Where had Kirsty gone after those traumatic encounters with Cenobitedom in her father’s house and in the Channard Institute? Would she have put it behind her and moved on, or would she have declined into incurable insanity? Where, when, and how would Pinhead choose to return to demand she settle her bets?
–Doug Bradley, Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor
Bradley’s questions receive long-awaited answer in the just-released Hellraiser: The Toll (written by Mark Alan Miller; story by Clive Barker). The book furnishes a key piece to the narrative puzzle, as it both hearkens back to the events of the first two Hellraiser films and forms a prequel to Barker’s Pinhead send-off, The Scarlet Gospels.
No doubt there is a canonical feel to the proceedings here; the prologue portrait of Devil’s Island could have been sketched by Barker’s own talented hand. The biggest factor, however, is the reintroduction of the character of Kirsty (the daughter of Rory Cotton in Hellraiser and Hellbound, not the infatuated coworker from Barker’s The Hellbound Heart novella). Readers learn that, three decades later, Kirsty is still haunted by her run-in with the Cenobites on Lodovico Street and in the infernal Wastes, still hunted by the demonic forces infiltrating the everyday world. But while the events of her past have taken a decided toll on her, they have not served as a death knell; Kirsty is as feisty and resilient as ever (just ask the guy she nails between the eyes with a hammer).
Perhaps because of Kirsty’s perennial fugitive status, the narrative does have somewhat of a rushed quality. Weakly-developed minor characters fade in and out, appearing to have little purpose beyond prompting Kirsty along in her adventure. The plot pattern also seems to replicate that of later film entries in the Hellraiser series, where various events unfold as frustrating preamble until Pinhead (or “The Cold Man,” as Kirsty considers him here) is finally brought onscreen in the last act. The climactic showdown between Kirsty and her Cenobite nemesis, though, easily surpasses such parallel scenes in the later films. Readers are granted an in-depth look at Pinhead (albeit from Kirsty’s perspective), as Miller details the “silvery glint” in his black eyes, containing “only the sentimnent of decay,” and the Hell Priest’s “carrion breath stinking worse than the shit-stained soil.” Kirsty also gleans a bit of Pinhead’s existential state, his underworld-weariness that has rendered him “an angry husk of rage and sorrows.” All this is not to say that Pinhead has lost his sinister Cenobite mojo; he can still sling such barbed lines as “And if He weeps for your pain, why not heal it? […] If He wishes you were not so weak and easily tempted, why not give you strength? If He hears your cries, why is He silent?”
Admittedly, many readers might come to feel that Pinhead’s grand designs for Kirsty are too easily defied here. His parting promise to come after Kirsty once more does resonate as an empty threat, knowing the figure’s eventual fate in The Scarlet Gospels. Nonetheless, Kirsty does have some unfinished business, as the close of the narrative latches onto a loose thread from the opening of that novel.
A final word of warning: this reads like a pumped-up short story, not a novella of Hellbound Heart proportions. It’s $40 hardcover price is thus a bit steep for a non-collector; the $2.99 ebook version is my recommended choice. For those fans of the Hellraiser mythos originally created–and more recently expanded–by Barker, though, The Toll is well worth paying.