Demon to some. Angel to others.
Year of Release: 1987
Running Time: 93 minutes (1:33)
Director: Clive Barker
Ashley Laurence ... Kirsty Cotton
Andrew Robinson ... Larry
Clare Higgins ... Julia
Sean Chapman ... Frank
Oliver Smith ... Frank the Monster
Robert Hines ... Steve
Doug Bradley ... Pinhead the Lead Cenobite
Grace Kirby ... Female Cenobite
Nicholas Vince ... Chattering Cenobite
Simon Bamford ... 'Butterball' Cenobite
An old family home holds untold mysteries... and horrors for Larry Cotton and his wife, Julia. Floorboards that rattle. Rooms that absorb blood. The heavy and haunting air of things long past and better left forgotten. All fueled by the fugitive spirit of Larry's brother, Frank - who hovers halfway between this world and the next, between extreme pleasure and excruciating pain. And between family devotion and a deadly instinct for survival.
Slowly, the old family home begins to swallow the Cottons. And there is no escape... for secret alliances and murderous seductions have been made which will propel the Cotton family into the horrifying and shocking conclusion of HELLRAISER.
Hellraiser, remindin' us that love will keep us together... but metal hooks'll still tear us apart. I don't wanna be negative or anything, but in the dermatology game there're times where it's best to just know when you're licked, an this movie's got at least five textbook examples for why that is.
An speakin' of guys who're in over their heads, we had a small mishap over at Furry Mountain Stuffing last week that got me wonderin', why're all old men fascinated by construction projects? Is this gonna happen to me someday? Will I just wake up one mornin' an say to myself: "Holy mackerel! I better get my hinder movin' an go see how that new roof on the Western Auto's comin'!"? Is it the prunes that do it? Cause if at all possible I'd like to find the catalyst before I wind up spendin' my days in the park gawkin' at sweaty guys with tribal armband tattoos erectin' gazebos. Maybe they do it so they can sit around the coffee counter at Mack's Stacks of Manly Snacks with their cranky, geriatric counterparts talkin' about how the new Jiffy Mart used to be Tom's Mercantile before it burned down an got rebuilt as Bo's Bows and Archery Supplies, until Bo went outta business an it became The Arcadia Pinball Palace, which ultimately folded an sold out to Wilbur Carnagie who just used the buildin' for storage until the roof caved in in the Blizzard of '93. Actually, nevermind, I'm gettin' off track here, what was I... oh, right - so we were pourin' a new sidewalk over at Furry Mountain Stuffing before somebody's kid decided to jump into that sinkhole next to the stuffed moose, an naturally, we've got a coupla old dudes from Mom & Poop's Senility Acres Hospice Care hangin' around tellin' us that our framing looks like it was installed by Michael J. Fox an how the six of 'em (they don't call it Senility Acres for nothin') could get the job done in 20 minutes if we'd just get outta their way. Well, around 11 we broke for lunch hopin' they'd wander over to the Make Love Not Whargarbl Gun Shop to look at the new ARs Clovis Skidman just got in, an when we came back the next mornin' (okay, so maybe we had a few too many cans of Pole Cat beer at lunch, it's a free country ain't it?) the guy with the walker'd apparently had a heart attack an keeled over right there in the middle of our setup an *dried* that way. An on a related note, just in case you were plannin' to stick your parents in there someday - those glorified babysitters at Mom & Poop's were *really* rude when we went by to offer our condolences an inquire about reimbursement for the cost of the concrete. Like the guy woulda been less dead if we'd waited a week or somethin'. Now we got this big corpse shaped divot in the walk that looks like that scene from Friday the 13th Part VI where the chick gets 'er face shoved through the wall of the RV, an the guy's family wants it left as is to "honor his memory." On the plus side, Cleave Furguson's gettin' a hell of a lot of extra foot traffic from the folks flockin' to see it, so maybe it's not that big a deal. You should see the way it handles the skateboarders too, I could sit an watch that for hours.
