Stephen King once claimed to have “seen the future of horror, his name is Clive Barker.” Indeed, Clive Barker is a different kind as his style more delves into the darker aspects of fantasy while giving viewers and readers a creative nightmare that we wish to revisit. While most of his work was adapted to film, his earlier adaptions where not crafted by him. He did the screenplays for 1985’s Underworld and Rawhead Rax but he was disappointed by the final results. When it came to adapt his novella The Hellbound Heart, Clive took it upon himself to take the director’s chair and give his own personal spin on how his adaptions should be.
Hellraiser is probably the easiest to recognize because of its setup that feels like a different take on Pandora’s Box. Outside of the basic gore and bloodshed, what viewers remember the most is the underlying theme about the dangers of pleasure. Pleasure from love, murder and most of all sadism. What I find interesting is the how the universe is set up along with the supernatural beings to go with it that really hold this movie together.
Sean Chapman plays a self-absorbed Frank Cotton who obtains a strange puzzle box that if solved will unleash a set of demons called the Cenobites. Sure enough, he solves it and his prize to claim is getting torn to bits by the masochist beings. Years later, his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) takes refuge in the house Frank lived at while his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) is revealed to have an enormous affair with the vigorous sibling. However, all is not lost as Frank is resurrected after a few drops of blood hit where he stood rendering him as a skeleton with some guts. Julia finds out its her old fling and decides to help by bringing fresh male victims so Frank can get more energy.
The reason Frank is in hiding is that he manged to escape the Cenobites somehow and fears they will come after him again. At this point after consuming some date bait from Julia, he develops flesh and blood while trying to remain alive and well. Meanwhile, Larry’s daughter Kristy (Ashley Laurence) thinks somethings is up as she finds her uncle Frank to be nothing more but bones and flesh minus the skin. At one point, she obtains the puzzle box and comes face to face with the Cenobites who promise no harm unless Frank is delivered to them.
As said before, the whole movie is very much one creative yet twisted nightmare that feels never ending. Elements of surreal nature like Frank’s status as a body without skin and the world of the Cenobites really add to the dream like nature. Unlike Nightmare on Elm Street where its a battle between dream and reality, Hellraiser is the dream that we wish to escape but can’t help but admire how dark it is. I find it interesting how Julia wishes to serve her love but is stuck between a living corpse in the attic and her own spouse. My only problem is that we spend so much time seeing the chemistry between Julia and Frank that Larry feels shoved off to the side. You could argue the movie is more about the consequence of giving in to twisted pleasures but when we feel Larry is going to be on the chopping block, there is little care here. We don’t get to see much of Larry or have a handle on how developed this character should be. There are moments when we don’t want to see him die but that’s very much because of how “goodie” of a character he’s played out to be.
While the story has a few clinks, the biggest star of all is the special effects and make-up work. This truly is a technical achievement showing how well practical effects can be utilized from a skinless corpse to freaky demons that snap their jaws at you. Despite being dated, if you take into accord the $1 million budget here, its impressive already. The cinematography has a very slick approach that is hard to match. You have to give credit for such craftsman ship here.
Viewers might disappointed to read that the Cenobites don’t fully show up for the last third. The focus of the story is more on Frank and his dilemma while Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the gang feel more like a plot element at times. But even in their first carnation, they look very intimidating. I like the different desings that alomst play off how “evil” they can act. Theses are the kind of demons you don’t want to make a deal with seeing how much they go back on their promise of saving you. The final is a notable highlight as hell literally breaks loose and our main heroin has a lot of monsters to get through before making it out alive.
Hellraiser is a unique movie that can’t be doubled again. Its really warning us about the dangers of giving into deeper desires as Frank keeps feeding on life in hopes of being fully human again. There’s not much negatives to think about aside from the fact that the Kristy character doesn’t come in till halfway. There’s so much focus and attention to the Frank and Julia storyline that it doesn’t mean much when we cut to a different character. There’s some images that will never leave my head but I can’t say this is a “hands-down” master piece. That goes to another of Clive’s films which I talk about in the near future. Hellraiser is no classic but its a memorable that feels like a throwback the Grim tales of the past or ones we’ve heard of before. All in all, this is a crowd pleaser that houses few negatives to pick on.