director Clive Barker
Clive Barker. Remember when he was going to be “the next big thing in horror writing”? Wasn’t it Stephen King who anointed him thusly, right around the time of this movie?
Well, I’ll give this to him. Hellraiser was indeed an original, effective, and creepy horror film, creating a zeitgeist all its own and spawning Halloween costumes for many years to follow.
I appreciated the film at the time, though not as vigorously as others. I recall my roommate joking about its first sequel, Hellraiser II: Hellbound (1988), by calling it “Hellraiser 2: Hellbent for Leather”. Oddly enough, that joke really makes sense because this whole thing is some extremist S&M (or now BDSM) fantasy of extremism.
It all starts with the box, the magical Rubik’s cube-like puzzle, that when played with summons the cenobites (Pinhead, pictured on the poster, is the head cenobite). They then rip you to shreds (literally) with chains and fishhooks, tacking you up, piece by piece on boards, in some long-sought journey through pleasure and pain.
Only when a small family: a father (played by the terrific Andrew Robinson), step-mother (Clare Higgins), and young adult daughter (Ashley Lawrence) show up to the house of Uncle Frank to find that Uncle Frank has gone to the dark side (that sentence went to hell and back). Blood drips on the floor bring Uncle Frank back, albeit without any skin and even less at first. He spends the time coercing the step-mother, an old lover of his, to bring him more blood and flesh to somehow allow him to become more and more corporeal. And then the cenobites show up looking for him.
Really, the visual effects are pretty good and the design of the cenobites is iconic and was very inventive in 1987. And actually, it’s a pretty good movie. I think at the time I appreciated it less. But my 2014 reassessment is that this is indeed a very fine, very original horror film in a genre that trades heavily on variation rather than invention.
I read that the film went on to have eight sequels, continuing production up through 2011. Who knew? Not I. I think we watched up through the third film originally. I’d give the first three a spin again (they are all available on Netflix streaming).
There’s been talk of a re-boot/re-make. But that is almost always true of anything these days. Apparently, Barker gave away the rights with this film, though. So he made this one and had nothing to do with any of the films that followed nor any films yet to come.
Lessons can be learned, indeed.