There's something I just can't explain about my love for horror movie Last Girls. There's nothing blatantly obvious like there is with the James Bond archetype that I can pin the psychological attraction to, that makes even relatively obscure Last Girls stand out in my memory. There's something mythic about them to me, that transcending from victimhood to conqueror of the Unstoppable Unknown. While most people dismiss it as a cheap copy of the original, this personal romanticism is why 'Scream 2' is one of my favorite horror films. In its greatest scene it tapped a literal expression of this interpretation, when Sydney Prescott's drama teacher connects with the traumatized college student by comparing her to the Greek prophet Cassandra. Their stories are also great equalizers, because the heroine either can't or doesn't rely on her male Knight in Shining Armor, because as it turns out, regardless of gender, people are equally susceptible to machetes. From Ellen Ripley to Bridgette Fitzgereld, the maiden descends into a hell only to emerge with the devil's head. However, in the case of Kirsty Cotton, the descent into hell is somewhat more literal. The mistake the uninitiated make when approaching the 'Hellraiser' franchise is assuming it's traditional horror and that Pinhead is somehow an iconic slasher in the vein of Freddy Kruger and the Djinn from 'Wishmaster'. Rather, 'Hellraiser' is a modern fairy-tale and like the best fairy-tales is about the nightmares that occur when the world of the mundane and of the magical rub up against each other. There is no Judeo-Christian Hell in the series, and Pinhead is not a killer; he is an artist who sees our reluctance to suffer unspeakable torture to simply be a lack of imagination.
And Kirsty Cotton, the series' original protagonist portrayed by the lovely Ashley Lawrence, is indeed a fairy-tale heroine. When we first meet her, she is a loving daughter to her father, only barely tolerating the presence of an Evil Stepmother, a classically bitter and unfaithful woman. When her father's disreputable brother's experiment with magic of the purest evil bring attention to the inter-dimensional Cenobites, it's up to Kirsty to try to protect her family. There's no killing a Cenobite, so Kirsty does what any good fairy-tale heroine would do and tries to make a deal with them, making desperate lies and promises to keep herself out of the clutches of unfathomable torment. Even when she uses the Lament Configuration to banish the Cenobites back to their realm we're left with the promise that they still lurk in their own space, a horror of infinite patience waiting just outside the cusp of our own reality.
While Kirsty was a memorable character in the first film, she really came to her own in the sequel when she would venture into the Cenobite's world, The Labyrinth, lured by her evil uncle. Again Kirsty is shown to be a shrewd quick thinking heroine, using the rules of the magical world to survive, culminating in the most memorable and amazingly revolting scene of the film where Kirsty uses her dead stepmother's flayed skin as a disguise to rescue her mute friend Tiffany. Let Tim Burton and Rupert Sanders dress their fairy-tale heroines in artificially PC suits of armor, Barker dressed his in the flesh of their enemies.
Unfortunately “Hellbound: Hellraiser II” was the end of Clive Barker's involvement in the film franchise, as well as Kirsty's. While a canonical continuation of “Hellbound”, “Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth” only featured actress Ashley Lawrence in a tiny cameo. Cotton would later return in 2002's direct-to-video 'Hellraiser: Hellseeker', the sixth entry in the franchise, in which she is revealed in a twist ending to be a jealous unrepentant murderer. It served as an end to my continuing interest in the series.
Of course it all comes back to comics as Clive Barker would return to writing the world for Boom! Comics and bringing its long-suffering heroine back with it, creating an arc that would have Kirsty take Pinhead's place, transforming into a cenobite and assuming the mantle of the Pope of Hell.
While Ellen Ripley and Sidney Prescott will always be my favorite female horror survivors, Kirsty Cotton easily stands in their ranks. If we want to talk mythic, she challenged and cheated the Gods of Pain. She fails to qualify as a victim, surpassed being a simple survivor, and became a mortal force to be reckoned with; a fairy-tale heroine in a world with modern teeth.
(You can read the continuing exploits of Kirsty Cotton and the Cenobite's in Boom! Comics' “Clive Barker's Hellraiser: The Dark Watch”, released this past Wednesday.)