As part of my ongoing look at overlooked and forgotten horror films for the month of October, we’re going to look at a classic battered by low rent sequels and the passage of time but when looking back at the original film, is not only is good, it’s really good. A film the defies expectations in terms of both a (then) first time director and a low budget.
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.
Clive Barker had gained a great amount of fame and reputation as an author. Stephen King had even gone so far as to claim that Barker was the new face of horror. A couple Barker properties had been translated to film previously and the results were not great. So when the chance to direct a film based on his novella The Hellbound Heart came along, Barker took it.
Hellraiser is the story of Larry, his wife Julia and his daughter Kristy and what happens when they move to England. Larry has gained ownership of a house and apparently his brother Frank has already stopped by. Frank is the bad boy brother who has already slept with Larry’s wife and is generally a hedonist in the most extreme sense. And while there is no sign that Frank’s still there, a drop of Larry’s blood brings Frank back from a netherworld where pleasure and pain are intertwined.
Now to start with, the acting in the film is decent but not amazing. Ashley Lawrence (Kristy) and Andrew Robinson (Larry) are great in their parts but everyone else seems like a cold fish. Robinson in particular does a great job of playing “Larry” after Frank takes him over. Beyond those two performances, there isn’t much to talk about. However, in terms of script and directing, this is a film that just nails it.
At it’s core, Hellraiser isn’t a lot different then many haunted house films. There’s an evil spirit in the house that wants someone to kill for them so they can be brought back to life. But what brings Hellraiser to a different level is it’s direction and script. The script is fairly sharp in terms of dialogue. Barker’s use of the camera is amazing for a first time director. This film was done on a small budget but Barker manages to keep everything hidden. The effects are used sparingly but with greater effect. The “Less is More” approach really works in Hellraiser, especially when the Cenobites appear.
The film teases you with glimpses of the horrible beings that tore through Frank but once you see them in their glory, it’s easy to understand why Pinhead has become an iconic figure in horror. Part Catholic priest, part S&M club goer, the Cenobites are ghastly and heavenly all at the same time.
The reason this film has been pushed aside over the past few years is that unfortunately, it is part of a series. A series that generally sucks. Hellraiser II is a decent sequel that adds to the mythos but after that, you have nothing but garbage. Hellraiser 3 watered down the cenobites into world conquering demons and and added a Cenobite with a CD player face that tosses out discs of death. Hellraiser Bloodline has some interesting ideas but is ultimately a flawed piece taking Pinhead into space. From there the films deal with online games, cults and general stupidity. The last in the series, Revelations, was made for $300 000, only opened in one theater for one night and quietly slipped on to DVD in order for the Weinsteins to keep the film rights. With all of this crap, it’s hard to remember how good the original film really was. In fact, the only great thing to come out of any of the sequels was Motorhead’s theme song for part 3.
In short, Hellraiser is a great horror film that is excellently put together and should be considered for your Halloween viewing.
And remember, if you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!