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Dec 23, 2000


Hair Elf

Directed by: Clive Barker
Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence and Doug Bradley

"We have such sights to show you!"

1987 was a strange time for horror. The unstoppable Jason had been killed, imitated, and then resurrected to resume stalking teenagers at camp. Freddy was making a comeback among the MTV generation with a variety of gimmick kills and one-liners. While John Carpenter was heading in Lovecraftian directions, Sam Raimi added a very cartoonish and slapstick face to the genre. Among this diverse breeding ground, Hellraiser was spawned.

Dark, gritty and brutally graphic for its time, it pushed the boundries of onscreen violence as well as the definition of what horror could be. At a time when monsters had become the selling point of scary movies, the cenobites didn't even have names. Pinhead, as he is known now, was just the lead cenobite. He wasn't even the main villian, actually, having only killed one person within the course of the movie.

"What's your pleasure, Mr. Cotton?"
"The box."
"Take it, it's yours. It always was."

This exploration into the realms of pleasure and pain begins with Frank Cotton, a soulless man who seeks only life's experience. His pursuit has taken him to a far away land where, at a cafe in the market, he is given a small puzzle box. Alone in a dark attic surrounded by candles he finally discovers how to open it, only to scream in terror as chains with hooks burst from within, tearing into his flesh. When we see the attic again it is filled with chains and spiky pillars hanging from the ceiling, and Frank is all over them, having been torn to shreds. A bizarre man covered with leather and an intricate pattern of scars intersecting where jewled pins have been driven into his skull searches the scraps for a peice of Frank's face, closes the box, and vanishes with the chains. Grabs your attention fairly well for an opening scene.

Well, it turns out that's not really Frank's house, the squatter, as his brother Larry begins moving in with his wife, Julia, and trying to get his daughter to move in, as well, shortly after Frank has been eviscerated. While tossing out the bizarre junk that's been left throughout the house, it is revealed through a series of flashbacks that Julia had an affair with Frank, being drawn to his bad boy persona and aroused by taking control of that danger. It's while she remembers her lustful affair that Larry cuts himself on a nail while moving a mattress, spilling his blood on the attic floor where Frank died. Julia takes him to the hospital as the blood seeps under the wood and begins to grow.

I'll describe this scene in explicit detail because it's grotesquely beautiful and easily the best effect of the movie. A heart begins beating beneath the floorboards, then lungs begin to form. Viscous green liquid pushes its way out of the cracks and pools there before two boney arms hatch from below, hang in the air a moment before falling to lift itself from the oooze. The skull forms from a pulpy mess and the spine thrusts into its base. The thin and gooey creature on the floor lifts its head into the air and howls an ungodly throaty noise, gorgeously backlit by the attic window. Frank is reborn.

Unhappy and little more than a wet corpse, Frank reveals himself to Julia and convinces her to help him. The blood brought him back, so he decides he needs more. However, he can't do it himself, Julia is sent out to seduce men, bring them back to the attic and kill them. As Julia feeds Frank more she becomes more cold and dark, and he becomes more whole, which is good because those creatures from the box, the cenobites, will soon know he is gone and come for him again. The situation becomes more complicated when teenage Kirsty discovers Frank and escapes with the puzzle box, later opening it.

"No tears, please. It's a waste of good suffering."

Hellraiser combines the extremes of sex and gore into the equivalent of cinematographic S&M. One minute Julia will be flirting with a young man as he caresses her and napes her neck, the next she'll have busted his jaw sideways with a hammer and the slimy remains of Frank will be wriggling across the floor on its stomach to absorb the fresh blood. The use of the house makes the fear very intimate, preying on the psychological desecration of our homes, changing them from our safety zones to a place of terror.

"The box. You opened it. We came. Now you must come with us, taste our pleasures."

As his directorial debute, Clive Barker is very good, setting up scenes with an eye for the darkness rather than the lighting and using very quick and simple shots to get his meanings across. In an argument between Julia and Larry about the house, the camera focuses on Julia putting her cigarette out on the floor for a quick second, showing her distain for their new home and her own passive-aggressive tendencies. The theme of infestation is also played well, as we are occassionaly assaulted by images of maggots in the kitchen or rats in the upper floors. Most impressive are the cenobite designs, coming off as tortured bondage freaks who have shaped themselves into inhuman, or rather, beyond human forms. Their wounds and disfigurement serve as decoration, one's face stretched back from the lips and constantly clicking his teeth, another with barbs of wire through her windpipe. It's "repulsive glamour," in Barker's own words.

As a writer, Barker is even better. His storytelling skills in full display and many of the lines come across as bloody poetry, which leads to a lot of quoting.

"Who are you?"
"Explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others."

