Reviewbr> “The box. You opened it. We came. “ – Lead Cenobite (in later movies dubbed Pinhead)
Larry and Julia move back into the old house we surmise Larry’s Parentals owned or something. Apparently they are moving from the Bronx and there’s problems with the marriage, more on the strange locations later. Anyway unbeknown to our couple Larry’s brother Frank has been using the house to dose, and just by the by to open a gateway to hell. Frank got ripped apart in a hook and chain mayhem happening, as you do with doors and hell and the like.
While moving in Larry gashes his hand on a nail and can’t stand the sight of blood, which is unfortunate given this movie is called Hellraiser and involves Clive Barker at the helm. Larry’s dripping blood revives Frank who comes back to life missing a few things, like flesh and skin. Julia, who had a hot thing going with Frank and who still carries a candle for our skinless one, proceeds to bring back horny dudes to the house for a meeting with a hammer and the rapidly developing Frank. Simple there, more blood more Frank. It’s up to Larry’s daughter Kirsty to save the day via an agreement with the minions of hell a.k.a the Cenobites. A nightmarish movie ensues. Ready to try the puzzle box?
Clive Barker was not impressed with the first two movies made from his writing, Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986), so decided to give the Director game a shot himself. Must say we are glad he did. Barker managed to get backing from the now defunct New World Pictures to make a low budget horror movie. While the resulting Hellraiser is a Brit effort through and through New World required dubs with U.S accents in order to ensure North American theatre release. Which explains why everyone lumbering around a very English looking landscape speaks with an American accent, except on those odd occasions where the editing team missed scenes. New World got daily rushes during shooting and pushed additional cash into the project for post production special effects on the strength of what they were seeing.
With Hellraiser Clive Barker, from his own novella The Hellbound Heart, introduced two horror icons and one hell (pun intended) of a long running franchise. During the movie we first see the puzzle box, when solved it opens a doorway to hell and brings the demonic Cenobites, and also meet the unforgettable Pinhead, a demon with a symmetrical array of nails in his head. The cherry on top of this particular sundae of doom is of course the fact that Hellraiser is a mighty fine movie, albeit with the claret flowing faster than at an ICC meeting.
We got demons, we got atmosphere, we got tension, we got a mighty fine movie
Clive Barker’s vision of sensuality and pain is pretty much a gothic movie in the Hammer tradition. You have a monster in the attic, some over ripe chick luring balding dudes back to the crib on the promise of sex, and of course all the villains get what’s coming to them before the end credits role. New World might have wanted a sort of Trans Atlantic feeling happening but this one is as British as a cup of tea at the cricket. All that was missing really was a Savant with the answers to the riddles the movie portrays. Where’s Peter Cushing when you need him? The Brits are pretty good at this horror malarkey and none are better than Clive Barker at getting under your skin with themes and images.
Right from the opening scene, where Frank learns that solving the puzzle box leads to the ultimate in sadomasochistic pleasure, the audience are informed the movie isn’t going to be all nice and gentile. Barker puts everyone watching on edge as none of the characters are assured of survival, and we are all left wondering just what the Lead Cenobite might mean by “We have such sights to show you…", and show us Barker does.
The Director simply has style shining through in Hellraiser and keeps hitting the money shots through out the course of the mayhem. When the door to hell opens in the Hospital scene, Barker keeps cutting to a flower on the Television, in a sort of beauty versus ugly fashion. I was also impressed by Barker cutting between Larry damaging his hand and Julia’s flashbacks to her steamy affair with Frank. Nice touches right there. Overall Barker has some slick atmospherics happening, grungy sets used to their fullest, and the tension is kept on the front burner from first frame to last frame. What the Director does manage to do is to leave nothing up in the air, if we exclude anything like an explanation of what the Cenobites actually are. Even the tramp who keeps popping up to put Larry’s daughter from a former marriage Kirsty on edge is fully utilized in the final scene, though that was a tad on the weak side and let down the rest of the movie to be honest. With the odd complaint about unnecessary scenes, what was with Kirsty’s boyfriend, and that plaid shirt was a fashion disaster, I’m pretty happy with what Barker has going down in terms of visuals and pacing.
Thematically Barker simple reiterates his obsession with there being a fine line between pleasure and pain, and leaves it at that. Hellraiser doesn’t bother with any deep insights, or anything about the human conditions. The characters have their motivations, and their actions flow naturally from those.
Gorehounds will not be wanting to be taken out for a walk during Hellraiser as Barker simply opens the flood gates and lets it rip from whoa to go. A fairly blood drenched movie to sit through, but as opposed to modern gorenography this movie doesn’t waste screen time with anything unnecessary. You get plenty of dissected corpses, blood by the gallon, and of course all those hooks and skinless Frank. Dive on in if you like your steak raw and dripping.
Andrew Robinson (Larry) gets to play the really boring English dude with an American accent, well okay they dubbed that after shooting. Robinson doesn’t have a lot to work with, Larry after all is just this normal laid back dude, but does bring his talents to bare on occasion with facial expressions. Check the boxing scene to see Robinson nail a key strategic moment of the movie. Clare Higgins (Julia) not only nailed her role to the barn door, but got out the nail gun out and blew said door off it’s hinges. The driven and homicidal Julia is a delight here, Higgins is on song, and will have you believing. Ashley Laurence (Kirsty) was also a strong casting choice, the chick can emot like a crazy person.
Sean Chapman (Frank), who had one of those great horror roles that can set up a career, dropped the ball turning in an under whelming performance to say the least. Chapman’s performance didn’t match the character requirements of someone searching for the ultimate pleasure. Jesus wept there. Don’t even get me started on Robert Hines who turns in a wooden performance, no doubt phoned in from Nova Scotia. The character was unnecessary, and Hines didn’t do anything with it.
On the T&A front we get a pretty steamy scene of Julia and Frank doing the wild thing, but don’t get to see any naughty bits. Damn, was hoping for at least some dirty pillows, as Mrs White would say, and some man meat for the ladies. Guess we all miss out there. “No tears, please. It's a waste of good suffering”, as the Lead Cenobite says.
Christopher Young turned in one of the greatest ever horror scores. There’s a very gothic feeling to the whole thing, some superb orchestral movements, and a genuinely eerie feeling. Young matches Barkers feel and mood with the audio being simply outstanding. Hunt out the CD if you are a movie soundtrack buff you will not be disappointed.
Clive Barker has delivered a classic horror movie that should be on everyone’s top twenty if not top ten favorites list for the genre. I was thoroughly engrossed throughout, loved the score, and really dug the Cenobites. Not a bad result for a bloke who scribbles the odd short story, interspersed with novels, and who decided he couldn’t do any worse than the Directors behind earlier movies based on his work.
Hellraiser has thus far generated eight sequels with a horrid rumor of a remake starting to emerge on the Internet. Like any classic in the genre a remake is simply unnecessary and will be an abomination in the view of this writer. Clive please do not put your name against it, and try to get any thoughts of a remake stopped dead in it’s tracks.
The movie did a tad over $14.5 at the North American box office but I don’t have International or Australian figures. We can assume it made a profit as the first sequel came pretty quickly after the first movie, though rumor has it Hellbound was greenlighted as Hellraiser finished shooting.
Full recommendation on this movie as it’s a horror classic that has stood the test of time. Clive Barker delivers on his promise of having sights to show us, though some readers may find that slightly too graphic for their tastes. If wanting to check out the movie then I would recommend the Anchor Bay Region 2 copy, as it has a lot of extra goodness going down. Turn out the lights, turn up the volume, and summon the Cenobites.