31 Horror Movies I Own: #1, Hellraiser
I suspect that if you weren’t a teen or preteen when Clive Barker’s Hellraiser hit the horror scene, you’d view it now and think “This is fucking dated and cheesy and not scary at all”…and you’d be half-right.
There’s no denying that it’s dated. 1987 was a fine year for outrageous 80s fashion, and the two female leads showcase it hilariously—puffy bomber jackets, giant bangs, dagger-esque star earrings, popped collars, bright yellow eye shadow and all.
And sure, it’s cheesy. The low-budget effects are glaringly obvious (Barker even admits this in his commentary, which by the way, is some of the best commentary ever in the history of EVER), but whatevs. The man basically sold his soul, AKA, the rights to all future Hellraiser movies and characters, for just a million dollars in order to make this thing. So of course it’s not without its flaws.
But it doesn’t matter. What he did with that low budget is pretty astounding. In addition to introducing what used to be one of the best villains of all time, the sadistic nail-headed demon-y Lead Cenobite (who had officially adopted the name “Pinhead” by the time the sequel was released) played with perfection by gravelly-voiced Doug Bradley, the film introduced us to Barker’s strange world of heaven and hell, almost beautiful trance-like gore scenes, skin-pulling chains, “the box” and best of all: Julia.
Julia is simply one of the most perfect and tragic anti-heroines on film. She’s beautiful, lost, and consumed by her over-powering lust for Frank—all of which leads to her doing all sorts of unseemly things—like luring strange men home with the promise of sex and then hitting them over the head with a hammer so her undead/skeletal/dripping with slime lover can eat them and grow skin.
Caught between cruel but sexy (even without skin!) escaped-from-hell Frank and clueless husband Larry, and watched suspiciously by baby-faced, innocent Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) Julia plays each part just the way she’s supposed to: confused, loving wife; evil stepmom, and cold-blooded murderer. Clare Higgins should have won a damn Oscar for this thing. I’m not even kidding. Watch the first kill and tell me I’m wrong.
The reason this film works is because the story, the monsters, and the actors are all equally strong. If you’ve never seen it, you need to. Put aside your critique of the special F/X and watch…I guarantee you’ll be creeped out on some level, even if you’re not scared (after 8 films and TONS of exposure, I feel like being scared of Pinhead would take a miracle). For me, “The Chatterer” Cenobite is actually more creep-tastic than Pinhead, but Julia still wins the award for most frightening.
As for the sequels, none of them are worth owning—or really even watching, unless you’re just curious. Some have a few interesting ideas and squirm-worthy kills, but they aren’t as cohesive or as well put together as the original Hellraiser. It’s a classic I will always keep in my DVD library. Kudos, Clive.