By: PENNIE SUBLIME
I don’t care how much of a die hard horror fan you are, if you’re even the tiniest bit honest, you have to admit: horror has some problems with women.
Okay, for the sake of time (and my ever fraying sanity) we’re going to elide over the sexism inherent in many of the genre’s beloved standbys — I’m looking right at you, slashers — and focus on the thing that draws us in, draw us out, and keeps us coming back for more: the monsters.
Quick — name a good female monster. Yes, grandma, the Bride of Frankenstein is pretty cool, but let’s try to keep thing recent. Coming up with nothing? Exactly.
You might be forgiven for forgetting the delightfully macabre, glamorously ghoulish Female Cenobite from the Hellraiser franchise, but you won’t get any pardon from me. Aside from being calm, cool, and as assured as her male counterparts, she wields a subtle, sexy deadliness that even the best femme fatales are robbed of in a genre still driven mostly by males and their infamous gaze. As a younger horror fan, I was enthralled by the Female Cenobite for all that she promised women in horror cinema could be: equally appealing, appalling, and spellbindingly powerful.
Of course, the Female Cenobite is a construct of Clive Barker’s voluptuously venereal imagination, but when I was honoured to interview the famous and infamous Barbie Wilde, the actress who portrayed the Female Cenobite in Hellraiser: Hellbound, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all the things fans find so enchanting about the character is part of Wilde’s horror persona. Funny, irreverent, erudite, and sharp-edged as the torture tools the Cenobites tote, Wilde has been creating horror media for decades, while remaining tied to the crazy world of Hellraiser fandom. Whether as a writer, performer, or advocate of women’s role in the entertainment world, Wilde is every bit as fascinating as the character she so easily embodied. Read on to learn more about her thoughts on the culture and climate of the 1980’s, her role as the Female Cenobite, her experiences with mythic literature, and her exciting upcoming projects.
How have your impressions of the film and your character changed since the 1980s?
I don’t think they’ve really changed that much. I love Hellraiser and Hellbound as much now as I did then. I actually prefer the first film, as I think that the character of Julia is so primal and elemental in that one. Killing guys with a hammer to the back of the head to enable your ex-and dead-lover to get his skin back? You have to admire that kind of dedication! In many ways, as the years go by, I’m more and more impressed by what Clive and company achieved with the first two films: imaginative characters and great plots and effects that were excellent for that time. No CGI for Hellraiser one and two! As far as my character is concerned, I’m glad that horror fans have responded to her icy charms…
Doug Bradley told us he feels that not only has the film endured over the past 30 years, it’s actually more popular than ever now. Why do you think that is?
I think that Clive created a truly exceptional cocktail of memorable characters, as well as the intriguing Cenobite mythology. Characters like Julia: the little housewife who became a sexually voracious diva; Frank: the man who would go anywhere and do anything to achieve the ultimate in sensuality; Kirstie: the loyal and strong daughter who wanted to protect her father; Dr Channard: the ultimate bad doctor in Hellbound; and of course, the Cenobites: a new kind of monster that would talk to you, and perhaps even bargain with you. The world of the Cenobites was so fascinating because they weren’t just slay-machines or weird-looking serial killers who murdered without reason. The Cenobites thought that they were gifting their victims with their deepest desires. As long as those desires fit in with theirs, that is.
Horror movies are often born out of the eras they’re written in. What was it about the culture of the 1980s that birthed the Cenobites?
The 80s was a decade of wonderfully extravagant excess in many ways, especially after the austerity of the 1970s — at least in Britain anyway. The clothes, the hair, the music were all pretty unforgettable. I think that Hellraiser and Hellbound are very British films.
Each of the Cenobites seems to have their particular fans or groupies. What do you think it is about your character that people find appealing?
Perhaps it was that big vagina-shaped wound in her throat?! Seriously though… the Female Cenobite is mysterious, perverted and beautiful in a corpse-fleshed, bald, blue-lipped kind of way. She’s very powerful and centred. The Cenobites weren’t the kind of monsters who ran around slashing people and screaming their heads off. They’re articulate, contained, sardonic and, dare I say it, cool. All that fabulous leather and piercings!
