Barbie Wilde’s career has taken her from mime to horror queen and now to novelist. Though perhaps best known as the female cenobite from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser II: Hellbound, she has had a long and fascinating career both in front of and behind the camera. As she promotes her first novel, The Venus Complex, Barbie took time to speak with Drunk Monkeys’ Gabriel Ricard about her past work and what lies ahead.
Drunk Monkeys: Tell us about The Venus Complex, and where the story came from.
Barbie Wilde: I guess it came from my fascination with the criminal mind. Even when I was a prepubescent nerd devouring Sherlock Holmes stories at a great rate, it was Moriarty who was the character who really captured my imagination. (Although, of course, I adored Holmes as well.) I even invented a back story for Moriarty to explain his dastardly actions.
When I first started reading about serial killers (Colin Wilson’s excellent The Order of the Assassins), I was fascinated by the motivations of these people. I consider myself a big softie, someone who is extremely empathic towards other folks, so an individual who was free from feelings for others was a very interesting concept to me.
Another catalyst came from a friend of mine who was a professional dominatrix and sexual therapist (coincidentally with a Master’s Degree in Human Sexuality) who once confessed to me that her greatest sexual fantasy was to sleep with a serial killer. I was appalled by her statement, but at the same time intrigued. That was one of the factors that propelled me to write the book as I did.
DM: What made you decide to tell the story of Michael, the protagonist, and his freefalling descent into madness as a series of progressively darker journal entries?
BW: When I first started to write the book it was in the third person. The storyline followed the plucky adventures of our heroine, Elene Shepperd, Forensic Psychiatrist, as she attempted to solve some shocking local murders. A third of the way through I felt that I was going wrong somehow. The book was turning into every other novel about a serial killer that I’d ever read. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to explore the mindscape of a serial killer and, more importantly, his sexual fantasies. Other novels about serial killers always seemed to explore the violence, with the crimes becoming more gratuitous, outlandish and unbelievable, but always carefully skirting around the sex angle. I also wanted to create a book where the reader would be locked into the mind of a man who becomes a serial killer – to witness at close quarters his descent, if you like.
DM: Were there any particularly troublesome challenges that came along during the process of writing the novel?
BR: Well, deciding that the book had to be exclusively from Michael Friday’s viewpoint plunged me into a strange kind of “oh no, I have to start all over again” depression, but I decided to use that emotion to flesh out the character. I’d already done a ton of research; all I had to do was twist the story towards Michael’s perspective. Getting into his head — writing as if I was a man who was deeply disturbed – was challenging and not an easy journey, which is why the book took a while to finish.
DM: The book definitely doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to shock value. Were there any moments during the writing where even you, as the author, thought “Jesus, this might be taking things a bit too far.”
BW: I try not to judge myself or my characters. Sure, there are some shocking, horrifying bits. My mind always harks back to one of Michael’s nightmares where he lying helpless in a hospital bed and his dead wife comes in dressed as a nurse to assist him. I’m sure that you remember that one?! After I finished writing that entry, I truly wondered where the hell I was getting this stuff from. Certainly not from my adorable little blonde head, surely?
DM: Avoiding spoilers, if that’s possible, do you have a favorite part or aspect?
BW: I like Michael’s rants against the world. He has no sense of political correctness and he is totally free about disrespecting virtually everything on the planet. I don’t necessarily agree with him, of course, but his character sees the human condition in a totally warped way. Unfortunately a lot of other humans see things in warped ways all over the world, so it’s not like he is unusual in that respect. He’s just excruciatingly honest. As Michael says: “I can cheerfully say that I hate everyone.”
I also like some of Michael’s dreams. They were fun to write … in a weird way…!
DM: You’ve written several short stories as well, including one for a Hellraiser anthology. Do you have a particular favorite within those? Can we expect any future short fiction pieces?
