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