Slasher Studios’ Second Opinion: Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” (1987)

The original Hellraiser. The one that stands the test of time and actually has a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and end. A unique, visceral experience written and directed by Clive Barker, based on his own novella “The Hellbound Heart” which I own and read many times [great read, short but effective].

The movie opens somewhere in Asia[?] with Frank, sociopath and sadist, purchasing The Lament Configuration, a puzzle box that once solved apparently opens the door to “endless pleasure” in the pits of heaven or hell, well mostly just Hell. In one memorable scene heavy with symbolism, Frank solves the puzzle only to come face to face with The Cenobites, four “demons to some, angels to others” who indulge in mutilation and torture, aided with the help of chains and hooks that appear out of nowhere, cutting and ripping flesh. In one gruesome sequence we see the Ceneobites playing with the left overs of Frank after his “session”, his face in pieces like a puzzle that female Cenobite has no problem solving. Frank is now a small splash of plasma between the floorboards in the attic of the home he half owns with his brother, Larry, who they inherited from mother.

A couple months later Larry moves into the house with his British, uptight wife Julia, who has some secrets and pent up frustration of her own that we will come to discover. The house isn’t warm and welcoming, and literally reeks of rotten flesh left in the sink, covered in maggots and roaches. Julia isn’t impressed and is even less enthused when Larry’s daughter Kirsty joins them from abroad. After a vile accident involving the tearing of Larry’s hand on protruding nail during moving day, his blood seeps into the floorboards of the attic where it is used to bring Frank back from hell or wherever he was, but only so much that he is still practically a blob of seeping flesh. Here we find out that Julia had an affair with Frank and hasn’t gotten over him ever since, she’s obsessed, and after her minor disgust she agrees to lure men from Singles bars to Frank so he can kill and devour them until he has a completely new body. He better hurry though because thanks to our Hellraiser final Girl Kirsty who is no slouch and has discovered Frank and Julia’s diabolical plan and by accident, crosses paths with the Cenobites and agrees to give Frank to them in exchange for her own life. The Ceneobites don’t take to Frank escaping them too lightly.

A fascinating and macabre horror treat from a truly original mind. This movie is filled with disgusting gore, bodies mutilated, a sludge pile reanimating into some semblance of a human body, and the Ceneobites themselves with all their horrific make-up and design [my fav is Chatterer] but there’s something that sets this apart from just being mind-numbingly disgusting. There is artistry to the gore, it’s actually part of the story and not there just for the sake of being there [leave that to part 3]. The scene where Frank comes back from Larry’s blood is a perfect example of how the gore and effects are thriving art on display. The themes are well thought out and the pace is always on.

The movie just SCREAMS 80S!!! The Christopher Young soundtrack [a class act, I own it], the bluish lighting and Kirsty walking down the street with the wind blowing in her hair, or how about the awesome, intense “stalk” sequence with Frank and Kirsty in the storage room ending with a shot of a rotting face covered in maggots almost making Kirsty scream??? You can only find these endearing qualities in 1980s horror, I swear. I remember the first time I watched this with my mom and sister [I was 9] and I felt lot’s of tension throughout, something all the sequels lacked. There’s an ambiguous subplot involving a homeless man with a liking for munching on live crickets that is very odd and nightmarish, it creeped me out as a kid! This whole movie has many dreamy scenes and nightmarish sound design.

Some complaints would have to be the interpretation of “The Engineer”. Pretty sure it was the budget to blame for that one, it looked nothing like the way described in the book and the creature is easily being spotted as being pushed on a trolley of some sort, very laughable. The finale of Kirsty defeating the Cenobites was rushed and cheap, and we have to put up with one worthless, putrid boyfriend character to Kirsty who looks awful and brings stupidity to the table. Ugh hated him! What a gross and loathsome character,

Overall, a memorable 80s horror treat that oozes with art and imagination, and has some great imagery from frame 1 to end. LOVED the time lapse shots of the flowers on the hospital TV, very cool and backed up by a great editor.

Followed by endless sequels…

–Vince Fontaine


Pain or Pleasure? Slasher Studios Reviews Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” (1987)

Throughout my years of watching horror movies I’ve learned a few important rules. If it is a slasher, I will probably love it. If it is an 80’s slasher, I will definitely love it. If it is an 80’s slasher featuring a great Final Girl, it will probably be on my all time favorite horror list. What does all of this have to do with tonight’s film? Everything and nothing at all. Today I will be looking at the Clive Barker tale from 1987 entitled “Hellraiser.” Love Barker or hate him, all bets are off when you are watching one of his films. Remember that rule about the Final Girl? Good, because it is going to come into play later on in this film. You ready to dig into this gory smorgasbord of carnal delights? I know I am.

As “Hellraiser” begins we Frank as he buys an antique puzzle box from a dealer. Back in the attic of his house in London, Frank solves the puzzle box, prompting hooked chains to emerge from it and tear deep into his flesh. Horribly mutilated humanoids appear and attack Frank with hooked chains, tearing him into fleshy pieces. Their leader (Doug Bradley), picks up the box and twists it back into its original state, taking Frank’s dissected physical remains back to their realm with them and restoring the room to normal.

Sometime later, Frank’s brother Larry (sweaty, nasty, and disgustingly played by Andrew Robinson) arrives at the house along with his second wife, Julia (Clare Higgins), who previously had an affair with Frank. Higgins is perfect as the diabolical Julia, an ice queen that we rarely see in horror movies today. There is just something so deliciously English about her that makes her all the more evil. Anyway, the pair know Frank as an avowed hedonist and petty criminal, and, presuming that he is in jail in some exotic location, decide to move in. Larry’s teenage daughter, Kirsty Cotton (a very beautiful and not quite as innocent as she appears Ashley Laurence), chooses not to live with her stepmother and moves into her own place. While moving into the house, Larry cuts his hand on a nail, and drips blood on the attic floor. The blood somehow reaches Frank in his prison in the humanoids’ realm, partially restoring his body and allowing him to escape to the attic.

That night, Julia finds “Frank” in the attic; still obsessed with him after their affair, she agrees to harvest blood for him so that he can fully restore his body and they can run away together. The next day, Julia begins picking up men in bars and bringing them back to the house, where she murders them with a hammer; Frank then consumes their blood and internal organs, progressively regenerating his own body. Once he has regained enough strength, Frank explains to Julia that he had exhausted all sensory experiences and sought out the puzzle box on the promise that it would open a portal to a realm of new carnal pleasures. Instead, it opened up a portal to the realm of the “Cenobites,” who have since taken Frank as their prisoner and subjected him to extreme, sadomasochistic torture. The fun has only just begun….

This film is nasty, repulsive, and quite disturbing. I remember the late Gene Siskel reviewing this film on At the Movies saying the film should have been titled “Skinned Alive” because there is so much bare, naked, tender yet bloody flesh on display. He has a point. For all this film’s disgusting pleasures, it is rarely actually scary. It is more gross than anything else and gross will only take you so far in a horror movie. I admire Barker’s go-for-broke attitude but I wish he developed his “one man’s pain is a another man’s pleasure” theory a bit more thoroughly. For all it’s fans, of which I know there are many, I’ve just never quite understood the appeal of this film. The special effects are great, Laurence makes for an excellent Final Girl with shades of Heather Langenkamp about her, but it never really all adds up to very much.