The Road Less Traveled: Writer Brandon Seifert on October’s ‘Hellraiser: The Road Below’

This October, Witch Doctor creator and upcoming Doctor Who writer Brandon Seifery will take us back to the realm of the unreal with Hellraiser: The Road Below. Nearly 25 years after the first Hellraiser film graced movie screens, the character of Kirsty Cotton, who survived the Cenobites once and nearly three decades later, leads them as the new Pinhead.

Here’s the official synopsis from BOOM!:

Kirsty Cotton has gone from a human resisting the forces of Hell, to the ruler of light in the darkest of places. Before her battle with former Pinhead Captain Elliott Spencer, she was called to New Orleans by a holder of the LeMarchand Device — a woman trying to end a decades-long family feud by any means necessary… Rising star writer Brandon Seifert (WITCH DOCTOR, HELLRAISER ANNUAL) and red hot artist Ibraim Roberson (UNCANNY X-MEN) unite to tell the story of the first time Kirsty Cotton was called to earth as the new Pinhead! This in-continuity tale reveals Kirsty’s first days in Hell, and how the road there is always paved with good intentions.

We spoke to Seifert, who’s collaborating here with artist Ibraim Roberson about this hellbound tale, and about Kirsty’s new role as the queen of hell, along with a cover gallery. Plus, he provides an update on his own creator-owned series at Image, Witch Doctor.

MTV Geek: Tell us a little about where Kirsty is in your story—how is she handling the sudden surge of power (and responsibility) she now has?

Brandon Seifert: Hellraiser: The Road Below picks up really soon after Kirsty became a Cenobite, when she’s still fresh and excited about her new job. She’s still the Kirsty we’ve known—but she’s pretty gung-ho about imprisoning the people she thinks deserve it. There are definitely some aspects of her new role, and her new powers, that she isn’t quite used to yet though!

Geek: How far has she come since her initial take back in the first film?

Seifert: You know, it’s REALLY tempting to say she’s been “to Hell and back”—except she hasn’t really come back!

Kirsty’s path so far has been really long and winding. In the original Hellraiser film she was the “final girl,” but also a bit of a damsel in distress—she had to be saved from Pinhead and his Cenobites by her love interest! Then in Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 we saw her land in a mental institution—and ironically, that’s where she started taking control, becoming a more active heroine. She chose to enter Hell to try and save her father, and helped one of the other mental patients—Tiffany—both escape the Cenobites and face the damage that’d been done to her. After that, Kirsty dedicated her life to fighting Hell, summoning and killing a bunch of Cenobites with her friends—until Pinhead recruited her to replace him as a Cenobite.

And then she learned the truth: Hell’s evil, but it’s a necessary evil. Hell exists to punish the dead who committed crimes when they were alive. It’s a force of order—of law and order—basically this metaphysical prison, with the Cenobites as the guards. And for a while, Kirsty dedicated herself to Hell’s mission, “jailing” evil people like her uncle Frank Cotton. This is the stage of her life we’re seeing in The Road Below. I find this Kirsty, the true-believer Kirsty, really interesting. She really thinks she’s doing good here, by carrying out Hell’s orders. But she hasn’t thought through all the consequences—not until the events of The Road Below.

Geek: This is a return to the Hellraiser universe for you. What’s it like being back in Clive Barker’s playground?

Seifert: It’s neat—but still surreal, just like when I wrote my story for the Hellraiser Annual this spring! Clive Barker’s work was some of the first horror fiction I seriously got into, back in high school—so it’s been a really weird experience to contribute to the worlds he set up!

My experience is a bit different this time around. When I wrote my story for the Annual, I was focusing entirely on characters who’d already been established—Captain Elliott Spencer, Frank Cotton, Tiffany and Theo, who are all in the main title. For The Road Below, I’m focusing on Kirsty, who I didn’t touch in my initial story—but other than her and the Female Cenobite, the whole cast are brand new! So that’s a bit different, creating new characters in a familiar setting.

Geek: For a while I’ve felt that much of Barker’s writing has to do with these sort of arcane or primordial rules making their way into our world. Do you think that applies to the Hellraiser universe and if so, how do you think it’s impacting the story you’re telling here?

Seifert: I think that’s pretty accurate. In Hellraiser, we’ve got this force—Hell, the Cenobites and Leviathan, the god they worship and serve—that’s been around for centuries, millennia, millions of years—who knows? And when they come to Earth, the humans they interact with have their own way of seeing them—usually as monsters and demons. But like Kirsty Cotton learned when she replaced Elliott Spencer as the new Pinhead, there’s a lot to the Cenobites and Hell that we didn’t know about—like their real purpose as a kind of cosmic prison for the souls of the guilty. That’s honestly the focus of The Road Below—Kirsty’s new understanding of the Cenobites and their mission, and her attempt to carry it out in a way that’s not going to jeopardize her own morals.

