My Life in Horror: The Hellbound Chronicles
The Hellbound Chronicles is a special entry in our My Life in Horror series. A powerful and poignant entry from Kit Power and George Daniel Lea. However, it is also a celebration of a fantastic accomplishment from two of the best commentators on Horror. Kit and George were selected to do a commentary on Hellraiser 2 for the new special edition box set of the films. I cannot put into words how happy and proud of these two, other than to say it is a testament to their gifts at understanding and picking apart why horror is so essential to to so many people.
You Wanted To Know. Now You Know. (Kit Power)
The thing about it is, when genuine catastrophe strikes, the world doesn’t actually stop turning.
It just feels like it does.
I was with my father on the morning of 30th April, when the two of us were informed that he had stage four bowel cancer that had spread to most of the major organs on it’s march North, up to and including masses on his brain (those masses, I was later informed by another doctor, were what they called ‘the life limiting factor’).
He’d been admitted to A&E almost exactly 24 hours before, following a fall at home that had been preceded by weeks of increasingly alarming symptoms (dizziness, slurred speech, issues with his handwriting) and months of more mundane symptoms concerning upset stomachs and the like.
After the kind, professional trainee doctor left us, no doubt ticking off several of the checkboxes on her ‘delivering difficult news’ form, and after we’d said, with a synchronicity that would have been comic under other circumstances, ‘well, fuck’, Dad opined that for once, the news had turned out to be significantly worse than even he could have imagined, and I had to sadly concur.
I’ve got to be honest with you, gang; the rest is still a bit of a blur. There was an impossible amount to do, in an impossible period of time, and rollercoaster really doesn’t do justice to it.
We did our best.
A month or so before the world as I knew it caved in, Niel Snowdon, George Daniel Lea and I had been in correspondence about the possibility of filming an extra for Arrow’s upcoming 4K restoration of the first four Hellraiser movies. I suspect few if any of you will need explaining to you why, for George and I, this was possibly The Biggest Fuckin Deal Ever. The podcasting work I’ve done throughout the years, unlike the non fiction and fiction writing, has always been my space to unwind, to find joy; it had never even occurred to me that it could generate a penny of income, especially as most of the more traditional routes to doing so (sponsorship/advertising) held absolutely no appeal to me whatsoever (frequent collaborator, James Slater-Murphy: “Can you imagine? Stopping every 20 minutes so you can pretend to get all angry about how much you hate stamps?”). It’s not that I don’t take podcasting ‘seriously’ – you don’t record many hundreds of hours of yourself in conversation with people brighter than you, then spend many hours editing them, then make the recordings available for public, global engagement, for a goof – and my conversations with George have been a particular delight, taking in as they do a range of shared passions about which we have both common and district perspectives (as you’ll know, the man is a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, with a passionate, articulate love for this much despised and maligned genre; it’s a privilege to learn and share his perspective, and it’s an honour that he’s now the voice of My Life In Horror). It’s more that I’d always assumed that this strand of work was always going to be pure hobby.
So when the possibility of this gig came through, we absolutely flipped our lids, and of course, I talked to my dad about it. I couldn’t not.
And then, not long after, the world ended.
We’d gotten to the point of realising that it had to be May, for various other scheduling reasons, and we’d worked out a suitable venue – the wonderful The Loft Cinema, an independent movie theatre in Hereford. So when my father and I got The News, on the afternoon of the 30th April… well, actually, no, to be honest, the implications didn’t really hit me until several days afterwards. But when they did, I emailed the assembling gang (director Jonathan Zaurin was also onboard by this point). And they were brilliant; caring, sympathetic, do-what-you-gotta, none of this matters.
I appreciated it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised it did matter.
Not to put too fine a point on it, and not to air decades of family shit (because officially my MLiH run is over, despite, you know, this) I had, in the past, given my father occasion to worry somewhat about how things might work out for me. And it’s fair to say that he was invested in both my Day Job career and my creative side hustles, and we talked often about what a path to becoming a professional creative might look like. He wanted it for me, you see; he knew I was at my happiest when I was doing this kind of work. And he also knew, like me, it was very, very hard to make it pay.
