Reviewing Hell: Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, Season 1 (2013)

One of my goals here at Hell Mythos is to explore all aspects of Hell in popular culture, even the comic ones. There’s have been a few standout “funny” depictions of Hell in recent years. I guess Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) kicked this trend off, but we’ve had lots of Hell in South Park, including the South Park movie (1999).

But it might just be the TV show Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell that has set a new standard for an absurdist, comic Hell. Part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming, this is a live-action sitcom that depicts Hell as an office workplace. Episode are short (11-12 minutes), the special effects crude (red paint and horns), but there’s a madcap zaniness and violence to the series, all underlined by a kind of surreal horror. Whatever else it is, it’s certainly unusual.

The Set-Up: Pretty Face imagines Hell as an office job, with Satan your typical asshole boss grinding down the little man. Our main character is Gary, a completely incompetent demon who messes up every assignment he’s given. He has an intern, Claude, who is far better than him at the job, and each brief episode usually has them trying (and failing) to carry out some damnation related task set by Satan. They have to tempt a baseball player, put on a demonic musical, get Satan’s face on the nickel, etc. Gary messes everything up, Claude succeeds, comedy ensues. 7/10.

Scope: A typical episode has some scenes in Hell, with deliberately crude CGI and your standard office cubicles. Then Gary and Claude will usually held up topside to try and mess around with humans. There’s an endearing quality to the relative lack of money being spent on the series; these aren’t slick Hollywood effects, but their slapdash quality makes the series funnier. This isn’t the first work of the imagination to show Hell as a bureaucracy, but I don’t think I’ve seen Hell depicted as kind of demented Dilbert comic before. 7/10.

Horror: Your Pretty Face is casually horrific. While the aim here is definitely comedy, to make us laugh at the sufferings of our bumbling demons, there’s a desperate undercurrent. Gary sometimes has to go to the “break room,” a cube of whirling blades. Everyone, demons and damned alike, are constantly being tortured. The series can be quite disturbing in its depiction of casual violence, so be warned. 6/10.

Originality: Hell hasn’t been adapted to the sitcom format often, if ever, so you’ve got to get points for that. The different pieces aren’t particularly original—this is part The Office, part Dilbert, part South Park—but putting them together in this way is. 7/10.

Enjoyability: I like this series in short doses. The jokes can get a little repetitive, and it’s more of an absurd diversion than a serious inquiry. If you can get past the effects and are able to laugh at some of the crude jokes, this is a surprisingly solid (if light) contribution to the literature of Hell. 7/10.

Overall: 34/50. This isn’t a classic of Hell literature by any means, but it’s definitely above average take on the afterlife. I’m not sure what it says about Hell that we’re now laughing at it . . .

Reviewing Hell: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Hellbound is in an odd position. Hellraiser is an acknowledged horror/Hell classic, but a lot of viewers ignore the rest of the Hellraiser series. That’s understandable: horror movie sequels are notorious for being cash-ins. You take everything that was great about the first movie and then you do it cheaper and worse. By the time you get to Halloween 7 or Nightmare on Elm Street 4 or Hellraiser 8, you’ve lost everything that mattered.

Hellbound isn’t a mindless cash-in. Clive Barker still designed the story, and several of the actors from the first film return. Hellraiser was special because of its unique mix of gore and psychological horror; Hellbound loses some of the psychological angle, but it has an interesting enough version of the underworld to make it worth watching.

Set-Up: Traumatized by the events of the first movie, our heroine Kirsty starts out locked up in a mental ward. She tries to warn everyone, but no one listens. The first half of the movie has too many flashbacks to the first film, but once the story gets going, we find more and more people tortured by the Cenobites and the puzzle-boxes, with plenty of gross-out gore. 7/10.

Scope: Hellraiser takes place on Earth, but the second half of Hellbouund takes our characters to a highly stylized Hell/labyrinth. In my opinion, this is the most interesting part of the movie. The effects suffer a bit, but you’ve got some spooky nightmarish stuff. 8/10.

