This box set contains the first three films in the Hellraiser series, which, to be fair, are all you really need, although I do quite like some of the ones that followed this initial mythology setting trilogy. Plus a whole host of goodies, some of which I wasn’t sent for review but I’ll review what I did receive.
Director: Clive Barker
Screenplay: Clive Barker
Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, Robert Hines
Running Time: 93 mins
BBFC Classification: 18
The first, and best, Hellraiser film still stands the test of time and still manages to be quite creepy and disturbing in places thanks to a good script by writer/director Clive Barker (based on his own novella, The Hellbound Heart) and some amazing visuals by Bob Keen and his special effects team.
Hellraiser is essentially a very twisted love story between Julia (played expertly by Clare Higgins) and her husband’s brother, Frank (Sean Chapman). Basically, Frank is an ex-military man who is a thrill and pleasure seeker of the highest order and first encounters the rather frigid Julia when he’s invited up for her forthcoming nuptials with his older brother, Larry (Robinson). Frank seduces the inexperienced Julia and she becomes besotted by him. However, Frank is a ‘Four Fs’ (find ‘em, finger ‘em, fuck ‘em and forget ‘em) kind of guy and doesn’t stick around for long, leaving a pinning Julia with the nice, but boring Larry.
Years later Larry returns to his family’s roots in England and the couple move into the house that Frank had last stayed at – in fact some of his stuff is still to be found there. What they don’t realise is, that whilst exploring for pleasures ‘beyond the limits’ Frank has had a nasty encounter with some inter-dimensional demons, called Cenobites, who have ripped him apart and left his remains under the floorboards. When Larry has an accident moving a mattress upstairs he cuts his hand very badly and, in true horror film style, his spilt life blood later resurrects Frank, who’s lying dormant under the floorboards of an attic room.
Frank shows himself to Julia and persuades her to spill more blood for him so they can be together, as they were before. As Julia becomes ever more secretive, murderous and efficient in the dispatching of would-be sexual suitors in the attic room, Larry confesses to his visiting daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) that he’s worried about her stepmother. Although Kirsty doesn’t really like Julia she sympathises with her dad and promises to keep an eye on Julia on his behalf.
Once Frank is back on his feet, he encounters a suddenly traumatised Kirsty and tries to assault her, but luckily she manages to escape and make off with the puzzle box (the Lament Configuration Box) that he’d originally used to summon the Cenobites with. Kirsty later manages to open the box, which unleashes the Cenobites who agree to spare her for Frank’s life… or do they?
Hellraiser is full of great concepts and Barker has created a fantastic new demonic mythology full of strange creatures with their own rules of engagement. And although his direction lacks some of the dynamism of others working in this field it’s an excellent first feature by anyone’s standard. And while there are a couple of moments which don’t really work (for example, there’s a moment when Kirsty has escaped from Frank, but then hangs around the landing, almost as if she’s waiting for him to come and catch her again), for the most part the film hangs together exceptionally well, and all involved with it should be justifiably proud.
The general look of the film is excellent and the production design, make up and special effects artists have all done a splendid job that still holds up today. In fact the sequence where Frank is reconstructing himself is still amazing to watch even now, 28 years later.
The script also delivers lots of iconic scenes and lines of dialogue, including the infamous ‘Jesus wept’ hooks in the face scene and Pinhead’s speech with Doug Bradley saying: ‘We have such sights to show you…’
The performances are all pretty good, although it’s a shame that Sean Chapman’s voice wasn’t used in the final film, as the voice they’ve given him just doesn’t suit his physical form and comes across as being a bit, well, weird!
Barker has tapped into many deep-seated fears in crafting Hellraiser and in doing so has produced something very special and unique; highly recommended.
Reviewer rating: 4.5/5
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Director: Tony Randel
Screenplay: Pete Atkins
Starring: Kenneth Cranham, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley, Imogen Boorman, William Hope
Running Time: 99 mins
BBFC Classification: 18
Continuing on almost straight after the first film, Hellbound follows the plight of the freshly traumatised Kirsty, who, having survived her close encounter with the Cenobites, still remains at the top of their ‘home visits’ list. Now housed in a mental hospital the doctors understandably don’t really believe her stories about her recent demon battling activities and think her trauma is really down to the mysterious disappearance of her father and stepmother.
