31 January 2008

Tearing your soul apart: Hellraiser (1987) review

Frank Cotton is a mysterious man who buys a mysterious box from an equally mysterious Asian hawker. What is even more mysterious is that the Asian hawker is peddling in Morocco. Puzzled by the mysteries of the demographic irregularities, but seemingly undeterred by the mysteries of the mysterious box, Frank opens it with the aid of garden variety sputtering candles and late night deja-voodoo. A breed of hell-spawn demons called cenobites appear. They offer boundless sensual experience to Frank. Without even buying him a drink. Frank is not so mysteriously drawn to sadomasochism. Given the option of having a breed of demons torture his body and soul, or joining the Church of Scientology, a "dangerous cult", Frank wisely chooses to try his luck with the demons instead.

Visit Operation Clambake!

Frank likes a little S&M kink amongst consenting adults, but he realises true exploitation when he sees it. After meeting the cenobites, Frank mysteriously disappears from his home - body, soul, mysterious box, cenobites and all. Authorities suspect Scientology has something to do with it. All the circumstantial evidence points to extra-terrestrial beings with a lust for life and an appetite for destruction, not to mention the resemblance between Xenu-bite and cenobite. It won't be the first time either. Nevertheless, Frank's brother Larry follows in his footsteps, in more ways than one. Larry soon moves into Frank's dilapidated house along with Frank's widowed wife. Seems like one could take nepotism too far after all.

But there is a screw loose. There are also nails loose, sticking out of the walls in Frank's house. Loose nails could get handy when there isn't another loose screw around with an S&M infatuation. Must be for when Frank gets lonely. While moving in, Larry cuts his hand on one of the nails, which proves to be the final nail in his coffin. Some of his blood is spilt on the floor. This mysteriously awakens the remains of Frank. Frank is such a rude character, he doesn't even wait for the sequel to make a comeback. He mysteriously escapes the cenobites, who spend the rest of the film terrorising Frank's terrifying step daughter for information instead of following the stench of rotting flesh to Frank's hideout. Gaining the upper hand over your opponent with emotional blackmail instead of sleuth tactics certainly compensates for its lack of efficiency with sheer style. The cenobites live up to their reputation for tearing souls apart, offering boundless sensual experience, evading all manners of taxation and traumatising several survivors. That's the cenobites. Not the Scientologists.


  • This film is seriously lacking in the technical department. It is Barker's first attempt at directing a feature film, and it shows. The shots are composed haphazardly, so unethically unaesthetic that it doesn't look like they were composed at all. There are some clever shots which work very well, making it clear that Barker was merely not cognisant of composition protocol.

  • This is not to say the film fails to create atmosphere. On the contrary, mostly due to the innate storytelling genius of Barker and the music of Christopher Young, the film does manage to create binding tension. Not only for Frank. Barker manages to let the story unfold, raising all the right questions, leaving all the right questions unanswered. It does get a little muddled towards the end, mostly because the questions which are answered offer no real resolution. At least the ending itself is rather splendid.

  • Christoper Young was commissioned to write the score after Barker first tried to work with an Industrial soundtrack by fellow Brits Coil. Barker found the music they made short of listenable - "bowl churning", just like good Industrial should be, in fact. Young provides his usual model of excellence. His musical scores are like motion pictures on their own. The music of Christopher Young creates a black hole, sucking the viewer into another dimension.

  • You will love this film if you adore latex props in lieu of CGI, and can look past the glaring shortcomings of the shots. It obeys nearly all the commandments of horror, especially with regards to the characters. Some of Frank's blood doesn't look realistic at all. It looks more like paint. Frank's metamorphosis is done very well, but it could always do with more ooze, and naturally more buckets of blood!

A mildly entertaining, classy horror with Barker redeeming himself from the lacking film technique thanks to the brilliant storytelling. The performances of the largely unknown cast are also noteworthy. For fans of dark fantasy and true special effects craftsmanship.

Clive Barker

Doug Bradley
Clare Higgins
Ashley Laurence
Andrew Robinson
Oliver Smith



Titania Starlight said...

I am a fan of Clive Barker. I think I ahve read more of his works then watched it. I have to confess, and it could because I am getting to be an old fart, ( I jsut turned a young 40) but I was scared shitless when Hellrasier was released. But looking back now you made a lot of great points. Isn't it amazing how cinema has evolved? Some of those older films are so "primitive". :o)~

Take care.

I thought I would share this with you as you would find it amuzing. I raised my children to make their own choices far as their beliefs. My daughter has not fallen far from the tree. At the age of 11 she read the entire works of Edgar Allen Poe. I was so proud of her. She looked in my library and asked if she could borrow it. I thought she would get bored but she devoured it. Woo hoo! she now is asking questions about my days as a Pagan/Wiccan.

wozog said...

thanks for voting at my site. Gotta love the classics.

B-Sol said...

I agree with you pretty much completely on this review. I've always found Hellraiser to be a tad overrated, without much rewatchability. A decent horror film, not a classic.

Ria said...

I actually liked this movie, even though the plot was kind of all over the place. I actually liked the first two Hellraiser movies. Then the third was disappointing, but I guess good things don't last forever. I think there was another movie made after the third, but I really wasn't interested in seeing it.

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