Directed By: Clive Barker
Written By: Clive Barker
Released: 1987 New World Pictures
Andrew Robinson as Larry Cotton
Clare Higgins as Julia Cotton
Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton
Sean Chapman as Frank Cotton
Oliver Smith as Frank the Monster
Doug Bradley as Pinhead
Nicholas Vince as Chattering Cenobite
Simon Bamford as Butterball Cenobite
Grace Kirby as Female Cenobite
When I decided to test the waters of writing reviews, I only knew one thing: I want to start big. In my personal opinion, it doesn’t get much bigger than Clive Barker’s masterpiece of leather and hammers to the face; Hellraiser. This is a film that takes me back to childhood, but not in a “I loved this as a child” way. Actually, close to the opposite. The first time I watched this film in its entirety was the summer of 2006. Settle. Let me explain.
As a child, the cover of the Hellraiser VHS frightened the puke out of me. An intimidating ghoul with pins sticking out of his face holding what looked to be a foreign object of doom. Yeah…my 10 year old brain couldn’t take it. Finally, I got up the nerve to rent this film. Happy as a 10 year old could possibly be, I ran to the VCR and threw it in. Obviously, I wasn’t as observant as I should have been, because the tape I had rented was actually Hellmaster. The wrong tape was put behind the Hellraiser box. Needless to say, I was devastated but kept the tape anyway. I’ve always been the kind of dude to not make a fuss. After that, Hellraiser was sort of logged into the ‘need to see but just haven’t’ file in the back of my brain until 2006…my sophomore year of college.
All of that to get to this point: I really enjoy the Hellraiser franchise and if I wanted to start this site off with a bang, I had to review the one that started it all!
The Back Story
The 80s were great for Clive Barker. 1984 and 1985 saw the release of his iconic Books of Blood anthologies that set him in the forefront as the future of the genre. Also in 1985, he wrote the screenplay for the film Underworld and, in 1986, wrote the screenplay for Rawhead Rex based on his story with the same name; both films directed by George Pavlou. Unfortunately, Clive was not a fan of the final product of either of these films. Like a boss, Clive took to the director’s chair himself to create his vision of his novella The Hellbound Heart.
With a budget of $1 million and a name change (New World thought the title The Hellbound Heart would suggest too much of a love story), Clive made his directorial debut with Hellraiser.
Hellraiser is the story of the Cotton family. There’s Frank, the wild and dangerous stud who is always willing to chase a thrill. Then there’s Larry, the well-to-do family man. Larry is married to Julia, and newly married at that. He also has a daughter named Kirsty. The newlyweds have decided to move into the old Cotton house to begin their lives. Kirsty decides to live elsewhere but stays close to her father. Her mother has passed away and she has a solid relationship with Larry. Her stepmother, not so much. You can feel the tension between Julia and Kirsty…mostly just from Julia.
But every family has its darkside. That crowning achievement belongs to Frank. Not only did Frank sleep with Julia on top of her wedding dress, but he also dabbles in the world of extreme pain for pleasure. Frank and Julia’s love affair had an obvious impact on Julia. While standing in the attic with a picture of Frank, daydreaming about their passionate roll in the hay, Larry gets a nasty cut on his hand from a nail while moving their belongings into the house. He runs to the attic to Julia and a few drops of blood smash into the attic floor. This resurrects the bloody, skinless Frank; escaping the hell that he entered by opening the dreaded puzzle box. Now, he needs more blood. Human blood.
Julia becomes Frank’s partner in crime by luring strange men to the attic and bludgeoning them with a hammer. Frank feasts on their blood and slowly becomes whole again. The heat picks up when Kirsty finds Frank and the puzzle box. After swiping the box, running out of the house and fainting in the street, she awakes in a hospital. After a little tinkering, she opens the box and it summons the Cenobites; a group of frightening, leathered out monsters who dwell in a world where excruciating pain and utmost pleasure intertwine. Their leader; the terrifying Pinhead (originally named Priest). Doug Bradley’s performance is absolutely astonishing. His dread inducing lines are delivered in a deep, skin crawling fashion that is horrific and oddly soothing.
The Cenobites make a deal with Kirsty; her life for the one who has escaped them. This sets up the final act, a gigantic ending that leaves you excited for more with one of the most explosive deaths in genre history. Not to mention, one of my personal favorite ad libs, “Jesus wept”.
All in all, this film has something for everyone. Gore, fantasy, monsters and one-liners that won’t escape your mind days after viewing. For a small budget film, it packs quite a punch. Some say the effects at end are a little cheeseball and yeah, they are at times, but it doesn’t take away from the film. The acting is pretty spot on. You genuinely believe these characters and root for them to escape or meet their demise. Enough can’t be said about Doug Bradley as Pinhead. His performance made him a horror legend. Also, two big thumbs up to Ashley Laurence for her on screen debut. Apparently, Jennifer Tilly auditioned for the role of Kirsty. Not saying she would have been less effective, but it would have been hard to top Laurence in this role. Clive’s directing style is much like his writing; smooth and elegant with a sudden rush of brutal destruction. For his directorial debut, he knocked it out of the park.
My Rating: 7/10