However, when one of the senior consultants, Dr Phillip Channard, goes to see her, his own personal interest in all things occult makes him think there really is something to the girl’s strange story. In fact, Dr Channard (Kenneth Cranham) proves his mad doctor credentials by having the mattress that Julia died on brought to his house for his own sinister experiment, which involves allowing another mental patient to repeatedly cut himself while lying on said mattress. This splurge of bloodletting revitalises the remains of Julia, hidden within the mattress, and the crazy doc then agrees to help Julia completely regenerate if she’ll show him the way to the other dimension – cue lots of other patients being bled out for Julia’s pleasure.
However, all this doesn’t go completely unnoticed as one of the doctor’s assistants, Kyle, sees what is going on and tells Kirsty, who then persuades him to let her try and put a stop to Julia, once and for all. It doesn’t take too long for a gateway to hell to open and for Kirsty and a fellow – puzzle solving - inmate, Tiff, (who is mute), to be confronting Leviathan in a deadly maze set within the same dimension inhabited by the nasty, S & M loving Cenobites.
If Hellraiser was fairly low key, then Hellbound is far more ‘out there’ as its bigger-budgeted, faster paced sequel. Everything about the film is larger scale and more ‘over-the-top’, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact Hellbound used to be my favourite Hellraiser film, but after seeing Hellraiser on the big screen a couple of times I have to say that the first one is my favourite these days, but not by much.
The thing that really grabs you about the sequel is the production design, which is excellent for a fairly modest budget, with the shots of the maze and Leviathan emitting its black light being really stand out images for this particular viewer. Hellbound still manages to be quite disgusting too with the scenes involving the patient repeatedly cutting himself and the transformation of Dr Channard into a new Cenobite being real stand-outs.
The script isn’t as strong in Hellbound though and there are a couple of scenes which grate when compared with the original. Firstly, continuity-wise there’s a problem with the sequel right from the off since the house from Hellraiser is still standing, when I’m sure it was meant to have been destroyed at the end of the first film. Secondly, Kirsty encounters Uncle Frank again in Hell, but this scene feels rushed and doesn’t really add anything new to the story, although it does seem to confirm what was hinted in the first film, that Frank had molested or at least tried to molest Kirsty as a child, which is why she has such an extreme reaction to him.
The special effects are, again, excellent in the second film and I particularly liked the use of the dying art of stop motion animation for the movement of the Channard Cenobite’s snake-like appendages.
While there’s a bit of cheesiness seeping into the Hellraiser films here, Hellbound does deliver on its promises and I, for one, still rate it as one of my favourite horrors from the eighties. ‘Surgery is open’!
Reviewer rating: 4/5
Hell on Earth: Hellraiser III
Director: Anthony Hickox
Screenplay: Pete Atkins (& Tony Randel)
Starring: Doug Bradley, Terry Farrell, Paula Marshall, Kevin Bernhart, Ashley Laurence
Running Time: 93 mins
BBFC Classification: 18
Frustrated female TV reporter, Jo, (Terry Farrell) is looking for the scoop that will move her into the big leagues, and while out covering a filler story on a hospital A & E department she witnesses a young man being brought in with hooks and chains attached to various parts of his body. These hooks suddenly take on a life of their own and pull the poor kid apart, much to the considerable distress of his friend, Terri (Paula Marshall). Sensing a big story, Jo investigates further and after a lot of persuasion gets Terri to open up to her about what happened earlier that night. Apparently the young man had stolen a puzzle box that was lodged inside a weird statue that is currently residing at an exclusive nightclub, owned by local lothario J.P. Monroe.
The two young women then go all ‘Nancy Drew’ on us and track down where the statue originally came from, an art gallery, which seems to be in occasional use, even though the proper owner is currently out of town. Meanwhile J.P. has awoken the lead Cenobite, Pinhead, who is trapped in the statue. Pinhead then begins to groom J.P. to become his human assistant – he just needs more blood to un-trap his latex-clad arse from said statue!
