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 . . .

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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

Reviewing Hell: What Dreams May Come (1978) by Richard Matheson

What Dreams May Come is an intriguing novel about the afterlife. Richard Matheson is best known for his horror writing, including the classics Hell House and I Am Legend. Tonally, What Dreams is different, focusing less on horor and more on life after death. The book is tinged with a more hopeful, optimistic view of the afterlife than the other books and movies I look at here at the Hell Mythos. This is still a classic of the afterlife, even if it isn’t a particularly Hellish book.

Set-Up: If we’re comparing this to Dante, What Dreams May Come is as much Paradiso as it is Inferno, with a lot of its pages spent to developing a coherent, realistic view of Heaven. Matheson even overwhelms us with a 6 page bibliography of spiritualistic references at the end.

The novel starts when Chris dies in a car accident. He’s trapped briefly on Earth, seeing his own funeral and what not, before he’s taken up to “Summerland,” this novel’s version of Heaven. There, he learns about eternal life. Back on Earth, though, his wife has killed herself out of grief, and Chris must descend to the “other place” (i.e. Hell) to rescue her. Think of this as a reverse Divine Comedy: Heaven first, then Hell, with Matheson taking us on the same grand tour of the afterlife that Dante does. In fact, I’d argue that this is the best Dante-esque afterlife novel of the 20th century. 10/10.

Scope: Matheson takes us from Heaven to Hell: how much more scope do you want? Matheson’s main intent, though, is to turn Heaven and Hell into “real” places. Both are depicted here as a continuation of earthly life rather than a more radical break from it. There’s a well-worn tradition of this in American spiritualist literature, of trying to (for lack of a better word) humanize the afterlife. There are pluses and minuses to this strategy: Heaven and Hell come across as fairly pedestrian, but they also come off as more likely. If you’re looking for the grand spectacle of Dante here, you won’t find it. 8/10.

Horror: For all of Matheson’s credentials as a horror writer, horror isn’t the focus of What Dreams May Come. There’s no gore, no fire, no brimstone; when we finally get to Hell, it’s almost purely psychological. Within those limitations, I think Matheson does an excellent job. When Chris confronts his wife in a faded, broken-down version of their own home, things are truly creepy—but more in a “this is awful” than “this is terrifying” fashion. Just be aware this isn’t a horror novel when you go in, and you should be fine. 8/10.

Originality: While this is definitely written in the shadow of Dante, not many 20th century writers have attempted such a broad look at life after death. There aren’t many novels like What Dreams May Come; it stands out as pretty fundamentally different than the other Hell-focused works coming out of the Clive Barker tradition. While it might not be really about Hell, it’s still a fun and original read. 10/10.

Enjoyability: I like What Dreams May Come. It’s brief and too the the point, and the afterlife it constructs is realistic and always interesting. It doesn’t have the same punch-in-the-gut feel of some other Hell works, but that might be unfair to ask of this book. On it’s own terms, as a kind of modern updating of Dante, this is quite enjoyable. 8/10.

Total: 44/50. If I was ranking the books as being the “best books about Heaven and Hell,” it would have scored higher. The Hell bits are buried in the second part of the book, but this is still a very solid novel, well-worth reading.

Other Takes: My fellow bloggers on WordPress haven’t reviewed this book that often; only a few discussions exist. I would have thought with the movie there would have been more interest in Matheson, but live and learn.
Physics and Art
Weekends in Paradelle
BCF Book Reviews
Nashville Book Worm
Coffee and a Book Chick

Several reviewers noted that they liked the film better than the book. Very interesting.

Reviewing Hell: Black Sabbath (1970)

Black Sabbath’s first album starts with the sound of rain and the tolling of bells—and then you get forty minutes of Hell that invented heavy metal and brought Satan roaring back to the mainstream. This self-titled debut is many things: loose, messy, menacing, spooky, and completely unlike anything that had come before it. By the time Ozzy Osbourne sings “Is it the end, my friend? / Satan’s coming ’round the bend” near the end of the first track, music history had already changed for the better. Since then, a thousand bands have tried to take us back to Hell, and none have ever done it better than Black Sabbath did on their first record.

