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Hellraiser – Review

Hellraiser – Review

Jan 30, 2011

reviewed by Hallo
directed by Clive Barker, 1987

Horror legend Stephen King was quoted saying, “I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker.”  Offering a rather different interpretation, famed film critic Roger Egbert retorted, “Maybe Stephen King was thinking of a different Clive Barker.”  I find the name alone of Clive Barker to be one of the most interesting in the horror industry.  I think most horror fans would be surprised to know that Barker has only directed 6 films.  He has written and produced many more, but several of those, especially from a producer standpoint, was more for name recognition than it was anything else; we wonder how much influence Barker has actually had with many of the films his name is attached to.  Even those he has written and directed, the only two that really come across as “legendary” from an all perspective view is Hellraiser and Candyman.  I don’t find Lord of Illusions or Night Breed to be talked about near as much as the other former two films.  Still yet, regardless of the merit, the name Clive Barker carries with it a powerful punch and a heavy factor playing into his legacy is the fan reaction to one film:  Hellraiser.

The movie, starring Andrew Robinson as Larry (who is very good, but unfortunately was the police captain in Stallone’s Cobra, the all-time cheesiest movie ever made, and I have trouble getting those images out of my mind) and Clare Higgins as Julia, is about a married couple who moves into a house that has a rather unfortunate history in its attic.  Larry’s brother Frank, who was having an affair with Julia, took the love of sadomasochism a bit too far after stumbling upon a puzzle box that, once solved, would open the door to another world (hell?) and summon the arrival of the cenobites, the most famous of which being Pinhead (a name that was attached to him by fans of the film, he is never called Pinhead in the movie).  The cenobites ultimately torture and kill Frank, dragging him into their cenobite world forever.  However, when Larry and Julia move into the house, Larry cuts his hand and drips blood on the attic floor.  That blood is “soaked up” by Frank and partly resurrects him.  The more blood Frank receives, the more human he becomes.  This is where Julia enters the picture.  Upon learning that Frank is still alive, even in a horrendous, disgusting body, she is once again captivated by his strong will and agrees to lure men to the attic so Frank can feast on them, bringing him closer to the world of the living.  The conflict arises when the cenobites learn of Frank’s escape, thanks to the tattle-telling of Larry’s daughter, from their grasp and decide they want him back.  The rest of the film centers around that pursuit.

Hellraiser is a movie all about obsession.  Human nature as it is, a little of a good thing just isn’t enough.  We demand more and more until the good thing become our worst enemy.  This is why the cenobites rightly say about themselves, “angels to some, demons to others.”  That, of course, reminds me of the great Metallica song “My Friend of Misery” with the all-too-true lyrics, “one man’s fun is another’s hell.”  Barker does a convincing job of trying to provide a window, even if a small one, for the viewer to partly understand the attraction of the sadomasochist lifestyle and how Frank wound up in a horrific setting.  That, I think, is what Barker should be most applauded for with this film.  Despite the gore and over the top torture scenes, I am still left with a bit of a strange attraction for what Frank was privy to.  I am always appreciative of a director who can shows us the most ruthless of acts and still leave us a bit sympathetic with the antagonist.  I get that from Hellraiser.

Although the special effects hold up pretty well (until the very end where they become nearly unwatchable), the movie does have some “what was Barker thinking” moments, the most absurd being a ridiculous looking creature who chases Larry’s daughter through a hospital wall.  This creature unfortunately reappears at the end of the film and leaves a bit of a distaste.  I also was a bit put out by the ease at which Julia meets her end at the hands of Frank.  After spending the entire movie luring guys for Frank’s resurrection, he nonchalantly puts a switch blade into her tummy, as if this was just another peripheral character.

Fan reaction to Hellraiser was strong, creating a slew of sequels (7 to date with an 8th coming) and a remake (big shock) that is to be released in 2012.  I think it is a must-view for horror fans simply because it is Clive Barker’s essential movie and has had lasting impact on the horror genre.  Don’t believe the hype though – the film is not quite as good as its reputation would lead you to believe.

Click Here to purchase Hellraiser.


  1. With respect to the King quote, remember he was talking about the writing, not the movies…a much different thing. And, although that comment certainly was intended to be generally positive (there is no doubt King is a Barker fan), I think one can also infer something about the direction horror was going that may not be completely positive.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, I worded that poorly. Nevertheless, Roger Egbert’s comments contra King were specifically related to the Hellraiser film, so the juxtaposition of their opinions was my intent. http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19870918/REVIEWS/709180304/1023

  3. Clive Barker is the biggest disappoint in horror movies. All of films SUCK although hellraiser is his best.

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