“What’s your pleasure, sir?”
To be honest, I haven’t read much Clive Barker since The Great and Secret Show. Up until then, however, I was a fan – devouring anything I could find. Weaveworld is still one of my favorites. However, I never got a chance to read The Hellbound Heart, the novella on which Hellraiser is based. From the synopsis, it seems like the film hews pretty closely to the source material (except for the end – what the hell is up with that homeless guy? Was it Alan Moore?)
Though Barker’s brand of extreme horror, with it’s themes of sexual frustration, bodily mutilation and other transgressive elements have become somewhat dated, the ideas and concepts he pioneered helped created some classics of horror cinema. Films like Candyman (with an upcoming remake written by Jordan Peele) and Nightbreed might not succeed in every part, but they contained enough energy and originality to power through those week points and make them truly interesting and occasionally frightening.
I liked Hellraiser enough when it came out that I had a fake Lament Configuration I built out of construction paper. Don’t judge me. We all have hobbies.
I have an Image Entertainment double release on Blu-ray that came out in 2013. There have been a couple of more recent releases, including one from Anchor Bay, but if you’re looking to pick up Hellraiser and Hellbound the 2019 Arrow releases are the way to go for both picture quality and extras. This will probably be the last time I watch this particular release, as the image is hardly above DVD quality and I thirst for those Arrow extras.
For streaming options, both films are available for subs pretty much anywhere (Prime, Hulu, Shudder etc.) and is on Tubi for free. If it’s not on your favorite service you can rent or purchase it from any number of places.
Hellraiser remains a pretty decent horror film, even twenty six years later. A tale of obsession, lust, madness and murder, it contains the requisite fleshy nastiness one associates with early Barker while also featuring some almost lyrical moments – as when Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) has the nightmare about her father. For a novice filmmaker, Barker has a deft hand with camera setups, especially for a first-time director. The camera is always moving, but in a revealing way. Exploring.
Frank (Sean Chapman), an unrepentant hedonist who is searching for the ultimate pleasure, finds more than he bargained for in a mysterious puzzle box. Opening it, he unintentionally summons the Cenobites, hellish creatures obsessed with pleasure and pain in equal measure. They tear him to shreds. Later, Frank’s brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgens) arrive and Larry’s blood (from a minor wound) revives Frank in a masterpiece of gory special effects. He convinces Julia, who is still obsessed with him, to help him return to his full ‘humanity.’ This involves her luring men to the house and killing them, so that Frank can feed on their corpses.
It may be up to Kirsty, Larry’s daughter from a previous marriage, to end the carnage. IF she can survive her own encounter with the puzzle box – and those things that it summons.
Obsession, desire, and fear are the driving forces of Hellraiser. Julia’s obsession with her husband’s brother Frank and their one-time dalliance prior to Julia’s wedding. Her desire for Frank, to feel his hands on her again. Frank’s fear of the Cenobites and being returned to their tender care as well as his desire for the pleasures of the flesh. Kirsty’s fear of her uncle and for her father.
Weirdly, Hellraiser reminds of Neil Gaimen’s Sandman – but with a ton of blood splashed about.
And there is blood galore. I remember when I first watched it that I thought it was one of the goriest movies I had ever seen. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but it’s definitely not a film for those with tender stomachs. The resurrection scene alone contains more blood, bile and unspecified fluids than most any other film outside of Dead Alive. I’m astonished it got an R rating.
I find most of the gore in this film to be purposeful, however, rather than explicitly for shock. Even little things, like the way Frank’s shirt – when he’s whole enough to start wearing clothes – starts out pristine white and slowly becomes soaked through with blood as the scene continues. (He still has no skin at this point, so it’s an inspired touch.)
The Bottom Line
Though the ending is a little rushed, the acting uneven, and some of the optical effects sub-par (that ‘lightning’ effect at the end is pretty cheesy), this is still an effective and strangely fascinating horror movie. Clive Barker’s first movie and one of his best, introducing the world to Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his Cenobite pals.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
“Trick us again and your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell.”
Like Halloween II, Hellbound is a sequel that – on its own merits – is a decent enough horror movie that suffers horribly from comparison to the film that spawned it. It’s a workmanlike offering that provides some gore, a few interesting visuals and more than one pithy line, but lacks the intensity, dreamlike construction, and pure human interest of the first. The director doesn’t do himself any favors by opening the film using shots from the first to give us a recap – it lets us know exactly what we’re missing.
The film picks up right where the first ended, with Kirsty, the young girl who survived the first film, now confined to a mental institution while the cops try and makes sense of here story (and the gore-filled disaster area that was her dad’s house). She comes under the care of Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), but he has more than her health on his mind – in fact he’s got a house full of artifacts and information relating to the Cenobites and the puzzle boxes (yeah, there’s more than one) that summon them. Within a very short time he’s brought Julia back from the dead (using a really filthy mattress – don’t ask) and set another patient – the semi catatonic Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) – to solving the puzzlebox.
Much of the film is set in an endless and monotonous series of corridors, with the occasional epic matt painting to break things up. It becomes both boring and confusing visually, with only the occasional set piece (Frank’s section – with the sliding beds and disappearing women – for instance) to break things up. There are some fun moments – Julia and her skin get quite the workout – and the makeup effects are quite good, but it just doesn’t pop.
And most egregiously of all, they humanize and trivialize the Cenobites themselves. I could deal with the idea that Pinhead comes from somewhere, that all the Cenobites were once human beings. But to treat their long-vanished humanity as some kind of magic word that turns them into powerless nothings was a big let-down, especially in what should have been an epic conflict between the classic Cenobites and the usurper.( And doesn’t Julia deserve the power-up more than Doctor Channard? She’s proven herself worthy enough to be allowed to return to flesh.)
The Bottom Line
While still worth a watch Hellbound feels like a missed opportunity. There are some great moments (and Pinhead has some awesome lines), but as a whole it not only feels flatter than the original, but feels like it undermines and does a bit of disservice to it as well.
The Hellraiser series has managed (so far) to summon an astonishing TEN films, with the most recent being Hellraiser: Judgement in 2018. I’ve only sampled a few of these films, but they pale in comparison to the first two. This year has brought news that a remake is in early stages, as is a TV series based on the franchise. Evidently hell and the pleasures found therein are still worth exploring.