ime hasn't done Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" any
favors. Looking every bit like what it is -- a low-budget horror movie made in
1987 -- the original "Hellraiser" is clearly ambitious, that much it
can lay claim to. Unfortunately the budget and resources aren't there to
transform Barker's ideas into celluloid, and the result is a film that drags for
most of its first hour and makes very little sense when all is said and done. By
virtue of the film having come out during a time when the market was mired in
imitation Teen Slashers, I suppose some leeway should be given.
The film is about a puzzle box that, when
"solved", opens a gateway to either heaven or hell. Unfortunately for
adventurer Frank (Sean Chapman), the box frees a group of demons in tight black
leather called the Cenobites, led by Pinhead (Doug Bradley), so named because,
well, he has pins sticking out of his face. With Frank missing, married couple
Larry and Julia moves back into the family house. Unbeknownst to them, Frank has
"escaped" the Cenobites, and is hiding under the floorboards of one of
the upstairs rooms. Not long after moving in, an accident resurrects Frank from
death, but he returns in protoplasm form.
As it turns out Julia (Clare Higgins) once had an affair
with Frank, and is still madly in love with him. Frank, in his barely-alive
state, convinces Julia to bring men to the house, kill them, and then he will
drink their blood and regain flesh. Unfortunately for our duo, spunky Fair Hair
Lead Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) is sneaking around, and she's determined to save
her father from Julia and Frank. I think.
In a nutshell, "Hellraiser" is a mess. It may
have worked better in novel form, but as a movie "Hellraiser" makes
little to no sense and the direction by Barker seems to take forever to get to
the point. And the point? To introduce the Cenobites, now the franchise's stars.
This finally happens at the hour mark. As fans of the franchise know, the
Cenobites really don't have much of a role in these movies. They will usually
show up toward the end to do their "pain is great" gig and then get
"killed" by the hero. But like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees,
death is relative. Alas, even in this original, the Cenobites have a limited
role. We're talking little more than cameos here.
"Hellraiser" works as a low-budget gore film,
because it's certainly gory. Although it's been a while since I've seen the cut
version of "Hellraiser", having seen this uncut version I can't say if
there's anything radically different to be found. Oh sure, there's plenty of
gore, but most of it seems gratuitous and superfluous to the story at hand.
Despite a limited budget, Barker and company does manage some impressive scenes.
And it's probably no surprise that the movie, being a Clive Barker film, does
more than just hint at the relationship between sex, death, and S&M.
Sadomasochism is, after all, a Barker staple.
Those looking for a film that will scare them needn't look
to "Hellraiser". There's nothing about this movie that will scare.
It's very disgusting at times, and brief glimpses of chains digging into flesh
might make the uninitiated squirm. Even so, considering the franchise's later
installments, this original seems tame by comparison. Before the Cenobites show
up, we are basically watching Frank and Julia killing men that Julia brings
home. Or actually, Julia kills them, because according to the script Frank is
such a super lay that Julia will bash a stranger's head in with a hammer for
Which brings us to the film's main flaw. The script. The
movie never convinces us that Frank is such a stud that Julia will do just about
anything for him. Apparently all it takes to mesmerize Julia into becoming your
love slave is to cut off her bra strap with a switchblade and then have sex with
her in a missionary position. Higgins and Chapman are not convincing, which
contributes to the film's general feeling of malaise. As the supposed heroine,
Ashley Laurence is average in her feature film debut. And Andrew Robinson is
missing for most of the movie.
"Hellraiser" gets credit for coming at a time
when its serious take on horror (such as it is) helped to move the genre into a
new direction. As a movie viewed almost 20 years later, it's not very
impressive. A convoluted script and the seemingly random nature of the puzzle
box don't help matters. For something that can open the gates to either heaven
or hell, that box sure is easy to "solve". Later installments would go
on to explore the box and the Cenobites, but this original sure doesn't do much
in the way of establishing the mythos.