Clive Barker’s directing debut follows the tale of a couple (Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins) who move into an old house and discovers a hideous creature (Oliver Smith) — the man’s half-brother (and his wife’s former lover) — hiding upstairs. Having lost his earthly body to three demons, the man’s been brought back to life by a drop of blood on the floor. Soon, he’s forcing his former mistress to bring him human sacrifices to complete his body.
“What is your pleasure sir?” A simple question asked in a café somewhere in the world where shady dealings are common place. But the question being asked isn’t the lead in to a prostitution deal, but rather the sale of a simple golden puzzle box. A puzzle box that Frank Cotton has heard will give him pleasure beyond his imagination.
And so, sometime later, Frank sits surrounded by candles, attempting to solve the box. Finally, when he succeeds, any ideas he had of what wishes the box would grant him are soon violently torn to shreds by hooked chains. A tall shadowed figure plays with the pieces of Frank’s face then takes the box and disappears.
Larry Cotton and his wife Julia have just arrived in England from Boston to Larry’s childhood home. The house is an utter wreck, religious iconography litters the walls and shelves of the living room, and the kitchen is filled with rotting food with more maggots than you can shake a stick at. The place looks like sh*t, and Julia hates it, but Larry convinces her that with a little fixing up, it’ll be home.
Moving day comes, and Kirsty (Larry’s daughter) arrives to help with the move. While attempting to move the mattress up the winding stairs with the moving men, Larry snags his hand on a nail, leaving a deep cut. The big baby can’t stand the sight of blood and wanders upstairs to one of the empty rooms that Julia is looking around, the same room that Frank died in. Julia wraps his hand in a handkerchief and takes Larry off to the hospital, as the blood that fell from Larry’s hand is mysteriously absorbed by the floor. Within a few moments, the floor boards begin to quake, and a clear slime forces its way up through the gaps between the boards and through the nail holes. Slowly but surely the slime begins to take shape, and soon we see a half resurrected Frank.
Julia finds the abomination of Frank and he convinces her to bring him victims in order to restore him so that they can be together again.Head full of memories of her infidelities with Frank, the harlot agrees to seduce and subdue victims for Frank.
At some point in all of this madness, Frank tells Julia about the box, and the Cenobites: a group of creatures that are masters in the art of torture. He warns her that she must bring him more victims as quickly as possible so he can be fully restored before the Cenobites realize he’s escaped; Julia agrees. Kirsty makes an unexpected visit, catches Julia bringing a strange man home and decides to investigate.
Soon, Kirsty is involved in the madness that the box brings, and after stealing the box from Frank she collapses on the street, only to awaken in a hospital. Not realizing what the box is capable of, she opens it and meets The Cenobites: Chatterer, Butterball, Female and Pinhead. Kirsty bargains with the Cenobites that she’ll lead them to Frank if they leave her alone. Pinhead and the Female Cenobite offer one of the greatest pieces of dialogue in all of film “But if you cheat us…We’ll tear your soul apart.”
Can Kirsty tell her father in time? Can she summon the Cenobites to take Frank instead of her?
Hellraiser was released in 1987 and to say that it had a small impact is like saying Hiroshima was just another bombing run. The 1980’s were truly an amazing time for horror films. Unfortunately, despite every truly classic film to come out of the decade, we’ve also got a stack of “Return to Horror High” and “Sorority House Massacre” type films to clog up the cinemas. By 1987 we had already seen Freddy’s return to glory in “A Nightmare on Elm St. 3”, we were treated to “Creepshow 2”, “Evil Dead 2”, “Ghoulies 2”, “Prom Night 2”, “House 2” and “The Howling 3” to name just a few. Now there’s nothing wrong with sequels most of the time, and there were plenty of other original horror films that came out in 1987 like “The Lost Boys”, “Monster Squad” and “Near Dark”, but Hellraiser set a new bar in the horror genre, pushing the boundaries of what to expect from a horror film.
Hellraiser is a nasty film, not only in the effects department, but also in the story. Here you’ve got a scum bag that runs all around the world trying to find some new kind of thrill, an unfaithful wife and oblivious husband and demonic butchers from Hell. Hellraiser is an honest film, in the sense that the human characters are all people you’ve probably met on the street or even know. Of course the Cenobites are far fetched, but that’s what makes Clive Barker’s writing, and this film, so effective. The film presents us with such a strong dichotomy of reality and fantasy, blurring the lines to such a degree that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. The same can be said of Good and Evil in this film. While Julia and Frank are clearly bad people, they’re doing what they’re doing for love, and is that wrong? And what about the Cenobites? Are they evil? They don’t do anything out of malice; in fact, the Cenobites are the only characters in the movie that aren’t acting on pretense. They are simply doing what their job tells them to do, which is to come when the box is opened and take the soul of the person who opened it with them.
I’ve already sung the praises of “Hellbound: Hellraiser II” and I’ll do the same for this film. Clive Barker knocked this film out of the park, and considering it was his first time directing a feature length film, he manages to keep the film moving without resorting to silly devices or shock tactics to keep the audience interested. Of course, there are a few scenes here and there that don’t seem to make much sense. Kirsty’s dream sequence is more than a little strange, and the images that flash on the TV in Kirsty’s hospital room are another moment where the intention or purpose isn’t quite clear. Nonetheless, the film draws you into it’s world and keeps your attention for its duration.
However, some of you younger viewers who have grown up with CGI effects in every horror film you’ve seen will probably be disappointed by some of the practical effects in this film. Even I can’t help but laugh a little when I watch the scene where the giant hallway monster chases Kirsty because, thanks to DVD, you can see the rig that’s pushing the monster along that isn’t as hidden by shadows as it should be. But overall, every bit of special effects done in this movie is fantastic, and adds to the whole film because you know that they achieved it by doing it the old fashioned way. And I’d much rather see the rig pushing the hallway monster along then have some over done CGI monster that looks like sh*t.