Movie Review: Hellraiser

Posted: February 7, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , ,


Pimping ain’t NEVER been easy.

Hellraiser (1987 New World Dir. Clive Barker)


Depending on your view, either nothing good or something wonderful will come from this box.

There’s a Monty Python sketch that starts with a bishop and two of his buddies sitting in an audience for a game show and they sit up and yell “Open the box! Open the box!” for whatever reason. I always assumed it was some British game show I knew nothing about. But what if, what if they were kinky? Maybe those religious people in that sketch wanted this box opened, so they could share in the delights that the cenobites have to offer. Now the rest of this review has got some pretty bad images, so I’m going to have to put them under a cut because this is a family LJ.


Insert stupid joke about “Don’t go to pieces” here.

It’s sometimes hard to go back and watch Hellraiser just on its own merits now, after so many bad sequels have come and gone. I liked the first sequel well enough, but after that they were pretty terrible. Of course part of the problem is my view of what makes a proper horror movie. I’m not too keen on slasher flicks and from Hellraiser 3 and on that was all they were. The first two though were what I like in horror, they were monster movies.


Sadly, I’m a sexless twerp.

Of course being a Clive Barker story, the real monsters turn out to be the normal people, while those who are outwardly monstrous seem to be sort of okay. Well, not okay… because the cenobites are still monsters who would like to rip your face off, but their not as bad as Frank and Julia. At least the cenobites are kinky and stuff. Frank and Julia wouldn’t even wait for you to finish the funky Rubick’s Cube from Hell before starting in on you. At least the Cenobites wait to be called and don’t just jump you for your blood or anything like that.


I’m the pretty one, so I shall live!

This is still pretty early in Barker’s career and in some ways the rough edges are still showing where they shouldn’t. Barker’s work always has a pretty rough edge, but here the edge is rough because of limitations in budget and experience. That’s not to say the movie is bad in anyway, but merely that one can see the room for improvement. There is also still a shyness about the work in an odd sort of way. For something so famously explicit, I’ve always felt there was a certain coolness and distance in his work when it comes to some of the subjects. The subjects he seems to get fussy over though are the normal things, meals, conversations, the semi-almost-not-quite romance between Kirsty and her boy toy. When it comes to creatures with sewn shut eyes and necks held open by wire, he’s got no problem with that. Something about the ordinary seems to disturb him though.


A small gathering of saints.

One of the things about this movie, is that it seems like they want you to think that it takes place in American, with a lot of American actors. They’ve dubbed half the actors in the movie to give them American accents. The main characters (besides Julia) are all supposed to be American and the father Larry clearly states that it’s his parent’s home. There are bits with people in New York Yankee’s ball caps, and other little oh so American touches. Except that it’s England. It’s so clearly England though that the wikipedia article states the movie takes place in England. Actually it was shot to take place in England, and then the distributors decided to get them to blur that line and pretend it was America because they thought it would do better that way. That’s not important though, because where the movie takes place hardly matters, what matters is the movie itself.


He’s going to get “nailed” here. Oh gods, what lousy jokes.

If you miss the first two minutes of the movie, you’re going to wonder what the hell this movie is about. Except for those two minutes, the first twenty minutes are just a story about a guy moving back to his parent’s old house while his wife remembers an affair she had with his brother. If you miss the bit at the beginning where Frank gets torn apart by the Cenobites, who you only see for a few seconds, you’d wonder why it’s called Hellraiser at all. Not only that, but you’ll wonder why so much detail is given to certain parts of the movie. If you miss those first two minutes, you’ll be totally out to sea for a good long while. Guess how I saw it the first time. Go ahead, guess! Even having seen the opening two minutes, it seems there is a long bit of family drama before the horror gets started.


What a sweet face, you could take him home to mother.

So the movie starts with a guy getting a wood and metal box, the lament configuration. It’s never actually called that in the movie, but that’s what it is. He gets the box, opens it up, and chains suddenly rip into his flesh and tear him apart. The room is then re-decorated with a lovely chain and spinning rectangular column motif. We then see an early shot of the cenobites playing around in the attic and putting Frank’s face together on a floor. Then he closes the box and it all vanishes, including the lovely re-decorating job. I can only assume Frank was behind on his mortgage repayments and they repossessed everything including him. That really is the first two minutes of the movie, roughly. I’ve never actually timed it out or anything, but it seems to go by very fast.


Bride of Frankenstein hair here.

The next bit, the next 20 minutes or so, it very odd by horror standards. I say odd, even though they’re perfectly ordinary in reality. It’s odd because this is not a happy family, but it’s a movie family. If this were a typical movie, we’d have a happy family that would have a perfect life if only those pesky minions of hell would stop trying to interfere with them. Instead we have a dysfunctional family with an insufficient husband, his wife who longs to cheat on him with his brother, and the daughter that isn’t really wanted by her step mother. Not a happy family, so when the reanimated corpse of Frank shows up, it’s already a full tale.


Dancing in the dark.

The thing is that the story is really dependant on this family being the way it is. If it were a happy family the one little thing (hell’s minions) would never be able to touch them. I know that it’s really Frank and Julia who push the dark portions of the story forward, after the first accident of course. See Larry cuts his hand and bleeds all over the floor of the attic where Frank was killed. That blood brings Frank over again, and from there the movie starts to move forward.


Beauty takes effort.

