We’ll tear your soul apart!--Pinhead
Hellraiser is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Clive Barker creates his own mythological world of horror that is both seductive and cruel and keeps you wanting more. In this first film of the series, Barker introduces us to the realm of the cenobites, god-like beings with a taste for your pain. They are released when someone solves an intricate puzzle box and, like some nightmarish jack in the box, they pop out and tear you to pieces.
Larry and his wife Julia are moving into their old family home in the opening of the film. There is no sign of Larry’s brother Frank except for a pallet bed, some risqué photos and piles of rotting food in the kitchen. The final member of the family is Larry’s daughter Kirsty who turns down her father’s offer to live with them. All three have no idea they will soon be pulled into the horrifying world of the cenobites.
Hellraiser is preoccupied with the horrors of sex in a new and complex way. In one scene, a carved figure of a man and woman in coitus next to a crawling cockroach makes this film’s attitude towards sex pretty clear. Instead of using a superego slasher to kill off horny teens, Hellraiser depends on the horrors of incest to make the equation of sex=bad.
The film revolves around the relationship between Julia and Frank, and is in many ways a perverted love story. Julia had yet to marry Larry when Frank blew into town for the wedding. Instead of offering his congratulations to the bride, the sensation-hungry Frank has sex with her. He ends their turbulent lovemaking with the frustrated cry of “it’s never enough” He continues his journey for the ultimate sensation that will lead him to the puzzle box from hell.
When Julia and Larry move into the house, a nasty cut on Larry’s hand gives the disembodied Frank the blood he needs to rise from the dead. Julia reunites with her old lover and decides to hide him in the attic. Nothing good can come of this and it does, in spades. Julia seduces barflies then brings them home to feed her skinned lover until he is almost fully human again, not just a gooey bag of bones.
This creepy sex angle is accentuated by the cenobytes themselves, who look like they shop at a BDSM boutique. With their leather frocks, piercings and fondness for chains and pain, they represent the ultimate sexual transgression and a new kind of punishment for those looking for a kinky, otherworldly experience.
I really enjoyed Claire Higgin’s performance as the femme fatale Julia. She starts the film wearing all white, but as her sins accumulate she begins wearing black and a fabulous shade of golden eye-shadow. Very David Bowie. Then there’s creepy uncle Frank who I can safely assume is every kid’s worst nightmare. Skinned to the muscle and dripping blood he beckons Kirsty to “come to daddy” and it’s no wonder she runs as fast as she can in the other direction.
Barker’s film is rich with gore and solid performances, making this a great film to begin the Hellraiser series.
We have eternity to know your flesh--Pinhead
Helbound: Hellraiser 2 is a spectacular follow-up to Hellraiser. As a fan I get everything that I want: lots of gore, more of the cenobites and a family reunion between Kirsty, her stepmother, and Uncle Frank.
In this sequel, Kirsty is locked up in a pysch ward after surviving the wrath of the cenobites in the first film. Her family has been destroyed. Uncle Frank is dead, in pieces, Kirsty’s dad has been skinned alive and after being betrayed by Frank, Julia is killed by the cenobites. Kirsty finds an ally in the young doctor Kyle McCrae, also known as Clive (nudge wink), who works under head physician Dr. Phillip.
Phillip is a sketchy character and the film really works the Frankenstein angle here. We first get a glimpse of him performing brain surgery on one unfortunate patient, making polite conversation as he shoves a drill into the patient’s brain. His philosophy on healing comes straight from the cenobites as he talks about a doctor’s duty to take the patient’s pain. We get the feeling he’s not holding to his Hippocratic oath and is more interested in causing pain than relieving it. Add to that the doctor’s need to see and know everything and it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s the doctor with his endless curiosity who brings back the cenobites and plunges Kirsty and the others into a dark labyrinth of horrors.
I enjoyed that we get more background on the cenobites. In the first film it isn’t really clear what they are. Are they men, monsters, demons, or angels? Kirsty discovers that Pinhead was once human and we get a glimpse of his monstrous transformation after he solved the puzzle box. We also get to see the cenobites in their human form and I was shocked to discover that Chatterer was a preteen boy. Different strokes I guess.
The movie also takes up the theme of incest again in Kirsty’s interaction with her uncle Frank in hell. Frank resumes that “come to daddy” talk as he tells Kirsty he made her think her father was in hell so he could trick her into being part of his personal fantasy. Thankfully Frank gets what he deserves. Again. Let’s hope this time it sticks.
I could have done without the second ending which foreshadows the inevitable return of the cenobites. Different parts of the cenobites are nailed to a wooden gibbet with the head of a vaguely oriental man with crickets crawling on his face that says, “What’s your pleasure sir?” The effect is awkward rather than terrifying. Must be the crickets.
I was also pleasantly surprised by how easily the character of the boyfriend from the first film was written out of Hellraiser 2. Without a boyfriend to hold her back, Kirsty becomes a much stronger character and doesn’t fall into hysterics even though her entire family has just been wiped out. Her first words to a nosey detective in the film’s opening are “Who the fuck are you?” Her knew persona inspires confidence as we watch this final girl kick some cenobite butt in her grey blazer turned up at the elbows. I miss the 80s.
And is it just me or does that puzzle box seem like it’s far too easy to figure out? I know it’s a narrative device and without the box there wouldn’t be a movie, but I wonder if the cenobites get tired of having to collect their victims. Does it eat into their recreation time?
Overall this is a very satisfying addition to the Hellraiser universe and I look forward to watching more.