BW: That’s like asking if I have a favorite child! I love all my short stories, for very different reasons. I have a special fondness for “Sister Cilice”, which was my first short horror story for the Hellbound Hearts anthology. By the way, there is a “further adventures of Sister Cilice” story on the internet at the Followers of the Pandorics website. I’ve also co-designed the Cilicium Pandoric with Eric Gross, which is dedicated to Sister Cilice.
My second favorite is from the Phobophobia anthology. It’s called “U for Uranophobia” and it’s not only a story about a woman who is terrified of Uranus, the Sky God, but it’s also about the fear of home invasion (which has no official phobia name oddly enough) and the consequences of child abuse. “Polyp” (from The Mammoth Book of Body Horror) is what it is: a horror story about a giant polyp terrorizing a hospital. It is truly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever written. (“She said proudly!”) And “American Mutant: Hands of Dominion” (from the Mutation Nation anthology) delves into the fascinating world of TV evangelists, a ripe topic for horror fiction in my opinion.
I’ve got another short story coming out soon, called “A is for Alpdrücke” in a new anthology called The Demonologia Biblica, edited by Dean Drinkel. It will be coming out in early 2013 on Western Legends Press.
DM: Can we expect another novel?
BW: I’ve been toying with an idea for a vampire novel with a difference. (I know, I know, but believe me, no sparkles or teen angst allowed.) A lot of people are asking me about a sequel to The Venus Complex as well. This is all cogitating in my brain, but I’m also co-writing a musical drama for stage and screen, so I have to finish that first before any other projects.
DM: Speaking of Hellraiser, I suppose the thing that you are most known for at this point is for your fantastic performance as the Female Cenobite in Hellraiser II. How did that part come your way?
BW: I was simply called up for the audition and I got the part. I think it was probably because I was a classically trained mime artist and a lot of producers at that time were using mimes for heavy prosthetic makeup work. (An example would be 2001: A Space Odyssey: all the performers who played the apes in the film were mime artists.) Also, along with all the folks in my mime class at the time, I auditioned to be play an ape in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Luckily, I didn’t get the part, otherwise I would have been sweltering in a furry ape costume in Kenya for 6 months! Also, my fellow performers in my dance-mime-music group SHOCK, Tim Dry and Sean Crawford, were two of many mime artists that were chosen to play Jabba the Hut’s henchmen, etc., in Return of the Jedi.
The funny thing about the Hellbound audition is that I nearly didn’t go! I mistakenly thought that I was going up for the part of the Chatterer, which I thought was the creepiest character in the first Hellraiser. Luckily, a friend of mine persuaded me to give it a try.
DM: Do you have any reservations over the fact that Hellraiser II does seem to be what you are most often associated with? I mean, you have had a pretty impressive career in music, film and television.
BW: Well, I’ve been on both sides of the camera (I was a casting director for a brief time after “acting left me”, as thespians say) and I know how hard it is for any performer to be recognized for anything! I’m just glad I had the opportunity to be in something that was associated with Clive Barker, who is a genius. Also, the Female Cenobite is a very powerful image, which is pretty cool for someone who is, in reality, a short blonde person – albeit with a very tall imagination.
DM: I know you still see a lot of people from that movie. If I remember correctly, I met you at a Cenobite reunion at a horror movie convention.
BW: That’s right! We met at Monster Mania 2006. As far as my fellow Cenobites are concerned, I adore them! They (and the talented make-up & costume crew) really helped to keep my spirits up during a difficult shoot.
DM: You’ve been on that horror movie convention circuit for a while now. What brings you back to them time and time again? Any particularly interesting stories you feel like sharing?
BW: It’s great that we get to meet people who are still interested in this strange, low-budget, British horror movie and it’s subsequent sequels. It’s extraordinary. It just goes to show how enduring Clive’s imagery and story have been over the years.
At the Monster Mania 2006 show (which was my first American convention) Dave Hagen was in the midst of introducing me as “the loveliest of the Cenobites” when Doug (Pinhead) Bradley pushed Simon (Butterball) Bamford out in front of me, so he was the one who stumbled up on stage first, much to the bemusement of the crowd! Oh, how we laughed. We always have a fabulous time and the fans are always so lovely and respectful.
