31 Days Of Hell: Hellraiser 1 and 2

Michelle reviews the first two (and the best) entries in the Hellraiser franchise.

Hellraiser (1987): Although Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series saw a rapid decline in quality (especially in the later sequels)-- the first two films are classic entries into the horror genre. The first film is based on Barker’s novella, The Hellbound Heart, although it does take some liberties with the storyline. It concerns a mysterious puzzle box that supposedly grants whoever solves it infinite pleasure and delights. However, it is actually a gateway to Hell and summons evil demons known as Cenobites to torture the hapless victim. The leader of the Cenobites, known only as Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is one of the most iconic figures in horror. He is the embodiment of dark inclinations with his S&M bondage outfit and face covered in embedded nails. His famous line: “Oh, no tears please. It's a waste of good suffering!” perfectly captures what his character is all about. He cares not for your whimpering—he is here to ferry you to your torture.

Clive Barker himself directed this film (though none of the subsequent ones) and so it is the one that is the most pure. Barker has always had a strong sexual element to both his films and novels with Hellraiser ramping up the sexuality ten-fold. There are strong BDSM influences in both the look of the film and in some of the relationships between the characters. It explored the correlation between pleasure and intense pain in a way no other horror film did before it. That being said, the plot is disjointed at times, which is an issue in several other Barker films, and it resolves a little too quickly in the third act. The Cenobites look incredible and they have some of the finest makeup and costumes I have ever seen. In the later films they get silly with the different kinds of Cenobites but they are truly frightening in the first two movies.

The musical score is great too, done by horror film composer Christopher Young. There is a definite sweeping symphonic flair to the music and it has the now classic Hellraiser theme interwoven throughout. It is one of my all-time favorite film scores. The gore in this movie is no slouch either, with plenty of practical effects that still hold up visually today. What keeps this movie from being excellent is the weak characterization and disorganized plot. It makes for an uneven viewing experience but does not render the film unwatchable. Time has been kind to this film and it has attained cult status with many horror film enthusiasts.


Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988): Tony Randel took over the reins from Clive Barker (though Barker stayed on as producer) to direct the second film in the Hellraiser franchise. This iteration is my personal favorite in the series as it develops the mythos immensely and has incredible images and concepts. Some of the characters from the first film reappear in surprising ways, which is somewhat rare for horror movie sequels. They usually reboot everything except the main monster/creature--most likely due to director changes or studio interference. Hellbound has a much bigger budget than the first film and it shows with the backgrounds and set pieces used. We get to see the inside of the dimension that the Cenobites hail from and the depiction is incredibly scary and unnerving. There is a heavy Lovecraftian influence in both the story and the look of the film which is a welcome addition.

The story is still the weak point in this film, but it’s a little more coherent than the original Hellraiser. It has a better flow from scene to scene and the climax is exciting and epic in scope. My one quibble with the story is they attempt to humanize Pinhead and make him into a sympathetic character which is at odds with how he was in the first film. It takes away his power to frighten because the fact that he has no empathy for humans is one of the main reasons he is so terrifying. This starts a trend that continues into the later movies and, in my opinion, cheapens the character. Fortunately, it represents a small portion of Hellbound and doesn’t ruin the mood too much. The Cenobites are much scarier within the confines of their home world and it’s enjoyable and fascinating to be able to witness it in its complete glory. It is one of best sequences in the film and is Barker’s vision realized fully—even more so than the first movie.

Christopher Young returned to make the score for Hellbound and it surpasses his first one by far. It’s more grandiose and ambitious and also makes use of effects and sound design with interesting results.  Everything about this film is bigger and better than the previous movie and most fans agree that it is the high point of the series. For some reason, although the franchise became quite popular and profitable, each successive movie seemed to have lower and lower budgets. After a while, they lose all of the poetic qualities as well and turn into torture porn. This isn’t Shakespeare, I get it, but the little class it did have goes straight down the tubes. The third film is still decent but I don’t like any of them after that. As Frank Cotton says in the first film: “Jesus wept.”


-Michelle Kisner

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