Hellraiser (1987)

JANUARY 20, 2008


Here we have another of those (thankfully) increasingly rare films that I HAVE actually seen before, but so long ago (and only once) that I couldn’t remember a damn thing about it. What’s funny is that both times I have seen Hellraiser it has been more out of an odd obligation than actual interest. The first time (I was like 13) I watched it only because I hadn’t seen it and Fangoria kept talking them up, and now I’m watching it because I have put it upon myself to watch a horror movie every single day of my life. And write about it.

I’ve had the DVD for years (in a collectible tin!) but never really had any interest in watching it until recently, when I read an article about the film’s legacy in Horrorhound magazine. If you haven’t read Horrorhound, you’re not really missing much. It’s well meaning, and like Rue Morgue it covers a lot of different areas of horror, particularly toys (as opposed to the “just films and maybe a few books” Fangoria), but it’s riddled with mistakes and truly horrible grammar, so it comes off as a bad blog in print form, which is a problem when you’re paying 7 bucks to read it as opposed to a blog that is free. Even with my limited knowledge of the film, I noticed a few mistakes in dates, and the author also claims that the film has incestuous overtones between Larry and Kristy, which I don’t see at all (Flowers in the Attic – now THAT’S incestuous daddy-daughter overtones!).

As a kid, I really only liked slasher and zombie horror. Anything else was just sort of boring to me, including this. Now that I am slightly more intelligent (not to mention much less of a snob – I’m even coming around to werewolf movies!) I am happy to say I enjoy the film much more than I did then. The plot isn’t very complex, but it never feels padded, a tricky endeavor (especially for a first time director). It’s still not exactly one of my favorite movies, but I am now interested in re-watching the next two sequels (I’ve never seen any of them more than once with the exception of Bloodline, which is the only one I saw in theaters).

I’m pretty sure there’s a Garbage Pail Kid that looks like this.

There are a few odd problems with the film, however. One is Kristy’s total blindness to her father’s SEVERELY WOUNDED HEAD during the climax. Seriously, his fucking ear looks like charcoal and he has blood pouring from his entire hairline, and she doesn’t seem particularly concerned about this. Kind of dumb. Also, the rate at which Frank regenerates seems a bit off – a few drops of blood (much more than should be dropped from the wound to begin with) are enough to make Frank come back to life, but 3 full bodies later and he’s still not whole? I would have liked to have seen another stage, in which he’s just a skeleton or something. And the Devil guy at the end is just ridiculous.

Otherwise this is a solid film. The makeup effects are PHENOMENAL, even moreso when you consider the low budget (less than a million, which with inflation would be about the same as Halloween’s cost). Andy Robinson is a hoot as well; there’s a scene where he, for no real reason, uses a ‘scary’ voice and says “You want a cookie little girl?” that had me in stitches. And even though it has a relatively low body count (5?) it’s pretty gory and violent. I also like how they don’t explain everything away; not only does it leave the mythology open for sequels, but also the point of the film is sort of a gory, supernatural take on Hitchcockian style themes (obsession, lust, sadomasochism, etc), and spending 10 minutes explaining the origin of Chatterer would take away from that focus.

While I now consider myself a fan of the film (I really didn’t like it as a kid, which is why I never watched it again), I still look forward to the remake. Not only do I think the directors could very well be the saviors of adult horror (if Inside is any indication), but also the new film would spare us Julia’s ridiculous 80s hair:

Jesus. Plus she looks like Bert Schnick.

What say you?


  1. I love this movie - and I'm glad you like it more now :-) The Cenobytes are awesome!

    As an aside do you think Guillermo del Toro was influenced by this when he designed the puzzle machine used in Cronos?

  2. Hmm, maybe. I'd have to go look again. Been a while since I watched it.

  3. Hey BC i saw the original a long time ago and didnt care for it either, but i rented HELL BOUND last weekend and fell for it...its fricken awesome....the special effects are intense and i suggest watching the sequel. I have 3/4/5 on their way from netflix so i can watch the series...Ill let you know what i think....take care.

  4. Glad you like the movie more now. It's certainly not perfect, but as you mentioned, the effects are really good, especially considering the budget they had. Also, it has Pinhead. And I admit to being a Pinhead-fan... (yupp, shame on me - I won't start talking about my Pinhead action figure. Oh geekiness, thou art raising thine ugly head again).

    But do yourself the favour and refrain from watching any of the Hellraiser movies after Bloodlines. Inferno is just stupid (although, according to some fans I know, I just can't appreciate the subtlety), Hellseeker is just mediocre in my opinion, and Deader is... uhm... well, it is a movie. I usually don't fall asleep during movies, but I did whilst watching Deader.

  5. I've seen up to 6 (I think Hellseeker has been reviewed here a while back). Inferno was fair, I dug the music anyway. I'll be re-watching 2 and 3 soon, and then 7 and 8 are on the queue, so maybe ill rewatch 4 and 5 for October (when I do 2 a day) and have the whole series up!

  6. this is my favorite horror movie ever. i almost shit when i met doug bradley. i even have the book (there's a book?). hell, i even like bloodline.

    next time youre in MA you'll have to come by, the entire living room is dedicated to hellraiser now, i even have framed sets of the puzzlebox schematics.

    i love life.

  7. Cenobytes-There was Pinhead, Chatterer, and what was the fat one's name?

  8. Butterball, if memory serves.

  9. I just watched this for the first time in my life today (and I call myself a horror fan!) and I fell in love with this. Brilliant special effects and Claire Higgins was amazing albeit, yes, the 80s hair. I can't wait to watch the sequels and review them for my blog! :)

  10. I am personally a big fan of the film and I am glad you enjoyed the movie. Though, I personally feel that the Hellraiser movies after Hellbound took a term for the worst. Lead Cenobite is an amazing character, but his reasons change so dramatically through the films that it is kind of annoying. I recently bought this and Hellbound on VHS (they were together and for 2 bucks).

  11. Any incestuous elements were probably an accidental holdover from the book, where Kristy isn't his daughter, but an old friend who has an unrequited crush on him.

  12. I like the review, nice an concise.
    When you get a sec, give a thought to my review. I'll tell you up front, I'm a Pinhead fan.



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