Taken by Molly Henery

People who follow the horror world are sure to recognize the name Rebekah McKendry. She works with Fangoria, is co-host of the Shock Waves podcast, writes, directs, produces, and even has a Ph.D. in horror. McKendry’s passion for the genre spills into everything she does and her latest podcast is no different.

May marked the beginning of McKendry’s solo podcast under the Fangoria banner, Nightmare University. In this podcast she examines different aspects of the horror genre from various subgenres, themes, and even specific films. Sometimes McKendry investigates these topics on her own and sometimes she has special guests join her to further the discussion. Nightmare University even has special bonus episodes called “Office Hours” where McKendry reminisces about events in the more than 15 years she worked on Fangoria that left a lasting impact on her. 

McKendry is a clear favorite in the horror community because not only did the Shock Waves podcast do a live recording at this year’s Midsummer Scream, but so did Nightmare University. In this episode, McKendry decided to examine one of her favorite horror film franchises, Hellraiser

While others may consider themselves “Freddy” people or “Jason” people, McKendry considers herself to be part of a smaller group of “Pinhead” people. She loves the franchise so much that she has tattoos of the Lament configuration on her leg. What may come as a surprise to people is that McKendry and her husband, David Ian McKendry, have even written some of the Hellraiser comic books. She has loved the films from a very young age, which is thanks to her parents being open and not really censoring what she watched (which is something I can relate to). 

Going into the history of the franchise, McKendry explained that it all began with a novella by Clive Barker called “The Hellbound Heart,” which was published in 1986. It spawned a film just one year later as well as many sequels, further books, and comic books. Barker was already a known writer at this point and his previous writing had revealed many of the themes in his work around sexuality and demons and sin. The mythos and world-building around Barker’s Cenobites was so intricate and fascinating, it’s impossible not to become engulfed in it.

The audience is able to learn about the themes of Barker’s strange world and the differences between the original novella and the film. Some of the characters are different, there is much more focus on pleasure and pain in the novella, and a character called “the engineer” plays a much larger part in the original material. McKendry also describes the time Hellraiser was released. It was a time where slasher films were king, practical effects were vital, and everyone wanted the next big franchise. It was the perfect time for Hellraiser to be released. 

It was absolutely fascinating to listen to McKendry talk about this franchise she is clearly very passionate about. The audience in Midsummer Scream essentially got to be taught by one of the foremost authorities on Hellraiser. She goes through the entire history while also incorporating her own opinions, fan reception, and some interesting behind the scenes information. 

Those who attended the live recording at Midsummer Scream may have been disappointed because one of the stars of Hellraiser, Ashley Lawrence (who played Kirsty), was supposed to be part of the panel. Unfortunately, she was not able to make it last minute, but McKendry didn’t skip a beat. She was still able to keep the audience engrossed just with the knowledge she was able to share. Also, McKendry was able to record a bit with Lawrence after the fact. 

You can hear their conversation*, as well as the fountain of fascinating history from McKendry, right now on the Nightmare University podcast anywhere you listen to podcasts. 

*Bonus: After the live recording I asked McKendry a question about an aspect of the first Hellraiser film that is a bit of a mystery and she poses that question to Lawrence.

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