Director: Clive Barker
Studio: Cinemarque Entertainment BV, Film Futures, Rivdel Films
Starring: Clare Higgins, Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence
Tagline: He’ll Tear Your Soul Apart.
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: foreign film, horror, demons, parallel dimension, hell, cursed item
Scare score: B
Plot overview: Before the main events of the film begin, we see the hedonistic Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) purchase a strange puzzle box in a seedy cafe in an Arabic country. We then see him solve the puzzle box, called the Lament Configuration in the original novella, thereby opening a parallel dimension inhabited by the Cenobites who do not distinguish between pain and pleasure. Frank is gruesomely killed. Later on, Frank’s brother Larry (Robinson) and wife Julia (Higgins) move into the former’s deceased mother’s house in England. While bringing furniture into the house, Larry accidentally cuts his hand and bleeds on the ground where Frank was taken away, causing a pathway to form between earth and the realm of the Cenobites from which Frank escapes. Reminded of her true and physical love for Frank, Julia agrees to do whatever it takes to help him become a full human again. All three characters, as well as Larry’s suspicious daughter Kirsty (Laurence), must survive Frank’s violent return and also the wrath of the sadistic Cenobites.
I’ve always liked these movies. I remember being a kid and walking around Blockbuster (remember when they actually had stores?), and instead of looking at the video game section I would always peek around the seemingly off-limits horror section. On countless occasions did I find the face of Pinhead (the main Cenobite) staring back at me from the front of the VHS cases. Still, I wouldn’t come to know this movie franchise for some time, not until high school at least when I first saw this movie during AMC’s (once) incredible homage to horror: Fearfest (how times have changed). Anywho, great film.
The plot itself is fine – a pretty evil dude is back from “the dead” in some other dimension filled with torture and crazy S&M jazz, convinces/ threatens his ex-lover/ sister-in-law to kill innocent victims so that he can return to life. Not to mention we have these horrible humanoid Cenobite creatures to worry about. And to top it all off, the very pretty and very suspicious niece is trying to catch them at every corner. I personally enjoy the idea behind the plot: the Cenobites are a pretty fantastic invention (way to go, Clive Barker) even though we don’t know much about them in this movie. What we do know is that they have a crazy makeup design and such an evil and violent nature about them. Some small criticism: I think the ‘female’-ish one (aptly named the Female) is really terrifying with the exposed larynx and all; Pinhead is not as scary as he could be but the grid of nails across the whole head is pretty weird and unnerving if you think about it; the Chatterer might be the worse one as I hate the widely exposed teeth due to the apparatus around his mouth, as well as the way he constantly, er, chatters said teeth; the last one we see in this film, Butterball, might just ruin it for all of them as he seems to belong more to Ghostbusters or even The Blues Brothers than a horror film, replacing what could be horror credibility with comical qualities. Aside from these “core-four,” however, the fifth monster Cenobite we encounter several times in the film is really foul and pretty scary, as well. Way to go, creative staff.
More on the Cenobites. Is it me, or is Pinhead weirdly charming? When the group of “demons or angels” arrive, you know bad things are about to happen, but you aren’t exactly scared. While we can think that these Cenobites are evil, they aren’t so terrible except for the fact that once you’ve meddled with the Lament Configuration you’re theirs, and they know no difference between right and wrong, pleasure and pain. They are the ultimate sick and violent sexual fantasy, I suppose. Still, there is something about Pinhead that just isn’t quite off-putting. Can’t say the same for Butterball (can you tell I hate him/ it?)
Other makeup throughout the film, along with murder scenes, is pretty darn gory. When Frank first escapes from the realm of the Cenobites and takes his sweet time rising through the floor and putting the insides of his body back together I was honestly grossed out – not a fan of goo and blood and slimy organs I guess. I’m not even sure if Frank’s condition gets better or worse as he grows stronger. Other special effects (aside from these gory scenes) are pretty cheesy because we were still in 1987 at this point and fake jolts of colored electricity from a puzzle box couldn’t be done any better – these days it leads to a somewhat anticlimactic vanquishing of the antagonists.
More on that: this film is very, very ’80s. We’re talking big hair, big accessories, and cute girls wearing mom jeans with tucked in white T-shirts. Just none of this is okay. Luckily Horror Buff has read that a remake is in the works, so there’s no need for me to say I really would enjoy one. Of course other franchises suffer from the curse of the ’80s as well (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th), but we have seen these franchises modernized. This doesn’t necessarily take away from the film, but I would say that it might make it difficult for modern and younger audiences to appreciate it as they might automatically judge it as outdated.
I like this film and its characters because of the strange manner in which they are presented to us. We get that Frank is selfish, hedonistic, and mean. Still, who doesn’t think at the beginning of the film that Julia is going to be our main protagonist? If anything, I thought Larry was going to turn out bad. I didn’t trust Kirsty, either. Unlike most films in which the majority of characters – or at least the main protagonist – is clear from the beginning, in Hellraiser we are almost toyed with until we discover who will become the sinners and who will remain innocent.
The homeless man that seems almost to follow Kirsty throughout the film is extremely unnerving. We don’t understand his purpose, but as soon as we see his creepy face we think something bad is going to happen. Still, with only a few minutes left in the film I found myself wondering why he wasn’t explained to us. Needless to say I was angry that the film could overlook such a thing. Boy was I wrong. Okay, so the film’s ending is bizarre to say the least. Didn’t quite lose points in my book, but it was admittedly weird. All in all, we have to remember what so many horror films long for: franchises. Well that strange, boney, winged demon has certainly set us up for Hellraiser II! Darn that puzzle box from hell.
Final critique: This is a pretty creepy film based on a fulfilling plot born from twisted ideas. It’s almost a pleasant brand of horror: free from slashers, free from serial killers, and just filled with terrible and impassive demons whose terror is unspoken. There is no right and wrong, no true good and bad, merely guilty or innocent parties who have fooled around with the puzzle box and opened the gateway between the Cenobites’ hell and our reality. I enjoy the subtle commentary that the Cenobites present regarding religion and social/ sexual behavior. Those who scare easily or don’t like (cheesy, ’80s) gore will probably not take this film so well, but it really is a must-see at some point; even if it’s not the greatest horror flick ever, it is of note. After finishing the first, I’m just in the mood to move on to the next ones.