Clive Barker's Hellraiser is a horror classic from nearly 30 years ago. It's got serial killers, it's got demons, it's got romance, it's got puzzle boxes, it's got claymation, it's got... other stuff.
If you haven't seen it, give it a watch if for no other reason than to take in the creatively conceived cenobites. Don't remember if you've already seen it? Watch the trailer below and read our review after the break.
Jack: Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. Blam. Wham! We’re taking another dive into the world of classic horror this week. And they don’t come a whole lot more iconic than this thing. You’d be hard pressed to find even a non-horror person who isn’t aware of Pinhead. So what’s your relationship with this movie like guy? This one you saw early and often?
Jake: First of all, gotta comment on how you refer to it as “Clive Barker’s Hellraiser”, like it’s “H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator”. I get it. Barker wrote Hellraiser (The Hellbound Heart) AND directed the dang thing, so it’s warranted. But the comparison is noteworthy. 80’s thing? And I‘d seen this once before, probably late in high school. So roughly an age of man ago. You?
Jack: Not me man, I saw this thing entirely too early. I think I was 9. Like a little kid playing Grand Theft Auto, my parents must have been asleep at the wheel that day.
Jake: Awesome man. Really good material for a 9 year old. Nothing says wholesome & educational like bondage, probable rape and sadomasochistic demon-aliens. I’ve always wondered why you are the way you are, and I think we may have just stumbled onto it.
Jack: Hey man. Don’t analyze me. You’re not my manager. Regardless, this movie is still held in high esteem for me. I like to revisit this thing at least once every couple of years. The film kicks off with a guy named Frank Cotton buying a mystical box from a guy in Morocco. It turns out that this puzzle box (later in the franchise called the Lament Configuration because “golden rubix cube” wasn’t cool enough), summons these Cenobite folks to where-the-fuck-ever it’s solved. Side-note, I know the novel this movie is based on says it takes an expert puzzle-solver a whole day to even loosen the first piece, but the one in the movie turns out to be less puzzle-y, and more toddler-toy-y.
Jake: The puzzle box is essentially a gateway. As the movie lays it out (not so well in the beginning, mind you), if one is to open the box it will essentially allow them to transcend dimensions and experience sensations unknown to mankind; both unfathomable pleasure and unbearable pain. Frank Cotton is a creepy fuckin’ deviant and he tracks it down in an attempt to shake things up. He successfully opens it at a ritualistic attic-altar he creates back at his home, and is immediately grappled by chains, which proceed to rip him to shreds. It’s a zero-to-sixty moment to kick things off, and it sets the stage for what the rest of the film will entail.
Jack: Yeah man, and it’s kind of great how one-dimensional Frank’s character is. He is a pervert creep. Nothing more, nothing less. He doesn’t grow, develop, or deviate from that hard line of perviness in any way. Well, I guess he does literally grow, because after getting ripped to fucking shreds by the cenobites, he’s decidedly less human shaped, and more . . . goo-pile shaped.
Jake: Cut to the present. And by present I mean the late 80’s. Frank’s brother Larry and his wife, Julia, move into the house. It’s quickly established that their marriage is on the rocks and they are using the move as a change of scenery in an attempt to save it. I honestly didn’t much care. I was too busy focusing on all the soft focus, pastel lighting, and all-out soap opera feel this thing quickly develops mere moments after a demon is piecing Frank’s face back together on the floor while fleshy meat drips from every corner of the room. Things happen. They move in. It’s introduced that Julia had an affair with Frank in the past because he’s a deviant and she’s a bad British person. Larry cuts his hand on a nail while helping move. She wanders around and daydreams about being nailed by frank. It’s fucking bizarre.
Jack: Awesome side-note, Barker has said that the MPAA gave him some very specific feedback about exactly what was and was not allowed to keep the film at an R rating. During one of the flashbacks where Frank and Julia are going at it Barker got feedback that the scen was too sexual. So instead, he made it more on the side of violent sex instead of… you know… sexy sex. That change went over just fine. Also, Barker has said that “The MPAA told me I was allowed two consecutive buttock thrusts from Frank but three is deemed obscene!"
