitement of writing is that I generally have no idea where I’m going next. I’m just along for the ride”
as far back as I can remember… I grew up in a post- war Europe, and that always seemed far more immediate and terrible than any Dantean depiction of Hell as this very tidy place with nine circles, each of which is cordoned off to special kinds of suffering or damnations. The apocalypse will not be organised. Why then should The Pit? It seems to me that if Hell exists, it would be like the Warsaw ghettos as run by the Nazis.”
Barker has said that The Scarlet Gospels began as a sequel novella to “The Hellbound Heart”, but that as the project developed he saw in it the potential for a novel.
“Keeping in step with the themes here, the original model for Pinhead was the Nazis. Himmler, specifically. Here was a man who had occult ties and a fiendishly sadistic side, but somehow kept himself at arm’s length from the ‘ unseemly’ side of the Holocaust. For god’s sake, he once went to a concentration camp and passed out because blood got on his glasses. That’s a fascinating psyche, and I’ve never really been able to shake the imagery loose. Pair that with the fact that I thought it was time the bastard got what he deserved, and it becomes undeniable that there’s a story wanting to be told. It became a novel when the story informed me that there was a much bigger plot afoot. Books are funny that way.”
Harry D’Amour’s involvement, however, was always a part of The Scarlet Gospels.
“Oh yes. Always. Harry shows up in a lot of my books, and he’s had an appointment with Mr Head that was rather longstanding. It seems to me that Harry and Pinhead are complementary souls. Blake’s The Everlasting Gospels – an undeniable inspiration, as you can likely see by the title alone – says, ‘ Both read the Bible day and night. But thou read’st black where I read white.’ That’s very much the dynamic we have with these two characters. Both characters are in Hell. Harry has fashioned his own and keeps going deeper. Pinhead has become a prisoner and is doing everything he can to escape. They were made for each other.”
Although Barker has described The Scarlet Gospels as his final word on the Cenobites, the author tells us we may yet see more of his long- suffering detective.
“Much in the way that I can’t step outside of the characters and look at their greater imprint, I am completely unable to know when they’ll turn up next. There’s a lot more I’d like to do with Harry, yes, but he hasn’t revealed to me exactly what that is yet.”
One possible vehicle for Harry’s return is a long- discussed TV show chronicling the New York PI’s adventures.
“All things remain a possibility,” says his creator. “The character is owned by MGM, who we have had a number of discussions with about the idea of bringing him back in a televised form. It seems that the timing is right. Horror is more prevalent than ever, so as long as that trend continues, I think we’ll keep moving closer to that day.”
As for Pinhead’s screen future, Barker’s Hellraiser remake remains in the works. Will his work on The Scarlet Gospels’ expanded mythology find its way into the new film?
“This, too,” he says with a smile, “is a possibility. Though I’m afraid that’s all I can say on that subject.”
SFX asks Barker what he thinks will delight longtime fans about the new Hellraiser.
“Its adherence to the original vision. It’s new, and it’s spectacular, and most importantly it isn’t done to death.”
As to whether The Scarlet Gospels could one day inspire a film, Barker adds, “I think it’s too soon to say, but as I say, all things remain a possibility. I certainly have no objections to seeing this vision on the big screen.”
In the meantime, the renaissance man remains busy writing and filmmaking. “Having just wrapped the six- year long journey of finishing the director’s cut of my film Nightbreed,” he tells us, “I’m happy to be back at my desk completing Abarat IV: The Price Of Dreams. The biggest thing to discuss, which will likely be announced by the time this is printed, is our work on a film called The Entwined. The story spoke to me and Mark Alan Miller, who spearheaded the movement to bring Nightbreed to a close. We found ourselves having conversations about the story and ended up revising the script ourselves. What we ended up with is something that’s quite a bit of fun. The film will begin shooting in Georgia in a few months.”
Barker also remains a prolific artist, painting pieces daily for the next two volumes in his Books Of Abarat series. Of all his works, he remains especially proud of the Young Adult fantasy saga.
“Every day I’m either writing chapters for the books or painting the images that will go with them. It’s been the great undertaking of my life and it’s still too soon to share anything except the title for book IV, which I mentioned: The Price Of Dreams.”
Just as Barker’s career reflects his own belief in the value of imagination, he adds, “I think the title alone speaks volumes about the contents of the book.”
The Scarlet Gospels is published on 21 May.
We can’t help wondering if he once had a bad acupuncture experience.