E.L. James’ novel Fifty Shades of Grey was such an enormous success that it’s making its way to the screen today. This film will surely be a major box office success. It’s being touted as a mainstream erotic film, a gateway picture for audiences interested in BDSM. These claims disturbingly overlook what Fifty Shades of Grey is actually promoting, which is nothing more than an abusive relationship. It offers nothing new and even in its relative tameness has done more harm than good. The truth is, there’s a much healthier story about sadomasochism and a true sharing of power in relationships, it’s called Hellraiser. Written and directed by Clive Barker based on his novel The Hellbound Heart, it contains a group of demons that are summoned from an Oriental puzzle box to offer pleasures beyond the so-called limits. As they put it, they are demons to some and angels to others, it all depends on taste. Pinhead and his compatriots might be the villains of the franchise, but they do not lie. They do not tell those who open the box that they are getting into anything other than what they’re actually getting into. The Cenobites offer experiences in the furthest regions of both pain and pleasure.
The feature film version of Fifty Shades of Grey cannot possibly retain even a fraction of the sexual content featured in the novel on which it is based because of its R rating and its need to appeal to a mainstream audience. As a result, Fifty Shades of Grey is not only not delivering on the adult content it promises but is talking down to the audience at the same time. In a desperate need to be edgy it comes off as an incredible mixture of both insulting and naïve. There’s no understanding on the part of the creators going into this as to what they’re actually talking about. Here we have people talking about S&M as if they are discovering it for the first time, unveiling some new thing to the world, when they’re actually discovering abusive relationships and simply mislabeling them. In showing next to nothing they will still certainly manage to disturb, audiences with the nature of the romance.
Hellraiser takes things in a much different direction and turns out all the better for it. They show everything, but they don’t dwell on it. Here are beings who have pushed their bodies beyond the limits of what is physically possible. They embrace and are content with themselves and the image they project. The Female Cenobite has an open, vertical slit in her throat that she plays with. It’s very sexual content but it does not drag down the story. It presents the images of sadomasochistic characters and relationships without breaking to explain to the audience over and over again how shocking and edgy it is. Hellraiser is not even meant to be overly shocking, which might be the most ironic thing about it.
With Fifty Shades, you have a romantic novel being turned into a film that everyone is going to see, and all it wants to do is make people gasp. On the other hand, you have an independent cult classic horror film, and all it’s trying to do is tell a love story. Hellraiser might contain an abusive relationship at its core, in the form of Frank and Julia, but unlike Fifty Shades of Grey this is not an accident and ultimately turns out to be the downfall of both characters involved. Their love for each other was ultimately selfishly motivated and both suffered for it. In fact, it is the Cenobites that punish Frank for abusing his power and abusing his love. With a relationship like this, every single thing must be consensual. There can be no lies, no holding back, no false pretenses and no false faces. And Frank is nothing but a series of false faces. He manipulated his romance with Julia from the beginning and while the Cenobites are tormenting him for escaping Hell, it could easily also be seen as punishment for the falseness of his relationship and the abuse of ideals that the Cenobites literally worship.
Whether you want steamy, hard-edged fiction or a crash course on what BDSM actually is, Hellraiser will offer you both and Fifty Shades of Grey will surely offer neither. If you’re thinking about making the trek out to the theater this weekend, trust me, you’ll be much better off spending an evening with Clive Barker instead.