Jake: Well, you know, three just makes it pornography man. Can’t have that. The ultraviolence is ok though. American values shall not be questioned… Anyway, turns out the blood from Larry’s hand is enough to resuscitate Frank’s gelatinous meat-matter from the ether below the floorboards of the attic.
Jack: The scene where he congeals is long and really uncomfortable. I think that shit was a little too much for my 9 year old self to handle, so instead of reliving my traumatic childhood viewing experience I’m just gonna breeze right past it. As I do so many things. Eventually Julia finds Frank’s partially resurrected goo-pile. After some entirely-too-brief trepidation, Julia believes it’s Frank, and falls right the fuck back in love with him. Because you know, who can resist? Real love is more than skin deep. #TrueRomance.
Jake: I mean… Could you? He’s basically got “Blue Steel” on lockdown man. AND he did it over a decade before Zoolander. I guess those are the sort of benefits of opening the puzzle box. There is the slight inconvenience of him dripping body-goo all over the place. As any sexual tyrannosaurus would note, this does not make for premium male performance. He needs men to suck on (lots, as it turns out) to fully resurrect his body. He promises Julia more sexing if she goes out and lures unsuspecting men back to his attic. She does this gladly. Like, a little too gladly. Like she might actually be the evil one in this movie.
Jack: And it turns out that shit works extraordinarily well. If inconsistently. While the first pint or whatever of blood resurrects Frank and gives him a vaguely human form, while subsequent literal entire bodies full of blood just give him a few muscles and shit. Eventually old Franky is up and walking around, wearing clothes and shit. For some reason. Seriously, if you absolutely insist on wearing clothes with no skin, at least forego the blazer. Suits are expensive man.
Jake: I like how in all the flashbacks Frank insisted on not wearing a shirt to show off his tats, but then when he’s at his messiest, he puts on the ritz. I guess the tattoo is gone now, so no reason to go shirtless. Thanks Obama.
Jack: So eventually Larry asks his 18-year-old-daughter Kirsty to come over to his house and fix his relationship with Julia, who, mind you, is Kirsty’s step-mom. Just rock-solid parenting. When Kirsty does, she hears the strange goings on and decides to investigate. She finds Frank and Julia doing their thing killing some guy, and then Frank goes all rape-y.
Jake: Kirsty is able to dodge Frank and stumbles onto the puzzle box. Knowing it must have something to do with what’s allowing a skinless dude to be alive, she chucks that fucker right out the window and bolts. Frank is nonplussed. Kirsty is able to collect the box again when she gets outside, but collapses and wakes up in the hospital. She proceeds to open it almost instantly like some kind of Will Hunting, and unleashes the Cenobites.
Jack: And now it’s time for our most famous segment!!! We like to call it the Dating Game, but with Cenobites, and also just picking your favorite instead of dating them . . . unless you’re into that sort of thing I guess. Mark might be. Just sayin’. Not the snappiest title, but it’s what we’ve got. So, cue that intro music maestro!
Jack: So Jake, you lucky duck, you’ve got four eligible bachelors and bachelorettes to choose from here, so make your selection!
Bachelor #1 is quite the looker, though he can’t look at himself! [audience laughter] His eyes are sewed up is what I’m saying. He also looks like he’ll be quite the lover, as he appears to be very orally talented! [audience oohs]. It’s BUTTERBALL!
Bachelor #2 also has no eyes, so you know, that same joke as above. And if you like kissing . . . well you’re shit out of luck because his lips are permanently peeled back. A real diva this one. It’s CHATTERER!
Now your third choice is a real change of pace! She’s a real dirty talker too, in that she’s one of the only ones that actually speaks. Also her voice is real sultry because of the enormous fucking hole in her neck held open by wires. Legend has it that her stage name was Deepthroat, but they changed it because that was too sexual for the rest of the movie! It’s THE FEMALE CENOBITE!
And last, but certainly not least, it’s the big one; the grand pooba (and now, I’m not talking about Pumbaa); the original Uptown Girl himself: PINHEAD! He’s got . . . you know, pins in his head. It’s PINHEAD!
Shit, sorry, now I’ve got Pumbaa on the brain. One more time, PINHEAD:
Jack: So Jake, what’ll it be? Who’ll you pick?
