2011: The Year in Horror—Christopher Monfette on the return of “HELLRAISER”

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Originally published at Fangoria.com on Dec 30th, 2011

This year, Clive Barker returned to his most infamous creation, with BOOM! Studios’ incredibly well received HELLRAISER series. FANGORIA spoke with co-author Christopher Monfette about how he became involved with the HELLRAISER series, how Tiffany returned to the official continuity, and what fans should expect from the next story arc. [SPOILERS ahead!]

FANGORIA: You previously worked with Clive Barker for the SEDUTH 3D comic. How did you become involved with HELLRAISER?

CHRISTOPHER MONFETTE: Clive and I have had a longstanding working relationship. I adapted two of his short stories into features, starting five or six years ago, when I tackled this little four page story from one of the BOOKS OF BLOOD, called “Down, Satan.” I did that adaptation. Hopefully, at some point in the future, somebody somewhere  will do something with that. He wanted me to adapt SON OF CELLULOID, which is a script we’re both very proud of. That collaboration led to SEDUTH, which was a wildly imaginative comic book spectacle of horror/fantasy. We had a ton of freedom to play with stylistically, but we were constrained to those twenty-four pages of that comic.

When BOOM! came to Clive, or at least when Clive may have come to BOOM! with the idea of doing HELLRAISER as an ongoing series, I had worked with Clive enough at that point for him to trust that this was a property I would be able to find the voice of, respect the source material, while bringing in my own perspective, P.O.V. and help it evolve forward and change in a way readers would find interesting. Allow the series to find a new footing.

FANG: Was there pressure jumping into this project, knowing there is a huge fanbase and many sequels?

MONFETTE: There is always pressure involved when you’re addressing a character, story, icon that people feel passionately about. People feel very passionately about Pinhead. That’s really a testament to Clive’s genius and creativity. It’s been 25-30 years after the novella and the movie came out, after having weathered six or seven terrible sequels, that get increasingly terrible as time goes on. People are still hopeful we’ll do something new and exciting for them. That is a testament to the quality of the character itself. The world is on your shoulders to do it justice. I felt confident I could honor Clive’s voice and add my own. Clive had tremendous faith and minimal changes after submitting each script. He oversaw the story, making sure his voice was there, and the story was going the right direction. Once the reviews come in and looking at message boards, we’re fortunate the fans came to love it. So there was pressure, but I never felt exhausted by it.

FANG: In the first issue, Pinhead has such eloquent, even stylish lines of dialogue. Tell me how you approached writing the dialogue to the infamous horror icon?

MONFETTE: I was running everything through the filter of Doug Bradley. I think Bradley’s performance is so iconic. When they first suggested casting another Pinhead for the latest film, HELLRAISER:REVELATIONS, it struck me as absurd. If you’re not going to put a great actor, a real thespian in that role, you’re going to lose a lot of the eloquence that Pinhead has to offer as a villain. That’s why he’s my favorite horror icon from that day and age. He has something to say, unlike Freddy Krueger, who throws whimsical quips, and Michael Myers, a silent killer. Pinhead is coming at it from elocution and introspection. He has ideas about the world. And it always struck me, especially watching those films, with the first two as our jumping-off point, that this is a character that is so fiercely curious. He maintains all the curiosity that we as humans have and that carried over to his life as a Cenobite. To me, that was important for us to play around with in a comic series, because that’s what makes any villain interesting, the human aspect. Shaping his voice was finding the dialogue that Clive used in the original HELLRAISER, watching how Bradley expanded off that, by hitting that eloquence, and having something to offer in every exchange.

FANG: The HELLRAISER issues have become an evolution of Kirsty Cotton, adapting her to present day. Tell me about how you approached bringing this character back into the mythology.

MONFETTE: One of the things I’m most grateful for, with regards for being able to write these eight issues, Clive really trusted me to pitch an angle that was important to me, that really resonated with me as a writer and fan. I came into that meeting with Clive, he put his hands on the table, and said, “Where do you think this should go?” He had ideas that he brought in, things he wanted to see reflected in the series, but he was incredibly open to other ideas.

My pitch to Clive was, “I think this needs to be about the evolution of Pinhead and Kirsty evolving into Pinhead’s role.” If you’re going to move forward, those films have not been very good, once you move past the first two. Pinhead has aged beyond ages. For twenty years, our time as the audiences, this is also Pinhead’s servitude in Hell. You can catch up with the characters and then do something that challenges Pinhead and Kirsty as characters, not just as hero and villain. In the fourth issue, Pinhead says to Kirsty, “Have you been looking for me? Or have you been looking for a doorway back to Hell? Are you trying to get back there because it defines you?” It’s been paving the way towards the conclusion in issue #8, which I feel is emotionally resonant and correct.

FANG: In issue #2, the Cenobite says, “Kirsty met the Devil, made him love.” Clive Barker has said before he never saw a romantic link between Kirsty and Pinhead. Tell me about their relationship now between them in the comic book series.

MONFETTE: I don’t think there’s necessarily a sense of romance between those two characters. But I think there is a sense, in a very strange way a sense of mutual respect. Pinhead respects Kirsty for the fight she has been waging against Hell. Pinheads wants to overthrow Kirsty as much as she does. Pinhead wants to be a leader, not the follower. Kirsty has this passion, this identity for herself that is 100 percent about taking down this person—this group of people—that have inflicted such damage to her life. This has gone beyond getting her revenge, her hunger for Pinhead. She has been enslaved by Hell in a very different way. It’s not a love relationship, in terms of a romantic love. It’s a love relationship of fascination, respect, and obsession.

FANG: In issue #7, Tiffany, from HELLRAISER 2: HELLBOUND, returns to the storyline. Tell me how you came about Tiffany, because she has no back-story and had no lines of dialogue in the movie.