I could, of course, have not told him, let the gang know it wasn’t going to happen, and simply moved on with the all-consuming business of helping my father and sister and step brother (with support from our spouses and friends) manage a sudden terminal cancer diagnosis.
But, I discovered, I wanted it. And, at least as important, I knew he’d want it for me, if he did know.
So I told him.
I got about halfway through my opening sentence – I think as far as ‘…they’ve gotten back, and they’d like to try and nail down a date…” and he interrupted me to say “You must go. You must. It’s important.”
And so it was that on the morning of 23rd May, I found myself on a train pulling into Hereford station. The leg to Brimingham had been relaxed, but the Hereford train was packed, and I’d been lucky in securing a seat. Still, the views were pretty, and I alternated my attention between them, the Eminem playlist I was obsessed with, and messenger ( a group chat with the director and George, where we each updated the other on our journey progress, while Jonathan giggled at our childish enthusiasm). I realised I was feeling lighter than I had in weeks; as much as the diagnosis had carried the emotional weight of a sledgehammer blow to the chest, I’d had too much to do in the days since to really interrogate my own feelings (as I write this, not yet a month after his passing, I realise I still haven’t done this in any meaningful way. So that’s something to look forward to). So it was a curious feeling to discover, by its absence, a weight that I’d clearly been carrying for weeks.
George had kindly agreed to meet me outside the station. One of the strange facets of 21st century existence is that it’s possible to develop deep and meaningful friendships, and indeed working relationships, with people you’ve never met face to face. So it was with George and I; I knew what he looked like, thanks to Facebook photos and his YouTube channel, but we’d never met face to face.
And then, suddenly, there he was.
A big hug (the first of many) and we were off, talking as we always do, the conversation flowing between the town, the hotel, the movie we’re here to talk about, the journey, and the venue of our evening meal (an incredible burger joint called The Beefy Boys). I really can’t put into words what a gift it was, in this moment; hanging out with George is always a joy, as five years of recorded conversation will attest, but given my wider circumstances, to find this familiar chemistry working as well in meat space as it always has virtually was both a joy and a profound relief.
After a drink at the hotel bar, we met with Jonathan and friends for the aforementioned burger. It was a brilliant evening; Jonathan is a rabid cinefile, and a passionate and opinionated film critic, and the spirited conversation that followed really got the gears turning.
I rarely sleep well in hotel rooms, so I took breakfast as late as possible, following which, having checked out, George and I made the short journey to The Loft Cinema – at which point, having met the owner, at 10 am, we sat down to experience Hellbound for the first time on the big screen.
I won’t go into it here – go preorder the box set for our just-finished-viewing reaction – but I’m very, very glad we made that decision, because the energy of that viewing carried across into the conversation. The filming itself went by in a pleasing blur; in some ways, it’s a greatest hits chat for Goerge and I, of course – we’ve discussed Barker and this franchise many times, over the years, both as subjects and in passing – but I found something about the occasion was bringing out the best in both of us. I know it’s going to sound like hype, but I genuinely think a combination of the occasion, the subject matter, and being face to face in a recording environment for the first time, elevated things for both of us. The exchange is tight, focussed; yes, we absolutely end up chasing conversational rabbits, as you’d expect, but we stay on point, circling back, developing thoughts and ideas. I felt the magic happening, where George would serve up an idea, which provoked a response from me, which he’d then develop further… you can see it happen in the footage, my eyes starting to go up and to the left as I talk, the ideas forming as I speak, a genuine dialogue between two enthusiasts, trying our best to work out the answer to that most perennial of questions. Why? Why This?
In our podcasting work, George and I often run long, and rarely reach a conclusion so much as stop; one of the things I find charming about our conversations is that we’ll often find ourselves circling back to themes or ideas from prior episodes, gnawing on the bones a little more. Here, I was astonished to find that, without scripting and with only the most rudimentary of planning, we hit the two subject pivot points pretty much dead on schedule, and our run through our love affairs with Barker’s work reached a natural conclusion that felt so neat that it’s hard to credit it as unscripted, though I can promise you that it was entirely spontaneous.
