Ah, Hellraiser. A timeless staple in the Young household, I probably should have done this during my Halloween Spook-TACULAR, but I figured that the Halloween spirit would have been better served by me introducing rare movies into the world’s cinematic vernacular. Now that I think I have, it’s time to re-watch a movie I quite enjoy and give a more Eric-y (Eric-ish? Eric-like?) spin on the many schools of thought surrounding Hellraiser. I think Hellraiser might easily be one of the best mainstream horror films of the 80s, and without a lot of money or a leisurely shooting schedule, they somehow came up with a genuinely original look and feel that has lasted the test of time better than all the other franchise horror films. And while many people will consider this a slightly pedestrian stance on what is often called a boring and tenaciously dry British horror, you’ll find the longer you stick with me that I intensely encourage a distinction between what’s boring and what’s merely paced.
Hellraiser begins in London, where a man named Frank is obsessing over a mysterious puzzle box he bought at a bazaar. His obsession soon turns deadly, however, as the box, contorted into an odd position, opens and projects chains with hooks attached, ripping him apart. As he is destroyed, four ghoulish, leather-clad demons emanate forth and fix the box, leaving as mysteriously as they come. Some time later, Frank’s brother Larry and his new wife Julia move into his old house, assuming that Frank has disappeared and won’t be coming back, as was his usual habit in their youth. One day, while moving, Larry cuts himself on a nail, letting loose some blood on the floor. That small amount is enough to cause a chain reaction and Frank, unbound by the usual laws of life and death, begins a terrifying revival up in the attic. One day, after Larry has left, Frank confronts Julia in his hideous, half-revived form; he has bones and some muscles, but no skin or hair. He asks her to help him, revealing that they once had a torrid sexual affair in their youth. In spite of his despicable fucking appearance, she actually agrees, hoping to relive some of her more promiscuous days with her old flame. Here’s the rub, though; to fully revive him, she’s going to need more blood, and lots of it. So she begins seducing men, bringing them to her home for the slaughter under the pretense of some prim and proper British whoopie. The only person who can stop their insane scheme is Kirsty, Larry’s adult daughter living in the city, who has a sneaking suspicion about her shady stepmother, and the only key to Frank’s undoing appears to be the puzzle box that sits in the attic with him. But will opening the box be Kirsty’s undoing instead? Because what lies on the other side of the mysteries of the puzzle box is a world beyond her deepest nightmares, a world that Kirsty might not be able to emerge from alive…
Only Clive Barker could have come up with something like this. Not only did he direct this film, but he also wrote the script, as well as the book upon which the script was adapted, The Hellbound Heart. Everything about this is totally his, and the best part about it is its complete vision. He might not be the most accomplished director, but I have almost never seen a horror movie in which the scope was so dependent on one person’s intense personal vision. It helps a lot in sucking me in, enveloping me in this world where just beyond our own petty lives waits an existence too horrible to contemplate. It’s a provocative idea about the incarnations of our hearts’ deepest desires that is entertained with a methodical, almost perverted mindset.
The movie looks great for $1 million. The costumes, the effects, and the locations are all top notch. The score is spine-tingling, with that powerful experimental flare by composer Christoper Young that makes you dread the coming moments with each passing second the music pulses like a cold and distant god. The entire film, and the house especially, have an underlying mood that lends a lot to the freakier moments, such as when Larry and his wife are getting it on during a storm, and Frank appears to Julia in a corner and cuts a rat in half with a switchblade (!!!). The sado-masochistic design of the demons, called Cenobites, and their twisted world gives both elements of the pleasure and pain. The leader of these Cenobites, named “Pinhead”, is the mascot of the series, and the real tonal anchor for this film. Like an angel, he descends at all the right moments to assure you that there are bigger things going on behind the scenes. He is played by Douglas Bradley, and is a sinister force indeed. Although he would later take the role to near-comical levels of ridiculousness (see Hellraiser: Deader (???)), here he is a serious force of destruction that represents the price to pay for the pleasures of the flesh. The other Cenobites are well-designed, although not as scary or as commanding; there’s a girl with a hook, a fat guy, and a guy with chattering teeth! Spooky, I know!
I liked Clare Higgins as Julia the most here. She’s very sensual, and I can’t deny my mental boner for her. Her role seems pretty demanding on her both emotionally and physically. It’s hard maintaining a love triangle in a movie when one of the other people in it doesn’t know there’s a triangle and another person is a skinless walking corpse. She is very alluring, though, and I really like her inner darkness as a woman who habitually sends men to their deaths. Ashley Laurence is Kirsty, the heroine, and I honestly thought she was good. She’s beautiful, she has a lot of personality, and, best of all, she’s playing a strong woman. I like her willingness to just leave any guy in the dust to go and figure this thing out on her own! You go, girl! And, of course, I must mention again that Doug Bradley is the man here as Pinhead (at least for this movie). There’s nothing quite like his pale visage creeping across a threshold to claim his victims. Very nice.
Hellraiser is a horror movie with great direction, a fresh and able cast, one of the best scores I’ve ever heard in a horror composed by Christopher Young, and a heart hung squarely in the macabre by a set of chains with hooks on them. It’s a breath of fresh air from all the slashers and the generic killer movies in Hollywood. It took a ballsy gay Brit in the 80s to get something like this pushed into the mainstream, and we’re forever in debt to Clive Barker for being brave enough to try something new. You’ll never forget this film; I don’t think you could even if you tried. I give Hellraiser 9 sawed-off rats out of 10. A high recommendation!
Tomorrow I indulge the artist in me with Gods and Monsters! See you then!!!