Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hellraiser (1987)

This guy, Pinhead, kind of got grouped incorrectly with those big three slasher movie villains from the 1980s, in my opinion. Of course, I am referring to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Dr. Giggles. Just kidding. Dr. Giggles is from the early 1990s, otherwise, he'd be there. The other guy is, of course, Freddy Kreuger. This is absurd. First of all, Pinhead or lead cenobite, as he is referred to in Hellraiser, is NOT a slasher. This is not a slasher film. This is more of a mystical horror film, dealing with a realm where pleasure and pain are one and the same. Pinhead, I'm pretty sure, has never ACTUALLY killed anyone. Instead, he is more of a guide, or as Pinhead, himself, puts it, he's an "explorer in the further regions of experience." Whatever that means. Still, he's an incredibly memorable character considering that his screentime in the original Hellraiser amounts to barely five minutes. The scene where the cenobites first appear are some startlingly terrifying images, with "the chatterer" somehow managing to freak me out even more than Pinhead. Pinhead, unlike the three slashers I mentioned above, is a man, or demon, of eloquent dialogue. Myers and Voorhees never speak. Kreuger speaks mostly in puns, from what I remember (or maybe I'm thinking of the Gingerdead Man, the other burnt slasher), a form of dialect Pinhead would scoff at.

Arguably, Pinhead and his band of cenobites aren't even villains. The people they punish in this picture are certainly not good people. The story begins in England with Frank (Sean Chapman) attempting to solve an Oriental puzzle box in his home. Upon solving the puzzle, which, to me, looks to be ridiculously easy, the rooms starts to shift a bit, and blue lights begin emanating through the cracks in the walls. Suddenly, chained hooks fly out of the walls and embed themselves in his flesh. After Frank is torn apart, the Cenobites, lead by Lead Cenobite or Pinhead (Doug Bradley) as he is later called, appear to inspect the situation. In a little twist on the puzzle box, Pinhead puts the pieces of Frank's face back together. Unfortunately, having solved the puzzle of Frank's face, we're not rewarded with any kind of sadomasochistic torture.

It is perhaps a few months later, when Frank's brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his 2nd wife Julia (Claire Higgins) move into that same house, now abandoned. They just assume Frank is off on one of his adventures. It's pretty clear that Julia is not a terrific person either during these scenes, especially when she looks through Frank's things and ogles over his pictures (several including her). Oh, and we also flashback to a scene where they are doing it, in case you need it spelled out for you. By "doing it" I mean fucking.

So, Larry and Julia are moving in as I mentioned before. "Moving in" usually entails lifting things, often furniture. Larry hires the two laziest movers in England and ends up doing much of the work himself, which unfortunately includes moving an unbendable box spring upstairs, while trying to avoid that rusty nail jutting out of the wall. The scene is pretty predictable because we see that nail for about a minute before his hand scrapes across it. We do learn that Larry is basically a pussy here because he screams and runs to Julia (hiding out in the attic) for help, all the while complaining that he's about to pass out. The blood from his hand drips on the attic floor and somehow that's how Frank begins his journey back into reality. It doesn't make too much sense, but I don't really follow the rules of the Cenobites. Frank, begins as a slightly pulsating heart beneath the floorboards. The blood from Larry's wound is enough to turn Frank into a skeleton with about half a torso and a, barely, flesh covered skull. It's enough for him to begin talking again, however, and he begs Julia to bring some men back to the apartment, so he can suck their blood and fat through a straw and, thereby, regenerate himself. These scenes, as a child, had me turning off the TV and gagging, but since then, I've become so desensitized to gore that I just sort of shrugged and said "Is that all?"

Anyway, without giving too much away, the rest of the plot involves the lovely Kirsty (played by Ashley Lawrence), Larry's daughter who is suspicious of her stepmother. Clearly, with good reason. At one point, she comes into possession of the puzzle box, solves it, and makes a deal with Pinhead and friends to save her soul. A quick comment about the puzzle box. Why is this thing so easy to solve? As far as I could tell, all you do is press a button on the side, the thing opens up and then the cenobites appear. There's no challenge to it. I'm guessing the cenobites had an earlier box, but no one could solve it so they all sat around twiddling their thumbs and watching their "stories" on the television. Finally, the chatterer (Nicholas Vince) or butterball (Simon Bamford) or even more likely, the female (Grace Kirby) said "enough is enough, i'm fucking bored" and convinced Pinhead to tone down the difficulty level on the thing. It sorta lessens the meaning though when Pinhead says "The box. You opened it. We came." It would be really easy to accidentaly drop the thing or bump into it as you're moving a dresser across the room. I think they should give you a mulligan the first time you open it. If, after accidentaly opening it once, you are stupid enough to not get rid of the thing or put it in a safety deposit box somewhere, then you deserve to have the hooks tear into your flesh as Pinhead taunts you with lines like "No tears please, it's a waste of good suffering." Still, the bottom line? These cenobites are badass, but if you want to experience them fully, you'll have to watch the sequels. They're barely in this one.

