Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Film Review: HELLRAISER (1987, Clive Barker)

Stars: 3.75 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Andy Robinson (Scorpio Killer in DIRTY HARRY, CHARLEY VARRICK), Doug Bradley (Pinhead in all the HELLRAISERS), Clare Higgins (B.MONKEY, CASSANDRA'S DREAM), Sean Chapman (Alan Clarke's SCUM and MADE IN BRITAIN). Music by Christopher Young (DRAG ME TO HELL, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2).
Tag-line: "We have such sights to show you."
Best one-liner: "Jesus wept."
Best anecdote: Some viewers have complained about the poor quality of the special effects at during the denouement. Barker has explained that, due to a limited budget, there was no money left to have the SFX done professionally in post. Instead, Barker and a "Greek guy" animated the scenes by hand over a single weekend.

Barker has also commented that he thinks the SFX turned out very well considering the amount of alcohol the two consumed that weekend.

Based on his own novel, THE HELLBOUND HEART, Clive Barker's HELLRAISER is a deeply flawed film, but the sheer mind-blowing bluster on display here and 'the WHUTTT?! factor' push this over the edge into "I liked it" territory. Barker the filmmaker self-admittedly puts wayyy more thought and morbid creativity into crafting memorable villains (David Cronenberg in NIGHTBREED, for example) than memorable protagonists. But then he puts his boring heroes centerstage and forces us to live with them while we get mostly fleeting glimpses of the baddies. So he's not the world's greatest filmmaker, by any means, though you gotta respect a guy who can convince throngs of disaffected, quasi-rebellious youth in Middle America to buy action figures based on his extreme BDSM horror fantasies. That surely counts for something.

But, back to what I was saying, Frank and the Cenobites are why I think this movie is solid, yet at the same time, they're severely underdeveloped.

Within the first five minutes, we have a man (Frank) messing with a puzzle box and getting sucked into to a dimension of endless torture, and then we immediately cut to a bland family moving in to the same home. Barker could've added a half-hour to the opening to this film, documenting Frank's pursuits of increasingly horrifying carnal pleasures and his descent into madness, showing us what drove a man to seek out sadistic satisfactions from the other side of the mirror. It would have raised the stakes and could have led to a genuinely powerful, emotionally devastating conclusion. But you're kind of willing to forgive this because the monsters are so goddamned neat. For a budget of only one million, the Cenobites (and other assorted demonic creatures) are breathtaking. Though Pinhead has become the most iconic, the others can't (and shouldn't) quite be described- like some kind of unholy combo of H.P. Lovecraft, Max Schreck, and William Friedkin's CRUISING. Bravo. Nearly four stars.

-Sean Gill

2009 Halloween Countdown

31. PROM NIGHT (1980, Paul Lynch)
30. PHENOMENA (1985, Dario Argento)
29. HOUSE OF WAX (1953, André de Toth)
28. SILENT RAGE (1982, Michael Miller)
27. BASKET CASE (1982, Frank Henenlotter)
26. THE DEADLY SPAWN (1983, Douglas McKeown)
25. PELTS (2006, Dario Argento)
24. ANGEL HEART (1987, Alan Parker)
23. KILLER WORKOUT (1986, David A. Prior)
22. FREDDY'S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE (1991, Rachel Talalay)
21. THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971, Robert Fuest)
20. FRANKENHOOKER (1990, Frank Henenlotter)
19. HELLRAISER (1987, Clive Barker)


skeelo said...

"and William Friedkin's CRUISING." - LOL

Daniel Wallin said...

I still hope they release the version with the original English accents! Check out Sean Chapman in Scum.

Sean Gill said...


Been a while and I forgot to respond, but thank ya!


Yeah, that'd be nice. And I have not seen SCUM, but I have enjoyed all the Alan Clarke films I have seen, including Chapman in MADE IN BRITAIN.