In Clive Barker’s Hellbound Heart, the Cenobites are described as Lovecraftian entities existing outside the realm of good and evil, and in the original film Pinhead has his classic “angels to some, demons to others” speech. Over the years, though, the characters have become much more overtly evil and blatantly demonic. What was Clive’s concept of the characters when he discussed them with you, and what do you feel about the shift they’ve taken over the years?
As soon as I accepted the role of the Female Cenobite, I immediately read The Hellbound Heart, so my take on the character is mostly based on the Cenobites that were featured in the novella. To be honest, I haven’t seen any of the subsequent Hellraiser films other than the first two, so I can’t really comment on how the characters changed over the duration of the film franchise.
Barbie, you wrote an origin story for the Female Cenobite that’s become sort of canon among fans. Where did you get the idea for her? Was it informed at all by anything you and Clive Barker discussed about the character?
Sister Cilice was based on Clive’s original novella, The Hellbound Heart, and not the films, for legal reasons. So it’s a story about A Female Cenobite, rather than THE Female Cenobite, although it’s understandable that people assumed that I was writing about my own character in the film. I took inspiration from the fact that the Lead Cenobite in Clive’s novella was female. That character became the male Lead Cenobite, AKA Pinhead, in the films. Makeup artist Gary Tunnicliffe had suggested that the Female Cenobite might have been a nun in a previous life, and I loved that idea. So the story of a sex-starved, life-frustrated nun who turns to the Order of the Gash to transform her rotting soul was born. I’ve written two more Sister Cilice stories: The Cilicium Pandoric (Sister Cilice visits the Toymaker to have her own box created) and The Cilicium Rebellion (all the Female Cenobites in hell rebel against the male Cenobites and cause chaos and destruction). All three Sister Cilice stories appear in my full colour, illustrated short horror story collection, Voiced of the Damned.
Do you see the franchise enduring into the 21st century?
I certainly think that the first few Hellraiser films will always endure as horror classics. To be honest, the only reboot or new take on the idea that I would ever want to see in the future would have to come from Clive himself, as the scriptwriter and, hopefully, as the director. I think that the franchise has been sadly degraded by the recent microbudget offerings that were only released for contractual reasons.
Barbie, there’s been much made over the years over the Female Cenobite’s name — or rather lack thereof. Though she’s always been referred to as “The Female” or “The Female Cenobite,” it’s also emerged that the makeup department on the original Hellraiser film dubbed her “Deep Throat” and others have come up with their own nicknames as well. Do you have a preferred name for her?
Well, any name, “Deep Throat” or otherwise, would be better than just “Female Cenobite”, in my opinion. By the way, the reason that “Deep Throat” nickname didn’t make it into the credits for Hellbound like the other makeup crew nicknames for the Cenobite characters was that the producers were worried that it might remind folks of Deep Throat, the porno movie. I believe that Clive’s nickname for her was “Gash”, which has a nice percussive ring to it.
How do you feel the Hellraiser franchise impacted the trajectory of your career?
At the time, it didn’t really impact it at all. I just went on to my next job as a film reviewer on television… I subsequently became a Casting Director, then a published author. However, over the last decade, I’ve been invited to a lot of horror conventions and I’ve been delighted to meet so many Hellraiser fans. I had no idea that I’d scared the living daylights out of so many people over the years! Although I never really think of myself as such, I guess I eventually achieved a kind of “female icon of horror” status, which probably helped a bit to get me to get a book deal in 2012 for my debut serial killer novel, The Venus Complex, as well as receiving numerous invitations to submit short horror stories to different anthologies (starting with Sister Cilice in 2009) and then culminating in SST Publications publishing my collection of short horror stories, Voices of the Damned, in 2015. Attending horror conventions has helped me to spread the word about my writing, as well as my upcoming feature film collaboration with ex-Fangoria Editor-in-Chief, Chris Alexander. We’ll be working as co-writers on a script called Blue Eyes, which is based on a recent short horror story of mine. I’ll always be exceedingly grateful that I was invited into Clive Barker’s stunningly imaginative Hallraiser world. And to think that I hesitated about going to the audition for the Female Cenobite back in the 1980s! I’m so glad that I did…