Dir. Clive Barker (1987)
When unleashed by a mysterious puzzle called the Lament Configuration, ancient demons from the S&M dimension wreak all sorts of havoc on an innocent teenager and two not-so-innocent adults.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
I watched Hellraiser again not too long ago, and it had been years since I had last seen it. Arguably Clive Barker’s masterpiece, Hellraiser has some of the most intense visuals of any horror movie ever made, and arguably the scariest demons this side of Pazuzu. Before I rewatched the movie, I went back and read the story on which it was based, which I highly recommend for anyone with even the slightest interest in horror lit because Clive Barker is the fucking man. However, upon rewatch of the movie, I gotta say… it’s not as good of a movie as it deserves to be.
Yes, it absolutely gets its point across, and in the realm of movies that you can watch just because they’re scary, Hellraiser certainly is terrifying. It toyed with the boundaries of what you were allowed to put in a film that makes it to theaters, using sex not to titillate but to terrify. And it does that part extremely well. What it doesn’t do as well, in my not so humble opinion, is develop the plot beyond what is necessary to get to the evil villains, especially after the “final girl” comes into the picture. Frank, the skinless man most people remember from the movie, is a terrible dude who searched the world for the craziest sexual experiences and found the Lament Configuration, which, when opened, rips apart the boundaries between the Hell Dimension and our own. He is trapped in the attic of his brother’s wife/lover’s house after escaping from said demons, doomed to be a pile of flesh until she gathers the necessary material to remake him, which she does in the most disturbing ways possible. After Frank has gathered more material to remake himself, he eventually confronts his lover’s daughter Kirsty (who is his niece, don’t forget), who winds up in possession of the Lament Configuration. It is after she solves it that we get our first real run-ins with the inhabitants of the Hell Dimension.
Cenobites or late 80's metal band?
It’s a bizarre story to say the least, and while the plot does make sense, it is more jumbled than it perhaps should have been. However, that, in my opinion, does not take away from the purpose this movie serves. This is without a doubt the most disturbing of the primary horror franchises, easily beating back Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Child’s Play in pure horrifying implications. The Cenobites are supremely disturbing and brutal, and their only goal is to achieve pleasure through the causation of pain. There is no way that you can walk away from this movie without being frightened by the Cenobites. They’re so unworldly while representing the absolute depravity of man. And they’re absolutely freaky looking, to boot.
May I interest you in some aggressive acupuncture?
Clive Barker is arguably the best horror writer of all time, and Hellraiser is directly adapted from his short novella The Hellbound Heart. The book is better, to be sure, but there is a lot to love about the film as well. There is also a lot to be critical about in retrospect, and this is a film that, if the conditions were right, might actually benefit from a more modern remake. It’s hard to imagine Pinhead without Doug Bradley attached, but if they managed to find someone as effortlessly menacing, a new Hellraiser could be a helluva film. What do you think?
Who this movie is for: 80’s horror lovers, Clive Barker fans, S&M afficionados
Bottom Line: It may not be as good as you remember, but it doesn’t need to be. Hellraiser is just plain scary. With the most disturbing plot and visuals of any of the major franchises, Hellraiser deserves the place it’s taken for itself. Doug Bradley is a legend simply from this performance (and those from the followup films), and Clive Barker is the master of all things truly terrifying. Absolutely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it, and definitely worth a rewatch if you have.