The Set-Up: Black Sabbath is a series of haunting “songs”—there aren’t any choruses, and the only musical hooks are provided by Tony Iommi’s riffs and Ozzy’s terrifying voice. From the underworld perspective we focus on here at Hell Mythos, it’s the title track “Black Sabbath” and the multi-part “Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Bassically/N.I.B.” that are the heart of the record. Both are songs explicitly about Satan, setting heavy metal along it’s dark path. With sludgy, grinding riffs, Black Sabbath takes us on an odyssey into the black parts of the human mind, whether the songs be about wizards, sleeping villages, or Lucifer’s hollow promises. A little more unity across the songs would be nice, but that’s nitpicking. 9/10.

Scope: Ozzy and the boys take us across a surprising range of topics and sounds: “Black Sabbath” is spooky sludge; “The Wizard” has a kind of demented blues feel complete with harmonica; “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” references Lovecraft with a hooky opening riif; “N.I.B,” which most people mistakenly think stands for “Nativity in Black,” is our open love-letter to Satan. There’s even a mediocre cover of a pop song in “Evil Woman,” shoehorned into the album in a misguided attempt to make it more popular. That misstep aside, this is a musically broad album, with an impressive range of content. 9/10.

Horror: Before Black Sabbath, no one realized how scary rock and roll could actually be. There’s always been a despairing, minor-key dirge buried deep in the blues and jazz, and Ozzy and the boys bring it out here. If you want to think of heavy metal as a horror movie on record, this is a great place to start—other albums have been more shocking and more grisly, but none have been darker than this. 10/10.

Originality: You can argue that Black Sabbath invented most of the major sub-genres of heavy metal, from death metal to thrash. I want to focus on what else Black Sabbath brought back to the forefront, which is the revitalization of Hell, Satan, and demons as part of the horror canon. Authors like Lovecraft had been pushing horror in a more cosmic direction, with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos recasting the demons and devils of traditional mythology as aliens and creatures from the beyond. Brilliant stuff, but the sheer terror of the underworld was being lost—Black Sabbath put us back on the path of supernatural Hellish horror, and we’ve stayed on it ever since. 10/10.

Enjoyability: Paranoid has catchier songs, and Black Sabbath IV may be their darkest and gloomiest masterpiece. But this is Black Sabbath at their blackest and most Satanic. The whole album is charged with the excitement of a band finding their voice and their material. You could ask that the songs be more organized, the riffs and singing more focused, but that would be missing the point. To listen to Black Sabbath is to listen to heavy metal becoming itself, and how could that not be enjoyable? 9/10.

Total: 47/50. If you listen to one album about Satan, this should be it!

Reviewing Hell: Hellraiser (1987)

Movies about Hell don’t get much more influential than Hellraiser. Based on Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart and directed by Barker himself, this is the film that burnt the image of Pinhead into our collective unconscious. Who doesn’t recognize that stark white creature (demon? lost soul? who knows?) with pins driven into his face and skull?

Hellraiser is important because it gave us a new vision of the demonic, one infused with overwhelming pain, black leather outfits, sado-masochism, and those damned hooks. What’s fascinating about Hellraiser is that it isn’t a slasher film. Although definitely gory, it has a very different tone than films like Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street. Hellraiser drifts back and forth from being a gross-out gore-fest (dismembered bodies, blood, hooks) to being a kind of erotically charged thriller; that tonal juxtaposition works to create something truly unique and disturbing.

The Set-Up: After Frank finds and solves mysterious puzzle box, he’s torn apart by vicious demons named Cenobites. His brother Larry and wife Julia move into Frank’s house; we learn quickly that Julia and Frank had an affair. When Larry cuts his hand, Frank feeds on hat blood and reemerges as a dessicated corpse. Julia promises to get him more blood, and Larry’s daughter Kristy is the only one who can stand between Frank, Julia, and horror . . .

While The Hellbound Heart smashes us in the face with the Cenobites in the first twenty pages, so much so that the rest of the novella is anticlimactic, Hellraiser keeps its true terror until the end. We get hints of Pinhead at the beginning, but he only makes his full emergence at the end. That lets the movie build tension throughout its 90 minutes, keeping this exciting throughout. 9/10.

Scope: This is the only place Hellraiser is a little disappointing. Like a lot of 80s horror movies, the scope is surprisingly small: three or four people are endangered by the Cenobites, no more. Perhaps the intimate scale makes it more horrify, maybe less. 8/10.

Horror: Hellraiser has a great mix of nasty, frightening gore and psychological terror. There aren’t as many scare-jumps as some horror movies, but once Frank is wandering around as a half-made corpse, things are truly disturbing. With Pinhead as the icing on the cake, you’ve got a true classic. 10/10.

