Blu Reviewed: You Opened It, We Came! - Arrow Video's Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box

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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.

Hell. It's that way. 

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.

Welcome to Little Caesar's, where pain is hot n ready. 

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.


Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992): This the the weakest entry of the three films in this box-set. After the first two films, Pinhead became intensely popular and the fans wanted to see more of him. And so, in Hell on Earth we get a story that focuses not only on Pinhead but but his former human alter-ego Captain Elliot Spencer. While I do appreciate villains with backstories, Pinhead benefited more from being mysterious. The story has a much more modernized feel with the hip protagonist and the decision to have a lot of the film take place in a dance club. There is a bad ass scene where Pinhead massacres everyone in the club--the gore effects are still on point. 

I just love touching this box. 

I'm not a huge fan of the new Cenobites that were introduced in this one, the two most ridiculous ones being a monster that shoots CDs at people (which immediately dated the film) and one named "Doc" with a video camera inserted into his face. These guys are much more campy than scary and were a sign of things to come with this franchise. Ultimately, this movie is still a somewhat solid entry into the franchise and nicely rounds out the trilogy.


All three films received 2K restorations though the quality varies a bit from film to film. The original Hellraiser looks the grainiest out the three films, especially since it has a lot of dimly lit interior scenes.It is the oldest as well and this master is the best I have ever seen it look. Hellbound looks much better and has way less softness and film grain. Hell on Earth looks fantastic and is incredibly sharp and clean looking. As an aside, you can watch the "Unrated Cut" of Hell on Earth though all the extra scenes switch to 4:3 instead of 16:9. It's fun to see the additional content but a seamless experience it is not.


Extras: This set is brimming with extras, one of the most interesting being the crowdfunded Leviathan documentary that came out awhile back. However, it has been reedited and distributed among the separate discs. The original one was over eight hours long and this version is about four hours long. The usual interviews and commentary tracks are here as well, but the fourth disc has a couple of Clive Barker's short films which I hadn't had a chance to see before. As you can imagine they are pretty obtuse and artsy but intriguing nonetheless.


-Michelle Kisner


  • Brand new 2K restorations of Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
  • Uncompressed PCM Stereo 2.0 and Lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound for Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II
  • Lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 sound for Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for all three films
  • Limited Edition bonus disc
  • Exclusive 200-page hardback book with new writing from Clive Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes
  • 20-page booklet featuring never-before-seen original Hellraiser concept art
  • Limited Edition packaging with new artwork from Gilles Vranckx
  • Set of 5 exclusive art cards
  • Fold-out reversible poster