I also like doing the Q&A sessions and getting feedback from the fans. I remember one Q&A in Hamburg where an audience member asked what we would have done if we hadn’t become actors. I remember that Simon said that he would have designed rides for fairgrounds, which is pretty interesting. I was racking my brains and then I remembered that my overriding ambition when I was 12 years old was to become an international assassin and kill really bad people all over the planet. (Too many reruns of The Avengers and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I reckon.) I used to stay up late at night, plotting on how to sneak into dictator’s palaces and get rid of them in fiendishly clever ways. I mentioned this and managed to bring the house down. (I suppose it must have sounded pretty ridiculous!)
DM: How do you feel about the current state of horror films?
Errrrg. Less said here the better. I know that the last film of the Hellraiser franchise, Hellraiser: Revelations, was supposed to be awful. (I didn’t see it.) Most of the horror films that I’ve seen recently have really left me cold, I’m afraid. For one thing, I don’t do torture porn, which a lot of horror films are about nowadays.
A horror film has to be really special for me to want to see it. The last ones that I saw that I really liked were Devil (directed by John Erick Dowdle) and Let the Right One In (the Swedish version).
My favorite horror films are the ones that scared me as a kid that I still like today, movies like The Thing, Invaders from Mars, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Night of the Demon
DM: The thing I always remember about meeting you was the fact that you struck me as a dead-ringer for Cyndi Lauper, which I think is awesome, by the way.
BW: That’s funny, I once went to an audition as a Cyndi Lauper impersonator! It was for Carl Reiner. The film was called Bert Rigby, You’re a Fool. Carl asked me if I had any other off-the-wall ideas that I’d like to do rather than Cyndi and, just off the top of my head, I said that I’d always wanted to do a bit as a robotic performance artist who emerges out of a black garbage bag and then covers a punter with whipped cream. (The piece had a subtle feminist message, if you could be bothered to look for it.) Carl leapt to his feet and said, “Let’s do it!” and I got the job.
I had to go up to the north of England to Barnsley in Yorkshire, where they were filming in an old theatre. I did my schtick in front of an applauding cast and crew. Carl came up to me afterwards and said that I was “a hoot”! Great praise indeed from such a comedy legend. Unfortunately, my performance was cut from the film, but Carl Reiner had also done a bit as a whirling-plates-on-sticks balancing act performer and he cut himself out of the film, so I didn’t feel so bad.
DM: I guess that would be a good way to lead into your music career. You started a group called SHOCK, which did music, burlesque, performance-type stuff, amongst other things, with Tim Dry and others. I know it was a pretty big success during its run. How did that whole thing come about? What would you say was the highlight of SHOCK’s run during that time period? I know you guys opened for a pretty wide range of musical acts.
BW: Tim Dry and I had been touring around as a fairly serious fringe theatre mime act duo with our show called Drawing in Space. We were doing a mannequins-in-a-shop-window act when two other performers (Robert Pereno and LA Richards, who were disco dancing inside the store) came up to us and asked us if we wanted to join their act, which they called SHOCK. Within a year and a half, we’d added two new members, Carole Caplin (who went on to become Tony and Cherie Blair’s lifestyle guru) and Sean Crawford (who with Tim became the robotic duo Tik & Tok).
We eventually left the world of cabaret behind us and went on to support such acts as Ultravox, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Adam & the Ants, as well as doing a week-long residency at New York’s Ritz Club. We used an eclectic array of music (Visage, Kate Bush, Landscape, Tomita, Marilyn Monroe, Queen, the Yellow Magic Orchestra) in our act, as well as our own compositions and we choreographed strange numbers combining dance, mime and singing. In the process we became something quite unique, which is why we had so many bands wanting us to support them. Unfortunately, record success eluded us, although we were signed to RCA at the time and had some very hot producers working with us.
The highlights for me were performing in New York and supporting Gary Numan at Wembley Arena.
