Release Date: September 18th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Clive Barker Actors: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Grace Kirby, Gay Baynes
he brilliance behind Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” (based on his novella “The Hellbound Heart”) resides within both undeniably powerful visuals and his ability to create a singular world of horror – one barely contained by the hallucinatory rules of a devilishly unhinged imagination. Every facet of this lurid masterpiece screams of originality, from the blood-soaked nightmares and disturbing surrealism to the torturous imagery of the villainous Cenobites and their twisted, alternate realm of pleasure and pain. Few artists have ever crafted a vision as recognizably frightful and unforgettably chilling as “Hellraiser.”
When Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) move into a house previously occupied by Larry’s thrill-seeking brother Frank (and former lover to Julia), they unwittingly resurrect the zombified remains of the treasure hunting sibling, long since trapped in the confines of an accursed purgatory. Requiring human blood to fully regain his original form, Frank plays upon Julia’s feelings for him to manipulate her into bringing unsuspecting victims back to the house. When Larry’s daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) discovers Frank’s sinister plan, all hell is literally unleashed upon them in the form of grisly demons intent on subjecting their summoners to indescribable anguish.
The most impressive aspects of this late ‘80s thriller are its abundant gore and maddeningly vivid imagery. Ingenious practical effects combine with designer Bob Keen’s skillful makeup work, resulting in several heart-stopping moments of terror – most notably in Frank’s ghastly, gooey reincarnation, Kirsty’s crimson deathbed nightmare, and the appallingly violent conclusion. In addition to those mesmerizing evocations, “Hellraiser” offers up the Cenobites – treacherous incubi whose gothic coloring and sadomasochistic bondage attire (along with excruciating accoutrements and weaponry) showcase Barker’s knack for macabre ideas. Following one of David Cronenberg’s favorite motifs, “Hellraiser” examines the contrasts of organic and inorganic items, such as the cold steel of harsh architecture, metallic tools, barbed wire, and rigid leather against spongy organs, milky skin, and mutilated flesh. If it weren’t all so engrossingly unique, it would be unbearably nasty.
The now legendary Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is perhaps the most stylistic of them all, standing tall in black garb and crowned with a face full of pins. Like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees before them, the savage Cenobites have become so popular that they’ve surpassed their antagonist roots to virtually become stars, as evidenced by their roles in the numerous sequels. Their inventive hideousness is superbly augmented by the unceasingly barbarous events and unwavering tone – this is a deadly serious horror movie with countless sequences of sustained butchery. “You know me and blood – I’m gonna faint,” squeamishly claims Larry, foreshadowing the ordeals to follow.
A few cliché lines, some novice acting, and questionable lightning animation (from last-minute budget restrictions) really can’t detract from one of the most original and unequaled horror films of the decade. Music by Christopher Young mirrors the ominous tones of “Aliens” a year earlier, the decaying setting remains a formidable haunted house, and proficient cinematography clinches this one-of-a-kind creature feature. Foretelling the advent of torture porn more than a decade later, “Hellraiser” was vastly ahead of its time, and still remains an influential apex in the slasher subgenre.
– The Massie Twins