- Written and Directed by Clive Barker
- September 10, 1987 (London) / September 18, 1987
- Based on Barker’s 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart
A group of sadomasochistic entities that are summoned by a mysterious puzzle box are brought forth when one of their victims escapes Hell.
Calling Hellraiser messed up would be slightly shy of accurate. It is just weird and bizarre and unlike few things that came out at the time or even now. When I first saw this via a video rental store I thought it had just weird and creepy imagery but when I got older I realized what they were aiming for.
This film and its sequels are remembered largely for the cenobite character referred to as ‘Pinhead’ though he gets no name in this film. That credit goes to Doug Bradley who plays the part. He comes in commanding and in charge. He just steps in the scene and owns everything. His cold authority makes him very intimidating.
His followers called The Cenobites are some of the more bizarre horror film antagonists you will ever see. They, much like Pinhead, are on the screen for a very short time but even to this day make a huge impression because of their unusual and borderline sexual nature.
These are not villains who simply stumble around the world to find evil but rather they must be summoned through the use of a very special puzzle box which opens a doorway to a world where pleasure and pain are indistinguishable. Yes, this movie touches on BDSM and masks it in a horror story.
Hellraiser kicks off when Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) for some reason move into Larry’s mother’s house. What is clear is that his marriage is on the rocks and this move is some kind of attempt to patch things up with his second wife. This move is to put Julia back in familiar territory to make her happy. Clearly that does not work.
What he doesn’t know is that Julia had an affair with his brother Frank (Sean Chapman) who is a pleasure seeking hedonist that came into possession of a magical puzzle box which as with all owners of it eventually led to his death of the hand of the Cenobites.
Frank the character is especially creepy. I’m not talking because of him being a pleasure seeking hedonist or that he sought out a clearly dangerous object to find a new form of pleasure. When he comes back almost from the start he’s hinting that he wants to sleep with his niece. That kind of gets glossed over with everything else.
An injury while moving that releases a few drops of blood on the floor allows the damned Frank to escape his imprisonment in Hell and return to the land of the living. Why do only a few drops of blood allow him to largely grow back his body but draining the blood from several additional people does not is never really explain. That always bothered me. All that other blood just added a little meat here and there. Really?
Larry’s daughter named Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) does not get along with his new wife. And during the course of the film you can see why. Julia is not a very nice person. Just generally cold and distant. And that is before she starts helping Frank. Presently Larry clearly has no business with Julia but the flashbacks show her being warm and happy. The implication being that somehow she stayed with Larry but really wanted to be with Frank mostly for the freaky sex.
The characters of Frank and Larry are probably at opposite ends of the spectrum. Uncle Frank is all party and all fun no matter the consequences as well as rather self-absorbed. He’s dishonest and quite possibly a criminal. It’s implied he has a history of theft and just general dishonesty. Larry on the other hand is rather bland and boring. He is dutiful and kind but lacks the excitement of Frank.
The aim of Hellraiser is to be surreal. ‘Surreal’ is a very difficult thing to accomplish when you’re attempting a narrative. I think more often than not it is easier to do such a thing accidentally than it is on purpose. Often the result of a purposeful attempt is confusion. And it gets confusing at points here.
Something about this movie though pulls you in. Perhaps it’s the gothic and very effective music. Perhaps it’s the strange and disturbing visuals. They after all pushed it as far as they could back in the 80s. Maybe it’s the idea of people being so driven to experience new and ever increasingly intense forms of pleasure that they seek out something like this.
Hellraiser is unlike anything else that came out at the time. It is a unique horror entry that has been attempted to be duplicated not only in the sequels but in other films. Flawed or not it deserves its classic status. Horror aficionados should check it out, but it might not be for everyone so go in cautiously.