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Directors: Clive Barker, Tony Randel & Anthony Hickox
Starring: Doug Bradley, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman & Ashley Laurence
Synopsis: Barker’s original Hellraiser, follows Kirsty Cotton as she comes head-to-head with the Cenobites-demonic beings from another realm who are intent on reclaiming the soul of her deviant Uncle Frank.
Rating: 18 Run time: 93/99/93 minutes Release date: 26 October

It’s easy to forget just how good Hellraiser is. At a time when the horror genre was populated by stalk and slash films, Hellraiser brought something different to the table and for a mainstream horror especially, was defiantly gory with a rich subtext that can be explored to death.

Hellraiser

Director Clive Barker adapted his own novella The Hellbound Heart for the big screen, and while Hellraiser gave birth to eight more films, it is the first film that is, arguably, the best and certainly the most innovative of them all.

Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) acquires a mysterious box on his travels through Morocco and intends to use this box in order to obtain access to a whole new world of pain and pleasure. Returning to his childhood home in London, Frank manages to unlock the box unleashing a new kind of Hell upon himself.

Once the box is unlocked, a series of chains appear and hook themselves onto Franks’ skin. Writhing in agony, Frank literally has his flesh torn from his body, in what is one of the great scenes in horror cinema. It’s a scene that will still have audiences recoiling today and sets a marker for what to expect from the rest of the film.

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Once Frank has suffered this particular misfortune, we are introduced to his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) who has moved into their childhood home with his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) as they attempt to rekindle their disappointing marriage. It soon transpires that Julia had an affair with Frank shortly after she married Larry, and little does she know that she will soon be reunited with Frank, or what’s left of him.

Despite being 28 years old, Hellraiser is still as fresh now as it was back in 1987. It plays up to very few of the genre clichés and, as previously mentioned, delivered a new type of horror that was unseen at the time. It’s quite visceral imagery is some of the most disturbing you will witness on celluloid and ensures the film stays with you long after the credits have rolled.

Although they only appear in fleeting moments, the Cenobites are another haunting aspect of Hellraiser. Their distinct look is one of the films most enduring features and they are recognisable even if you haven’t seen the film. Pinhead (Doug Bradley) has become synonymous with the series and his inclusion here is a defining moment for the series.

Bradley’s portrayal of Pinhead instantly marks the character down as one of horrors most iconic figures, which is all the more remarkable given the little screen time that the character is given. It’s fair to say that Pinhead and his fellow Cenobites aren’t even the bad guys here.

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Rather that is left to Frank and Julia in their murderous scheme to bring flesh back to Frank’s forever changing body. The Cenobites are merely a means to an end, the result of ones tampering with the mysterious puzzle box that brings torture to whoever unlocks it questionable treasures.

Hellraiser is Clive Barker’s first full-length feature as a director and is something of a contradiction in film-making terms. There is a dark undertone to every scene and a foreboding sense of the unknown that carries on until the very final scene. There is also a high level of sexuality to Hellraiser, probably best portrayed through the films constant use of S&M and its pain for pleasure metaphors.

Several scenes tease us with the idea of how one takes pleasure while being explicitly tortured and their vividness are on par with the bizarre visuals of David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, another film that pushed the horror genre into new fleshy territory.

As with most horror films, Hellraiser is full of subtexts, and many articles have been written about what is really being said here and if Barker was aiming higher than to create just another horror film. But without having to look deeper, Barker created a superb horror film that pushed audience perceptions and brought an entirely new horror icon into the public domain.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II

Hellbound: Hellraiser II, to give the film its full title, is a film of two halves. The first is a highly interesting, deeply sadistic film that ties in nicely with its predecessor. The second is an unbridled mess, and while it remains interesting, it gets lost in itself and completely loses focus.

Hellbound carries on immediately from the first Hellraiser and finds Kirsty in mental hospital where she attempts to reason with her doctors and encourage them that what she saw was indeed very real. Doctor MacRae (William Hope) seems to sympathise with Kirsty, while Doctor Channard (Kenneth Cranham) has his own ominous means for believing her.

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What Hellbound does well, is to build upon the world that was set out in the first film and give the audience a sense that the events of Hellraiser had far more reach than first imagined. Those that think Marvel were the first studio to build a cinematic universe may need to think again.

