Updated: Nov 19, 2019
Written and directed by Clive Barker and based on his novella, The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser was also Barker’s directing debut, a role he took on after being disappointed by previous movies based on his screenplays, namely Underworld (or Transmutations, as it is also known) and Rawhead Rex.
And I am glad that he did because, with around £900 000, Barker made one of the most iconic movies in the genre.
The plot, tells of Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman), a hedonist who believes he has experienced every carnal pleasure possible and seeks something more. This leads to him purchasing a puzzle box, which he proceeds to open, summoning beings known as Cenobites. To the Cenobites, pleasure and pain are the same things and you can’t have one without the other leading to Frank being ripped apart by hooks attached to chains that emerged from the box.
Frank’s brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Claire Higgins) move into Larry’s old family home where it turns out that Frank has left a few items behind as he was squatting there at some point. Julia had an affair with Frank on the day before her wedding and is haunted by the memory of what occurred between them. She clearly has no love for Larry and fantasises about her encounter with Frank, leading her to feel a combination of grief, loss and guilt.
Larry meanwhile, is trying to move a mattress up the stairs, with the aid of two of the laziest removal men ever, when he slices his hand open on the head of a protruding nail. Being unable to stomach the sight of blood, Larry stumbles to Julia, bleeding as he goes.
This is where you might be glad that the film is different from the book because, in the novella, Larry’s blood falls to the ground and mixes in with Franks ejaculate that was on the floor having been spilt there just before he died.
As the movie shied away from stale dried-up spunk, Frank is reborn just from Larry’s blood, however, he is incomplete, being no more than a skeleton with a small amount of flesh covering his bones.
Frank reveals himself to Julia who agrees to make him whole once more by luring men back to the house so that Frank can drain their bodies and thereby put more flesh on his bones so that he and Julia can leave before the Cenobites notice that he is missing.
Larry’s daughter Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) visits the house and spots Julia leading one her of her victim’s into the home. Going inside she confronts Julia and also encounters Frank, whilst he is still feeding. Luckily she manages to escape from the house, taking the puzzle box with her.
I won’t go into more of the story as those of you who have seen it all know what happens next, and for those of you that are new to the film, I don’t want to spoil anything further.
However, for those of you who haven’t seen it, you may be wondering where the chap with the face full of pins is. He adorns the cover, leather-clad, glaring menacingly and holding the puzzle box, but where is he? And that’s the thing. Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobites have under 10 minutes of screen time, hell, they’re not even the villains of the story, that role is for Frank and Julia.
The Cenobites, are simply doing what they were summoned to do. They have their own code and the only point at which this is subverted is at the end of the movie. In fact, the end of the film is the weakest part for me. It has some very dated effects with sparks of energy that jolt out from the cube and the sudden change of heart (if they possess such a thing) on the part of the Cenobites, doesn’t really fit their characters.
Despite that ending though, Hellraiser remains one of my favourite horror movies. The acting is grounded and believable with Ashley Lawrence putting in a great performance for someone in their first movie. Doug Bradley who plays pinhead is fantastic and does a wonderful job of helping to create such a memorable character in such a small space of time.
There is so much about this movie that I like, the amazing practical effects, the fact that it delivered something new to the genre and of course the amazing soundtrack which was originally going to be performed by the band Coil until the studio pushed for something different and we got Christopher Young’s iconic score instead; which I’m currently listening to as I write this piece.
As I said though, this is one of my favourite horror films and even watching it again for this review, I’m impressed by how well it has stood the test of time (except for those aforementioned spark effects toward the finale) and ended up giving us 9 sequels. Wait. There are 10 of these things now? Holy shit, even I didn’t realise there were that many, I don’t think even I went further than part 4. Not that I’m missing anything by all accounts, but maybe one day I’ll give them all a watch if only for review purposes.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, you really should. It’s a true classic of the genre and I can’t think of any horror fan that I’ve met who didn’t like it.
A remake was in the pipeline but that’s fortunately been shelved, for the time being, sparing us from another poor attempt at tampering with a well-loved movie. Although, if one was to be made, I would be quite interested in what would happen if Clive Barker was handed the reins and then given complete creative control, with no studio interference, to deliver his vision exactly as he wanted. That could be a remake I would be interested in seeing.
One quick bit of trivia though before we wrap things up. Did you know that the word “cenobite” actually means a member of a religious order that lives in a community? So monks in their monastery and nuns in their convent, they’re cenobites. Actually what happened to nuns? When’s the last time anyone saw one walking around? Are they endangered now or something? Then again, as they are by definition cenobites, it might be best to leave them be, just in case.