Hellraiser's real villain is not Pinhead or any of the Cenobites, but instead, it's Frank, the man who would do anything to escape them. As a HUMAN, Frank wasn't really a good guy because he fucked his brother's wife, amongst other things. He's clearly a master manipulator. He somehow managed to escape the Cenobites, so he must be resourceful. As a puss dripping ATTIC MONSTER, Frank is just, well, he's just really fucking disgusting. Even when he finally get's his skin on, it never seems to fit right. He's constantly adjusting the skin under his eye. The line around his hair seems to be coming undone. The worst scene is when he smokes a cigarette BEFORE getting his new skin. I'm just glad he didn't try this before his lungs had fully redeveloped. But yeah, he's a terrible brother, a terrible uncle, an even worse lover, and, as it turns out, a revolting monster.

This is Clive Barker's directorial debut (based on his original story The Hellbound Heart) and he does a pretty good job with it. The photography is a little too stagnant at times, but the effects still hold up today. Not just the gore, but what little we see of the Cenobite realm, the beast within the mysterious hallway, the flying dragon like thing at the end (you know. the thing that morphed from the homeless guy?). The performances were excellent, in particular Claire Higgins as Julia and the guy that played "regenerating Frank" (Oliver Smith) or, as I intend to call him in the future, "Frank-Thing". The actor portraying "human Frank" was terrible. Ashley Lawrence is suitably inquisitive and cute, the perfect heroine. Barker would go on to some even more ambitious films (Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions), but would never achieve the success he finds here. I recommend the immediate sequel to this called Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, especially if nonsensical plotting and sex with skinless women is your kind of thing. Ashley Lawrence and Claire Higgins return for that one, as does Doug Bradley, billed as Pinhead for the first time.

If Pinhead were here with me right now, he'd probably want to add something like "watch this movie or I'll tear your soul apart." If Frank were here with me right now, I'd be dead and he'd probably be fucking my girlfriend. Now THAT's evil.


Anonymous said...

So...Frank is single?


Gianni said...

I'm kind of surprised to see you reviewing a "classic" horror film here, I'm ashamed to say I've never seen Hellraiser or any of the sequels all the way through, just bits and pieces of them.

brian said...

Once a year Gianni! Enjoy it while it lasts. I just reviewed another "classic" picture. Check it out.

Beepy said...

Yikes, I'm definitely renting this one! Plus I should read the book. I've got to protect myself because you know how much I love a puzzle. Until I see the movie, I'll just have to be really careful about ones that look too easy. I like my skin.

Anonymous said...

The reverse melting scene in this movie still grosses me out. The second Hellraiser is ok but avoid the rest at all costs. Pinhead turns into a second rate Freddy, goes to space (yes space!) and becomes nonexistent as shitty sequel after shitty sequel is churned out.

brian said...

I actually really appreciate the second one. It goes places the first one only hints at. I've seen most of the third one...but all I remember is some scene in a rock club. I'll be placing the one where he goes to space in my queue. Possibly the top!

Anonymous said...

It's called Hellraiser: Bloodline.
Don't say I didn't warn you. I remember when it came out and MTV had Pinhead hosting some Halloween show with some 20 something VJ. The kids love Pinhead announcing the next flesh tearing P.Diddy video right before the song tears their souls apart.

brian said...

Bloodline is #2 in my queue. I picture it as being somewhat close to Event Horizon. Am I way off? It can't be worse than Leprechaun 4??? Can it?????

brian said...

I just watched Hellraiser Bloodline. Yes, Pinhead goes to space! I think he also was hanging out with the Marquis De Sade at one point. It's terrifically terrible. Watch it now. Also, it should be the conclusion of the series, yet somehow they still managed to shit out three more. Good stuff.