dir: Clive Barker, 1987
I had a lot of hesitation going into watching Hellraiser. Not because I don’t like horror films, mind you. I love them. I just don’t like the super gory stuff. It makes me feel quite gross (mission accomplished filmmakers).
Anywho, Hellraiser was actually very concise with its grossness. And sadly, the Cenobites only had a few appearances.
I admit I’ve been trying to watch or re-watch as many classic horror films as I can. I do this to further my own learning and pleasure, but also to help expose folks to the roots of the genre. Horror, as of late, has been having a rough time. We’ve had some really bright moments, and some really, really shitty ones. In much the same way as sci-fi, horror has immense potential but is often marred by fads and rotten apples. Despite this, it’s good to remember that these genres (like any other) have their own quirks and highlights.
I’ve digressed, again.
Okay, so, Hellraiser in a nutshell: In search of the perfect pleasure, sleazy hedonist Frank gets trapped in another dimension. He is later revived by a mishap when his younger brother Larry moves in with his wife Julia. Things go awry as Frank convinces Julia to sacrifice people to bring him back into our world.
I had a lot of fun watching this film. Mostly because the plot could’ve been easily translated into: “What you gonna do when your ex-man comes back from another dimension?”
Julia is so thoroughly smitten by Frank, even when he’s covered in ectoplasm (forever to be referred to as dat plasm). The range of emotions she goes through is both disturbing and lusciously horrific. She is enraptured by him and does anything to fulfill his wishes, even if it endangers her or upsets her. In a way, Frank’s hedonism consumes her. Interestingly enough, this is just as it (or more importantly, the Cenobites) consumed him.
The core of the film is this tension of pushing the boundaries. While the Cenobites are definitely on one end of spectrum, all the other characters lie along it in varying ways.
Frank is clearly abusive and homicidal, having acquiesced to his basest desires. Julia however is only homicidal due to Frank’s enabling. Her crumbling conscience does acrobatics to affirm that killing is okay. Yet, it’s only at her worst that she consents to killing Larry off. Larry himself is kind of a neutral character here; a casualty of being in the wrong family at the wrong time. Kirsty sits near the innocent side of the spectrum here. Her only indulgence is one of curiosity, which she clearly pays for until her escape from the Cenobites.
At it’s base, Hellraiser is a haunted house film. As such, the film does incredibly well working horrific moments into a domestic setting. Nearly every important action occurs in the house, and the house itself takes on an atmosphere of entrapment. From the introduction, Hellraiser immediately establishes the idea of a lack of safety in the one place you’d think there would be. This works incredibly well when it contrasts increasingly domestic moments with Frank’s lurking and smirking about.
In turn, the gore in the film is striking and visceral. At the same time, it’s also normalized pretty quickly. Frank’s developing corpse is quite gross at first. But once the film really gets going it becomes as commonplace as Larry’s lack of awareness. The only time I was as grossed out was in the climactic act wherein Frank is pulled apart and he wiggles his tongue about. Just, so…blech.
So, Hellraiser isn’t as buckets of blood as many of it’s descendants. But it’s still pretty gross. On the flipside it has a clear, coherent story that is developed and presented quite well. If you’re looking for a good scary tale about never trusting your step-parents, Hellraiser is a good place to start.
Hellraiser could be your pleasure on Netflix and Amazon.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope