…It wasn’t Manos.
Hellraiser began life as short story titled The Hellbound Heart (Check it out, it’s worth reading) and was later adapted by its Author for the screen. It’s a curious oddity that means more watching it as an Adult than it did when I was a kid.
The film concerns the mystery surrounding a puzzle box, a box that should never really be solved. After his Brother Frank goes missing, Larry and his second wife Julia move in to Frank’s old home, in a weird transatlantic version of the UK. I say that because the film is very clearly British set, yet there’s hardly any Brits to be found. Instead the film is populated by American actors which admittedly gives it a weird off kilter feel. Unbeknownst to Larry and Julia, Frank died while opening the Puzzle box. Chained hooks tore into his flesh and the Cenobites appeared, come to claim Frank. One day Larry cuts himself moving a mattress, and the blood seeps into the floorboards, right around where Frank died. He’s slowly coming back to life, and convinces Julia to bring men back to him so he can feed on them and they can run off together…
I first watched Hellraiser when I was a kid (On a double-bill with Hellraiser 2 – A good sequel that both upped the gore quota and the back story, even if it wasn’t what Barker had in mind when he made this film) and as I noted earlier the film takes on an entirely different meaning when watched now. It should come of no suprise to anyone that’s read anything by Clive Barker but the film is an entwined story of Sex and Death. The movie hints at it, though the Novella is way more explicit about it but the Cenobites are nothing more than extreme masochists who blur the line between extreme pleasure and extreme pain. Their bodies have been twisted by years of torment, and solving the puzzle brings you the same thing.
The sexuality in the film is largely given over to the relationship between Julia and Frank. They had an affair once, and Julia daydreams about the first time Frank seduced her. The film doesn’t even imply anything about love, but points to their relationship being one solely based on lust, which makes the scenes where Julia does Frank’s bidding (At this point he’s nothing but a bit of flesh and bone) all the more disconcerting.
The star of the show was Pinhead. He features on all the promotional material for the film, despite the fact that his presence is very limited here. He appears in the opening, and then in the last third of the film, and is ably played by British actor Doug Bradley; but it’s interesting to see how this character starts and where he ends up. There’s a nice disconnect here that isn’t present in the later Movies. Pinhead is an almost passive figure, waiting for someone to solve the box so he can claim them. Whereas later on he’s far more benevolent (Yes I’m including the awful Hellraiser: Hellword in this – Pinhead infiltrates the Internet!). It’s not quite the same crime that was perpetrated on Freddy Kruger, but it comes close.
Sadly the acting is a bit too ropey here, and the American dubbing probably doesn’t help (I have no idea why the removal men needed to be American too) but Barker wrings a lot of his small budget and lack of locations (The film largely takes place in the same house). The transformation scenes are great, with the skinless Frank being a nice gooey highlight. It might be a bit of a slow burner by today’s standards, but Barker’s insistence on the idea that Sex and Death are so inextricably linked provides a rewarding viewing.