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.

“Long Road to Ruin” Free to Download Until Saturday

The first short story from my Hell Mythos series is free to download on Amazon until Saturday. Check it out!

Amazon has a system where you can make each volume free for 5 days every 3 months. I’ll be trying to take advantage of as I can.

Here’s the details on “Long Road to Ruin”:

Long Road Large Cover

Never trust a demon in love. When Beelzebub shows up pregnant and afraid, Moloch has to pick up the pieces. What do you do when a thirty-foot long beetle fallen in love with a pile of rancid eyeballs? You do the only thing you can: you try to turn things to your favor. Can Moloch help Beelzebub’s 412 children escape, and with it start a revolution in Hell?

In the tradition of the Kindle Singles, “Long Road to Ruin” is a bite-sized voyage into the underworld (~40 pages). “Long Road to Ruin” is part of the Hell Mythos, a connected series of short stories, novellas, and novels that tells the inside story of Hell, from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high. Come see the devils as they live their demonic lives, in all their glory, evil, and confusion.

This collection also includes “A Walking Tour of Hell,” a pamphlet designed for the newly damned, and “The Kindness of the Twins,” a stirring call for democratic elections in the underworld.

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.

“The Kraken” Free to Download until Saturday

The first short story from my Hell Mythos series is free to download on Amazon until Saturday. Check it out!

Amazon has a system where you can make each volume free for 5 days every 3 months. I’ll be trying to take advantage of as I can. “Long Road to Ruin” should be free next week, from Monday to Friday, and hopefully I’ll publish “Children of a Lesser God” shortly after that.

Here’s the scoop on “The Kraken”:
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Can two demons catch a legend? When Mephistopheles brings Moloch a tentacle from the Kraken, the hunt begins. These two devils and their crew of the damned set off to capture this mythical sea-beast, hoping to win him to Hell’s cause. When they encounter the Kraken, their journey takes a disastrous turn . . .

In the tradition of the Kindle Singles, “The Kraken” is a bite-sized voyage into the underworld (~30 pages, including the bonus short story “Sunday Drive,” about the first automobile in Hell). “The Kraken” is the opening volume of the Hell Mythos, a connected series of short stories, novellas, and novels that tells the inside story of Hell, from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high. Come see the devils as they live their demonic lives, in all their glory, evil, and confusion.

Written by Kyle J. Acosta, the Hell Mythos is a new take on the underworld in the rich tradition of Tad Williams’s The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno, James Blish’s The Devil’s Day and the Heroes in Hell collections.

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.