1987 New World Pictures
By the mid to late eighties the horror movie genre was in pretty bad shape. The slasher trend that had dominated for so long had pretty much been played out. There were still Halloween and Friday the 13thmovies being made but they were pale imitations of what came before. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies were on the decline and well on their way to irrelevance. In 1987 however an English writer by the name of Clive Barker entered the horror movie scene and brought some fresh blood (literally) to the stagnating genre.
Hellraiser may not have exactly raised the bar for horror movies but it twisted the bar around and melted it a little. With its serious and unsettling view of nasty things lurking in the unexplored folds of reality as well as within the human mind it introduced a different way to go about scaring people. Eschewing the usual slasher movie trappings Hellraiser blazed a new trail and jettisoned the simple “big guy in mask stalks and kills dumb teenagers” story line that had been done to death. There were dangers and death involved but the typical horror villains were not to be found.
As Hellraiser opens we are introduced to Frank Cotton. Frank is a rather unpleasant fellow who is looking for the ultimate pleasure. He goes looking in the wrong place (or right place depending on what you are looking for) and, with the help of a mysterious puzzle box and the powerful Cenobites, he winds up going to pieces.
Flash forward a short time and we find Frank’s brother Larry, his wife Julia, and Larry’s daughter Kirsty getting caught up in Uncle Frank’s quest for masochistic pleasure.
Okay definitely not the usual stuff of horror movies but when you add in the incredibly cool Cenobites it takes the already out of the ordinary story to another level.
In my opinion the very premise of Hellraiser was so out there that this could have easily turned into one hell of a stupid movie. If the casting had be wrong or the effects not effective this movie could have been really corny or full of unintentionally comedic moments but luckily everything turned out really well.
First of all the cast is terrific with Andrew Robinson as Larry, Clare Higgins as Julia, Ashley Laurence as Kirsty, Sean Chapman as Frank with skin, and Oliver Smith as skinless Frank . Most importantly though in my opinion the movie got very lucky that Doug Bradley wound up playing the lead Cenobite. Bradley had the rather onerous task of making a character wearing a skirt with nails in his head plausible and he succeeded wonderfully. This is a character that, as played by Bradley has made several excruciatingly bad sequels better if only for the 10 minutes he has appeared. The character is just mesmerizing. This brings me to praise Clive Barker, Bob Keen, and the all the makeup and costume crew members for creating the believable and somewhat elegant Cenobite look. If the character design and makeup had not been just right it wouldn’t have worked.
As you can probably tell I am a big fan of this movie. There are a few minor complaints that are clearly the result of a very small budget especially evident near the end. From what I have read they basically ran out of money and had to use duct tape and ingenuity to finish this movie. I would say they did very well for working with a budget of one million dollars.
This is one of my favorite horror movies and without a doubt a must see for fans of the genre.Check it out if you haven’t seen it.
The Cenobites are without a doubt one of the most interesting creations in the world of horror. Mysterious as the box that is the key to summoning them we learn only that they are drawn by those looking for experiences beyond the norm, as the head Cenobite says they are, “Explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, Angels to others…”
On top of all the other things that went right there is also a great music score by Christopher Young.
Random thoughts and observations:
- Clive Barker has expressed his dislike for the Pinhead moniker given to the head Cenobite. I can’t really say I blame him. If anything his name should be Nailhead.