Originality: It’s quite an accomplishment to create a horror icon in any film, and Pinhead is exactly that. While Barker came up with him in novella form, the visual translation of that creation is astonishing—I’d argue Hellraiser is better than The Hellbound Heart, if by a little bit. 10/10.

Enjoyability: Horror movies tend to date quickly; in our culture of forever pushing the boundaries, what was scary 30 years ago may seem silly nowadays. Hellraiser generally avoids this pratfall; the special effects still hold up, and the pacing is brisk and modern. 9/10.

Total: 46/50. Still a classic of the horror and Hell genres.

Other Takes: I always like to see what other WordPress bloggers have to say about things. There aren’t a lot of movie reviews of older films like Hellraiser, but here’s what I found:
My World vs. The Movies
Moviepilot
Horrorpedia
Glynn Avenue Massacre
Seedy Reviews

There’s also a cool-looking documentary called Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser 2.

Reviewing Hell: The Hellbound Heart (1986) by Clive Barker

Stories about Hell don’t get much more influential than The Hellbound Heart. This is the brief novella that gave us Pinhead, the Hellraiser movies, puzzle boxes that open gateways to Hell, and demons dressed up S+M gear. Barker helped lead the horror revival of the 1980s, and this is one of the core books in that decade.

The Set-Up: The Hellbound Heart is almost two things in one: a short story that ranks as an absolute all-time Horror classic, followed by a good but not great novella. The terrifying opening sequence has a world-weary sensualist (Frank) using Lemarchand’s puzzle box to summon the Cenobites, a group of mysterious creatures (demons?) dedicated to pleasure. Midway through the summoning, he realizes that things are going horribly, horrribly wrong . . .

The Cenobites, Pinhead among them, are truly frightening, creatures so dedicated to pain and suffering and hooks that they expand our very definition of the monstrous. Barker has given a completely unique twist on the “summon the devil, you get what you deserve” story, and the first part of the book is as good as any horror story written in the 20th century. Frank—a generally awful person—gets punished so much more than he deserves and in ways that just make the skin crawl. This is the epitome of what written shock-horror can be: gory enough to be frightening without being silly, psychologically real enough to keep you awake at night

The second part of the book pales in comparison to the first, but anything would. I don’t think Barker actually knew what he’d struck on with the Cenobites. The second half of the book (pages 20-164) in my edition deals with Frank from the first part, who’s now stuck between dimensions. An unhappy wife discovers that she can use blood to bring him back to the land of the living, but doing so might catch the attention of the Cenobites.

Barker isn’t able to keep up the intensity through the second half, and I (at least) kept impatiently waiting for the Cenobites to returnWhen they do, they don’t do much. Still, as a psychological horror study, it’s a solid work. 9/10.

Scope: This is a Hell comes to Earth book, not a humans go to Hell book, so the scope is pretty small. The demons aren’t really running amuck and wrecking things. In the first part, though, we get some good glimpses of cosmic horror, and there is a scope of evil in the Cenobites that keeps this from being a small book. 7/10.

Horror: Truly a terrifying work. Pinhead, who plays only a small role in this, is the perfect embodiment of the order, chaos, and suffering of Hell all in one. Take a look at this initial description:

Every inch of its head had been tattooed with an intricate grid, and at every intersection of horizontal and vertical axes a jeweled pin driven through to the bone. Its tongue was similarly decorated. “Do you even know who we are?” it asked.

You’ve got elegance and menace at the same time. The images may seems a little familiar now, and thus blunted, but there’s enough horror and gore here to keep anyone entertained. 10/10.

Originality: How often does anyone create a horror figure icon in their writing? Pinhead may not be Frankenstein’s monster or Dracula, but he’s damn close. 10/10.

Enjoyability: The first 20 pages are a clear 10/10, then the novel is only an interesting 8/10. So 9/10 total.

Total: 45/50, a clear classic of Hell literature. A must-read for anyone even vaguely interested in the demonic.

Other Takes: The Hellbound Heart is an older book, so there aren’t as many internet reviews to read. Here’s a sampling:
Nite Owl Jr
Phil Slattery’s Art of Horror Part 2
King of the Nerds
Nerds of Gore
Horror Novel Reviews

Overall positive, although a couple readers found the novella length a little awkward. For the most part, though, everyone agrees that this is a horror classic.