Friday, May 31, 2013

Hellraiser (1987) - A Review

“No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering…”

Now, I’ve been working on the Stephen King series post, I promise I have, but the more I work on it the more I realize I have to add on and it’s become quite the exercise in repetition. I’ll make good headway, edit, then add a bunch more, edit that, change things, edit that. Aaaand you get the idea. I will be getting it to you, I’m hoping this weekend, and once I have the first one done all others will come along quite easily.

But last night, I decided to take a break from Pet Sematary and put on something I haven’t watched in years. And I mean, yeeeears. One thing that I love about doing this blog is it affords me the opportunity to watch films I haven’t seen in years, some that I may not have even liked, and revisit old memories, old thoughts and ultimately share them all with you on here. As you all saw last night, my choice for the evening was Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. 

Title: Hellraiser
Director(s): Clive Barker
Writer(s): Clive Barker
Producer(s): Christopher Figg
Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman, Ashley Laurence, Oliver Smith, Doug Bradley, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bramford, Grace Kirby

What a film. Now, when I first watched this one I was about 16 or 17 and not in the least bit impressed. At that point, I only liked gritty, realistic horror. I still do for the most part, but I was very adamant for my love of it. I hated ghost stories, anything paranormal, anything rated PG-13, anything that didn’t have gratuitous amounts of blood and gore and if it was all incited using a common household item then I was all about it. I’m still like that to a certain extent, but tastes evolve. Re-watching this film last night was like a breath of fresh air, it was a film I wasn’t even sure I had seen before. How could I have watched this film and disliked it so much? 


The film follows the story of Frank Cotton, a hedonist who is in search of the ultimate sexual thrill. It opens in Morocco, where we see Frank purchasing an antique puzzle box that promises to open the “doors to the pleasures of heaven and hell” from a dealer. Frank returns to his grandmother’s (I presume) house in London where he unlocks the mysteries of the box in the attic, only to have hooks rip into his flesh and pull him into the world of Cenobites, where we first meet Pinhead and the rest of the humanoid sadomasochists. 

Sometime later, Frank’s brother Larry and his wife Julia move into the house. It is presumed that Frank is long gone, knowing his past as a hedonist and petty-criminal, they assume him to be in prison in some far off location. During the move, Larry cuts his hand on a nail and rushes to find Julia in the attic, dripping blood along the way. The blood, after dripping on the floor, acts as a force to bring Frank back from the world of the Cenobites, if only as an emaciated corpse. The remnants of the Cenobites torture. 

Now, little does Larry know, Julia had an affair with Frank a week after her marriage to him and has been lusting after him ever since. After Julia discovers Frank’s tattered body (and he is able to convince her that it is him) she begins to seduce men at bars and bring them back so that Frank can use drain them of blood and energy in order to rebuild his body. When Larry’s daughter, Kirsten, discovers Julia bringing a victim back to the house, she assumes that Julia is simply having an affair and attempts to catch her in the act. Instead she finds the aftermath of Frank’s work, and while Frank is attacking her she manages to steal the Lemarchand’s Box and escape only to collapse from exhaustion on the street sometime later. 

She awakens to discover herself in a hospital, and after unlocking the box herself she learns the truth of what happened to Frank and informs the Cenobites that Frank has escaped their clutch. They strike a deal, that they may leave her be if she takes them to Frank and they hear him confess in his own words. Kirsten returns to her father’s house, however she finds that not only has her entire world changed, but her father is no longer who he used to be.


There’s an adage that I generally tend to keep in mind when watching movies and generally, it’s true. The classics are classics for a reason. This is a prime example of that. From the score, to the story itself, it’s a phenomenal film that I would recommend to anyone who claims to be a horror fan but has yet to see it. The true high point of this film is its ability to transport you to another world, where carnage lust, pain and pleasure have no boundaries but exist as a single entity. The Cenobites no longer know the line between extreme lust and pain, and have one (and only one) desire: your flesh. They will tear you apart, for that very thing. 

This film does not mess around. From the get go, there are moments that will make you wince, Barker perfected the art of building dread. There were moments watching where I could feel myself tensing up because I knew what was about to happen. Generally when watching a horror film that’s a good sign for me.

Let’s get to them P’s and C’s.

1. The Story. Hellraiser
is not shy about it's intricate storyline, at least amongst the first four films in the franchise (as with any franchise, it dwindles). Clive Barker adapted the film from his own novella, The Hellbound Heart, and it’s a very accurate adaptation from what I’ve read. I found myself invested entirely in the events of the film, no matter how unrealistic they may be, wondering where these creatures came from and how they came to be. That’s how you get people to come back for the sequel. As a matter of fact, I watched the sequel last night, as soon as the first one finished.
2. The Special Effects and Imagery. This is one aspect that I was very impressed with. I wasn’t expecting phenomenal graphics, and while that wasn’t necessarily what I got, I was still impressed. The imagery was mind blowing, the crude devices, hooks, chains, pillar of doom, it all gave off an immense atmosphere of unease and I loved it. From the get go (SPOILER) when we see Frank’s face that has been completely ripped apart (SPOILER) we know that this is not any ordinary horror film. The rules are bent, they are different. A bit along the lines of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but nightmarish on a whole new level.
3. Pinhead. This may seem silly, but in of itself, Pinhead makes the film worth it. His cool, dry demeanor. He doesn’t need to raise his voice to be terrifying, he only needs to exist and speak. Everyone knows who Pinhead is, everyone has seen that face, but not as many have seen the film so it’s a treat alone to see what he’s all about.

1. The Ending.
Honestly, I thought the movie was immensely solid up until the final few minutes. (SPOILER) When the homeless man, who is never fully explained, retrieves the box from the flames and transforms into a flying dragon skeleton (?) I was left in a state of, “Well, okay…” Still awaiting the backstory  on that one… (SPOILER END)

More than anything, this film is classic. Go watch it, it’s on Netflix, and make your own decision from there. If you’ve already seen it, give it another go. It was a whole new experience for me, and this was the third time I’ve seen it.


-Rg Lovecraft

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