Hellraiser (1987)

Hellraiser, 1987; directed by Clive Barker; starring Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence

Horror author Clive Barker was often called the British Stephen King when his books began to appear in the mid 1980s.  He quickly moved into directing films as well.  Hellraiser is based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart.  It is a low budget, but stylish and creative film that screams “I’m am the 1980s” in every frame.

The story itself is very loose.  After a brief prologue involving a strange puzzle box and some weird ceremony involving candles,  a recently wed couple, Larry and Julia, moving into Larry’s childhood home.  It would seem Larry’s ne’er do well brother Frank resided here before he disappeared recently (it was Frank with the puzzle box and the candles).  It would also seem that Julia had some sort of dark affair with Frank, shortly after she married Larry. While it began with Frank coercing Julia with a knife, it’s soon apparent Julie is into that sorta thing.

Oh and did I mention Larry’s college age daughter Kirsty?  Do I need to mention that Kirsty and Julia do not get along? Well, they do not.

After a mishap moving a mattress causes Larry to cut his hand rather badly on a nail.  He bleeds heavily in an unfinished upstairs room before he can get his hand bandaged.  We soon find that his spilled blood seems to be giving life to evil that resides in this room.  Soon the evil begins to form a man, from the bones out.  This means we get to see veins and muscls and tendons in all their gooey, wet, ickiness.  Julia, who has spent a lot of time looking (and longing) at a photo of Frank, encounters this being and then realizes it is actually Frank.  But he needs more blood to continue to reform into a full body and he implores Julia to get him the blood.  Since it’s been established that Julia misses their “passion” she is soon finding fresh victims for Frank.

All of this is just an appetizer for the main course of the evil in Hellraiser – the Cenobites. The Cenobites are some sort of race of kinky blue humanoids with all sorts of painful looking objects in/on their bodies, who apparently really enjoy the pain portion of the pleasure and pain equation.  Delivering the pain to be sure (given their relationship with Frank for one example). Although given that their leader, the iconic Pinhead, is named such because his bald head and face have hundreds of painful looking pins sticking out of it, it’s probably safe to assume they enjoy their own pain as well. They are also apparently linked to the puzzle box we were introduced to in the prologue.  The Cenobites really are the stuff of nightmares – neon fog fluorescent nightmares.  And they take an already difficult family situation, new wife, step daughter, sleazy uncle Frank, and make it just impossible.

With some uneven acting that runs the gamut from wooden to histrionic, Hellraiser is a true B movie classic.   The special effects are creatively gorey and there is definitely an entire mythology here that Barker created that is only hinted at for the audience. While Roger Ebert hated Hellraiser, Melody Maker Magazine declared it the best british horror movie ever made.  You can decide for yourself which camp you fall into.  But as Pinhead joyously yet menacingly tells us: “We have such sights to show you.”




Dr. Vorhees