REVIEW: Hellraiser (1987)

REVIEW: Hellraiser (1987)
Andrew Garvey


Title: Hellraiser
Year Released: 1987
Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Oliver Smith and Doug Bradley


Happy Birthday Pinhead!

One of the most genuinely unsettling British horror films ever, Hellraiser kicked off one of the genre’s longest running, though least financially successful, major franchises.  Featuring some strong acting, stuffed with unforgettably gory imagery and some truly fantastic creature design and costuming, Clive Barker’s film is a British horror masterpiece.

Based on his own 1986 novella the Hellbound Heart, Barker wrote the screenplay and directed this, his first feature film as a horrific exploration of desire, sadomasochistic brutality and Hell.  American businessman Larry Cotton and his second wife Julia, an apparently uptight Englishwoman, move into a new home, a ramshackle old place formerly belonging to Larry’s world-travelling, sex-mad brother Frank.

Assuming Frank is in prison somewhere, Larry and Julia (still lusting after the more interesting brother she previously had an affair with) are clearly unhappy together and she finds herself oddly drawn to the attic where Frank, in an earlier scene had met a gruesomely iconic end.

Messing with things he didn’t understand, Frank’s mysterious puzzle box opened up a gateway to Hell, bringing him to the attention of some terrifyingly realised humanoids – the Cenobites – led by a leather-clad man with pins in his head.  Torn apart by their hooked chains, bits of Frank’s body are left all over the place while his soul is imprisoned in another, darker dimension.

On moving day, Larry cuts his hand and helpfully bleeds all over the attic, partially regenerating Frank’s body.  Julia encounters her former lover in his unfinished state and agrees to help by supplying him with more blood.  But how far will she go?  And what will all this ultimately mean for her, Larry, his daughter Kirsty and the angry, manipulative being formerly known as Frank?

Wallowing in what Edgar Allan Poe called “the redness and the horror of blood” and replete with nightmarish religious references, Hellraiser remains, a quarter of a century after its release, a truly great horror film with special effects that still (on the whole) stand up shockingly well.  The Cenobites are brilliantly hideous creations and every stage of Frank’s regeneration is eye-wateringly convincing.

But there’s far more to Hellraiser than just its effects.  Frank and Julia make a frightfully credible, evil pairing.  Frank particularly just has no redeeming features whatsoever and stands as one of the great villains of British cinema.

The Cenobite leader (never referred to as Pinhead) says little but simply oozes menace and in Kirsty we get a tough, believable heroine.  And, as you’d expect from Barker, we get a strong, imaginative script.

See it for the first time, or reacquaint yourself with a British horror classic.

ANDREW GARVEY lives in Staffordshire.  He writes (infrequently) about mixed martial arts, professional wrestling, history, horror and folklore.  Follow him on Twitter: @AMGarvey Check out more Andrew Garvey articles for the Spooky Isles here.

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Andrew Garvey

ANDREW GARVEY is Spooky Isles' Associate Editor. He lives in Staffordshire. He writes (infrequently) about mixed martial arts, professional wrestling, history, horror and folklore.

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