Horror Movie Review: Hellraiser (1987)


The first time I saw Hellraiser I must have been around the age of 7 or 8. Now I know what you’re thinking but I came from a large family and at the time when we all gathered to watch a movie, we all watched it together regardless of what it was. I really enjoyed it then and after viewing it again recently I think its fair to say that it’s probably one of my favourite horror movies.

The story goes like this; a man named Frank buys a mysterious puzzle box from a rather shady merchant and later returns home and begins to solve it. After the sides of the box are manipulated just so, Frank is hurtled into the realm of the Cenobites, strange creatures who introduce him to unbearable pleasure and unspeakable pain.

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The house is soon inhabited by his brother Larry along with his wife Julia who we later learn once had an affair with Frank. While attempting to move a mattress upstairs Larry catches his hand on a rusted nail and then tries to find Julia to help him and where does she just so happen to be? Well, in the attic where Frank died of course.

As the blood from Larry’s hand trickles onto the floor we see that it is absorbed by something under the floor boards. Unknowingly to them all, that small amount of blood is enough to regenerate some amount of Frank’s living body.  He has escaped from hell, and hell doesn’t like that.

Hellraiser came out when practical effects were at their peak, the blood, gore and makeup in this movie are absolutely exceptional and hold up very well even today. The gore still manages to look realistic and very nasty at times; Hellraiser is the true definition of top quality practical effects. The scene in which Frank begins regeneration is truly horrific and amazingly well done.

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Julia eventually discovers Frank looking rather corpse like and learns of his story. Out of love for him she agrees to lure victims to him so he can use their flesh to help him regenerate further, each time Frank becomes well more Frank like the effects just get better and better.

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One thing I have to quickly mention is the music in Hellraiser, I love it! Its dark, gothic and powerful and you just don’t hear anything like it these days. Every time Julia kills another victim or something sinister happens it hits and it just fits so perfectly.

Eventually Larry’s daughter Kirsty discovers Frank and steals the puzzle box from him once she learns how afraid he is of losing it. She collapses under the stress of what she’d just witnessed and wakes up in hospital and then begins to unlock the box…. Once she has done so the room begins to shake and the wall opens creating a doorway into a mysterious labyrinth. Eventually we get our first proper look at the Cenobites as they arrive to torture anyone who opens the box. Tortured, twisted, and mutilated to hellish perfection, the Cenobites are background characters here, but powerful ones.  Doug Bradley begins his legendary role of Pinhead (referred to, simply, as “Lead Cenobite” in the end credits). I really prefer the look of Pinhead and the Cenobites in this one compared to the later sequels.

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Kirsty makes a deal with them, telling Pinhead that she knows of one that had escaped hell and that she will lead them to Frank if they let her live. Chaos ensues in the remainder of the film and the levels of gore and horror increase to even higher levels of awesomeness. This is a dark, gory, and unbound vision of horror by Clive Barker.  Even the way its filmed makes it even more gritty and grimy, I love how dark and grainy the film is.

The acting is really solid all round; Julia is fantastic and fascinating as the seductive accomplice to Frank who is increasingly sadistic throughout and is also done really well. Doug Bradley and the Cenobites really steal the show for me though, even though we only see them for brief moments the mysteries behind their origins was always fascinating to me and of course we get some really classic lines from Pinhead including; “We’ll tear your soul apart” It’s all amazingly well done.

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I really enjoyed Hellraiser as I always have, I love the 80s feel to the movie and the story is interesting  throughout even though it leaves you with many unanswered questions and leaves a few things up for assumption rather than giving you direct answers which is a little frustrating, some of  said questions would be answered in the direct sequel Hellbound: Hellraiser II though.

Hellraiser is a timeless/legendary horror classic that puts any modern CGI heavy horror movie to shame, especially when you consider the small budget it had. This is a classic for a reason and it’s one of those movies that is truly deserving of the title. I can see now why Steven King thought Clive Barker was the future of horror; Barker has a way of making horror beautiful in a twisted, demented fashion.

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  • 8/10
    The Final Score - 8/10
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