Horror: This isn’t as scary as Hellraiser, largely because it lacks the psychological elements of the first. The gore is just gore, the scares just scares. Despite this, Pinhead and his hooks are as creepy as ever, even if they have less of an impact the second time around. 7/10.

Originality: You can’t be original by repeating yourself, and that’s exactly what Hellbound does. This is very much a direct sequel, happening immediately after the fist movie. It never really establishes its own identity. Still, the world is disturbing enough that a deeper look at it is intriguing. 6/10.

Enjoyability: All of that said, Hellbound is still a better than average horror film. Some of the gross-out moments are chilling, and seeing more of Pinhead’s Hell is never bad. 7/10.

Total: 35/50. Well worth watching if you liked the first film, and the final decent chapter of the Hellraiser saga. Any true Hell fan owes it to themselves to read The Hellbound Heart and watch Hellraiser and this movie.

Other Takes: There’s a wide range of opinions about Hellbound on WordPress; some like it better than Hellraiser, and some don’t:
Late to the Theater
The Satellite Show
Films and Lice
The Pork-Chop Express

I’m intrigued by the idea this film is better than Hellraiser. I never felt that myself, but I guess you could argue this is a more coherent horror film with more effective pacing; Hellraiser was a short, great film about the Cenobites attached to a somewhat duller film about infidelity. At the least, this is more unified.

Reviewing Hell: The House of Shattered Wings (2015) by Aliette de Bodard

Depending on how you look at it, the recent boom in Urban Fantasy has either been great for Hell literature or problematic. Urban Fantasy started by putting your standard monsters (vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc.) into a present-day setting, often complete with noir trappings and detective plots. As vampires became overused, authors moved on to more exotic creatures, and it wasn’t long before demons and angels joined the fray. This led to an absolute explosion of devilish works. Everything is good, right?

Well, Urban Fantasy thrives by putting the extraordinary into the ordinary, and this has the capacity to diminish the impact of devils, demons, and Hell. If your standard wizard can banish a devil, how impressive are devils? This is why Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings is an interesting and unique take on the genre.

Set-Up: House of Shattered Wings is halfway between a Post-Apocalyptic and an Urban Fantasy novel. It takes place in a ruined Paris where “the Fallen” have taken over. These fallen angels rule by a series of houses, and our book brings us into their power struggles. Lucifer is missing from House Silverspires, and it’s up to our characters to make sense of that. de Bodard’s set-up is thus pretty original: we get a real world setting (Paris), fallen angels, and a nice “everything is ruined” twist. 8/10.

Scope: One of the most intriguing parts of House is that it hints at a broader scope: we have an important character from Vietnam, and he seems to be from that mythology, hinting at a broader range of creatures than just Christian angels. We don’t really get to see those up close and personal (sequel?). In terms of this book, we have a good scope through Paris, but not necessarily the vision of Heaven and Hell you might want from this genre. They spend much of this book looking for for Lucifer, but more as the leader of Silverspires than the lord of the underworld. 7/10.

Horror: Urban Fantasy isn’t really a horror genre. You may have lots of monsters monsters, but the point isn’t cosmic terror. In fact, the opposite often happens, with the monsters being easily controlled. I think this book avoids that trap, and between the ruined city and the fallen angels, we’ve got a nice threat of metaphysical terror running through. 7/10.

Originality: de Bodard deserves high praise here: this is one of the most unusual and original fallen angel stories ever written. Who would think of a ruined Paris filled with the fallen? 10/10.

Enjoyability: I liked the book, but I wanted to love it. Maybe too much is going: mystery, post-apocalypse, angels, house politics, different POVs, drug use, etc. That’s a lot to cram into 300 or so pages, and I think the book suffered for that. When you take risks as an author, you can lose some of the smoothness of the narrative. Maybe de Bodard can patch that up in the sequel. 7/10.

Total: 39/50. A unique take on the Fallen, and a solid contribution to the literature of the afterlife.

Other Takes:
This book has kicked up a lot of interest on WordPress, with other bloggers really liking what de Bodard has done here and others a little more measured:
Read at Midnight
Intellectus Speculativus
SF Bluestocking
Outside of Dogs