We spoke for 90 minutes, and the final run time comes in around 80. I’m proud as hell of that.
Following another round of hugs, and some loaded fries at a local street food venue, we said our goodbyes and I made my way back to MK. I remember getting hit by a powerful wave of emotion as the train pulled out; an extraordinary combination of pride, relief, sadness. I knew we’d done ourselves proud. Even in the middle of a personal horror show, I’d been able to find magic; with the help of a brilliant conspirator, I’d gotten to dig deep into a childhood terror, in the process sending the best possible present to the 13 year old kid from the middle of Nowhere, North Devon, who was forever changed by the experience of seeing Hellbound for the first time.
We made it, kid. Somehow, we fucking made it.
That’s where the tears came from. It felt good.
PS – By kind arrangement, I was able to watch the recording with my dad before he passed. I’d only planned on showing him 10 minutes, a kind of proof-of-concept deal, but he insisted on watching the whole thing. I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget the pleasure and pride he got from the experience. Some things stay with you. And the darker the time is, the tighter you grasp onto the moments of light. So.
Hell Is What We Wanted (George Daniel Lea)
Oh, isn’t it, though?
We’ve discussed the Hellraiser franchise and its significance to entire generations of writers and creators who followed -amongst whom I happily number myself- at length in this series. It is difficult for me to over-emphasise the enduring power and significance those films have held for me since my earliest memories (in which they feature profoundly).
You can therefore imagine my excitement -indeed, my rapture– at recently being invited by Arrow Films (specifically, the wonderful Neil Snowden) to be part of their imminent Hellraiser special edition blueray set.
Shipped out to Hereford, put up in the beautiful Green Dragon hotel -which could easily feature as the setting for an M.R. James ghost story-, I met up with my colleague, Kit Power, for the first time in-person, enjoyed a thoroughly delightful evening courtesy of Johnathon Zaurin and his family, followed by a next-day, big-screen viewing of the restored Hellbound print.
Needless to say, I emerged from that experience buzzing as though under the influence of some incredible narcotic.
Never having experienced the film on the big screen before, I was shocked at its power to move, disturb and repulse even after so many years, not to mention the technical details that only become apparent in so explicit a format.
Immediately following the viewing, Kit and I were seated at a beautifully arranged set in the cinema itself,lit, miked up and recording began:
Needless to say, we were a little apprehensive; we’d never engaged or performed in this format before and had only barely discussed our approach to the project so as not to mire ourselves in familiar assumptions and rote talking points. We therefore had little notion if the performance would work or produce anything of worth. Similarly, both of us had in the backs of our minds the added imperative of wanting to do the very best job we could; to justify our presence under these frankly amazing circumstances and with regards to the franchise that means so much to us.
As it transpired, we needn’t have worried; the conversation flowed beautifully, spurred by our initial excitement at having just seen the film and naturally developing into deeper territories as the back-and-forth progressed.
I’d like to take a moment here to thank not only Neil and Johnathon for including us and their efforts on our behalf, but also Kit, who made the entire event an utter joy and the work effortless.
Unlike the conversations we’ve enjoyed online together -some of which break the four-hour mark-, this reached a surprisingly natural and concise conclusion, hitting points and straying into territories of its own accord, but encompassing so much of what we wanted to say. It was a truly artistic, invigorating experience and, having seen the footage, it’s a quality that the recording radiates. Needless to say, I find myself beaming with pride at the memory.
To be a part of the Hellraiser franchise, even in so tangential a manner, is a dream come true for us; we have been fans of this material since we were children and it is a powerful influence upon the shapes and natures of our imaginations. It’s no exaggeration to state: We would be different people without it. In that regard, it holds a particularly sacred space in our personal mythologies. We can no more divorce ourselves from it than we can the myths and histories of the culture into which we were born.
To be involved with it is therefore the most supreme delight and honour; a circumstance that was the stuff of aspirational dreams to my twenty-something self. And to be involved in the company of so many brilliant, inspired people who share a similar affinity with these films…it’s a joy I can barely express in words, and one I will carry with me forever and a day.
George Daniel Lea 29-07-2023