Hellraiser (1987) Review

Directed by: Clive Barker

Written By: Clive Barker

The original Hellraiser has probably got a deeper and more interesting storyline than most would suspect; particularly if they saw the now iconic theatrical poster of the character later-named Pinhead clutching at a glowing puzzle box with the tagline ‘He’ll tear your soul apart’ below. Surely then Hellraiser would turn out to be a typical 1980’s slasher flick with this ‘Pinhead’ killing teens for drinking/smoking/sleeping around too much?

Wrong.

Clive Barker’s late 80’s masterpiece was based upon his novella ‘The Hellbound Heart’ and any fan of barker would immediately grasp from this that Hellraiser would not be such a standard fare horror flick. It follows a family whom would not be unfair to label as ‘dysfunctional’; with the stepmother (a memorable performance by Clare Higgins) having previously had an affair with her husband Larry’s (Andrew Robinson) brother Frank and continues to lust for him, but Frank has now seemingly disappeared, and Larry’s daughter Kirsty (the adorable Ashley Laurence) refuses to live with them.

It transpires that Frank had bought the puzzle box in the movie’s poster from a Moroccan market, and successfully opened it to literally unleash hell upon him. The box is some form of gateway to hell and releases these creatures called cenobites, of which Pinhead (Doug Bradley in his now trademark role) is one, to unleash all manner of pain on those who manage to open the box.

The film continues as Larry accidently spills blood upon where Frank’s body lies under the floorboards and partially regenerates him. Once Julia discovers this, the now partially human (and very gory) Frank persuades her to bring him more blood to complete his regeneration; of course much to the displeasure of the coenobites who took him to hell in the first place.

Now immediately from this extremely brief plot summary you can see that the film is multi-layered in the relationships between characters; whether it is the ‘false’ marriage between Larry and Julia, the tension between Frank and Kirsty after his abuse of her in his previous incarnation, and even between Frank and the cenobites as he tries to get one over on them and escape their clutches. This adds depth to the film and genuinely makes you care for the favourably portrayed characters such as Larry and Kirsty. Clive Barker had exactly in mind how he wished each character to come across to the audience and I believe he does this extremely successfully; which only stresses the benefit of having the writer also be the director of a film.

The acting is generally very good, and whilst some of the more ‘computerized’ effects later in the film look a little cheesy, Hellraiser’s costumes and more importantly for you gorehounds out there; kill scenes, still stand up today, mostly due to the terrific work of Bob Keen (also worked on Event Horizon and Nightbreed amongst others) with creating the cenobites.

Hellraiser is a fantastic, original horror film which should be one of the first films on a budding horror fan or gorehound’s ‘to buy’ list!

– Danny Kelly

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4 thoughts on “Hellraiser (1987) Review

  1. Pingback: Movie blog » Blog Archive » Hellraiser (1987) Review « Mr Movie Fiend's Movie Blog

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