This Halloween I took a little time to watch this classic horror flick.
Hell raiser became a classic of the horror genre for two reasons, the story is great, the special effects are amazing.
The story is pretty simple, someone buys a cursed item from a wise old eastern man that turns out to lead to terrible or evil problems. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever heard of the monkey paw or seen Gremlins you’ll know what I mean.
Hellraiser gives us the puzzle box, the opening of which opens a portal to hell and incredible suffering at the hands of demons called cenobites. The word cenobite actually means a member of a monastic community, (late Middle English: from Old French cenobite or ecclesiastical Latin coenobita, via late Latin from Greek koinobion ‘convent,’ from koinos ‘common’ + bios ‘life.’)
So we can think of them as a clutch of monks who worship pain. It’s stated in the movie that they are: “Explorers… in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, angels to others.” Basically huge emo kids.
So a man named Frank opens the box and is sucked into the world of the cenobites. The house where it happened is later occupied by the man’s brother and wife. When the brother cuts his hand badly and bleeding all over the place, the blood is enough to start bringing Frank back into this world.
The wife, we learn, had an intensely sexual relationship with Frank so when she finds his half formed and barely living corpse in the attic she agrees to lure men into the house and help kill them to provide blood to bring him back.
The contrast between intense pleasure and intense suffering and how both of these things can lead to completely unexpected and disastrously destructive results creates a cautionary tale that clearly warns the viewer off either extreme. That may not have been the intention of the filmmakers but nearly every character in the movie is either driven by lust or pain except of course for the heroes of the story.
The special effects are just incredible for the time. This is a movie that survives on its effects and uses them in the right ways. The look and feel of the
cenobites was easily recognizable and instantly horrifying. Pinhead became an instant icon of the horror genre with his simple pale, grid-like face lined with think pins or nails sticking out. Their outfits and looks make them each distinct as do their smooth way of moving about.
Many of the most explicit effects are just so well lit or left in shadow as to allow our minds to fill in the gaps. Frank’s half formed face is still convincing nearly thirty years after the movie was made.
It’s hard to pick out a lot of negative points about this movie especially after having just praised it so highly for it’s clear story and great effects. The one thing I would say is that it is extremely gory beyond the point it really needs to. I can’t really complain about that though. If it were less gory it would feel too pc. And this movie was out to make a statement.
Considering how strong it seems today I can only imagine how horrified audiences must have been at the time.
According to Clive Barker:
“Well, we did have a slight problem with the eroticism. I shot a much hotter flashback sequence than they would allow us to cut in…. Mine was more explicit and less violent. They wanted to substitute one kind of undertow for another. I had a much more explicit sexual encounter between Frank and Julia, but they said no, let’s take out the sodomy and put in the flick knife.”
– (I got that from the Wikipedia entry where you’ll find a few more interesting tidbits. Just click here.)
Despite how good the effects are, they remain a bit dated in many shots. Many quick closeup shots of hooks digging into flesh don’t look real as the flesh just looks like rubber or plastic. A large cenobite creature that chases Kristy looks like it’s something loaded up on a cart and being wheeled down a hallway. It’s well hidden in the shadows and still isn’t SO bad but would probably look a bit better if made today.