Most people consider Stephen King to be the modern master of horror, but his creepy Maine visions look like fuzzy Christmas stories compared to the work of Clive Barker.
Across books, movies and film, Barker has created some of the most horrific and fascinating nightmares ever. And it’s about time his unforgettable monsters got the proper round-up they deserve. Here are the 10 coolest monsters Clive Barker ever created, in no particular order.
10. Dr. Channard
In a movie full of fetish demons and an unknowable geometric ruler of one of cinema’s most surreal visions of hell, it’s not easy to stand out as a villain, but Hellraiser II: Hellbound’s Dr. Philip Channard manages to stand out among the gore. Channard begins as just another madman seeking to unlock the secrets of the Lament Configuration, that gold puzzle box that opens a portal to Hell. As the head of the Channard Institute, he takes one of his insane charges and sacrifices them to bring back Julia from the first Hellraiser film (nearly a candidate for this list herself).
Together the two head into Hell where Channard is eventually transformed into an ultra-creepy Cenobite (a leather-clad torture demon) that shoots horrific snakes from the palms of his hands, and is held aloft by a gross, phallic tentacle that grips the top of his head. With his new powers, he tears through the other Cenobites (see Pinhead below), until his head is torn in half. Classic. But the most terrifying aspect of Channard is his demon voice, which sounds like a malfunctioning vocoder is screaming in pain. Nightmares forever.
9. Mahogany, the Subway Butcher
The network of subway tunnels underneath the streets of New York is tailor-made for horror stories, and in Barker’s conception, the whole system serves a terrifying purpose. In both the original short story Midnight Meat Train, and the nearly forgotten movie of the same name, the subway network is home to an enigmatic serial killer known only as Mahogany. In the elongated film version, the killer is discovered by down-on-his-luck New Yorker, Leon Kaufman (hi, Bradley Cooper!) who sets out stop the killer before he slaughters another train car full of late-night commuters.
Anyone that has ridden a subway car alone in the middle of the night can attest to the inherent creepiness of the experience, and a silent, unstoppable killer like Mahogany sums up that unease with a bloody butcher’s hook and hammer. But—super spoiler alert—as per usual with Barker, mundane serial killing is just the beginning. As Kaufman finds out in the end, Mahogany was killing people to serve as meat to the underground lizard monsters that truly rule New York City, and now he must take over the job. The Illuminati is real, and very, very gory.
Read that name out loud five times and see what happens. Hint: it won’t be pretty. Candyman is Barker’s take of the Bloody Mary legend, but instead of some creepy ghost appearing, it’s a guy made of bees that likes to tear his victims in half with his hook hand. In the original short story, “The Forbidden,” the violent boogeyman was a pale white man in a candy-colored coat who haunted a British tenement, but in the American film version, the villain’s race was switched and the character was given a suitably disturbing backstory involving slavery and forbidden love. The setting is also moved over to Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects, adding a bit of heavy-handed cultural commentary to the proceedings—not necessarily for the better.
The American version’s uncomfortable-for-the-wrong-reasons origin story aside, Candyman, as he is known, to most is still terrifying. Played by Tony Todd, his booming voice and cool demeanor make his blood-encrusted coat and gory buzzing insides something viscerally unsettling. Candyman taps into that same fear of a dark mirror that once kept us all embarrassed and terrified at elementary school sleepovers.
7. Dr. Decker
As the only regular human (or so it seems) on this list, it takes something really special for Dr. Philip K. Decker to stand out among all of these supernatural monsters. And that one thing is a creepy mask with buttons for eyes. As the central antagonist in Barker’s movie Nightbreed (based his own novel, Cabal), Decker manages to convince hunky lunatic Boone that he is a killer who cannot remember his crimes. Of course, while Boone does turn out to be one of the titular monsters, it turns out that Decker himself has been donning his eerie, button-eyed mask and doing the killings.
Decker imbues the character, played by body-horror director David Cronenberg, with a curious, almost apprehensive gait as he kills. Stalking his victims with a dead-eyed inquisitiveness, Decker kills because he is jealous of the real monsters he wishes he was friends with. He destroys the monster city of Midian, before (maybe) being killed himself. But it’s the ever-staring button eyes over the crooked zipper mouth that make the mask of Halloween’s Michael Myers’ look positively soulful.
The newest of Barker’s creations is one his most unsettling, easily his most colorful, and also God. Not a god, but biblical, Old Testament, God. Or as he’s known in Barker’s comic book series Next Testament, Wick. In the short series, Wick is woken from an imprisonment of untold eons by a wealthy disciple who becomes his traveling buddy, and the two set out to see what the world is like in the modern age. Turns out that God, er, Wick, thinks humanity has wasted its potential and he sets to slaughtering countless swathes of people while partying like it’s 1999 BCE.