DM: Let’s touch on your film work a little more, if that’s possible. You were in Grizzly II, which is remembered, if for anything, for its cast, George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, and Laura Dern. Anything from that movie that sticks out in your head today?
BW: It was a very bizarre experience. The basic plotline of Grizzly II: a strange and unusual pop band is appearing at a national park and various unfortunate teens who are there to see the band are getting slaughtered by a disgruntled bear. It’s a real “before they were famous” stuff, because George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen play the hapless teens and get eaten pretty quickly. However, other well-known actors were also in the film, such as Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and John Rhys Davies (Sallah from Raiders of the Lost Ark).
My boyfriend at the time, Richard James Burgess, who had produced bands such as Spandau Ballet, America and Shriekback was producing the band’s music for the movie. The producers asked him to appear as the drummer for the movie band. (Richard was also a talented drummer and a member of a band called Landscape. They had a couple of international hits with Einstein a Go-Go and Norman Bates.) However, Richard had to go off to Stockholm to produce Adam Ant’s new album, so he suggested that I take his place. He gave me a few drumming lessons and loaned me his electronic drums for the shoot. It was supremely weird, but I guess my mime and music training got me through it. All I had to do is stay in time to the backing track and look convincing.
The whole thing was filmed in a national park in Hungary, near Budapest. To get a big crowd in for background shots, the film’s producers arranged for the rock band Nazareth to appear in a free concert for two nights running. They would do half a set, then the movie band, some dancers and I would run on and do our three numbers, then Nazareth would come back on and finish their set. You can imagine how confused the Hungarian audience must have been to see near-naked dancing girls, a gold-helmeted singer, and a blue-haired drummer prancing around on stage with an enormo-electronica music track blasting away in the background, in the middle of a heavy metal gig.
Sadly, the film had major financial difficulties, the crew had technical problems with the enormous mechanical bear and the Hungarian director eventually had a nervous breakdown. So Grizzly II: The Predator, AKA Grizzly II: The Concert became the so-called “Holy Grail of unfinished, unreleased horror”. You can see some clips on Youtube.
DM: Did you really study mime?
BW: Well, yes, it seemed like a good idea at the time! I studied mime at the Dance Centre with Desmond Jones, who had studied under Étienne Decroux in Paris. Étienne taught Marcel Marceau as well. Desmond later asked me to join his mime company SILENTS, which at the time was the largest mime company in Britain. (This was one of the reasons that I didn’t return to the States, where I was going to University at the time.) We did a bit of touring and a few performances. The high point was a week-long residency at the Arts Theatre Club in London, where Marcel Marceau came to see us, which was pretty cool. Funnily enough, the title of the show was Visions of Hell and Other Stories.
DM: Your TV career has included a lot of music and film interview programs in England. You wrote and developed a lot of these projects, and you interviewed some pretty interesting figures in music and film. Is there a particular show or episode of a show that’s near and dear to your heart?
BW: I really enjoyed interviewing both Cliff Richards (Britain’s Elvis) and Johnny Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols) on the TV show Hold Tight. They were both exceedingly charming and professional – in completely different ways. I also interviewed Nicolas Cage at the Brighton Film Festival, as part of pilot for a TV entertainment series. He was very interesting, as long as you weren’t asking him about the movie business. It turns out that Cage was obsessed with insects and owned a hug bug collection, kept in glass cases made in Italy. He also was wearing underpants with an ant motif. Interesting… (By the way, I asked him what color his underpants were, he didn’t volunteer the information. My researcher thought that asking people about their underpants was real “edgy, man”.)
My favorite show has to be The Small Screen for London Weekend TV, where I reviewed six films a week. That was heaven for me.
DM: What’s next for you?
BW: I’ll be returning to finish the book and screenplay for musical drama that I mentioned before, as there have been changes to the score that have to be reflected in the script, then it’s hopefully going to be submitted to a Festival in the States. Also, next year is the 25th Anniversary of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, so I hope to be Stateside at least a couple of times to celebrate with the fans.