To Hell and Back Part I: Hellraiser (1987)

As stated in previous articles, Clive Barker has an impressive record of horror stories. Narratives filled with warped demons and twisted other worlds for these characters to roam through. In 1987, the public got to witness a new nightmare right in front of them, as his inter-dimensional demons from his classic tome The Hellbound Heart got the silver screen treatment. With the cinematic release of Hellraiser.

I like the look of the configuration, but wouldn’t want to play with it!

We meet the Cotton family, Larry, Julia, and Kirsty moving into a new home, the house once belonged to Larry’s brother Frank, who has mysteriously disappeared in Morocco. It turned out that Julia has been having a steamy affair with Frank, whose disappearance forced her to move on with a dull Larry. When a skinless cadaver, claiming to be Frank, requires blood to rebuild his body. Julia must seduce and sacrifice strangers to fuel this skinless monster’s regeneration, in order to keep up her love affair going. But when those behind Frank’s disappearance return, The Cotton family must all deal with the consequences of their bloodline tampering with a mysterious puzzle box.

The effects and costume work are the real stars of the film.

Having never read The Hellbound Heart, I am unfamiliar with how closely the details of Hellraiser follow the book. But from what I gather there have been a few changes from the story. Moving the action to America seems to be the main change. The predominantly British cast seem to adapt well to the changes, demonstrating the intercontinental appeal of the story. Though with its changes, the film does retain a hard-to-articulate sense of Britishness to it, that makes it stand out from some of the other horror behemoths of the decade.

Here is Kirsty, standing in a London dock, that stands in rather well for an New England dock.

But Hellraiser’s coup is in its special effects, living bodies, that look like they stepped straight from anatomy textbooks. Along with more meat hooks than you can shake a skewer at. But when combined with its depictions of the distorted Cenobites.  It is a real treat for the eyes seeing these horrific nightmarish cultists in the flesh, especially when comparing to how the Cenobites are described in the original novel. It is clear to see why these monstrosities became household names.

Julia, played by Clare Higgins, also steals the show, with her black-widow routine throughout.

I would imagine it would be a creative dream to work on adapting The Hellbound Heart, but even with its alterations Hellraiser is an impressive imaginative feat. It feels very British in its sensibilities and styles, which is why I imagine the U.S. press did not take to it. But much like the metric system, it’s clear to see the benefits, and as is spawned nine sequels. As tempting as the puzzle box in the film, Hellraiser is worth at least one play.

Larry is also a good fit and the dubbing work is hardly noticeable.

If you want more positive reviews delivered to the e-mail box of your choice, you can click on that little text bubble at the bottom of the screen. Do you agree or disagree? or have a suggestion for another pop-culture artefact that needs a positive light shone on it? Leave a comment in the comment box below! But remember to keep it positive!

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