Unlike the clean old man of Christian tradition, Barker’s God is a swirling rainbow of colors that look chaotic and sort of divine at the same time. He is even known sometimes as the Lord of Colors, a name that doesn’t really imbue the gravitas a fickle, violent, debauched Almighty deserves. Barker’s done plenty of hell, so it’s little wonder that he brought a little along when he took on heaven.
5. Leroy Gomm
The menagerie of grotesques on display in Nightbreed is an embarrassment of creepy riches, but it’s a monster with the least dialogue that stands out the most. Called Leroy Gomm (not that this is ever made explicit in the film), this tertiary Nightbreed is remarkable for his constant smile and the pair of worms (tentacles?) that slide out of his corpulent stomach and lovingly wrap around his neck. Oh, and they can also be used to gouge people’s eyes out.
As a background character with only a few scenes, there’s not much to know about the Gomm, but he’s one of those momentary members of the Greek chorus that manages to steal the show, simply by being indelibly creepy. He embodies that old Barker mainstay of being both joyously erudite and nauseatingly filthy. By the time Gomm uses his tentacles to rip some hillbilly’s eyes out near the end, he’s already managed to be the stand-out monster in a movie that is entirely populated with them.
Another Barker monster that started off as more of a creepy design than a character, the Chatterer was one of the Cenobites that came back to Earth to reclaim escaped creep Frank Cotton in the first Hellraiser movie. The character was briefly described in The Hellbound Heart, the novella the film was based on, but it’s when his eyeless face appeared in the film that he became a horror fan favorite. His name says it all, which is good since the Chatterer never speaks through his constantly clacking teeth, forever exposed by hooks that draw back his lips.
Like with all the Cenobites, Chatterer’s back story is never delved into much, but in Hellraiser II, when the aforementioned Dr. Channard is killing all of the Cenobites, returning them to their forgotten human forms, the Chatterer reverts back to a pre-teen boy, making him all the more enigmatic.
3. Mr. Hood
One of Barker’s coolest and scariest monsters actually comes from his first children’s book, The Thief of Always. As much of a fairytale as a Clive Barker book can be, The Thief of Always is the story of young Harvey Swick who is whisked away to the magical Holiday House, created by a mysterious warden named Mr. Hood. While everything is magical and fun at Holiday House and Christmas comes once a day, there is a dark side. For every day spent at Hood’s house, a full year passes in the real world. Of course, that only matters if you can escape Hood’s monster lieutenants, and if Hood himself doesn’t steal your soul and turn you into a dead-eyed fish for the forbidden lake in the backyard.
Hood is a boogeyman in the classic sense, always existing just outside of view, and when he is finally revealed he is essentially just made of fear. Swick manages to defeat the soul stealer, but not before Hood manages to use the remains of the house to create a creepy body for himself, depicted in its surreal, horrific glory by Barker’s illustrations. Hood isn’t the bloodiest of the monsters on this list, but he is one of the most primal.
Easily Barker’s most famous creation, the leader of the Cenobites, Pinhead is one of the coolest and scariest monsters ever dreamt up. Originally just known as a priest of Hell when he appeared in The Hellbound Heart, Pinhead got his more famous name after appearing in Hellraiser (and every sequel). Now he is as famous as a Jason or a Freddy, and about a hundred times cooler and scarier.
Unlike his horror icon contemporaries, Pinhead never became a joke, (okay, the nightclub scene in Hellraiser III notwithstanding), always maintaining that detached air of terror, just waiting to pull anyone foolish enough to call him back to Hell to experience the outer limits of sensation.
Pinhead is frighteningly mysterious, totally gross, and has some of the most iconic lines in horror history. There is just something super unsettling about the blank-faced excitement he has for flaying people alive. As he once put it, he has such sights to show you. His story may have ended in the long-awaited, recently released book, The Scarlet Gospels, but Pinhead still reigns supreme in the pantheon of horror movie icons.
Okay, Pinhead might be the most famous of Clive Barker’s monsters, but the scariest creep in his stable is Nix, the evil warlock from the little-remembered film, Lord of Illusions. Again loosely based on one of Barker’s short stories, Lord of Illusions tells the story of Barker’s recurring hero Harry D’Amour as he tries to stop the resurrection of Nix, who once sat at the head of a Manson-esque cult, but was banished by one of his followers who nailed a magic mask onto his face.
Nix, played to the absolutely gross hilt by late character actor Daniel von Bargen (Mr. Kruger on Seinfeld), is a growling wizard in a stained terry-cloth robe, ruling over a dilapidated kingdom of filth out in the middle of the desert. His small band of followers mutilate themselves and chow on raw meat for kicks. Nix is the perfect storm of hair-trigger demagogue, supernatural horror, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style sadist. And what might just put him over the top is that he may be the first character in movie history to have his own attack baboon.
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