The relationship between comics and film, both in terms of how they correspond and where they diverge, has been discussed at length, and by those far more insightful than myself. What you don’t hear a lot about is the contrast between horror franchise sequels and the comic books that represent their more literary counterparts. As a rule, cinematic (or, more frequently, straight-to-DVD) sequels are a dispiriting affair, played out on an increasingly limited scale, and seeming almost to go out of their way to dilute the premise that made the original so compelling. That isn’t always the case, of course, especially latterly (SAW, FINAL DESTINATION and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY have all been well-served by their sequels, which, while comprehensively failing to innovate, at least offer fans more of what they want), but these contemporary examples remain the exception rather than the rule. HELLRAISER, one of the most innovative, influential horror films of the last thirty years, is a prime example of the lamentable law of diminishing returns. To date there have been eight HELLRAISER sequels, each more detestable than the last, culminating in last year’s truly abysmal REVELATIONS. By this point the sequence didn’t even bother paying lip service to Clive Barker’s original vision, with the iconic Pinhead reduced to a laughable pantomime villain. But there’s another way to get your Cenobite fix, one that doesn’t involve waiting years for infrequent and invariably disappointing sequels. Since 2010 Boom! Studios have been publishing an official comic book continuation of the mythology, not only endorsed but co-written by Barker himself. The story plays out over a series of 4-issue arcs, the most recent of which, Hell Hath No Fury, has recently ended.
The first, and most obvious, advantage of the comic book incarnation of the story is the story itself. With Barker at the helm, it’s guaranteed to be an expansion of his original narrative, the real deal as opposed to the watered-down misapprehensions of the films. Secondly, there are no budgetary constraints. CGI can work wonders, even on a relative shoestring, but it can’t paint on a global canvas, as Hell Hath No Fury manages. Elliot Spencer, former Pinhead and current would-be messiah, having tricked Kirsty Cotton into assuming the mantle of the lead Cenobite, and having opened a portal to hell, uses India as a beachhead for his planned invasion of the world. It’s gloriously over-the-top stuff, bloody melodrama writ about as large as it will go, and the special effects are seamless.
Another glaring disparity between the two mediums is the way the comic treats its characters, and by extension the broader status quo. Film sequels are traditionally conservative, unwilling to kill off key characters or jeopardise the potentially lucrative premise. The HELLRAISER comic book has no such qualms, gleefully rocking the boat until it’s not only capsized but resting on the bottom of the ocean. It goes out of its way to mangle the status quo, with each new issue presenting a barrage of fresh ideas that takes it further out of its comfort zone.
Of course, there are some areas in which film will always have the upper hand. Horror is conveyed as least as much by sound as image (think back to all the best [and worst] shock moments in your favourite horrors; most of the surprise is generated aurally). Comics have sound effects, but it’s just not the same. And while the illusion of motion can be created between the panels, it’s not nearly as convincing as on the screen (that said, the rigid dimensions of the film image aren’t nearly as versatile or stimulating as artist Janusz Ordon’s dynamic layouts and scratchy, hyper-atmospheric artwork). Co-writer Mark Miller’s dialogue isn’t always the greatest, but that’s par for the course when it comes to horror, and the narrative captions allow for a greater depth of characterisation and the occasional poetical turn of phrase.
Ultimately, the argument is redundant. Film buffs will always prefer films and comic geeks will always have a special place in their hearts for comic books. With a foot in each camp, and doing my best to be objective, I can see the merits (and drawbacks) of both. When it comes to HELLRAISER, however, the printed version wins hands down. With a few notable early exceptions, the HELLRAISER sequels are an insult to the fans, adding nothing to the mythology and attempting to milk the franchise for every dollar it’s worth. By contrast, the comics are a sincere attempt to continue and expand upon Clive Barker’s original, utilising the characters fans are most familiar with, but without the budgetary and imaginative restrictions endemic in most sequels. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; if you have any interest in the ongoing adventures of Kirsty and hell’s high priests of pain, Boom! is the place to be.