Synopsis: “In 1987,” says Fangoria, “prolific genre author, painter and first-time filmmaker Clive Barker unleashed upon unwary audiences a flick that shook them to their core and forever redefined the face of genre cinema.” More than twenty years later, Barker’s original version of pleasure, pain and the nightmare icon forever known as Pinhead have returned like you’ve never seen them before. Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence, Clare Higgins and Doug Bradley star in this immortal horror classic, an experience beyond limits. Once again, the box is open, The Cenobites have been summoned. We have such sights to show you….
eyelights: Andrew Robinson. the special effects. Pinhead. Clive Barker’s unique vision of evil.
eyesores: Andrew Robinson. the special effects. Sean Chapman’s voice.
“pain and pleasure, indivisible”
I’ve had mixed feelings about Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser’ ever since I first saw, it some 20 years ago.
On the one hand, it presented a vision of terror that was quite unlike anything else I’d seen before (or since – although it has been quite influential). Until then, my vision of horror films was the unholy trilogy of Jason, Michael and Freddy. Norman Bates excepted, horror films were hardly anything of note – they were creatively bankrupt affairs that peddled cheap thrills and pre-packaged chills.
‘Hellraiser’, however, created a particular aura of stomach-churning evil that was unmatched by it lightweight peers. And the story, as simplistic as it was, held together for ninety minutes. As well, the performers all had their own unique strengths – strengths that helped them stand out in lieu of having name recognition. It also had a terrific musical score to it, something that was not a given in the ’80s. So it truly stood out.
But, having said that, there was something vile about ‘Hellraiser’. It had a vibe that made you want to cleanse yourself immediately after watching it. In part, it’s due to the tone that Barker imbued the film with, but it’s also the slightly claustrophobic setting, as well as its relative grunginess. It’s also because none of the characters are entirely likeable, aside from Kirsty: the dad has creepy edge to him, the mother is an ice queen, and the brother is a self-centered, amoral bastard.
Plus there was all the gore. Even though it doesn’t look entirely real, it was state of the art back in its day; no other movie had pushed the boundaries in quite this way. There would usually be lots of blood, but not this sense that human flesh was nothing more than rotting meat, to be disposed of. ‘Hellraiser’ was graphic, it was gross, it was disturbing. Between this and the immolated Cenobites and their unusual deformations, the movie left an incredibly vivid impression on one mind’s.
That has not changed in two decades; even now I find ‘Hellraiser’ almost oppressively foul. What has changed, however, is that I am starting to see the cracks in the picture more clearly.
For starters, the acting isn’t always terrific:
-Andrew Robinson was great at playing a crazed serial killer in ‘Dirty Harry‘, but he doesn’t play schmucky family man as ably – that crazy look in his eyes keeps coming up and it makes you wonder about his sanity. This is both a blessing and a curse in this picture – it works well at the end, but not so much for the first three quarters of the movie. His delivery is also a bit strange at times.
-Sean Chapman doesn’t deliver the goods to start with, what with his novocained performance as Frank, but his voice also sounds completely discrepant – it’s as though it weren’t his own and that someone else had overdubbed his lines in post-production. I’ve always found this odd, but it bothered me more this time around. I couldn’t help but wonder why he was dubbed (was his original voice akin to Jerry Lewis’ ‘The Nutty Professor’?)
Secondly, the script has quite a number of issues:
*MAJOR spoilers alert*
-when Frank is taken by the Cenobites, Pinhead takes back the puzzle box. Strangely enough, upon Frank’s return, he still has the box. How could that be, especially since he is gradually taking form anew with exposure to blood and guts?
-Frank’s return from the dead is extremely quick at first: with mere droplets of blood he regains physical form. But then it takes a large number of victims for him to make very little progress.
-Frank’s physiognomy is completely different from his brother’s – and yet he manages to pass himself off as the latter by putting on his skin. How would that work, exactly? It’s bad enough that putting someone else’s skin is virtually impossible, but in no way does it also transfer eyes, teeth, ears, …etc.
-Kirsty escapes Frank by running away with the puzzle box. Inexplicably, in transit, she passes out and wakes up at the hospital. Who knows what happened, why she was taken to a hospital and for how long – the hospital staff refuse to even tell her.
-Kirsty receives a visit from a guy friend of hers, despite not having any contact with the outside world (and presumably, since she was taken to the hospital, she had no ID on her to contact friends or relatives). But her family aren’t made aware of her hospital stay.
-Kirsty solves the puzzle box and ends up opening a pathway through the walls of her bunker-like hospital room. As any normal human being would do, she decides to go explore it – completely oblivious of the weirdness of the moment or even the obvious creepiness that lay beyond those walls.
-Julia sets up some victims for Frank, but is in charge of disposing of the bodies. Not only is it unlikely that she has the strength to carry them without making a mess, but we don’t know what she does with them. Towards the end, it’s suggested that they are being hidden in one of the upstairs rooms. Oh, sure, that’s nice and inconspicuous! And the smell isn’t stinking up the house either!
*MAJOR spoilers alert*
For a film with such a simple plot, it’s surprising that so many problems surface in ‘Hellraiser’. However, despite being inescapable, they aren’t nearly enough to railroad a picture as original, as unique as this. It’s unfortunate that it’s sloppy in its execution, but it’s nonetheless a landmark in the genre – the horror film has not been the same since.
Sadly, neither has the franchise. ‘Hellraiser’ has spawned 8 sequels, each of varying quality and none surpassing the original. Actually, my understanding is that the series has become quite terrible as it plodded onward. I have seen the first sequel and parts of two others and have no interest in exploring the series further. I would recommend sticking to the original.
Date of viewing: October 21, 2012