What the film also does well is to continue the style and trend set by Clive Barker’s original film. The S&M fetish remains, as does the high level of fantastical gore. Director Tony Randel even manages to create one scene, involving the bed which Hellraiser’s Julia was murdered on, that is as horrifically brilliant and just as memorable as Frank’s rebirth in the first film.

Randel manages to pay respect to Barker’s vision, while also moving the film into new territory, and shows us an impossible Hell, that has the demented vision of someone who views the world in an all too unkind light.

Unfortunately, not all goes well for Hellbound, and what starts off strong ends in a manner that is puzzling at best and ridiculously stupid at worst. Randel’s vision of what the Cenobites call home is as brutal as one would expect, with a deliciously haunting atmosphere. Yet, the parameters in which this other realm exist seems blurred.

Not only that, but there are moments in the finale that will have you scratching your head searching for answers. Questions are raised and sub-plots opened, but neither seem to go anywhere, and perhaps the question of time and money were too much for the production to handle, meaning that the third act is more baffling than anything and doesn’t reflect the good work that came before it.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

For a film series that started in such simplicity and such demonic joy, it is Hellraiser III that loses the series’ indie like credibility and delves more into Hollywood territory than any film thus far. Hell on Earth moves away from S&M, tales of desire and torture and moves into the usual motions that audiences came to associate with generic horror.

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Gone is Clive Barker and so too are the traits that made the previous two films such enjoyable forms of debauched entertainment. Gone too is any sense of foreboding or terror, and instead we have large scale set pieces and more & more over the top scenarios.

The story is loosely put together and involves a reporter, a nightclub owner and Pinhead who is now trapped in some sort of satanic pillar which houses the remains of the series’ now most recognisable star. That in a way is indicative of Hellraiser and Hollywood horror in general, as Pinhead was never intended to be the films star and rather happened across it by accident.

What we really have here is Hellraiser moving into ever more commercial soil. The possible expansion of the Cenobites and the mysterious cube’s storyline over the centuries is put aside and replaced with more action, more gore, a bit more sex and a heavy metal soundtrack that displaces the fine score that was a hallmark of the first two films.

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It’s horror for the MTV generation, and follows the way in which horror in the 90’s became more about making money than it did about making genuinely good films.

Despite all this, Hellraiser III is not altogether that bad, and is in fact quite enjoyable at times. Once Pinhead is released from his porcelain prison, the films picks up no end and Doug Bradley shows his class by having complete possession over the rest of the film.

Bradley’s presence is enough to instantly raise the quality of the film, and even the sillier aspects of Hellraiser III become more watchable. Even the nightclub massacre is delivered with more aplomb that it has any right to.

The introduction of several new Cenobites adds a very 90’s esque edge to proceedings, and however unlikely they look, they are gloriously delivered and showcase that director Anthony Hickox can be imaginative when he puts his mind to it.

Hellraiser III is indeed a turning point for the series, and Clive Barker’s departure is keenly felt. It marks the series’ deviation from what made the first two films compelling and moves ever more into commercialised horror, with a focus on action and being OTT rather than being demented yet fascinating viewing.

Blu-Ray:

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For fans of Hellraiser, or the first three films at least, there is no better box set to own that this limited edition set. This four disc collection features newly restored versions of the first three films and a final disc titled The Clive Barker Legacy.

Here you will find new and archived interviews, a series of commentaries, deleted scenes and a new 200 page book from Phil and Sarah Stokes which takes a look at Barker’s early work and details the production of the first three films.

Hardcore fans will be very pleased to know that the infamous Surgeon scene from Hellraiser II has indeed been found and restored from a VHS copy of the film. The scene itself may not add anything to the film, but for perfectionists they will be happy to know they can finally view the much talked about scene.

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Various documentaries showcase the development and production of the series, while also commenting on the films endurance over the years. Several interviews and commentaries are also provided and we hear from the likes of Doug Bradley, Clive Barker and the rarely heard from Sean Chapman.

It’s an eye achingly long set of extras, and one must have a fair amount of spare time in order to get through them all, but one can never begrudge the excellent work that Arrow Films continue to do with their Blu-Ray releases. Fans of these films, and surely fans of cinema and how it’s created, will lovingly get lost in these films and the bountiful extras that accompany it.

Films: 4/5

Extras: 5/5

In Summary: An absolute must for Hellraiser fans. The Scarlet Box is a spectacular effort that will keep the Pinhead faithful happy for weeks.

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