Directed, and written, by Clive Barker (from his novella “The Hellbound Heart), Hellraiser is a British modern horror classic from a time when Britain wasn’t churning out that many great movies.
It’s the story of a puzzle box, but not just any puzzle box. This one, when worked open, brings forth creatures known as cenobites that will spend a long time putting the puzzler through the full range of pleasurable pains. When Julia (Clare Higgins) and Larry (Andrew Robinson) move back to Larry’s old homestead Julia begins to remember the passionate affair she had with his brother Frank (Sean Chapman). Little does she realise that Frank is residing in the house in spirit after his encounter with the cenobites, he just needs to find a way back. Larry’s daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) gets herself embroiled in the situation when she ends up toying around with the puzzle box that causes all of the nastiness.
With it’s mix of sex and death and those memorable cenobite characters (the original title for the movie was all set to be “Sadomasochists From Beyond The Grave) it’s no surprise that this horror appeals to genre fans on a superficial level.
Beyond that, however, we get a great look at the lengths that people will go to for excitement and kicks. We also get a group of baddies (with the “lead cenobite” going on to become a new horror icon) who are surprisingly reasonable at times, but only when it suits them.
The acting is all okay (Higgins is a bit over the top and too twitchy in places, Laurence is cute enough but Robinson is always excellent and gets his best scenes in the last half hour), the direction is solid if unspectacular and the script is fine despite one or two unnecessary moments centred around a strange homeless man.
But for me this will always be about two things. First, the imagery of the cenobites, their materialisation and all of the peeks we get into their world behind the walls around us. Secondly, a “resurrection” sequence that stands up to this day as a masterpiece of FX work in both British horror and cinema in general. It’s a fantastic sequence that should impress even those now weaned on the multitude of computer effects that fill up every other movie nowadays. Some of the other effects may fall a little short but you can accept these minor failings once well engrossed in the proceedings.
I must also mention the absolutely superb score from Christopher Young, appropriately bombastic and haunting in some places while staying simple and indicative of the puzzle box itself in others. Quite a wonderful work.
Not a perfect movie, and unforgiving viewers could easily pick it apart more than I did, but a bloody fantastic one made during a time when horror wasn’t exactly overflowing with originality and British cinema hardly seemed to exist. Which just makes it an even more impressive achievement.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: CLIVE BARKER
STARS: ANDREW ROBINSON, CLARE HIGGINS, ASHLEY LAURENCE, SEAN CHAPMAN, ROBERT HINES
RUNTIME: 94 MINS APPROX