Anyway, bein's how I missed a week this Halloween season, I figured it was time to overcompensate like a high school drop-out slappin' monster truck tires on a 1985 Toyota pickup an talk Hellraiser, which hasta be the greatest "escape from the clan of sadomasochistic purgatory torture demons" of 1987, starrin' the eminent Doug Bradley as the demon who looks like he barely survived a Black Friday Walmart sale on sewing supplies. This flick has some of the gooiest, cruddiest, most disgustin' special effects in the history of cinema an somehow managed to escape with an R rating, so I'm guessin' the guys on the MPAA censor board were just plum scared of what Clive Barker woulda done to 'em if they'd denied him a certificate. Truly a one-of-a-kind flick before the sequels came along, an one that begs closer examination an revelation for all the lurid, disgustin' perverts of the world at large, which if I'm bein' honest with myself is my entire readership, so for all you drive-in mutants out there: this blood's for you. First, maggots are not part of a balanced breakfast, an usin' 'em for your table's centerpiece is likely to cause a serious spike in unopened dinner party invitations. Second, there's a fine line between love and hate - it's called the "safe word." An third, it's nearly impossible to repossess shoplifted crickets. Incidentally, "nearly" gets elevated to "completely" if the shoplifter happens to be eating them.
This movie ain't all sunshine, lollipops, an rainbows, though. Further, I realize that it's pretty heavy on the ole romance front, but if you're gonna watch, I think it's important to take a moment to differentiate between the two very distinct types of female devotion. The first kind is perfectly healthy, desirable even if you like havin' somebody around to yell at you for leavin' your underwear on the floor everyday, an it really just consists of a woman stickin' by 'er man through the thick an thinning hairline to do what she can to make their lives as pleasant as possible, even though that usually involves a household of 3.2 children who turn every family photo session at the mall into a contact sport. Then there's the second kind, where the woman's so obsessed that she'll lure sleazebags home an club 'em to death with a claw hammer for you to cannibalize for body parts after you went an got all yours flayed off by inter-dimensional demons in bondage gear whom you accidentally summoned with a Satanic Rubik's Cube. This second type may look good on paper, but that's only until the claw hammer's bein' used to pry the brain stem outta your own skull. Oh sure, she *seems* great while you're helpin' 'er do research for the Kama Sutra sequel she's writin', but that's only til she inevitably snaps like a .99 cent thong stretched across a 300lb hinder an scissors off your tallywhacker so she can taxidermy it an save it as a memento of your time together once she finishes feedin' you feet first through the neighbor's wood chipper. So I hope we're clear on this, but just to recap: cookies fresh from the oven good, nookie gleaned from the coven bad. Alright? Alright.
The movie begins with this sweaty guy (Frank) out in the desert of one of those countries that hates us buyin' this evil O.C.D. fidget toy from an Arab an then sittin' down in a burnin' square of fire with it tryin' to get his mind off all the cold war paranoia, only he does somethin' it obviously takes offense to an pretty quick it's poppin' open an he's gettin' torn apart by inter-dimensional halibut fishermen. Next thing you know Frank's scattered around the room in 2" chunks an these S&M leather freaks who've gone all-in on the whole body piercing fad emerge from the shadows to reset Pangora's box, which causes the room to go back to normal. Some time passes an after awhile Frank's brother (Larry) an wife (Julia) drop in to see if it's the kinda place they'd like to raise a mess of ivy-league, soulless yuppy yard monsters in, until Larry's daughter (Kirsty) calls an Julia starts rootin' around in Frank's personal effects reminiscin' about the time he stopped by for 'er weddin' to show 'er who the best man really was an socked it to 'er like she was Jared Fogle in the prison shower. Well, maybe not exactly like that... I mean, the enthusiasm was definitely comparable, but it was consensual. Anyway, they start movin' in shortly thereafter an Larry hires the cheapest chunkheaded movin' company he can find an ends up snaggin' his hand on a stray nail luggin' a mattress up the stairs an starts gushin' blood all over the floor til it looks like the steak special at Starvin' Marvin's House of Hock an Kirsty ends up havin' to take 'im to get stitches. Course, nobody notices the hardwood floor suckin' up the blood like a roofing shingle with no water sealer, an once everyone's gone a puddle of pus starts bubblin' up through the cracks til the boards give way to a set of rotten limbs that look like the the remains of a bucket of Chernobyl Fried Chicken wings, which then produce massive amounts of mucus pukus an eventually coalesce into that guy on the muscular anatomy chart at the doctor's office. Then, later that night, Larry an Julia're havin' a housewarmin' party with all their middle-class friends who think that bein' a financial success makes you likable, only Julia ends up gettin' tired of their rampant phoniness an heads upstairs to relive all the orgasm spasms she an Frank used to have, til the Incredible Melting Man starts crawlin' toward 'er an explains that *he* is Frank, an that he'd like to borrow a cup of sinew. Julia still wants Frank's furter but right now he ain't got enough skin to make a decent lampshade, so she starts pickin' up guys with low self esteem an crackin' 'em on the head with claw hammers so Frank can slurp up their vital fluids an gradually pull 'imself together. He's still a little on the placental side, but much like Hole, he's glad she came here with her pound of flesh.
