Right off the cuff: This movie sucks. Hate me if you must, but hear me out first.
It’s telling that the most mishandled horror franchise – of all time – kicked off with a sloppy affair that parallels the actual love-affair of the movie. Much like the way Uncle Frank aggressively thrusts his desires onto his brother’s wife, Clive Barker thrusts laughable dialogue deep into the soul of his elementary cast. A brilliant concept with stunningly practical effects couldn’t save Hellraiser from the embarrassing showing its core cast put forth. Despite all of this, Hellraiser was a smash success. Enough so to garner NINE sequels (as of 2019). NINE!
A Bonafide Pile of Shit
Hellraiser, for all its fame and glory as a “bonafide horror classic,” is actually a bonafide turd. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy the movie. Weird, right? But that’s because I cherish my fear of Pinhead from seeing his picture at the local video store in the early 90s, and I also love cheesy movies. The problem with Hellraiser is that it’s not supposed to be cheesy, or campy, contrary to the end result. I’ve heard my colleagues and other fans use terms like “genre-bending” when describing this flick, and I can agree with that. Despite the clumsy and absurdly implausible plot, I actually get what Clive Barker attempted to do. The story is truly great, eschewing trendy jump-scares and teenage slumber parties of the era in favor of a decidedly darker realm. Hellraiser touches on true sadomasochism, but not in a way that some would find fun *cries*. Darkness and evil thrive, making for a very uncomfortable and skin-crawling experience.
The Cenobites (unfamiliar? see image below) are the most recognizable part of Hellraiser, but even more so for the series as a whole. As time went on, it was clear that Pinhead became this franchise’s very own Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th) or Freddy Krueger (Nightmare on Elm Street). From a visual effects standpoint, the Cenobites are masterfully crafted, although not as scary as I remember when viewing the VHS cover art.
For everything the Cenobites are supposed to be, their purpose is actually scarier than their looks. Summoned by the Lemarchand’s Box (the cube thingy of which the series is famed), these Cenobite demons, or angels to some, subject the summoner to unbearable pleasures and unfathomable pains, indivisible. Unfortunately, the Cenobites barely make an appearance in this movie, in fact they are almost non-existent, probably seeing below 10% of actual screen time (that number is entirely pulled out of my ass). Even though they are the catalyst of the story’s evil theme, the real story is the love affair between the two main characters Julia and Frank.
Acting is for the Birds
There are two leads in the movie, but really there are four characters we follow. The absolute best acting of the movie comes from the two with the least screen time, father Larry and daughter Kirsty, both American actors. The lead female, Claire Higgins (portraying wife Julia), does not portray the kind of “sexiness” you’d expect from a woman who is repeatedly gawked over throughout this 94-minute shitshow. In fact, she’s downright ugly. She’s not an American, but supposedly the movie takes place in New York, and she’s trying out her best American accent. Spoiler alert: she sucks at it, but not worse than the lead male, Sean Chapman (portraying brother / uncle Frank), who is also not an American. For some odd damn reason, the two lead actors are from the UK, which is also where writer/director Clive Barker is from, yet the film takes place in America despite being filmed in the UK. Read that sentence again, it’s okay. I’m just as confused as you are.
Am I being unfair considering some of the limitations of the time? I don’t know for sure, but I am positive that the movie’s budget was probably as thin as the cast’s acting credibility. A tight budget should not have any effect on the weak parts of this movie: plot, acting, dialogue. That shit is free, son! Especially when your director is also the story writer AND the screenplay writer. But I digress. Soon, I’ll dive into Hellraiser II (just to please you) and see if director Tony Randall and screenplay writer Peter Atkins can add a touch of horror professionalism.
It’s all scary stuff, really, but the real scare here is that everyone actually believes Hellraiser is a good movie. *Brrr. I just got the chills. That’s where Hellraiser ends and reality begins. Conceptually there’s no reason to believe Barker’s novella “The Hellbound Heart” couldn’t succeed. The story is very good, so surely the movie will be even better! Hellraiser’s story IS magnificent, and the practical effects team did an outstanding job. But the execution of this brilliant story and concept is anything but good and outstanding.
The fact that everyone continuously touts Hellraiser as a classic horror movie is beyond me. Despite what I think, it truly IS a classic. It was a financial and critical success, as well as responsible for FOUR theatrical releases (the original + the immediate three Hellraiser sequels), and is revered in the hearts of many. But I cannot just sit idly by every October 31st and accept what I’ve been lead to believe. Rookie director Barker approved the insufferable script and the intolerable acting. Shame shame.
Of everything I’ve noted above, there is still one thing I haven’t touched on: the foley artist. He should be lured into an empty attic where some ugly broad can beat his head in with a motherfuckin’ hammer. Over-amped and embarrassingly thought-out, these sound bites are just… just… they leave me at a loss for words. And that’s rare for me. Hell, there’s a scene where Frank sucks the blood out of someone and the sound bite is clearly someone sucking liquid through a straw in a paper cup. If that’s all it takes, my Burger King lunches could make me a horror movie artist!
Also beware of the Lament Configuration on your physical movie media. The VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray is merely a means to summon you into the deep dark realms of shitty acting, lazy script-writing, and questionable movie-making decisions. Pleasure does not exist in this realm, only pain. The pain is so unbearable, you’ll want to stick pins and needles in your own fucking head to make it end. But it never ends as this original “classic” is destined to eternally be shoved down your throat by hordes of “fans” too afraid to admit it’s overrated.
David “Nerdberry” is the proud founder and owner of Nerdbacon.com, a video game reviews and news website. Nerdberry owns a local pressure washing business in North Carolina, has a family, and a little house. With a college background in film and a personal love for dissecting movies, he feels aptly suited for Modern-Neon. The jury is still out on whether or not Modern-Neon wants him. We’ll see. But he is excited to be part of the team here in an effort to help it grow!