It should come as no surprise that Clive Barker, the author whose demon-filled books (The Hellbound Heart, Nightbreed, and Weaveworld, to name a few) became both infamous and important films within the horror genre, has had a pretty weird life. From a paranoid childhood to a macabre puppet show to falling into a two-week coma after a trip to the dentist, there's no shortage of interesting facts about the Liverpool-born horror legend. He even stood in a crowd with Paul McCartney and George Harrison when he was only 3 years old - only to sadly watch a famous skydiver fall to his doom. The list goes on.
After an afternoon appointment with the dentist, Barker felt faint - and then had no memory of anything until 12 days later when doctors pulled lung-inflating tubes out of his throat.
The dentist had pierced something in his mouth, which caused some mild bleeding, but the cut was big enough to become infected, leading to toxic shock syndrome (which can have a mortality rate of 50%). Barker woke up nearly two weeks later in a scene not unlike those of his novels: masked doctors crowding around a scared Barker, struggling with tubes in his throat and being told he could perish.
More than 100,000 people, including Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and a 3-year-old Barker, witnessed Leo Valentin fall to his doom in a failed stunt at an air show in Liverpool in 1956.
Valentin’s flying suit, which he designed himself, included small aerodynamic wings securely fastened to his arms. When he jumped out of the plane, one of the wings collided with the plane and broke off, and his parachute didn't open, either. This left an impact on Barker, who has referenced Valentin in his work, including his novel The Thief of Always.
It wasn't a secret, but it also wasn't as taboo as people make it out to be, with Barker calling it "stultifyingly boring much of the time." Still, it kept him afloat before his career took off, and it inspired Hellraiser. He told The Guardian:
I met a lot of people you’ll know and some you won’t: publishers, captains of industry. The way they acted - and the way I did, to be honest - was a source of inspiration later. Sex is a great leveller. It made me want to tell a story about good and evil in which sexuality was the connective tissue.
It only takes one little twist of that gold puzzle box (known as the Lament Configuration) to summon the Cenobites directly from the gates of hell.
Barker wanted to have access to hell, but without the age-old cliche of drawing a circle on the floor along with some magical symbols. For influence, Barker turned to his grandfather, who was a cook on a ship and had brought back a puzzle box from the Far East.
Barker told WIRED:
So when I went back to the problem of how to open the doors of hell, the idea of [using] a puzzle box seemed interesting to me. You know, the image of a cube is everywhere in world culture, whether it’s the Rubik’s Cube or the idea of the [Tesseract] in The Avengers movies. There’s a lot of places where the image of a cube as a thing of power is pertinent. I don’t know why that is, I don’t have any mythic explanation for it, but it seems to work for people.