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John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser (1987), Clive Barker introduces us to Pinhead in this ultra-creepy, practical effect gorefest with a solid story!

July 23, 2015


MY CALL:  This film steers clear of paradigmatic horror and will fulfill your darkest pleasures with creepiness and awesome practical effects.  MOVIES LIKE Hellraiser:  For more great practical effects try Re-Animator (1985), Lord of Illusions (1995), Nightbreed (1990) and The Thing (1982).

A crowd pleaser to horror fans of all ages, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser tells the story of a man who escapes Hell, the temptations he exploits in order to freely roam the Earth again, and the consequences that befall those nearest him.

In 1987 horror was already becoming predictable, but Barker takes us into uncharted territory that lacks the predictability of this film’s horror peers.  The victims aren’t drunk teens, people don’t make horrendously stupid decisions, and things in no way happen as we’d expect them.  Even the gore and effects take us down a more rare and satisfying path.  This film will fulfill your darkest pleasures.


Larry (Andrew Robinson; The Puppet Masters, Pumpkinhead 2) and his reluctant second wife move into an old family property in which, unbeknownst to anyone else, his brother Frank had toiled with the powers of evil and now suffers in Hell.  Some blood is accidently spilled where Frank was torn apart by an otherworldly evil and this blood initiated the beginning of the transformation of his remains to a rather “incomplete” facsimile of infernal Frank.

hellraiser1 - frank cotton


This scene is a testament to the patient practical effects of the 80s.  We see organs develop from blood droplets and his body slowly finds form from a gory muck.  The scene is long and gross, and it includes some creepy stop motion of his decrepit skeletal arms and bloody resurrection.  This transformation scene is one of the most memorable scenes in 80s horror.



Deliciously gooey!

Now a skinless, weak, macabre husk of his formal self he tempts Julia (Clare Higgins; Being Human) to “help” him by bringing him more blood.  Julia clings to an adulterous memory of a past lusty tryst with Frank and wants more.  She has no love for Larry but much carnal desire for Frank despite Frank’s criminally loveless nature–making this quite the perverse story.



Abusive, adulterous, infernal and skinless… Clearly, Frank is the man every woman dreams of.

Whereas Frank’s desire to be whole again bridges our story from reality to Hell, the keystone is Julia’s adulterous desire to be in his arms.  As she finds comfort in the murderous means to fully restore Frank, we see her shift from an apathetic (in her marriage with Larry) and effortless housewife to a comfortably made-over black widow.  Once she has brought blood to Frank slimy flayed body, she starts to do her hair differently and her make-up looks sharper–more villainous.

Although many scenes occur elsewhere this feels much like a chamber thriller, claustrophobically taking place mostly in the confines of the house.  We, like Frank trapped in the attic-like spare room, feel isolated; trapped under a roof with a damned skinless man.

The only impediment to Frank’s freedom is Larry’s daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence; several Hellraiser sequels, Warlock III), who learns the infernal power of the Puzzle Box and bargains with some demons to return Frank to Hell.


These leather-clad, macabre demons are called Cenobites and they look like members of a devil-worshipping 80s metal band.  They include Chatterbox, Butterball, Female and their leader Pinhead (Doug Bradley; Nightbreed).  Their monster make-up work is off-putting and their silent demeanor only adds to their malevolence.  Their words are few but direly chilling.




The Puzzle Box leads us to the only special effects in the film that don’t hold up well.  While watching the Puzzle Box being solved is actually very simple (no significant FX involved really) and cool, the Box brings about some effects that resemble Atari-Tron videogame lasers.  However, the Box remains powerfully mysterious and it draws our ominous attention whenever it’s on screen.


Image converted using ifftoany

Written and directed by Clive Barker (Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions), this film offers no shortage of gore to compliment the fantastic, effective story.  Frank’s victims are drained husks of pus and maggots, Frank himself is a horror to behold in his various phases of development, and then we still have other cruel visions, the twisted make-up of Pinhead and his fellow Cenobites, the Puzzle Box opening creepy gates to a somewhat ambiguous Hell, and Frank ultimately being torn apart by hooked chains in another iconic horror scene of the decade.


I find the story and characters every bit as powerful as the gory practical effects and consider this a “must see” for anyone who considers themselves a fan of modern horror.


33 Comments leave one →
  1. September 4, 2015 7:04 am

    But—and this is a big but—all that moral complexity and character development could also be read as inconsistency, especially in the later sequels. Clive Barker was in step with the ’80s or if the ’80s were in step with Clive Barker, but either way it works.