MONFETTE: Tiffany is there for a couple of reasons. Yes, we are jumping off of two films, HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND. We’re creating a story, in some senses, the third film. What we start to see in issue #6 and #7 are some of the elements that are exclusive to comic books. Issues 1-5 really feel like a movie. In issues 6 and 7, we’re really exploring the series in the format it’s going to live with. Tiffany is the heroine and we’re going to see her again. It’s interesting for her because she never uttered dialogue in the second film. We can create a personality for her. I didn’t want her to be exact equivalent of what you saw in HELLBOUND, a demure, mute shrunken-in woman. I thought it would be interesting to turn it on its head. What’s worse than Kirsty, who is willing to destroy the boxes, the configurations, as recklessly as possible? This person who’s willing to kill innocent people, who may be potentially box creators in the future. Some people have complaints about it, which I take responsibility for. That character became much more sexy, a sword-wielding ninja, especially in flashbacks. It’s just a character who has embraced murder for the sake of good. Tiffany is both loved by and loves Kirsty, despite disagreeing with her philosophy of the boxes. It’s an adoptive relationship. Kirsty walks away with this girl at the end of HELLBOUND; she’s now responsible for her. If Tiffany looks more like a typical comic book character, I think that’s great. We can use that in the future in a way that really fits the medium. We’re not making a movie; we can go crazy with it. We’re doing things with the mythology what you wouldn’t be able to do if we were making a series of films.

FANG: In issue #8, Kirsty Cotton becomes the new Pinhead, with her own army of Cenobites. Tell me more about the inspiration behind this plot twist?

MONFETTE: The interesting thing about issue #8 is probably the biggest moment where Clive’s vision, as the creator of the series, and my vision, as the writer, diverged. Clive is the wheel here, the grandfather of HELLRAISER, and he always will be. The professions of the Harrowers are stereotypically specific—the prostitute, the priest, the doctor, Kirsty as the artist, and Edgar is the scholar. That was all very intentional in the beginning, so that we could evolve the HELLRAISER mythos, when those characters became Cenobites. Kirsty’s Cenobites were aspects of human nature that she, the leader, would be able to explore. Bethany addresses sexuality taboos, and the priest would speak of taboos of religion. Each were originally designed in the script to reflect that individual theme. Clive redesigned that narrative plan, that was much more animal-based. The Cenobites are more monstrous, less human and don’t follow the same pattern as the humanoid servants. I’ll be interested to see how Clive and the new writer, Anthony DiBlasi (writer/director of DREAD), will play with that. It’s very cool you have these much more monstrous Cenobites than we’ve seen in the past. I’m curious if the themes we originally talked about hold off in issues #9, #10, and beyond.

FANG: The HELLRAISER series has been illustrated by a variety of different artists – from Leonardo Manco, Stephen Thompson, and Jesús Hervás. Does the writing style change from artist to artist?

MONFETTE: No, I think you get to see where as a writer what artists get to do well. You can write to that. I think all three of those guys did phenomenal jobs. They have distinct personalities but one unifying vision. What blew me away working with Stephen was Jordie Bellaire’s coloring work. I did find myself writing to that when she came on board. Her colors are magnificent! When Clive and I had this plan to switch from the black motif to white and red, you immediately know Jordie is going to kill that. In terms of dialogue and the panel layouts, I like to leave as much room for the artists to interpret as possible. Whenever I had an opportunity to throw color in there, I would just to see what she would do with it. She is so brilliant!

FANG: What are you working on now?

MONFETTE: I’m working on a bunch of film things. I am working on an adaptation of a Stephen King story that I’ve done as a feature film that we’re trying to get off the ground. Hopefully that will happen sometime this year. I’ve got a couple of comic book pitches. One is an interesting period/superhero piece and the other one is a satirical play on fantasy archetypes. I’m working on a couple of original things, a horror script called DEEP CUTS. That’s sort of a mash-up of horror subgenres. It’s not an anthology, it’s a crazy meeting of zombie, vampire, ghosts, and slashers; everything that you identify with American horror. I hope it’s a productive one.

FANG: Tell me about leaving HELLRAISER series with issue #8?

MONFETTE: Certainly sad I won’t be carrying the torch ahead with HELLRAISER. But my time in the series has been absolutely fantastic. I really can’t thank Clive and the folks at BOOM! enough for letting me tell that story, and really supporting it 100%. They never once shied away because it’s too graphic or too intense. They let us push the envelope, which horror needs to do. I’ve been really fortunate with the opportunity to do that.

FANG: Now that Captain Elliot Spencer has become human, what should readers expect after HELLRAISER #9?

MONFETTE: The only way I can really answer that is within the framework, through the way I developed the arc. How can a Cenobite, who has taken so many lives and damned so many souls, ever be worthy of salvation? Certainly becoming a human is not sufficient. I don’t know where they’ll take it. This whole first eight issues was the first chess move to con his way into Heaven. I can say, Pinhead has created a monster that is a bigger threat than himself. He has leverage with Heaven to say, “I can use my knowledge to stop it if you let me in.” This was going to be the first piece of a larger chess game. Where will Clive and Anthony take it? I don’t know. I don’t think Elliot will be humbled by this experience. At heart, he is this cold, calculating character. I’ll be fascinated to read each issue.

I’ll give a little bit of a clue. The next arc is going to called, “Heaven’s Reply.”

FANG: How can readers find out more about your work?

MONFETTE: Follow me on Twitter, @cwmonfette, and I’ll update when I can. My voice is really as a writer. I want to give audiences great stories and solid writing. I want to give creators faithful and inventive adaptations of their material. I don’t like putting myself out there that much. I love having interviews like this where you can really dig into something. I don’t think we talk about the process enough.