Hellraiser Doesn't Raise As Much Hell As It Should


The poster above for the 1987 Clive Barker film Hellraiser shows a man holding a bizarre looking box whose faces is white as a sheet and has many pins stuck to his face. Usually when you see a poster like this, you think the guy in the poster is going to be the central focus. Hellraiser, based on a Clive Barker short story, not only doesn't feature the guy in the poster, but only includes him sparsely at the beginning and largely at the end.

The start of the film centers around a transaction between two men, an unknown greasy dealer of some sort and Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) who loves extreme pleasure as well as extreme pain. The dealer gives Frank an artsy looking puzzle box. Frank goes about screwing with the box in his own house and opens it with a nice surprise -- a bunch of long hooks that decide to tear the flesh out of Frank's body.

Enter Frank's brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) who decides to live in the house that Frank occupied with his new wife Julia (Claire Higgins). Julia in the presence of the house begins to recall the passion and lust she held for Frank Oddly enough thanks to an accident Larry has moving furniture, his blood brings back a bare-bones (literally) version of Frank who manages to seduce Julia into an insane mission of bringing men back to his house so that they can be dinner and Frank could live again.

On a side note, Frank is being chased by the Cenobites (lead by the pin-headed guy played by Doug Bradley) who are responsible for the tearing apart of Frank and who apparently live inside of the box.

Meanwhile Larry, not knowing this is all going on, attempts to bring around his teenage daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), who has some misgivings about her father remarrying. Soon due to concerns on Larry's end about his wife's changing behavior, Kirsty investigates and begins to piece together the awful acts Larry's wife has engaged in. It's not hard to figure out the rest.

Of the entire franchise itself, the only entry that I remember ever really seeing on video was Hellbound: Hellraiser II. That one was more centered on Kirsty in a mental hospital with more scenes with Pinhead and the Cenobites. Strangely enough considering Andrew Robinson died in the first film and possibly was sent to hell, it was interesting that neither him or his character appeared in the sequel. That's okay, he didn't look all that interested in the first film which is why he looks like he phoned in his performance as Larry.

Ashley Laurence isn't to blame for her performance as Kirsty. I don't think there is much for her character to do but be a witness to all the suffering in her life. About the only thing she has beyond the kooky goings on of her family is some oodling time with her boyfriend who appeared as lost in the film as she was.

The two big draws for me in this film that kept me from really hating this film were Claire Higgins and Sean Chapman. They really seem to echo the kind of characters that Clive Barker likes; people who are turned on by the dark side and wish to live by it. I always felt that the Cenobites part, while an important aspect of the original short story (The Hellbound Heart), felt more like a tag-on in the film adaptation.

For my money a better plot would have been to simply keep it on the whole "i'll do anything for love" concept that Higgins and Chapman were playing out. Of course if the movie had followed that with no Cenobites, the story would have been too short.

Clive has a nice idea of how to portray his universe of horror. It's all very much pre-Saw and could have very well inspired that franchise. Some of the monsters are a bit hokey. One at the very end looked liked it was borrowed from the Evil Dead 2 set (which ironically was released the same year as the original Hellraiser).

The music for the film is very standard issue for this kind of film. Originally Barker wanted to use an industrial band known as Coil to do the score for this film, but was told by the studio that the music was too frightening. Given that this is supposed to be a horror film, I would think trying to make even the music scary would help people pay attention when the scares aren't enough.

I think Hellraiser is an okay film. I just don't think it warrants all of the hype, nor did I feel it should have been made into a franchise. I think Pinhead, while an iconic character, never seemed to be a focal point of the franchise much (except for the second, and maybe the third film - which I vaguely recall).

It the franchise is remade, perhaps a better story can be done for a newer generation of horror fans.

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