Unfortunately, that's about when Larry comes home, an so she hasta stash the corpse an hide out in the bathroom pretendin' she had lunch at the Korean restaurant next to the dog pound to get 'im to leave 'er alone, after which she returns to Frank who tells 'er he should only need a couple more Hungry Man dinners before he'll be back to peak penile form, but that she's gotta step on it cause "the Cenobites" are gonna realize he's missin' soon an come turn him back into a microwaved sinner. All this still seems a little out of sorts for Julia, so even though she's more'n happy to split skulls to improve 'er penile prospects, she'd still kinda like to know what in the name of Lucifer's licentious longfellow of libidinous lapslappery is goin' on, an so he tells 'er that the little morgue cube he was screwin' around with opens doors to "Heaven or Hell," an how these weirdos in bondage gear came outta nowhere an gave 'im a night he'll never forget that got a little outta hand an ended with 'im lookin' like a barrel bomb blew up in his lap. Then things get real hairy later on when Frank starts makin' Wallbangers without the use of vodka up in his room until Larry hears the noise an Julia hasta start gropin' his grapes to keep 'im distracted, only when they start rootin' around on the bed Frank comes outta the closet like every guy who ever served on the decoratin' committee for the prom an Julia hasta revoke consent before Frank can draw a map of the river Styx on Larry's back with a switchblade. By this point, Larry can't help but feel like he's gettin' mixed signals, so he asks Kirsty to talk to Julia to find out why she's gone colder'n a ballsack in Saskatchewan, only when she gets there she catches Julia bringin' home the bacon an ends up gettin' in the middle of a little family squabble that ends with 'er puttin' 'er fist through Frank's gut bucket an makin' off with the pubics cube. She runs as far as she can but eventually passes out an wakes up in the hospital where she fiddles around with the box an ends up solvin' it, causin' the wall to open up into a corridor where she gets chased around by this thing that looks like Belial from Basket Case got sutured onto a mutant scorpion, til Malice in Chains show up an she finds out who the real Man in the Box is. The Cenobites'd like nothin' better than to slice 'er up into Oscar Meyer lunch meat, but when she rolls over on Frank an tells 'em he's escaped their custody, Pinhead promises not to turn 'er into Jimmy Dean smoked sausages just yet if she'll take 'em to him. So she runs home to make sure nothin's happened to 'er Dad, only by this point Julia's gone an fed 'im to Frank, who's now wearin' his skin like Leatherface an claimin' Frank died after goin' too long without a blood transfusion. Kirsty ain't buyin' it though, an when she heads upstairs to examine the body the Cenobites pop in like they just beamed down offa the U.S.S. Enterprise an they're just a little bit P.O.'d about bein' bamboozled by ole Frank the Skank. This is as far as we go, but then, there's pretty much no chance you haven't already seen this one.
