Director: Clive Barker
Larry (Robinson) and Julia (Higgins) move in the old family house. What they don’t know is that Larry’s brother Frank is hiding in one of the rooms. He’s just escaped hell’s grasp and is back as an undead, skinless man. Julia (who used to bang Frank and is obsessed with the lad) discovers him and helps him get his body back (by bringing helpless men to the house so Frank can feed on them and rebuild his body). But Frank is not out of the jam yet. Hell’s minions (The Cenobites) are on his arse and they want him back. Toss in a cute girl and a cube puzzle box that opens the gates of heaven or hell and you get one messed up plot!
Hellraiser is without a doubt an original piece of meat: On one side we have real human drama going on (Julia lusting/killing for Frank, Kristy trying to accept her new mother, Frank being a selfish a-hole, Larry being the good, oblivious husband, trying to have everybody get along). On the other side we have blue demons, a gnarly puzzle box, deadly hooks and a pissed off creature. Take out all the hellish ingredients and this could pass for a British TV drama with shades of SNM.
Adultery, lust, murder, curiosity, pain and pleasure are the main dishes and even though the supernatural elements are presented very strongly, they never drown the core of what’s going on. That’s quite a feat, I still don’t know how Barker pulled it off.
Without a doubt, the strength of the film relies on Julia and Frank’s relationship. It’s when the film focuses on them and their actions that it is at its strongest. The subplot with the bug-eating vagrant also worked. He complements the film’s weird aura and brings everything full circle. I also liked the role the Cenobites play in this flick. Their background players who are there to serve the story, not drive it. This story is about humans, not the history/past of blue demons. It works better this way.
The film’s suspense is in top form with the scenes involving Julia bringing Frank his meat (single, balding, horny men). You feel for these poor chap, all they wanted was a piece of tail but instead they get hammer hits to the head and become Frank lunch. The rest of the film is almost devoid of tension and the finale which is supposed to have you on the edge of your seat, betrays the first hour by going the light show way with some bad visuals (the vanquishing of the Cenobites, the hall demon).
Another bad thang: Why is Kristy’s boyfriend even in the film? The character brings nothing to the story and actually distracted me from some horrific events. The actor that plays him is so damn wooden (the man is not impressed by eyeless, blue demons) that I was too busy cursing at him instead of watching the film. If that dude had been on my set, I would have fired his silly looking arse. I hate lazy actors.
The script lost me a few times: At a certain point Kristy faints and is brought to the hospital. Why is the staff so crude to her? Is fainting a freaking crime? Why do they lock her in her hospital room? Why are they calling the police? Doesn’t make sense to me. Felt like a plot device that ignores logic.
The box itself doesn’t make too much sense either: It’s supposed to open the gates or heaven or hell. Well I guess heaven is a tough combo cause these guys always ring up Lucifer’s pad. The box is supposed to be a mystery but Kristy has no problem figuring it out or using it to vanquish the demons (way too easily).
Barker loses himself a bit in his over ambition and unfortunately the budget is not up for it. The hallway creature is too fake looking (it's so obvious he’s being pushed on a wagon or something), the house fire in the end (what house fire?) is communicated by showing us a few chairs remaining with flames around them. We never see the house burn down (from the outside) and it makes for a weird transition.
Barker should’ve tweaked his script to fit his budget. That hallway demon was supposed to bring suspense to the film but instead it brought me laughter.
Big ambitions + original concept + low budget = uneven film that succeeds and fails half the time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I appreciate over ambition way more than heartless filmmaking. Here Barker goes for the gold but gets the silver.
Gore hounds rejoice. Skinless bodies, hammer hits to the head, head ripped apart by hooks…ugly demons…u crave it? Here it is. Not for the squeamish.
Andrew Robinson (Larry) does fine but his character is not too interesting. Clare Higgins (Julia) is a delight and rocks the house. She makes all the weird things happening more credible due to her honest reactions to them. Ashley Laurence (Kristy) is also pretty strong and she deserves special commendation for making out with that skanky dude that plays her boyfriend. She didn’t gag, that’s a sign of a strong thespian. Sean Chapman (Frank) is one hairy dude and that’s all the acting skills he needs. Oliver Smith (Skinless Frank) sometime turns the dialogue into a joke with his poor delivery. NOTE: The chap that plays Kristy’s boyfriend is a wooden mess and he doesn’t even deserve to have his name mentioned. He should be hunted down and torn apart. Another thing: what’s up with his goofy looking plaid shirt??? In addition to being a putrid actor he’s also a fashion criminal.
T & A
A steamy sex scene between Julia and Frank that doesn’t reveal much in terms of key body parts.
This film smells like a slaughterhouse. You’ll take a shower after seeing it. Barker infuses the film with moments of slick style (When the door of hell opens in the hospital he quick cuts with a rose on TV…brilliant) and has a strong narrative method (loved it when he intercut Julia’s flashback with Larry getting his hand cut on the nail). Barker doesn’t shy away from gore and I’m sure he would have pulled off that hallway demon scene (in term of suspense) if we didn’t see the crew behind the monster pushing it.
A grandiose gothic score by: Chris Young…amazing….
Hellraiser is not for everybody. You can’t deny its guts (no puns) or its novel storyline. Barker comments on human nature and at the same time delivers buckets of blood. The script could have been tightened, some of the subplots were not needed (boyfriend!!!), some of the effects are bad, but on a whole this makes for a once in a lifetime kind of viewing. If you’re in the mood for something different and love the red stuff, take a trip down Hellraiser lane. You’ll find your pleasure.
One thing I didn’t know is that the hallway creature is called « The Engineer ». In Part 5, the main villain is also called « The Engineer », I guess it’s supposed to be the same creature….