Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley
As I write this, it’s been almost thirty years since Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987) first opened the gates of hell, giving us a new horror icon to rival that of Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Weird part is that Clive Barker wasn’t aiming to create a horror icon for a new generation, he was simply adapting his novella ‘The Hellbound Heart’ into film, his intent wasn’t creating a horror icon that horror fans would embrace vehemently and ultimately christen “Pinhead”. And Pinhead it has stayed, even though Clive Barker himself says this name is not dignified enough for the character that Barker called ‘Priest’ in the first versions of the script. Still, the character caught the public’s imagination, and there it has stayed. As I write this, there have been 9 films inspired on Barker’s Hellraiser universe, with a tenth one in production hell. Sadly, none of these numerous sequels have been as good as the original Clive Barker directed film which still remains the best film in the lengthy franchise.
Honestly, I don’t think anything done today will be as good, horrifying or gory as the images that Barker conjured up in his directorial debut. Very rarely do extremely gory or overly sexual films make it to theaters today, which is why I say that Hellraiser is a rare film that we should relish and thank the movie gods for. To use a tired phrase “they just don’t make them like this anymore”, but it’s not for lack of trying. Modern horror filmmakers are constantly trying to make films like these, but they always end up straight to video, where most gore fests end up nowadays. I know Barker is currently trying to get Hellraiser properly remade, but if you ask me, the way Hollywood works today, this remake will never go theatrical. Barker would have to tone down the blood and gore and if he does that, then it won’t be Hellraiser anymore. Sad but true. That’s why I see films like Hellraiser as a rare jewel from one of the goriest decades in horror, the 80’s! A decade in which films like Hellraiser could end up in theater screens and get a sequel every year! Seeing it now, it’s such a shock to the system when compared to the light horror films seen today, which speaks volumes about the soft core crap that passes for horror today. I feel special for having grown up with these twisted/cool horror movies that titillated my young mind!
Hellraiser was another one of those horror movies that as a 12 year old kid, I wasn’t supposed to see, yet found a way to see anyway. My morbid curiosity peaked with these films. The themes explored in Hellraiser were deadly serious and adult, yet there I was, sucking it all in, absorbing the darkness that the world had to offer.Like the dark delights the Cenobytes brought to those who opened the Lament Configuration, so where these movies for me. Dark, hellish delights that presented my young mind with a side of the human psyche I knew nothing about, but was eager to discover. These films were all about uncontrolled passions and the lengths to which a person can go to in order to get ultimate pleasure. How far will a man or woman go for the ultimate ‘good fuck’? Pretty damn far that’s how far! The film has a thing or two to say about the banality of a boring marriage versus the intensity of amazing forbidden sex. It also plays with the idea that pain and pleasure are close bed partners concepts maybe a bit too profound or dark for my innocent little mind, but hey, there’s a first time for everything right? In Hellraiser, the Lament Configuration is a puzzle box that opens the doors to a dimension where pain and pleasure are indivisible and whoever is dumb enough to solve the puzzle instantly regrets having done so, hence the ‘lament’ in its name. This idea that a supernatural artifact can open the gates to hell isn’t in a new one, other films have played with this premise: The Beyond (1981), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Gate (1987) and The Ninth Gate (1999) come to mind, but only Hellraiser mixes the whole thing with these themes of lust and desire.
This was Clive Barker’s first film so he was a rookie when he made it, he’s admitted to not knowning much about the intricacies of filmmaking at the time of making this picture, still, what he did have was the view point of an artist, a necessary quality to pull off a film like this one. Plus, he wrote the story the film is based on, and while it’s not always a great idea to put writers behind the camara, in this case it worked with hellish charm, because Barker is a painter and he treats the images he captures with his cameras as if he was layering one of his paintings. He showed promise with what he did with this film, and went on to show growth as a filmmaker in films like Nightbreed (1990) and Lord of Illussions (1995), my favorite Barker film. This first Hellraiser film is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye than any of the sequels in the franchise. The special make up effects are amazing on this one. The resurrection sequence, in which the character of Frank comes back to life is one of the high points of the film. I recently screened this film for an audience and that scene still makes hearts stop. It’s a show stealer. Where the film does have a few faults is in the visual effects department and Barker admits that these were done in a hurry to meet the schedule, and it’s a damn shame because when those cheesy visual effects show up, it brings the film down a few notches for me. Still, as a whole the film is solid, if it wasn’t for those cheesy visual effects I’d give the film a perfect score. But whatever, I love the film, warts and all as they say.
The success of Hellraiser spawned a sequel that started rolling mere weeks after Hellraiser proved a success in cinemas and so we got Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), a decent sequel that sadly wasn’t directed by Barker himself. Hellbound: Hellraiser II was messy in terms of story (last minute rewrites galore) and it had flaws in the visual effects department as well, but it gives us some of the best and bloodiest moments in the entire franchise and let’s not forget it also gave us Pinheads origin. For me this franchise was good up to Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), after that one, things started to really go downhill for the franchise, with each sequel being worse than the last. If you’re really bored, then the last one that’s “watchable” is Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), the fourth film in the series. You know the franchise was on its last legs because on that one they sent Pinhead to space! If that isn’t the sign of a franchise running out of juice, I don’t know what is. After Hellraiser Bloodline, the franchise consists of extremely low budget films that were made from scripts that weren’t even Hellraiser scripts, they were horror scripts that the producers had laying around and converted into Hellraiser films. What’s one got to do to get a decent Hellraiser film nowadays? Go to hell to get one? Here’s hoping Barker successfully reboots this franchise and gives us a new dose of decent (or maybe even better?) Hellraiser films.
Rating: 4 out of 5