Jack: Oh. I like Butterball.
END OF SEGMENT
...Hard hitting analysis there. Anyway, the cenobites show up, fuck everything right to shit, and tear Frank to pieces a second time. They’re scary and the effects are all pretty great.
Jake: Well yeah, but that only happens after a whole sequence of Kirsty needing to use her wit to escape her own fate because she opened the damn box in the first place. She promises to bring the Cenobites to Frank, which they are into because they are powerful inter-dimensional travellers who are like super needy. Anyway, long story short Frank and Julia have killed Larry and Frank starts wearing Larry’s skin in an attempted ruse so he can go on living while pretending to be Larry so he can bang Julia. Classic Frank. Kirsty sees through it. Mayhem ensues. Frank accidentally kills Julia and then non-accidentally drinks her blood. Then the Cenobites rip him apart, Kirsty escapes and closes the box whilst more mayhem ensues, and finally she burns the box but this vagrant who has been stalking her goes into the fire and gets it before turning into a giant skeleton dragon and flying away to return it to that bazaar in Morocco. Am I the only one who gets shit done around here?
Jack: So . . . yeah. Nailed it. You know what? I’m kinda tired. Think I blew my load putting together that whole game you nah ‘mean?
Jake: Unacceptable to use that phrase in that context. Gross. Too literal. Are you a deviant, too?
Jack: I cannot confirm nor deny these accusations… soooo… ratings!
For 1, think of how Ferris Bueller would rate isms:
For 10, think of how Billy Madison would rate nudie magazine day (or snack packs for that matter):
Jack: 8 - Look, stories don’t come a lot more original than this fucking thing. Interdimensional sadomasochist explorers trying to push the bounds of experience get summoned by solving a mystical puzzle-box opened by a pervert who’s cuckolding his brother and also creeping up on his niece and then his lover kills people to resurrect him? Fuck whoever said there’s nothing new under the sun, this shit’s new. What’s even more crazy is that despite that bananas description, all of the pieces fit together pretty well.
Jake: - 6 - The scaffolding of the story is relatively simple. Pandora’s Box situation. It obviously takes that and goes to insane levels with copious amounts of originality, but for some reason I find it a bit forgettable. I guess it’s just not my kind of story.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 5 - So we’ve talked a lot about the troubles an older movie can have with immersion. And this thing was never going to be all that immersive anyway given how insane it is. With that said, the movie does build a really cool world and paint a great picture of exactly who the Cenobites are and what they’re about. I like that.
Jake: 4 - Jack makes a good point about the world this builds, but the world is full of insanity which inherently lowers immersion because it is hard to identify with. The crazy stuff happening, coupled with the soap opera film style just makes for a relatively non immersive film. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I guess what I mean is that when I think of this movie, I just think of highlights, like how the cenobites look. Not of the film as a whole unit/world.
Jack: 7 - None of the body-horror stuff really did anything for me here, but it does boast a pretty creepy atmosphere, and the Cenobites themselves are fucking creepy. Combine that with some awesome gore and you've got yourself a 6.
Jake: 6 - For pretty much the same reasons as Jack. The things that are nightmarish about the film hold up well and are still creepy today, but just enough so to keep it at a slightly above average score for this category.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 6 - This score is based on two distinct groups of effects. The practical effects used for the gore and for the Cenobites are fucking awesome. They hold up pretty well too. But then there's some absurd looking CGI lightning and electricity that didn't even hold up well by 1988. Atrocious. But there's less of that than there is the awesome practical.
Jake: 7.5 - I really like the effects. Bravo for liberal use of practical. Things are starting to look a bit dated, but it’s almost charming because of it. I even like the damn lightning that everyone hates so much. The 80’s rule.
Jack: 7 - Hellraiser’s great. Fucked up and bananas and great. When they make a movie based on the book, they should let the author write and direct the damn movie more often.
Jake: 6.5 - This is a classic. I respect this movie and it has a place among the mentionable films in the genre. However, for me, this is not a horror movie that I routinely mention in discussions or think of when looking to watch an older flick that I like for fun. It doesn’t capture my interest as much as I’d like.