An unfaithful wife encounters her dead lover, who is trying
to escape from the sadomasochistic hell of the cenobites.
Written and Directed by Clive Barker
Starring Andrew Robinson, Claire Higgins, Ashley Laurence,
Sean Chapman, Doug Bradley, Oliver Smith
Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
Hellraiser is a very disturbing film. It takes a certain dedicated horror-driven mind to even put this movie on. No casual movie fan is grabbing Hellraiser for a fun Friday night (hopefully). That being said, the film has aged surprisingly well and despite a lot of unanswered questions, I found myself really into it. I had first seen the film when I was younger, and it freaked me out so much that I wasn't paying any attention to the story. This time around, I was engaged and intrigued. I wonder what that says about me.
Meet Larry (Robinson) and Julia Cotton (Higgins), a couple who moves into a new home that was once occupied by Larry's criminal brother Frank (Chapman). Frank is a piece of shit who disappeared when he solves the Lament Configuration, a demonic puzzle box that opens a portal to the cenobites. Now, these nasty fucks are a quartet of demonic angels led by the sadistic Pinhead (Bradley, in a career-defining role he will never escape from). The cenobites killed Frank, but somehow he came back to life and is hiding from them. When Larry's daughter Kirsty (Laurence) solves the box, she is targeted by Pinhead and his crew and makes a deal to deliver Frank to them in exchange for leniency. Amidst all this are frightful visuals, a decent story, and a sadomasochistic horror that really makes you question Clive Barker's mental state. Pleasure is pain, demons are angels, and a franchise is born.
Hellraiser is definitely an acquired taste, but it's one that I'm happy to say I've apparently acquired. I've heard nothing but terrible things about the endless parade of sequels, but (like most of the time) the first film is a gem. Pinhead has become a horror icon, and unlike a lot of the other ones, he is genuinely terrifying.
After being fed up with so many failed attempts at adapting his work, horror legend Clive Barker decided to do it himself. He quickly went about working on adapting his novella, The Hellbound Heart, into the film that would become Hellraiser, an adaptation that would go on to become a classic of the genre and make Pinhead into a horror icon. It wasn't without its struggles, though. Barker famously fought with the MPAA over the rating due to its graphic violence and plenty of sex scenes. While he did have to trim some stuff out, he still got away with a surprising amount. And while this would be followed by tons of sequels, it’s really only the first two or three you need to worry about.
I got to say, after seeing this for the first time years ago, it screwed me up a little bit. Remember, most of the horror films coming out at the time had quite a bit of humor in them so they would be more fun. Not Hellraiser. This was a serious look into a world of bondage, infidelity, and sadomasochism. A lot of interesting themes to pack into one movie. Mix the serious tone, themes, and graphic violence, and you got one hell of a horror film. Speaking of violence, the special effects still look amazing to this day. The character of Frank, in particular, spends a good chunk of the film as a corpse slowly regaining his body back. It’s gruesome to look at and the effects still hold up to this day. But, the main reason you’re here: Pinhead. He’s actually not a very prominent figure in this and he doesn’t even have a name in the credits. Luckily, due to fan demand, he would go on to become the main villain for the entire series. And a large part of that has to do with Doug Bradley’s performance. Simply put, he is electrifying as Pinhead. The way he walks. His deep, commanding voice. He is perfect for this role and deserves the icon status he has achieved.
Hellraiser is a screwed-up film. But it’s a great film. Clive Barker knocks it out of the park with his first stab at adapting one of his works. Doug Bradley is perfect as Pinhead. Again, while the series would eventually devolve with the numerous straight-to-video sequels, this first film is an undisputed classic. Now, if you care to come with me, we have such sights to show.
There have been too many Hellraiser films to count, but the original is of course the most memorable. It’s all from Clive Barker’s mind, who wrote the novel, the screenplay, and directed. This was the first time Barker directed a film due to him being displeased with how his previous screenplays got toyed with. The beginning of Hellraiser is unsettling as hell with some images I won’t ever get out of my head. The skin pulling! The blood dripping on the hardwood floor! From there on out, this film takes you on a wicked and winding road that surely isn’t for everyone, even horror fans.
The story is centered around this couple that clearly have some marital issues. They move into a home and immediately we find out the wife hasn’t been too faithful throughout their relationship. It’s not so much about her unfaithfulness, but who she was unfaithful with. Buckle up before you throw this film on, because it will freak the shit out of you. There isn’t one performance to write home about, but the tone and music composed by horror legend Christopher Young is unforgettable. I haven’t ventured into horror deep enough yet, but this is deep and scarring. The images will haunt you and the figures you see will likely appear in your sleep at some point! I enjoy this film strictly because it’s frightening as can be.