No matter how old you are you know who Stephen King is. For him to say, “I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker,” speaks volumes.
Hence my introduction to the movie, Hellraiser.
In 1987 Clive Barker had his directorial debut with his film, Hellraiser. Based on his novella The Hellbound Heart: A Novel, the story centers around 4 main characters, Julia, Frank, Larry, and Kirsty.
The film has an originality that is not commonly matched. There are many things that separate this film from other horror movies. Take the story for example, it is essentially a forbidden love story. Even through all its grotesqueness and taboos. Julia ends up having a passionate affair with her to be husband, Larry’s, brother Frank. It is clearly unlike anything she has ever experienced before, hence her willingness to do the unspeakable things she does for the man she lusts for and all his sexual depravity.
But what kind of Hellraiser fan would I be if I didn’t mention everybody’s favorite, the Cenobites. Clive did an amazing job imagining these “super butcher,” denizens of hell. From the costumes, to the ongoing torture of varying degrees, that each one has. Though Clive did not originally name the Cenobites individually, the fans took to these demons and gave them all nicknames that have stuck to this day. “Pinhead,” “Chatterer,” “Deepthroat,” and “Butterball.” The cenobite imagery is where some of the taboo nuances and symbolism come into place, among the other things, like the innuendo of Frank wanting a sexual relationship with his niece, Kirsty, and Frank and Julia’s love affair, etc.
In a way, I feel this is almost two separate movies. The love triangle of Julia, Frank, and Larry and the drama that ensues with that and Kirsty, the Cenobites, and the common thread, skinless Frank, with the gore, dread, and horror that follows those characters.
The acting was pretty good for the time. Clare Higgins as Julia was my favorite. I feel she did a phenomenal job in playing the originally naïve, then reluctant seductress turned murderess psychopath. Andrew Robinson as Larry also did a good job. I feel like he played down his character on purpose just enough, in order for Sean Chapman’s character, Frank, to seem more enticing, exciting, and sexual. Ashley Lawrence playing Kirsty hit most of the high notes, but fell flat and lacked motivation in a couple of scenes, but overall did a good job. Doug Bradley even with minimal speaking parts brought something special to the “Pinhead” character. He made him feel like he was a “worldly” character, like he had seen and done it all. I can not imagine anyone else portraying that character. Even though it was tried by Dimension in the most recent sequel, and failed miserably.
Christopher Young and his orchestral score beautifully complimented the film. While not the original choice Clive had in mind, he made a good decision.
The film was released in both the US and the UK and was met with mixed reviews. The majority of the negative coming from critics residing in the US, in particular one Roger Ebert, who basically said the film was made with “no wit, style, or reason.” I couldn’t disagree more. The low budget of the film forced Clive to face some major decisions and get creative with his cinematography. The film was made for around a million dollars and was somewhat of a big box office success, grossing around twenty million dollars.
Talk of a “remake” by Dimension, has floated around on the internet for years now. Even a “re-imagining” of Pinhead was screen tested and the video can be found on several websites. But to me, a remake is wholly unnecessary. The film is perfect even with all its problems and imperfections.
The movie itself has left its imprint in pop culture. From body piercing to full body suspension and the like. There are also countless comic books and graphic novels, some done by Clive Barker himself to flesh out his world and mythology even more, highly collectable action figures, and cenobite busts. Hellraiser costumes are also a Halloween favorite.
As I’ve watched the film over the years, I have posed many questions to myself. Like, how powerful is the sexual experience? Is there a line to be drawn? Can pleasure really be derived from pain? What is people’s obsession with this film that has made it such a cult classic?
Without a doubt this is my favorite horror movie. The imagination it took to flesh out all of these characters (and demons) that spawned eight sequels, is nothing short of amazing, and is rarely seen in the film industry these days, especially in the horror genre. If for some reason you have yet to see Hellraiser, do yourself a favor… Watch it! Or the Cenobites may just “Tear your soul apart!”