Monday, October 14, 2013


“What’s your pleasure, sir?”

To be honest, I haven’t read much Clive Barker since The Great and Secret Show. Up until then, however, I was a fan – devouring anything I could find. Weaveworld is still one of my favorites. However, I never got a chance to read The Hellbound Heart, the novella on which Hellraiser is based. From the synopsis, it seems like the film hews pretty closely to the source material (except for the end – what the hell is up with that homeless guy? Was it Alan Moore?)

Hellraiser remains a pretty decent horror film, even twenty six years later. A tale of obsession, lust, madness and murder, it contains the requisite fleshy nastiness one associates with early Barker while also featuring some almost lyrical moments – as when Kirsty has the nightmare about her father. For a novice filmmaker, Barker has a deft hand with camera setups. The camera is always moving, but in a revealing way. Exploring.

Frank, an unrepentant hedonist who is searching for the ultimate pleasure, finds more than he bargained for in a mysterious puzzle box. Opening it, he unintentionally summons the Cenobites, hellish creatures obsessed with pleasure and pain in equal measure. They tear him to shreds. Later, Frank’s brother Larry and his wife Julia arrive and Larry’s blood (from a minor wound) revives Frank in a masterpiece of gory special effects. He convinces Julia, who is still obsessed with him, to help him return to his full ‘humanity.’ This involves her luring men to the house and killing them, so that Frank can feed on their corpses.

It may be up to Kirsty, Larry’s daughter from a previous marriage, to end the carnage. IF she can survive her own encounter with the puzzle box – and those things that it summons.

Obsession, desire, and fear are the driving forces of Hellraiser. Julia’s obsession with her husband’s brother Frank and their one-time dalliance prior to Julia’s wedding. Her desire for Frank, to feel his hands on her again. Frank’s fear of the Cenobites and being returned to their tender care as well as his desire for the pleasures of the flesh. Kirsty’s fear of her uncle and for her father.

Weirdly, Hellraiser reminds me of Neil Gaimen’s Sandman – but with a ton of blood splashed about.

And there is blood galore. I remember when I first watched it that I thought it was one of the goriest movies I had ever seen (in 1987). I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but it’s definitely not a film for those with tender stomachs. The resurrection scene alone contains more blood, bile and unspecified fluids than most any other film outside of Dead Alive. I’m astonished it got an R rating.

I find most of the gore in this film to be purposeful, however, rather than explicitly for shock. Even little things, like the way Frank’s shirt – when he’s whole enough to start wearing clothes – starts out pristine white and slowly becomes soaked through with blood as the scene continues. (He still has no skin at this point, so it’s an inspired touch.)

I’m rambling on more than usual. Let’s tie this up. Though the ending is a little rushed, the acting uneven, and some of the optical effects sub-par (that ‘lighting’ effect is pretty cheesy), this is still an effective and strangely fascinating horror movie.

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