Although scaled small, Hellraiser’s eclectic horror seeps from under its low budget. It’s infested with rats, maggots, and scrambling cockroaches. Moldy food dies in the kitchen and a box of perversion waits upstairs in an otherwise typical middle class home. Later comes blood, zombies, demons, and disfigured hellspawn.
Clive Barker, carrying a mere three feature film directing credits, solidified his credibility in Hellraiser, his first. In horror terms, Hellraiser steps away from most genre cliches. Its most tantalizing, memorable creation kills no one – not directly, anyway. With mere minutes of screen time, Pinhead (Doug Bradley) fell into the culture of cinema slashers, evoking the chillier, abrasive tone of late ‘80s horror.
Pinhead remains an evocative design, instantly evoking the sadomasochistic theme which runs through Hellraiser. Men in masks? Men in dreams? By ’87, they were passe. The natural escalation of violence creates this expressionless demon, forever suffering as pins stick in his pale flesh.
Starring in eight of the nine Hellraiser films to date, Doug Bradley’s look when under the Pinhead make-up remains iconic, earning him countless convention appearances. For this first Hellraiser though, it’s Claire Higgins as Julia taking over the show, a sensationally cold turn as a housewife turned desperate, murdering lover. The film’s crude exploration of her broken marriage (to a comical extent) acts as the only brevity between bouts of blood and zombie guts.
Religious undertones accessorize the vulgarity. This story taps on a litany of sins – adultery and murder most appreciated. Pleasure too, which as depicted, needs endless suffering to understand.
Unsettling and gross, but effective and still peculiar
Unsettling and gross, but effective and still peculiar
New homeowners discard Christian paraphernalia strewn about the house, and obligatory teen Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) aggressively shoves a porcelain Jesus statue into a closet. Others disavow their beliefs. These actions allow for depravity to find a suitable home of non-believers to punish. The creatively designed Cenobites, Pinhead included, are free to roam as no belief will bother their hellish existence.
Hellraiser’s tightly contained scale catches up on the back-end, losing to a rudimentary finale which takes the instilled fear of Cenobites, knocking them down to ghosts being sucked into a fancy trap. Kirsty: Teen starlet turned honorary Ghostbuster. If Barker’s work strayed from slasher cliches prior, the heroine making a desperate escape and conquering evil sucks the film back into its genre covers. That title too, as if another sequel to the John Ritter-starring Problem Child. Problem Child 4: Hellraiser. It fits.
Yet in a decade laced with (even defined by) heartless serial killers and their machete-driven opuses, Hellraiser’s differentiation remains its hallmark. A collection of chains and meat hooks cut through debauchery in a crude, unholy mixture of morbid imagination. Unsettling and gross, but effective and still peculiar. No one sees horror like Clive Barker – and maybe that’s a good thing.
Gorgeous, and absolutely so. Arrow’s transfer work for this 1987 favorite comes enriched by this Blu-ray. With the slightest appearance of damage – a handful of specks – Hellraiser comes from an impeccable print. Heavy set grain structure runs through the film, presented exquisitely by this encode. Darker scenes in the empty room upstairs increase grain structure, but with minimal loss of fidelity.
Clearly sourced by a high-resolution scan without even looking at marketing materials, endless texture pours from the frame. Facial definition soars, while the numerous gruesome make-ups have their finest details exposed. The house, littered with cobwebs, dust, and mold, has all of those details preserved in this print. Gore effects likewise expose the best of their awfulness.
Sensational contrast opens Hellraiser and continues through to the conclusion. Enriched black levels counter the hotter areas of the image, creating splendid and natural depth. Grain does escape the pull of blacks, but only for a short time. Otherwise, those aggressive shadows cover the noise.
Offering both DTS-HD stereo and 5.1 options, either audio choice presents a clean, barely aged mix. Purists may scoff at the 5.1 do over, although the impact is marginal and typically an expansion of the stereos. That’s the recommended track.
Significant parts of the dialog were dubbed over in post. The effect of that choice comes through clearly with Arrow’s stellar audio work. On set dialog is thin, if more akin to the cheaper budget than any encoding concerns. A generally atmospheric score suffers no degradation.
In terms of position channel use, chains clank around the soundfield or stretch between speakers for an unnerving effect. Stereos hold the most prominence, especially inside the pet store or during a thunderstorm. Any LFE supports sounds murky and artificial, clearly an after effect of this update.
Leading this slate of bonuses, Levithan brings back a large amount of cast & crew to discuss the film (and the sequel) for a 90-minute documentary. The depth is exceptional. While it seems like enough, two commentaries come next, one with Clive Barker himself, the other with Barker and co-star Ashley Laurence.
Continuing, Being Frank spends time with Sean Chapman, discussing his role for a lengthy 26-minutes. Soundtrack Hell goes deep into the unused soundtrack from the band Coil, as told by member Stephen Thrower for 18 minutes.
Next come features included for completion’s sake, including an older Doug Bradley interview titled Under the Skin. Hellraiser: Resurrection likewise skews a bit older to the DVD era, a 24-minute featurette. Image galleries, trailers, and an ‘80s EPK come last.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
A lasting, distinctive piece of ’80s horror, Hellraiser remains relevant for its still evocative tale of perversion, hell, and slasher tropes.
User Review( vote)
Click on the images below for unaltered, full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Patreon supporters see our screen shots first, view our entire library in .png format, and gain fast access to 17 Hellraiser exclusives for as little as $1, perfect for custom cover art, film study, or other applications.