Frank comes back from the dead but only part of the way. He’s sort of a wasted walking skeleton when he comes back, and he needs more blood to come all the way back. Essentially he needs Julia to commit murders for him, which she decided to do in order to get him back. She does this by picking up men and bringing them to the house so she can kill them. After whacking a couple of guys with a hammer, Frank then consumes them somehow that’s not really clear to me. He becomes more complete with each person she brings long though, that much is clear.


There has to be some joke about feeling out of your skin or something that goes here.

During this time Kirsty, the actual star of the film, is being followed around by a creepy tramp in a Dr. Who scarf. She sees him a few times while wandering around the unnamed city. The tramp is just an extra bit of creepiness for the movie, which doesn’t have a pay off until the end of the movie. There is also a semi-subplot about Kirsty having a boyfriend and trying to start a relationship, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Kirsty fails to have much to do with the story for about half the movie. It’s not until she discovers the box that Kirsty really has anything to do with the movie.


Smoking kills!

Kirsty discovers the box when she sees Julia taking another victim to Frank’s clutches. She hears the man scream and goes into the house, working her way up to the attic where Frank is waiting. Frank tries to attack her, but she gets a hold of the box. Frank reacts immediately to her having the box, and she throws it out the box out the window. Then she runs out of the house and grabs the box again before collapsing on the street. Because, you want to grab the thing of evil and take it with you when your un-dead uncle tries to eat your face. She then wakes up in the hospital where a doctor gives her the box and asks about it.


What a wonderful box she has.

Kirsty, not understanding the significance of the box, plays with it and opens the door to hell. So, yeah, this is a movie about the dangerous things that can happen when a girl plays with her box. Anti-masturbation symbolism? You decide! Then the cenobites come onto the stage for real, after a bit with a monster in the corridor of course. I don’t get that thing, it doesn’t really work for me like the rest of the movie does. When they actually show up, the cenobites are really quite threatening. They don’t come off as any sort of goofy monster with zippers up the back or a silly make up job that was only half done and shot in the dark to cover up the errors. The cenobites are shown in hard white light, so bright that it’s almost like shooting them in the dark because the light allows very little shadow and it almost over lights them.


Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

They explain what they are and that she opened the box which called them. Seems the cenobites are sort of the BDSM crowd of the underworld and as such they can get into some REALLY freaky stuff. Instead of just whips and leather cuffs, they go for hooks with chains on the end. Kirsty more or less loses it and demands that she didn’t know what the box was. While they tell her about what the deal is she tells them that she knows where Frank is and that she can lead them to her. See, Frank got away from them and they resent it. Frank it seems is the guy who shows up to a play party thinking it was going to be an ordinary orgy and decided to check out when he discovers it’s a lot of BDSM stuff going on. However, instead of just telling him not to let the door hit him where the good lord split him, the cenobites say he can’t leave until they’ve played with him. When he escapes with the equivalent of a pair of hand cuffs on and a ball gag in his mouth, they come after him.


Hansome man.

She goes back to the house to tell her father and Julia about Frank. The thing is, that it’s not her father who tells her that Frank is dead. It’s Frank in her father’s skin, having stolen it after killing Larry. SKIN SUIT! She goes into the attic to see her father’s dead body, thinking its Frank and finds the cenobites telling her that they want the person who killed the dead body. She thinks the dead body is Frank and tells them they can’t have her daddy, like you do. Unless you’re making a movie today, then she’d have “Daddy Issues” and they’d screw the whole film up. She then runs down stairs thinking that they’ve come for her father, but discovers the truth a little too late. She does manage to lead Frank back up to the attic though, and the cenobites come and get him. I’m putting a lot of tension into a little paragraph, but it’s all there trust me.


The suit makes the sexy.

Of course after coming back to get Frank, they put all their hooks into him and he delivers one of the great lines in horror films. All Frank says, while being held in the hooks before being taken away is the phrase “Jesus wept” which has got to be one of the all time great lines. Barker has said that he had something more obscene planned but that the actor playing adlibbed the line thinking it was a more apt line to give.


Jesus wept.

Sadly, the nightmare isn’t over then, because the cenobites had decided that she was still needed as a plaything. She plays with the box to close it up the door and send the monsters away. This also causes the house to fall down for reasons I’m not really clear on. The house always falls down in these movies though, so it’s expected. When they get away, Kirsty tries to burn the box. Sadly, after throwing it in the fire the tramp from earlier comes back and grabs the box out of the fire. He then turns into a giant skeletal dragon and flies away with the box. The movie then closes on pretty much the same scene it started on, the bazaar with the man asking “What’s your pleasure sir?”


The world, Pre-Ebay

What’s interesting is that the monsters that this series is known for is hardly in the movie. In total, the cenobites have maybe five whole minutes of screen time. It’s just that they dominate the screen whenever they’re on it. They take over completely and you can’t look away. They’re not even the monsters of the movie, as I said earlier on. Frank and Julia are the monsters here. If anything, the cenobites are sort of the hand of authority that come to put things right instead of making things go wrong. They would be changed later to being the monsters, but that’s another review for another day.


Another dramatic 80s hair moment.

I think there are some six to eight versions of the DVD right now. I have one from Anchor Bay that has a commentary and few other featurettes. It also came with a second disc that holds Hellraiser II on it.

Official Score:
25 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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