By Brett Mullins
Written and Directed by Clive Barker
As with Candyman, Nightbreed, and several others, Clive Barker is known for creating original, though somewhat odd horror stories. Hellraiser stands out among these films as the work that gained Barker much recognition in the film world. With that being said, Hellraiser is an interesting film that falls short just about everywhere else.
Though complex, the plot can more or less be summed up in one quote: “The box. You opened it. We came.” The hedonistic Frank purchases a supposedly ancient puzzle to experience the far reaches of pleasure. Upon activating the puzzle, Frank summons a group of interdimensional beings, known as the Cenobites, that illustrate the extent of both suffering and pleasure through eternal torture in their far away realm. Frank somehow escapes and regenerates in bodily form when his brother spills blood from a gash on the floor of the room in which Frank disappeared. To finish his revival, Frank needs more blood, so he sends out his lover/sister-in-law to lure unsuspecting men to the house. Meanwhile, his niece gains possession of the puzzle and... It is certainly needless to say at this point that this is a complex and original story.
Such a twisting tale requires interesting characters to build a cohesive plot. These are initially found in Frank and the Cenobites. As Frank’s body regenerates, he looks as though he came straight from the BODIES Exhibit, constantly leaking blood from his exposed skeletal muscles. The Cenobites were well designed in gothic clothing with distinct nightmarish features that created icons in the horror universe.
Despite the attention grabbing designs of these characters, a number of questions lingered: who are the Cenobites?; how did they come into existance?; and if they are separate from time and space, how the hell did Frank escape?!
For the most part, the acting is boring and stiff. In particular, Ashley Laurence, who portrays Frank’s niece, stutters in conveying emotion and hinders much of the film’s tension. In the scene where she initially confronts Frank, she acts like a child who gets caught off guard and says something so idiotic that the entire family is embarrassed.
This is not to say that Hellraiser is devoid of frights; they just come off as second rate. In the film, the Cenobites don’t really do that much, only appearing on screen for ten or so minutes. As a result, Frank’s antics are the source of the majority of scares, if they can be called that. After the film, however, the monstrous traits of the Cenobites will be remembered, such as the Chatterer’s teeth and Butterball’s scarred face, masked by sunglasses.
Hellraiser features an interesting story that is not well translated into film. If it were not for the strong imagery present, this film would not be regarded as highly as it is today. I suggest instead reading Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart from which this film is based.