Contributed by Andy Shultz
SPOILER WARNING! This review contains a brief synopsis of the film. If you haven’t seen the movie and wish for it not to be spoiled, watch the film and then read. If you have seen it, read the review and watch it again!
With the recent news of Hellraiser: Judgment going into pre-production, I felt the need to revisit the original Hellraiser. Before I go into the review, I want to make it clear that this review is only of the original film, not the overall franchise. The movie is based on Clive Barker’s novella, The Hellbound Heart and is the only one to date to have been both written and directed by Barker. The remainder of the series strays from the original movie.
Looking for the highest form of pleasure he can, Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) buys and opens a puzzle box, hoping that he will find what he’s been looking for. Instead, he opens a gateway to realm of the Cenobites- creatures who find pleasure in extreme pain and suffering. Frank is then torn apart by them in a brutal fashion- chains and hooks. Frank’s brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson) and sister-in-law, Julia (Clare Higgins) move into the family’s old home, the one Frank was living in before he disappeared. At this point, through a series a flashbacks, it’s discovered that Julia, Larry’s wife had an affair with Frank. Through blood, Frank finds a way to escape the Cenobites, but is weak. He needs to feed on the blood and flesh of others in order to regain his strength. It’s Julia’s love that allows Frank to manipulate Julia into bringing victims to Frank to feed off of. Julia goes on to lure men into the attic, where she and Frank murder them. Larry’s daughter, Kristy (Ashley Laurence), spies Julia bringing men to the house. When Kristy confronts Julia, she is attacked by Frank. Kristy manages to escape Frank, but collapses from the ordeal. She wakes up in a hospital with the puzzle box, where she proceeds to open it. She is confronted by the Cenobites, led by Pinhead (Douglas Bradley). Since she opened the box, she is destined to go with them back to their realm existence. She makes a deal with Pinhead: She will give them Frank in exchange for her life. Kristy returns home to deliver Frank to the Cenobites, but discovers that Frank killed her Father and is wearing his skin. As he tries to kill Kristy, she escapes, and Frank accidentally kills Julia. Ultimately, Kristy lures Frank back to the attic, where the Cenobites take him back to their domain. They then try to take Kristy with them, but Kristy is able to reverse the puzzle and send them away, but not before her house is torn apart. Kristy narrowly escapes and attempts to destroy the puzzle. The last scenes of the movie show a vagrant picking up the puzzle box from the fire, before turning into a flying creature and escaping with the puzzle box… Leaving the possibility for a sequel.
Hellraiser ranks in my top ten horror movies of all time. I find the concept to be so original and different. The idea of beings from another plane of existence, who find extreme pleasure from pain and torment, is terrifying. Who are the Cenobites? Are they angels? Or demons? Or Aliens? In this film, it’s left open to interpretation. Later installments would have them being from Hell. Then the story of Frank and what he’s willing to do survive and free himself of the Cenobites. He’s willing to kill his own family to live. There is no line he isn’t willing to cross.
The film needs to be praised for its use of practical effects. The look of the chains busting from the walls is sudden and violent. The use of the prosthetics is extremely well done. The look of Frank as he is literally all flesh and bone (minus the skin) is so creepy looking, especially as he drips blood- a true trademark of horror films of the 1980’s. It really is a beauty to look at. Though, my favorite part is the Cenobites themselves. They are truly the things nightmares are made up of. The pale skin with the horrific mutilations is something that leaves an immediate imprint on the viewers. Yet, it is Pinhead himself that really is the best part of the entire franchise. He is so terrifying. Especially his voice, which is so dark and sinister.
My only real gripe with the film is the pacing is slow at times, which can leave the audience slightly bored. Luckily, when the action does happen, the audience is pulled right back in.
Since 1987, Hellraiser has grown into a large franchise. Bradley would reprise the role of Pinhead 7 more times. He wouldn’t reprise the role for the 9th film as he felt that the rushed production schedule and short shooting time would not be acceptable. As stated earlier, the tenth film in the franchise is in pre-production. There is also a planned Hellraiser film in the works by both Barker and Bradley. Barker has also expanded the Hellraiser universe in another book, The Scarlet Gospels, and through a very successful comic book series.
I feel the need to express my one big concern with the franchise. In my opinion Hellraiser is both one of the best and one of the worst horror movie franchises. While the first four films in the franchise are connected and tell a complete, wonderful and terrifying story, the 5th through 8th film are simply horror films that have the Cenobites in them. They are not true Hellraiser films. In order to keep the rights and to put out a movie, the studio, Dimension Films, used horror movies scripts that they owned, and reworked them into a Hellraiser film. Because of this, I feel the later films really hurt the franchise. The 9th film, Hellraiser Revelations, while an original Hellraiser script, was a poor remake of sorts.
With that being said, I highly recommend Hellraiser. I actually recommend the first four Hellraiser films. If you want a great trip through hell, want to see something really scary, and to have a blast, Hellraiser is definitely for you. To quote, Pinhead: “We have such sights to show you.”