Geek: Was there anything from previous takes on the Hellraiser universe that you’re looking to bring into the book? Maybe other characters, or some of the expanded mythology built up in the later films (Bloodlines isn’t terrible, you know)?

Seifert: I actually liked Bloodlines (and Hell on Earth!) when I was younger! I went back and watched the first four films in preparation to working on the series—but although I read the plots of all the later films, I haven’t bothered to actually subject myself to them.

The Road Below builds on a lot of stuff we’re seen and learned in the main Hellraiser title—and takes some of it to its logical conclusions. But as far as drawing in outside sources, I’m far more interested in incorporating bits of Clive’s other work than I am in bringing in bits of the crappy movies made in his name. The main Hellraiser title has made it clear that it’s set in the same world as some of Clive’s other stories—Harry D’amour from The Last Illusion and The Books of the Art is one of the supporting cast now! That’s really interesting to me. The Road Below definitely makes it clear that the Cenobites aren’t the only weird, magical thing going on in this world!

Geek: Could you tell us a little about collaborating with artist Ibraim Roberson? What kinds of discussions did you two have about the look of the series?

Seifert: I’ve had some contact with Ibraim—but to be perfectly honest, Hellraiser is still Clive’s baby, and he’s the one who determines that stuff. I don’t know if readers get this, but Clive is very involved in the Hellraiser books from BOOM! even in instances when he isn’t co-writing them—like with The Road Below. This isn’t a situation where Ibraim’s taking direction from me on how the series should look—Ibraim and I are both queuing off Clive’s intent.

Geek: To what extent will you be dealing with the kind of psychosexual horror that’s always been present in Hellraiser stories? Do you feel like that’s an essential element or can it still be Hellraiser without the mix of sex and violence?

Seifert: That’s honestly a good question! Readers of the Hellraiser ongoing series have seen a bunch of new Cenobites—but none following the classic BDSM designs from the movies. My personal feeling is that the BDSM stuff just doesn’t have the power it did a couple decades ago. It’s much more “above ground” now—I live in Portland, and several nightclubs here have “fetish nights” once or twice a month, in amongst their usual concerts and DJ nights. The leather and latex and bondage—that was all a lot more transgressive in the 1980s than it is now. Still, the psychosexual/BDSM component is one of the defining parts of the whole Hellraiser franchise—so I made a point of figuring out a way to incorporate it in The Road Below that I hadn’t seen before!

Geek: And let’s not forget Witch Doctor which was collected earlier this year. What kinds of plans do you have for the next volume?

Seifert: Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1 (of 6) comes out November 28. In the first Witch Doctor series, we saw Doc Morrow and his team fight vampires, demon possession, faeries and Lovecraftian threats. This time around, we’re upping the ante—more monsters, more magic, more danger! And this time, Doc Morrow has to treat a very different patient… himself!

The miniseries kicks off with Morrow going for a drink after a hard day at the clinic—and meeting a woman. The next day he wakes up with no memory of who she was, what happened—or what they did together. And for Morrow, that’s a cue to panic. Was it just an innocent fling—or was it an assassination attempt, or a supernatural parasite preying on him, or…? And that’s just the beginning of the worst 36 hours of Morrow’s life!

Geek: After getting a full story’s worth of “adventures” under his belt, how is Dr. Morrow feeling about his gig?

Seifert: In the context of the series, Morrow’s already been at this practice for a while—he’s not exactly new to treating supernatural diseases! The one thing that Vol. 1 did was see a burst in confidence for him. He went from being intimidated by his apparent “destiny,” to facing it full-on! But the threats he faces in Mal Practice are suddenly personal—he finds himself under attack from magical forces he doesn’t understand and has trouble diagnosing, so it’s going to be very hard for him to maintain his usual ironic detachment from the things he’s fighting.

Geek: Finally, how can you up the stakes for a character whose operating room is the metaphysical universe?

Seifert: By making it all personal! We know Morrow does fine treating patients when they’re at arms’ length — but how’s he going to do, when he’s the one needing medical attention?

Another way we’re upping the stakes is in the format of the second miniseries. In Witch Doctor Vol. 1 we told mostly stand-alone stories, with only one two-parter. Witch Doctor: Mal Practice isn’t like that, it’s a six-issue story-arc as Morrow tries to diagnose and “treat” the threats we’re facing. That said, I absolutely hate reading comics that are “paced for the trade,” so Mal Practice was specifically written so each issue will have a satisfying, self-contained story in its own right. Each issue feeds into the arc as a whole, rather than just being one-sixth of a story!

Hellraiser: The Road Below begins this October from BOOM!. Seifert’s run on Doctor Who and the next volume of Witch Doctor will debut in November from IDW and Image resepctively.

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