Alrighty, well, there ain't gonna be a whole lot I can say about this one that hasn't already been said by dozens of people far more insightful than myself, but one of the most interesting things about Hellraiser, in my view, is just how much they got away with. I know, that doesn't *sound* that interesting, but I think it's important to remember that, starting in the mid 1980s, there was a massive political movement to censor sex and violence in Horror films. Now, as I've mentioned before in my reviews of the Friday the 13th sequels, *those* movies were mercilessly butchered at the hands of the censorship board for effects that didn't move the Vomit Meter nearly as far as those of Hellraiser, and part of the reason is, of course, name recognition. Certain movies (and entire series) were eviscerated on the basis that the censorship board knew teenagers would flock to see them, while other flicks were allowed to get by with far less scrutiny. But it's become quite clear to me that part of the reason Hellraiser was able to get away with what it did was because of its originality and its high production values. No disrespect intended to the Friday the 13th series, but Hellraiser is far and away the better film based upon technical merit, and it's clear to me that in those days of asinine censorship, the ratings board would turn a blind eye to things if they thought the movie was intelligent. That, in my opinion, is some serious bullshit, because it isn't up to them to determine what artistic integrity is - it's up to them to follow a series of arbitrary guidelines set forth by the "moral" majority, and it is abundantly clear that the double standard was alive and well in 1987 after watching all the spectacular gore effects in Hellraiser. Every other flick screened for the MPAA should have been given the same leeway, but they weren't, and I'd wager just about anything that the reason the trashier films were treated differently was because of the false notion that people who enjoy violent, disgusting garbage are more likely to emulate said violent, disgusting garbage. People who enjoy flicks like Hellraiser, you see, are at least marginally more sophisticated than the folks who love a goofy Friday the 13th sequel, and maybe exposure to flicks more akin to Hellraiser might "raise the collective IQ" of the average movie-goer. It's true that some of the flick's intensity was pared back a bit to get the R rating; the sex scenes were shortened, some S&M stuff was taken out, and apparently, there's a specific number of hammer shots to the skull which are acceptable, so things were toned down a little, but again, compared to what happened to Friday the 13th Part VII the following year, Hellraiser is a veritable banquet of gooey crud, while the former consists of a few soggy, leftover fries in the bottom of a McDonald's bag. It's also possible that Barker threw so much gore and sexual perversion at them that they legitimately felt they were exorcising the worst of it. Smart filmmakers do tend to include things they they absolutely know will be cut, and do so to save other pieces that they feel are more important to the movie from the cutting room floor.
Sorry, that rant kinda got away from me. Besides, you really don't need anybody to tell you why this flick is great. But since it's already been pretty well torn into a million pieces by metal hooks, we might as well take a look at all the little bits of torso shrapnel. After all, not doing so would be a waste of good suffering. The plot is really, really weird, and you can multiply that by a factor of ten considering it was released 30 years ago. A lot of the set pieces in this flick had only ever really been hinted at previously in film, but the story is so well written that after awhile the abject insanity of it all somehow coalesces into something not quite as detached from reality as you'd previously believed. I think the reason the sequels start to tank after Hellraiser II is that Clive Barker wrote the novel (The Hellbound Heart) upon which the first two screenplays are based, and he was probably the only guy who really understood how to bring his twisted vision to life. I mean, at no point should it be considered plausible to watch sadomasochistic demons emerge from a puzzle box to torment sexual deviants... but apparently nobody told Clive that, and he makes it work where few other directors could. The acting is pretty good as well, and features only one weak performance from a character of little consequence (Kirsty's boyfriend, played by Robert Hines). The story was originally set in England, but the distributor (Roger Corman's New World Pictures) felt it would play better to American audiences if it was set in America, because frankly, we're petty like that. So the setting was changed despite all the British architecture and casting of British actors, some of whom were even dubbed by Americans to maintain the illusion. Granted, it probably helped the box office receipts, but likely hurt the quality of the film a little. Still, the principal actors are all excellent, though I would award the best performances to Clare Higgins and Doug Bradley, despite Doug's scenes being few and far between in this, the first film of the series. Hellraiser was also the first flick of Ashley Laurence's career (although you'd never know it from her performance), and she would ultimately go on to become the most important human character associated with the series, as she reprised the role in Hellraiser II, VI, and also did a little cameo for Hellraiser III.