With the exception of Ashley Laurence, the acting is very good. Andrew Robinson makes a very convincing Larry, a bit dopey and unaware, and then makes a turn as the casually menacing Frank in the end. Clare Higgins starts out as a displeased housewife who is changed into a lethal ice bitch as the murders continue. Wickedness just seems to radiate from her in some scenes, even though she is doing nothing. Doug Bradley, the one who would be the icon of the Hellraiser series through better and worse, makes Pinhead a very cool and enigmatic character. He doesn't get his hands dirty and he is rarely active, sitting back and leading the other cenobites like a general. Like Dracula, he has the look of a man who's seen the world and is bored with it all, culminating into a seething frustration of boredom beneath his apathetic gaze.

The movie never really becomes frightening, rather it intrigues and unnerves you, staying in your mind long after you leave the theater. It's a very memorable experience that I first got staying up one night watching Joe Bob Briggs's MonsterVision and I find myself enjoying it more and more.

"Jeeeesuuus wept."

I give Hellraiser a 5/5, as it's very well made, especially for the small budget it was given. My favorite horror movie.


PROS: Very stylish modern horror classic
CONS: The Scream generation will dislike it (this doubles as a pro, actually)



May 12, 2004

I agree totally, brilliant movie. Very eerie and disturbing. 4.5 out of 5

Aug 5, 2003

This is a movie that still haunts me, 5 years after initially watching it. I haven't watched it since, not because i didn't enjoy, but because i'm sincerely afraid of watching it again. This review has instilled a new courage in me and i will definetly be rewatching it again. Kudos Clive Barker...kudos..


Feb 19, 2004

Great movie, unfortunetly too many people see it as just comr crazy monster movie cause no one really know about Lead Cenobite (pinhead), they just see the picture and write it off. Really great movie and dead on, well written review.


The Phantom Goat
Oct 6, 2003

Where my moviez at?

Great horror flick... it's only fault being that it spawned so many lacking sequels.


May 24, 2001

The Go-To Guy for Kitten Pics

The film's effects haven't aged well, but apart from those shortcomings Hellraiser is still a genuinely perverse film. The first movie I can remember seeing that found a way to visceralize and market Hell.


Mar 10, 2004

The uses of dark, as mentioned above, are exquisite, and the intro is equally so.
5 out of 5.

Scar Trek
Mar 6, 2002

I was here before this cliché crap and I'll be here long after it's cold and raped and dead in the ground.

Christ, what a movie.

I'm obsessed with it. I own the movie on 3 formats, as well as every other movie in the series, I own action figures (a bunch of 12" Tortured Souls figures are looking at me from beside my monitor right now), a replica Lament Configuration, dozens of Barker's other novels, I could go on.

The bottom line is, for me, this has been simply the single most influential movie in my life. At the ripe age of 12 years old, I saw this on TV, alone, in the dark, in my bedroom. Nothing ever has, and most likely ever will, scare me like that again. Only one movie since then has even scared me (Ju-On). I was a devout Christian, and this movie gave me nightmares for around two weeks. When they wouldn't go away despite crap like saying prayers and visiting church daily, it was responsible for me losing faith in and giving up religion. It's responsible for my current lifestyle choice as well (goth, or near enough). It's also responsible for my sexual fetishes, I'll admit.

On the surface, it's a monster movie (despite the monsters getting less than 5 minutes of screentime in the entire movie). On another level, it's a horror movie for S&M pervs. On another level, it's an exploration of the depths of the human soul and the concept of desire.

From the excellent acting, which included theatrical actors from Clive's days as a playwriter, to the lighting, which ALONE can terrify you, to the sound effects, which will send chills down your spine with every flat peel of that bell, to the props, which have such an attention to detail you have to wonder where they found the sick fucks to make them, to the script, which says surprisingly little yet tells so much, to the makeup, which is legendary, the movie is incredible. Moreso when you find out it was shot for a $1 million budget.

Special effects are the only time it falls flat. The drawn-on electrical effects look horribly dated. And in one shot, a beast moving down a corridor can be clearly seen to be sat on a trolly, with two guys pushing it. Still, the beast itself is so hosed-up and repulsive, you won't notice unless you're looking.

Over time, the excellent background mythos has grown, and taken on a life of it's own, and the movie's concepts are explored to much greater depth elsewhere. My favourite would be the comic series, which ran for 20 issues and countless spinoffs. Some of the earlier issues took these ideas and ran with them, producing the most starkly adult, yet not at all gory or sexual, comics I have ever seen. The later in the series sadly descended into standard comicbook fare. Ah well.
The movie series sadly hasn't fared as well, with only the first sequel getting anywhere near the original's lofty heights. Still, they've produced 6 movies, with 7 completed and awaiting release, and 8 in production. Can't complain about them letting the franchise die off.

