Such Sights To Show You
by Brody Rossiter
I’ve never really known much about the Hellraiser franchise, that is, until now. I recall seeing a DVD cover depicting Pinhead in a supermarket when I was a child and instantly recoiling from the fearsome visage which resting upon the bargain home-video stand stood before me. Years have passed, and yet despite possessing a good deal of knowledge when it comes to horror movie history, Clive Barker’s infamously gruesome films have always eluded me – perhaps those juvenile fears had more of a lasting impact than I thought.
Whether revisiting Hellraiser, or as in my case discovering its bloodletting for the very first time via this elaborate and comprehensive box set that Arrow have tenderly assembled, many observations can be raised – some very good and some indefensibly bad.
The film tells the misfortunate tale of Frank, a womanising thrillseeker, who, after opening the door to alternate dimension, has his body ripped apart by sadistic creatures known as Cenobites. When Frank’s brother moves back from America into his mother’s abandoned home (Frank’s last place of residence) his new wife, and Frank’s ex-lover, Julia, is drawn into a murderous plot to resurrect Frank and restore his physical form with human sacrifices.
Hellraiser’s most notable and explicit factor, the tool with which it attempts to shock and ultimately conjure horror, is visceral practical effects. There’s a grotesque harmony to the hand-crafted gore of a movie which deals so heavily in bodily horror, yet the limitations of such imagery, especially when viewed with nearly thirty years of hindsight – are vast and will undoubtedly prove to be the picture’s greatest limitation in the eyes of a more contemporary audience accustomed to creatures crafted within electronic bowels of computers. Nevertheless, when scenes are creatively lit and shots are framed with atypical angles, Hellraiser manages to foster a deeply unsettling and affecting atmosphere that outshines and improves upon the limitations of its imagery.
This uneasy balance of visual shortcomings and flair is present throughout. Initially the English setting is a welcome departure from the typical tropes of American slasher flicks, yet it can quickly begin to resemble a Sunday night ITV drama that got a bit carried away, or in the case of Julia and Frank’s erotically charged flashback love scenes, a softcore 80’s porno in which the local milkman takes a starring role.
Yet despite certain unfortunate comparisons, it’s difficult to find fault with any of the film’s performances. Casting is perfect. Ashley Laurence’s portrayal of Frank’s bewildered niece, Kirsty, is should be recognised as one horror’s most engaging as she stumbles into a terrifying puzzle of bloody deceit. Oliver Smith’s sinister turn as the monstrous Frank is devilish and physically repulsive. The Cenobites command the screen thanks to their tortured guises – appearances brought to life in the most startling of manners by Joanna Johnston’s bondage inspired costume design – none more so than Pinhead; Doug Bradley’s awesome stature and commanding performance dominates the screen while presently a distinctly worldly and unnervingly self-assured antagonist to fear.
Hellraiser is undoubtedly an important irreplaceable piece of British horror mythology that is also responsible for introducing one of the genre’s most recognisable set of antagonists in the Cenobites. However, just as its reviews upon release were largely divided, it is a disjointed and inconsistent picture that presents depraved wonders and immersion breaking ugliness. It often feels behind the times and yet its sadomasochistic inclinations still feel distinctive and daring today.
Arrow’s treatment of Hellraiser, its sequels and the truly vast expanse of bonus material included is unparalleled. From its visual restorations to archival trawling to the overall presentation of the limited edition Scarlet box set, the complete package is unlikely to ever be surpassed. Whether Clive Barker’s tales of toil and sacrifice are deserving of such lavishness is up to you. Become an explorer in the further regions of experience and decide for yourself.
The Films: 3.5/5
The Package: 5/5
FIW Rating: 4.5/5
Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box is available October 26th Courtesy of Arrow Video. Head over to Arrow’s website for more information.