It’s not long before new heroine, Jo, is having to take on a whole newly created gaggle (or maybe that should be ‘murder’?) of Cenobites, but this time they’re out and about in our dimension considerably more than before, causing all sorts of structural and vehicular mayhem as they go about their hellish business…
Hell on Earth: Hellraiser III tends to get a lot of stick from fans and critics alike – some of it is probably deserved, because it is rather daft in places, but on the whole it upholds the Cenobite mythology quite well and generally adds positively to what has gone before, particularly in providing us with a bit more background about the First World War soldier, Captain Elliot Spencer, who later became Pinhead.
Pete Atkins’ screenplay takes the franchise into a more mainstream milieu, but that’s what was asked of him by the new studio in charge, Miramax; now running the show after New World Pictures went belly-up. Hell on Earth is certainly more teen friendly and the cast are generally younger and easier on the eye.
I remember seeing the film at the cinema and really loving it until the over-blown attack on the nightclub and the Cenobites taking to the streets and blowing up cop cars and the like, when I thought it just lost some of its mysterious magic. Apparently we can blame Harvey Weinstein for those extra action-heavy scenes! Nowadays those scenes don’t bother me so much, but they do feel shoehorned in somewhat, probably to appeal to the more mainstream market. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but, personally, I feel the Cenobites would want to stick to the shadows more, rather than parade up and down the high street attracting a lot of attention! After all ‘the Devil’s greatest trick was to convince everyone that he doesn’t exist…’ if the ‘usual suspects’ are to be believed.
Despite some dubious dialogue, here and there, the film’s production values remain high, the special effects are excellent, as usual, and the acting is decent throughout, although in a couple of scenes the guy who plays J.P. didn’t really work for me. Plus it’s a shame that the other Cenobite regulars couldn’t be included, but this was an all – American production and they would only sort out one Green Card at the time, and that was for Doug Bradley, who apparently enjoyed having a fair bit of stuff to do without being in heavy make-up, for a change!
Clive Barker did quite well out of this one too – according to the extras the studio initially paid for him not to be involved in the production and then later, when they were marketing it, they decided they wanted his name reattached to the film so paid him again to come back on board – easy money me thinks!
Reviewer rating: 3.5/5
The Hellraiser limited edition Scarlet box set has recently been released on DVD and Blu-ray and is being distributed by Arrow Films. As is typical for Arrow Films they’ve done a bang-up job with this collection as a whole and have provided a whole host of interesting extras to accompany the films. In fact the extras are probably worth buying the set for alone. These extras are too many to go into detail about here and now, but my highlights include the following:
Each of the films have their own accompanying documentaries, specifically about them, placing the films in context of what was happening at the time, with some insightful interviews with most of the people involved, especially the special effect guys. All are well worth a watch.
There’s a documentary on the Hellraiser soundtrack that goes into detail about why the original soundtrack, by band Coil, wasn’t used and interviews band member, (and genre writer), Stephen Thrower, who’s very interesting, as per usual.
There are also a couple of interviews with actor Sean (Frank) Chapman, which are quite revealing about his role in the productions – you get the feeling that he might have been somewhat niffed about his voice being redubbed and therefore hadn’t contributed to the original Hellraiser documentary!
There are also a few interviews with star, Doug Bradley, called ‘Under the Skin’ where he talks about wearing the make-up, his evolving role within the franchise and about what he thinks of the individual films; all good stuff.
Other extras include commentaries with various people involved with the production, trailers, galleries, EPKs, TV spots, and lots of other mini docs about other aspects of the productions. In fact there’s loads of interesting stuff here, and for fans of Hellraiser and it’s first two sequels it’s a goldmine of interesting nuggets of information, including about what happened when Clive Barker and Pete Atkins locked film critic, Barry Norman, in a room with them, in order to grill him about a stupidly bad review he gave the first film! I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when he finally fessed up to the fact that it was all just because he hated horror films in general…
There’s also a forth disc I didn’t get sent with additional stuff on there too, plus an accompanying booklet and a book. However, I’m not going to review stuff I haven’t seen, but if it’s of a similar quality to the rest of this limited set I think fans will love it. In fact this box set would definitely make for a great Christmas present for fans of this series of movies.