Here's who matters and why (besides Doug Bradley, who's cooler'n any of us can even aspire to be): Andrew Robinson (The Puppet Masters, Pumpkinhead II, Trancers III, Child's Play 3, House of Evil), Clare Higgins (Hellraiser II), Ashley Laurence (Hellraiser II, III, & IV, Chill, Warlock III, Lurking Fear, Mikey), Sean Chapman (Hellraiser II, Psychosis, Underworld 1985), Oliver Smith (Hellraiser II, Tale of a Vampire), Robert Hines (Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), Michael Cassidy (Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn), Kenneth Nelson (Nightbreed), Gay Baynes (Supergirl, Slipstream), Niall Buggy (Alien 3, The Tale of Sweeney Todd, Zardoz), Dave Atkins (Britannia Hospital), Oliver Parker (Nightbreed, Hellraiser II), Nicholas Vince (Hollower, Hellraiser II, Nightbreed), Simon Bamford (Nightbreed, Dead of the Nite, Book of Blood). Kind of a short list for a classic of this magnitude, but I've also prepared a short list of the cast's mainstream credits that help pad that out: Andrew Robinson (The Killer in Dirty Harry, Garak on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Frank Ryan on Ryan's Hope, Harman Sullivan in Charlie Varrick), Clare Higgins (Dorothy Blaine in Cassandra's Dream).
The *practical* special effects are pretty impressive for the most part, and as I mentioned earlier, they packed a lot of gore into this thing - the most complex and spectacular of which has to be Frank's emergence via gooey osmosis into his initial skeletal form. It's not often that a movie throws its best special effect at you within the first 15 minutes, but this one does, and I think it was wise to do so, because it lets you know right up front that it's gonna be a bumpy ride. You've also got the skinned rats (good), flesh being torn by hooks (not that great), quite a bit of viscera strewn about in the aftermath of the opening sequence (good), the three different stages of Frank's reassembly (very good), some facial shredding (good), the bizarre scorpion monster (not great, but okay), and of course, the Cenobites, who're all amazing. Where the special effects begin to dip would be those done in post production; ie, the electricity emanating from the puzzle box. I'm not going to mention what said electricity is used for because it would spoil the ending, but they're pretty bad.
The shooting locations are *mostly* fine, in the sense that the majority of the movie takes place inside a residence and on a single set, but this is where claiming a movie shot in Britain is set in America comes back to bite you, at least with regard to the external shots. The best sequence is probably the one early on where the attic set is filled with chains, metal hooks, and a bizarre rotating pillar decorated with flesh and implements used in its removal, but we only get to see this twice, and for a total of maybe two minutes. Otherwise, the shooting locations aren't all that significant to the story; there's a pet store, a hospital room (which is really sparsely equipped, but is largely easy to ignore due to the entertaining events taking place in it), and a coupla residences. This is an area which was greatly improved upon in Hellraiser II, but despite being a bit bland, they don't hurt the total score. The soundtrack, well, I suppose there's little point in even discussing it. Everyone's heard it, everyone knows it's about as epic a composition as you'll ever hear in a Horror film, and everyone probably already realizes it's among the top five greatest soundtracks ever composed for a genre movie. I'd probably place it at #2, behind only Phantasm, as the second best soundtrack of all time, and the reason for that isn't because it's got one, two, or even three really atmospheric/catchy tracks; rather, every single track is dark, tense, brooding, and hauntingly beautiful. The movie would still have been very good even without Christopher Young's score, but his composition takes it to a whole new level, and delivers a perfect 10/10 rating on the musical portion of the flick's total score. Overall, a whole lotta people are going to include Hellraiser in their top 10 lists of all-time greatest Horror movies, and with good reason. I might need a top 15 list to fit it in, but it's still one of the best puredee Horror films in history, and one that every fan should be intimately familiar with, so if you're 15 years old and just getting into the genre (which I assume you have to be if you haven't already seen it), jump on this one immediately, because you will not be disappointed.