Christopher Young‘s brilliant Hellraiser score is nearly as synonymous with the film as Pinhead — but if writer-director Clive Baker had his way, the soundtrack would have been composed by British industrial music pioneers Coil.
Barker first became aware of Coil through Forbidden Planet, the UK’s enduring genre bookshop where band member Stephen Thrower worked. When Barker happened into the store, Thrower mentioned that he was a fan of his Books of Blood, and the two hit it off. Thrower eventually played him some of Coil’s music, and Barker was immediately won over.
Barker was quoted as saying that Coil is “the only group I’ve heard on disc whose records I’ve taken off because they made my bowels churn.” That’s high praise coming from the master of the macabre. Shortly after completing the script for Hellraiser, he told Coil that he wanted them to compose the music.
Barker met with the band to discuss the soundtrack, citing Wayne Bell and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Pino Donaggio’s Carrie scores as points of reference. While the two may seem contradictory — Chain Saw‘s soundtrack is an unsettling mélange of dissonant noise, while the music of Carrie is more traditionally melodic and orchestral — Coil were up to the challenge.
“He was interested in Texas Chain Saw from the point of view of its ability to instill fear and unease. Pino Donaggio wrote the music to Carrie and it’s got a very romantic quality; very beautiful and melodic and melancholic,” Thrower recalled in a 2017 interview with The Quietus. “So what he was essentially saying was ‘I love extreme sound and I love rich melody and orchestration.’ We said ‘No problem, we can handle both of those.’”
The band was working on cues for the film when they received word that the producers at New World Pictures had rejected their music. Their exact reasoning is unclear — some say they thought it wasn’t commercial enough, others say they found it too scary — but the story goes that New Line would only give Barker the money he needed to reshoot effects scenes as he envisioned if they replaced the composer, forcing him to make a pragmatic decision.
Hellraiser editor Tony Randel reportedly suggested Young — who had already cut his teeth on the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars — as a replacement. The rest is history, with Young staying on board to score to compose Randel’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II before going to score such films as Spider-Man 3, The Grudge, and Sinister.
Although ambient soundtracks have been widely used to great effect in recent years, maybe the world just wasn’t ready for a Coil score 35 years ago. But the story has somewhat of a happy ending for fans: not only does Young’s score fit Hellraiser perfectly, but Coil released their unused material (incomplete as it may be) as a candidly titled EP, The Unreleased Themes for Hellraiser.
Incidentally, Coil still had an impact on Hellraiser after all: band member Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson showed Barker issues of the underground magazine Piercing Fans International Quarterly, which inspired the sadomasochistic look of the Cenobites.
“Demons to some, angels to others,” indeed.