  1. John’s Horror Corner: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), exploring Clive Barker’s Labyrinth and Cenobite upgrades. | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. John’s Horror Corner INDEX: a list of all my horror reviews by movie release date | Movies, Films & Flix
  3. John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992), Pinhead in the big city and the biggest action sequence of the franchise. | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), an anthology that is so much more than simply Pinhead in space. | Movies, Films & Flix
  5. John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser: Inferno (2000), a crime thriller about a dirty cop, the Puzzle Box and The Engineer. | Movies, Films & Flix
  6. John’s Horror Corner: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), a sequel with a very different story to tell. | Movies, Films & Flix
  7. John’s Horror Corner: Deadtime Stories (1986), a wonderfully campy horror anthology with diverse effects and dark fairy tales. | Movies, Films & Flix
  8. John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker (2002), a decent direct-to-DVD horror film and an “okay” Hellraiser film. | Movies, Films & Flix
  9. John’s Horror Corner: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Master (1988), continuing the evolution of Freddy Krueger’s influence. | Movies, Films & Flix
  10. John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser VII: Deader (2005), a trippy, cult-driven mystery of resurrection. | Movies, Films & Flix
  11. John’s Horror Corner: Critters (1986), a sci-horror comedy creature feature follow-up to Gremlins (1984) with viciously cute flesh-eating aliens. | Movies, Films & Flix
  12. John’s Horror Corner: Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993), a decent B-movie creature feature sequel that pales to the original. | Movies, Films & Flix
  13. John’s Horror Corner: Lifeforce (1985), Tobe Hooper’s big budget naked space vampire epic. | Movies, Films & Flix
  14. John’s Horror Corner: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Milla Jovovich versus yet more viral zombies and mutant monsters. | Movies, Films & Flix
  15. John’s Horror Corner: The Void (2016), the indie horror where The Thing’s (1982) practical effects meet Lovecraft and Barker! | Movies, Films & Flix
  16. John’s Horror Corner: Baskin (2015), a disturbed, disorienting and gory Turkish terror about cults and Hell. | Movies, Films & Flix
  17. John’s Horror Corner: Fright Night 2 (1988), a stylish sequel to our favorite 80s vampire movie. | Movies, Films & Flix
  18. John’s Horror Corner: Wrong Turn 5: Bloodlines (2012), not quite the worst of this hillbilly horror franchise. | Movies, Films & Flix
  19. John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld (2005), the only movie in the franchise I didn’t like (so far). | Movies, Films & Flix
  20. John’s Horror Corner: Saw II (2005), more brutal, more death traps, more ominous tapes, more Jigsaw! | Movies, Films & Flix
  21. John’s Horror Corner: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), introducing zombie Jason to more camp counselors and some of the most fun death scenes of the franchise so far. | Movies, Films & Flix
  22. The Best Transformation Scenes of Horror, Part 3: Deadtime Stories (1986), Hellraiser (1987), A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4 (1988), and Dangerous Seductress (1995) | Movies, Films & Flix
  23. John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser IX: Revelations (2011), basically a fan film honorarium to the 1987 original, with a dash of home invasion. | Movies, Films & Flix
  24. John’s Horror Corner: Hellraiser X: Judgment (2018), an inspired yet completely uninnovating retelling of Hell’s mythology. | Movies, Films & Flix
  25. John’s Horror Corner: The Creature Below (2016, aka The Dark Below), a British tentacle monster movie that makes an effort. | Movies, Films & Flix
  26. John’s Horror Corner: The Hills Have Eyes (1977), Wes Craven’s cannibal cult classic. | Movies, Films & Flix
  27. John’s Horror Corner: The Phantom of the Opera (1989), Robert Englund’s gory reimagining of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s fictitious classic composer. | Movies, Films & Flix
  28. John’s Horror Corner: Warlock 3: The End of Innocence (1999), the only disappointment of the franchise. | Movies, Films & Flix
  29. John’s Horror Corner: Child’s Play 3 (1991), Chucky goes to military school and breaks his Voodoo rules in this serviceable sequel. | Movies, Films & Flix
  30. John’s Horror Corner: Demon Seed (1977), an odd 70s Sci-Fi gem about an evil computer with artificial intelligence that wants to have a baby. | Movies, Films & Flix
  31. John’s Horror Corner: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), in-your-face goofy shenanigans veiled in murderous menace with fantastic creature effects! | Movies, Films & Flix
  32. John’s Horror Corner: The Suckling (1990; aka Sewage Baby), a very schlocky, very gory mutant monster baby B-movie. | Movies, Films & Flix

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