Horror: We’ve Got a Long Way To Go
What the 2022 Hellraiser Movie Teaches Us
By Paul Flewitt
The horror genre, the place where the freaks, the weirdos and nerds hang out. The spotty cousin in the literary world which few other genres wish to associate with. The genre where everyone is encouraged to be themselves, and be safe in the assumption that they will be accepted for who they are, and who they choose to be. It’s the genre which exposes and speaks truth to power, and which confronts taboo with unabashed confidence, an unwavering will to uncover the bare bones of the darkest subject matter. That is, at its heart, why horror is such a challenging and contentious genre … and why many, many people come to it. It is inclusive, doesn’t judge and allows everyone to be who they wish to be.
Except, when it doesn’t.
It seems, if the last few weeks and months are anything to judge by, that the horror community has a long, long road to walk before it lives up to the reputation it wishes to maintain.
When it was announced that the upcoming Hellraiser reboot movie was to be released, there was some trepidation from some quarters about another addition to the franchise without Doug Bradley in the title role. The fact that Clive Barker has won back the rights to the series from Dimension Films and the uncaring clutches of the Weinsteins, seemed to have won a certain amount of goodwill, and a willingness to give this particular new entry a chance. But, then it was announced that the role of Pinhead would be played by a woman…and a trans woman to boot. Well, the noises of consternation and outright bile was clear to see in the comment sections of the horror community. Never mind that the actress in question (Jamie Clayton) has given very excellent performances in other high-profile roles, or that the writer and director have been involved in some of the best horror movies of the last few years. No, this is wrong. Pinhead is a man, and he should absolutely, definitely NOT be played by a trans woman. Cue the misgendering, the ridicule, the raging transphobia.
The horror community has a long way to go, and it’s saddening.
What’s even more saddening is that this is within the Barker community itself. Let’s not forget that Clive Barker is a very openly gay man, a writer who has been synonymous with breaking taboos of sexuality throughout his career. Much of his work is written through the lived experience of a gay man surviving a world before homosexuality and self-determination were acceptable. Barker discovered his sexuality at a time when being gay was seen as perversion, as a crime and a mental disorder. He was a young writer at a time when the Prime Minister of the UK spoke homophobic rhetoric in the Houses of Parliament while making laws which would suppress people like him. He was not abashed, but continued to write from his lived, homosexual experience.
It’s all there in the text. In The Hellbound Heart, the cenobites are described as “androgynous, with high-pitched, almost female voices.” It could easily be assumed that Pinhead was, in the original form, transgender. In Nightbreed, the monsters are chased underground and forced to live in hiding from an intolerant populace of humanity who would seek to purge them, kill them and hold them low. Is that not a totem for the experience of the gay and trans community throughout Barker’s lifetime? In Imajica, we meet the Mystif, Pie O Pah, a creature who changes its appearance dependent on its companion’s desires. Can you tell me that this is not an illustration of gender fluidity?
And on, and on, throughout Barker’s canon, we see characters from across the sexual spectrum. In every book he ever wrote, there is representation of the community he comes from. It’s a constant subtext, for his readers to be accepting of each other, to love each other freely, and to let each other be exactly who they are. There is beauty in the other, even if that other appears monstrous at first glance. This is the writer Barker has been since he first began creating, and he has never changed.
So, it seems saddening to me that the same intolerance we witness in Nighbreed exists within the online communities which claim to be fans of this writer in particular. Rather than understand the source material, these people choose to rail against the “woke, left wing agenda” being perpetrated by “Hollywood lovies and influencers.” They fail to see that this is the point, it was always the point. It’s in every fucking book he ever wrote since the early 80’s!
We need to be better. I’ve seen and personally experienced threats of violence when pointing out these few facts, but these things need to be said. Horror is a place for the others, for the freaks and weirdos who struggle to find acceptance and inclusion anywhere else. We need to step up and let these intolerant bigots know that there is no place for them within these communities, and particularly not in a community which purports to support a gay writer. We need to stand beside our brothers and sisters of the LGBTQ community, and show them that they are accepted, they are loved and they are seen in our spaces. We need to allow them their voice, and hear them. We do not need to show them that the horror space is just another one occupied by emasculated white dudes with no security in their own sexuality, where the gay and trans community isn’t welcomed with open arms and hearts. We need to do better.
Frankly, there are a lot of voices out there speaking against bigotry and intolerance, but we need to be louder and even more vociferous in our opposition to this intolerance. This isn’t what the horror community is about. If we want to live up to the reputation of being the tolerant, liberal taboo breakers in literary society, then we have to fight for it.
This new Hellraiser movie might just be the best instalment in the franchise since Bloodline. Jamie Clayton might be the best, most accurate portrayal of the Pinhead character we’ve seen. We won’t know any of this if we walk into it with minds closed to the possibilities and the original intention of the writer himself.
Paul Flewitt is a horror and dark fantasy writer from Sheffield, UK, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Paul began publishing in 2012, beginning with the flash fiction story, Smoke, for OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes anthology. He went on to pen further short stories, including Paradise Park, Climbing Out, Apartment 16c and Always Beneath.
In 2012, he also published his first novel, Poor Jeffrey, which was received to much critical acclaim.
Paul cites writers such as Clive Barker, Stephen King, James Herbert and JRR Tolkien as inspirations on his own writing.
Paul continues to write, contributing to Matt Shaw’s The Many Deaths of Edgar Allan Poe anthology in 2020 with The Last Horror of Dear Eddie. He also began releasing free short stories and fanfiction on his Wattpad account for fun.
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