Facts About Clive Barker: The Hellraising Horror Legend

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 three years old - only to sadly watch a famous skydiver fall to his doom. The list goes on.

Photo: Hellraiser/Entertainment Film Distributors

  • In 2012, He Fell Into A Coma After A Fateful Trip To The Dentist
    Photo: Stephen Friederich / Wikimedia Commons / cc-by-2.0

    In 2012, He Fell Into A Coma After A Fateful Trip To The Dentist

    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.

  • As A Child, He Watched Skydiver Leo Valentin Fall Into A Cornfield, Which Is Why There Are So Many Cornfields In His Stories
    Photo: Carl Sutton / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    As A Child, He Watched Skydiver Leo Valentin Fall Into A Cornfield, Which Is Why There Are So Many Cornfields In His Stories

    More than 100,000 people, including Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and a three-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.

  • He Supported His Early Writing Career As A Sex Worker

    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.

  • His Grandfather Inspired The Infamous Puzzle Box

    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.

  • He Scares Stephen King
    Photo: Sleepwalkers / Image Entertainment

    He Scares Stephen King

    "I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker." 

    Stephen King's thoughts on Barker became a blurb on the front of the Englishman's novels. In fact, it was King who helped bring Barker to American audiences following the success of Barker's debut 1985 novel, The Damnation Game.

    In turn, the newest edition of Salem's Lot features an afterword by Barker. King even makes a cameo alongside Barker in the film adaptation of Sleepwalkers. Horror director Tobe Hooper also appears in the same scene, and elsewhere in the film, filmmakers Joe Dante and John Landis also make appearances.

  • He Signed Away The Rights To 'Hellraiser'

    It was the only way he could get the movie made. Hellraiser, released in 1987, was made on a $2 million budget - mainly because the production and distribution companies involved didn't think audiences would be interested. It would go on to gross $14.5 million at the box office. 

    Barker didn't have much involvement with the franchise beyond serving as an executive producer for Hellraiser III, so we can't really blame him for the rest of the sequels.