So anyway. While it may not resonate on so many levels with every viewer, and indeed most people reading this are adults who'll watch it and just see a clever, creepy monster horror with bad 80's special effects, I can't do anything less than rate this a 5.5. It's my favourite movie of alltime bar none.

"Enough of this cat n' mouse bullshit."

Aug 7, 2002

A plague of faggotry upon thee!


Knight came out of the closet to say:

What you said. I watched the hell out of this as a child. I was enthralled by Pinhead... he was such an admirable villian. I also enjoyed the first sequel (Evil Skinless Woman rules). I should go get the DVD now.

EDIT: 5/5

Dec 7, 2003

one funky chicken

A favorite horror movie of mine (as well as sequel 2 for similar reasons, and 5 for different reasons). There are no standard "monsters gonna getcha", it's set up as more of a thriller. I believe Clive Barker described it as more of a "haunted house" flick, and I tend to agree. It's a real shame that the sequels took pretty much every idea this movie was trying to explore and threw them out the window. The short novel Hellbound Heart upon which this is based rings home the idea of experience being a quest- once you've done it all, then what else is there to do in life? Find the ultimate experience threshold, thus the box, and the cenobites, other "explorers" who relish ultimate pain and pleasure.

The movie is dated, yes (special effects, clothes, and BIG HAIR) but it still holds a good place in my movie collection. I'm not fond of the ending either, it comes across as dated material as well, but it won't lower my recommendation. This movie is original, and in horror that's worth a lot. 4/5

EDIT: In addendum, I'll say that I believe this was Barker's first time directing, and I feel it's his best. Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions fall flat in many places and have many amateur moments. This movie does a much better job of holding suspense and creepiness.

NarkyBark fucked around with this message at May 28, 2004 around 02:02

Jul 31, 2002

C'mon, all the cool kids are doing it.

This is my absolute favorite horror movie of all-time, from my favorite horror author (sans H.P. Lovecraft) of all-time, no less. This film was a great adaptation from the book, The Hellbound Heart. While the special effects were insufferably bad, even considering the budget of the film and the time period that it was made, the plot itself was solid, the costumes were good, and the acting was fairly decent.


Jun 1, 2004

When I was about 5 years old that movie traumatized me. I watched the part where the girl gets her skin torn off and she was eaten. I got over it though and now I love horror movies.

Cyril St. John
Dec 15, 2005

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.

I love this movie quite a bit too, but to think that so many other Clive Barker movies were so awful upsets me...and I'm not talking about all the Hellraisers made after 2. Has anyone seen Nightbreed? There's a guy in it with a head shaped like a moon or something...I remember WAY back a long time ago McDonalds used to have a mascot that had a crescent moon for a head. Enough about that though...

I read a book by Barker that I think everyone should check out too called "Imajica".

Hellraiser 4/5

Mar 12, 2004
i wish i had tourette's!

This movie is truly a horror classic. The lighting, the atmosphere and the effects are all amazing. The star of the movie for me is Pinhead. Doug Bradley did a really great job with the role. Throughout all of his scenes I had the feeling that he was this inescapable form of evil yet still very rational in that all his interactions with the humans are well thought out.

This movie definitely deserves a 5/5. If you do like this movie, Hellbound will continue the story for you and 3:Hell on Earth and 4:Bloodlines are worth watching as well as part of the series. Please be warned that from #5 and on it gets less likeable.

People have said that the special effects were bad, and while they weren't great they did their job and were rather unsettling.
To reiterate. If you like this movie,you must watch Hellbound

Apr 30, 2005

I agree. I love the movies and continue to watch simple out of loyalty, but the later movies simply moved onto getting Pinhead into the movie and letting a crappy plot form around it.

Apr 7, 2005

we are chaos in motion

saw the movie when it came out my senior year of highschool. Became an avid fan ever since.
Here is a box you can print out and make from paper. Be careful though...

LGBT War Machine
Dec 20, 2004

ooooohawwww Mildred

I'm chiming in to say that I am also a fan of this. Unlike the rest of you, I also enjoyed 2 and 3 - it's fun to see how other people can mess up a great show.

It is telling, I think, that despite the "monsters" having so little screen time they are the main characters. Or at least the best remembered characters. While watching it the last time, I sat there convinced that they had had more screen time in my last viewings.

The fim is imaginative, dark and fun.

And, yes, Imajica is a wonderful book.


Aug 3, 2012

I'm literally retarded

Much gets lost in the transition from print to film.
The original story, The Hellbound Heart, is a necessary read to fully savor this film. It gives the flavour, the spice and the substrate needed to really appreciate this fine film.

"The flayed ball of his head-" and so on. It gets much much better (or much worse, DOYO). Read it. NOW.

Clive Barker is best appreciated in print, I think.

zimboe fucked around with this message at Jun 19, 2016 around 15:26

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