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Power Through Slavery: HELLRAISER’s “Chatterer” and BDSM Culture

Clive Barker fans swooned when it was announced that the graphic novel HELLRAISER ANTHOLOGY: VOLUME 2 will feature an origin story for the “Chatterer” Cenobite; what’s more, the story is being written by Nicholas Vince, the actor who made that same character iconic in HELLRAISER (1987) and HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988).

The intimidating, semi-mute member of “The Order of the Gash,” with fishhooks and wires pulling his mouth into a hideous grimace, has long been a fan favorite. His lack of speech adds to Chatterer’s mystique, and the fact that he stands taller than his fellow Cenobites gives him a dangerous, menacing aura.

While we’ll have to wait until September to read Chatterer’s origin story, we can begin to understand his place within The Order by scrutinizing his aesthetic, his specific mutilations, and the ways his attire differentiates him from Pinhead (Doug Bradley), Female Cenobite, aka “Deep Throat” (Barbie Wilde), and Butterball (Simon Bamford).

HELLRAISER (1987)

It’s been well-established Barker was influenced by the leather and latex outfits worn in London’s underground BDSM clubs of the 1980s, and given this background, Chatterer’s suit and markings identify him as a “gimp” — an extreme submissive whose commitment to a Master is absolute.

The word “gimp” entered popular vernacular following an unforgettable and infamous scene in Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION, but while it introduced the concept to the masses, it gave a limited and somewhat distorted view of the gimp/Master dynamic. Chatterer may seem completely antithetical to the whimpering leather gimp (played by Stephen Hibbert) in PULP FICTION; the fact that Chatterer is widely regarded as a terrifying enforcer also seems at odds with the gimp analogy. It’s only by delving into the origins of gimps and their accompanying attire — along with the punishment and reward systems established in particular relationships — that the connection becomes both solid and illuminating.

PULP FICTION (1994)

First and foremost, members of the BDSM community rarely use the term “gimp” — which has a somewhat derogatory history as a pejorative for the physically challenged (it’s only for ease of communication that I’m using the term in this exploration). For the uninitiated, BDSM stands for Bondage, Domination (or Discipline), Sadism, and Masochism; despite common preconceptions, a Master/gimp relationship is not necessarily sexual.

The full-body, all-encompassing leather or latex outfits worn by gimps are an extension of “The Justine Mask” — a bondage device designed by obscure occultist, cannibal, and Aleister Crowley devotee (and, by reports, one sadistic motherfucker) William Seabrook in the 1930s.

Check out the finished product below — followed by a journal entry Seabrook penned [Note: that link is NSFW] about experimentation with his partner “Justine” (a pseudonym and allusion to the Marquis de Sade’s tormented heroine). The gimp suit we recognize today applies the effects of “Justine’s Mask” (as it’s also known) to an entire body.

The mask covered Justine’s entire head, and, when laced tight in the back, fitted smoothly and tightly as her own skin. The only opening was a slit for the mouth and through which she soon learned to breathe, deeply and steadily. But now that it was done, and she began to wear it, she went through periods of hating it and fearing it, because it accomplished, as she said, too completely, the things we’d hoped it would.

 

Instead of producing the ordinary effect of blindfolding, or of closing the eyes, her eyes, wide open inside it, stared in utter blackness. Sense of smell was blanked, since there were no holes for the nostrils. Sense of hearing was dulled, and the tactile sensitivity of her cheeks (normally feeling warmth, coolness, air currents, when a window was opened or closed, when she was merely blindfolded) was likewise blanked. It shut her off–as completely as a conscious mind can ever be shut off–from everything outside.

 

Often, in what came close to panic, she could not tell whether I or anybody was in the room at all, whether I might be close beside her, or whether I had gone away and left her there totally alone. It was like being back, she said, “in the womb of time.” And it was more than she bargained for. There were times when she hated and feared it, and would have torn it off if I hadn’t kept her hands always tied or chained, well away from her face and head. Eventually she became accustomed to it, gave up ‘fighting’ it, let it ‘take her,’ as she said–and ended up liking it. She wanted to be in it whenever she could, even when I might have to go away and leave her all day alone, as I occasionally did.

Chatterer’s face is a ghastly, visceral spin on Justine’s Mask; though his mouth is opened, his mutilations make speech (and most likely taste) impossible. In the original HELLRAISER, the Cenobite has no discernible eyes, ears, or nostrils — we have to wonder if the tortures he endured have rendered his skin numb to all exterior stimuli. While the outfits of his fellow Cenobites end in flowing royal skirts, Chatterer’s outfit is skin-tight, making the character self-contained, constricted, and completely dependent by necessity. He only has one finger and a thumb exposed on each hand with which to touch and sense his surroundings — the bare minimum necessary for functionality.

While a gimp is the ultimate submissive, he/she may be attempting to attain “power through slavery” — a concept many people simply can’t understand. One modern gimp, however, eloquently documented his thoughts and experiences in an anonymous online journal [that link also may be a bit unsafe for work]:

Being a gimp can free the mind to concentrate upon more important things then its own body. Being a gimp allows it to surrender upon the deepest levels, being enclosed and enslaved with no name, no face, no identity. Being faceless removes all guilt it may have about giving up so much for the chance to be a slave to Master, to lose everything it had known; to have Master take away its very life and encase it. Such a slave is truly just an object, property for its Master.

Whether we regard Pinhead, The Engineer, or Leviathan as Chatterer’s Master, his complete subservience is actually what makes him such an effective enforcer. Without a will of his own, he never hesitates in fulfilling his Master’s desires; he reacts without hesitation or remorse. He receives his stimulation vicariously through the pleasure he provides his Master by demonstrating unquestioning obedience. The chains Chatterer wields are both a weapon and a leash that keeps him tethered; he exists exclusively to serve, and he serves with enthusiastic abandon. His extreme limitations — at first a perceived weakness — are in fact integral facets of Chatterer’s horrifying power.

A fluid aspect of the gimp/Master relationship is a system of rewards — while never required or expected, a Master can bestow liberties upon his gimp (temporarily or permanently) by releasing sexual or sensory organs. This may explain the changes in Chatterer’s appearance in HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II: The fishhooks and wires we saw in 1987 have been removed, though his trademark grin remains; also, Chatterer seems to have both eyes and ear-holes in HELLBOUND. These modifications may have been made by “The Engineer” to express appreciation for a job well done; this relative tenderness, in turn, strengthens the Master’s bond with his gimp.

Whether aspects of the gimp/Master relationship will be explored in Chatterer’s origin story remains to be seen; still, understanding the character in terms of a gimp’s roll in BDSM adds layers of subtext, while potentially shedding light on his rank and position within The Order. Whether Barker intentionally designed or imagined Chatterer as a terrifying super-gimp is ultimately inconsequential when the parallel is this profound.

Do you agree that Chatterer is a hellish re-imagining of gimps in BDSM culture? Are you excited to read Nicholas Vince’s origin story when HELLRAISER ANTHOLOGY: VOLUME 2 hits shelves in October? Let’s discuss in the Comments section!

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