Clive Barker's Hellraiser (a.k.a. Hellraiser) (1987)
**/**** Image A Sound B+ Extras A
starring Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Sean Chapman, Ashley Laurence
written and directed by Clive Barker
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A
starring Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman
screenplay by Peter Atkins
directed by Tony Randel
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
*/**** Image B Sound B Extras B
starring Terry Farrell, Doug Bradley, Paula Marshall, Ashley Laurence
written by Peter Atkins
directed by Anthony Hickox
by Walter Chaw Pinhead (Doug Bradley) looks menacing, but he's actually just a leather-daddy who seems reluctant, most of the time, to do what other people think is in his job description. There's a scene at the end of the first Hellraiser, the only one written and directed by creator Clive Barker, where Pinhead and his good-time boys and girls ("Cenobites," if you must, an appropriation of another term for "monk") are about to tear heroic Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) apart when she asks for a chance to explain something. Pinhead patiently hears her out. In the sequel, as she's running away, rather than hooking her in place with their literal hooks on chains, Pinhead and his Cenobites send the chain to block her way, instead. They're terrible villains, Cenobites. They're fun to look at--Hellraiser's creature design is, of course, legendary, with Pinhead occupying a privileged place on the Mt. Rushmore of horror bogeys--but more mildly-disapproving Greek Chorus than Iron Maiden. Reason in part, I think, for why they were disastrously made into stock slasher villains in the third film: part wise-cracking Freddy Krueger, part Jason Vorhees rampaging psychopaths. The failure of that metamorphosis and the ensuing wrestling with what role Cenobites should ultimately occupy comprise the minor ups and horrific downs of the seven films (and counting) to follow. Maybe it's in the name. Maybe the idea never was for the Cenobites, these dour, British, monastic, S&M losers, to be avenging angels, but rather for them to be precisely what they are: these drippy scolds who appear at the exact moment you go searching for more outré porn on an unprotected browser. One of a couple of Pinhead's catchphrases doubles as a carnival barker's patter: "We have such sights to show you." His buddies represent that banner of geeks and sideshow freaks. But they're not going to force it on you. In the pantheon of bad guys, they're maybe the only ones who not only need but would like your consent, if you don't mind, please and thanks ever so.
Far from a deal-breaker, the courtliness of the Cenobites, their barely-restrained air of apology and embarrassment (on your behalf and theirs), is what makes them fascinating. Pinhead's pronouncements upon emerging from Hell all sound like something Marvin the Paranoid Android would say. Or Eeyore. "It's all for naught," and, "Life, don't talk to me about life," and, "No tears, please." It would make a good party game, trying to match the phrase to the lovable mope who said it. It's as if Mary Poppins had leaned into the meanness (and irreducible racism) of P.L. Travers's books. I mean really leaned into them. The Cenobites are British nannies done up for a night of bad choices after suspect clubbing--the Village People in draggier drag with new names like "The Engineer" and "Butterball." Barker is an author of remarkable skill who deals in extreme gore, body horror, transgression, those flavours. He made his major splash with a series of six short-story anthologies collectively called the Books of Blood. They share the groaner tagline: "Everybody is a book of blood. Wherever we're opened, we're red." Don't worry, it gets better. Stephen King helped Barker's ascension along when, at the height of his own popularity in the mid-'80s, he proclaimed he had seen the future of horror, "and his name is Clive Barker." The books went on to win both the British and World Fantasy Awards. I read them as pulp paperbacks when they first reached the United States. I was about 13, and they left an indelible mark on me. I know them almost by heart. They were my introduction not only to extreme horror--flaying, dismemberment, all manner of atrocity (the Marquis de Sade ain't got nothin' on Barker)--but also to eroticism in horror, and homoeroticism. Barker's "In the Hills, the Cities," from 1984 or thereabouts, is the single best short story in any genre of the entire decade--as well as a beautiful description of joyful, loving, monogamous gay sex. The source for Hellraiser is Barker's "The Hellbound Heart" from Night Visions 3 (1986), a horror anthology edited by none less than George R.R. Martin. Not a year later, Hellraiser itself would follow.
The world was Barker's oyster, and Barker, who also happens to be a playwright and genuinely gifted painter, swallowed it in great, hungry gulps. He was a rock star on the scene. It seemed like there was nothing he couldn't do. In 1991, he even updated The New Testament as a fantasy/horror epic called Imajica and, against all odds, pulled it off. It's extraordinary. Barker ended up directing three films in total, following up Hellraiser with Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions, both based on short stories of his (novellas, actually), both not very good. What reads well in Barker--the elevated language and detailed descriptions of various emotional states--doesn't translate to the screen. At least it didn't until Bernard Rose took Barker's "The Forbidden" and crafted a masterpiece in Candyman. What Rose's film retains is Barker's romance--it's a companion piece if ever there was one to David Cronenberg's The Fly (which predates Hellraiser by one year). Cronenberg, as it happens, plays the bad guy in Barker's Nightbreed. I asked Cronenberg about this once, and he said that Barker, unlike him, is after the sublime. As a director, Barker was certainly not uninteresting and should've been allowed to explore his vision on film more freely than the studios allowed, although even with relative creative freedom on Hellraiser he failed to capture the high opera of his prose. Still, there's a gratifying amount of grue for the curious and the devout alike, and the birth of a horror-movie icon is always an event. Pinhead--unnamed on screen, though his backstory grows more detailed as the number of franchise entries progresses into the double digits--is a visually stunning creation, his head laid out as a grid with nails puncturing each intersection. There's something mathematical about the design--a notion that plays out in the series' vision of a carefully ordered Hell in the second instalment. For now, there is only this puzzle of a monster who sounds like Terence Stamp, looks like an acupuncture model, and is sorry to be a bother. Terrible manners and all that, pip pip and cheerio, old chap.
The real bad guy of Hellraiser is undead Frank (Sean Chapman), a skeevy perv who buys a puzzle box we'll later learn is called the "Lament Configuration" (or "Lemarchand's Box") in some backwater bazaar from a mysterious old Asian badly dubbed in post-production. (Shades of Gremlins.) He opens it seeking tawdry shits and giggles and instead gets torn apart by chains and hooks until Pinhead and his Cenobites absently puzzle Frank's pieces back together again. The idea of solving puzzles is integral in Barker's fiction. His story "The Inhuman Condition," collected in the fourth "Book of Blood" (released as The Inhuman Condition in the United States), concerns a man who becomes obsessed with undoing a succession of knots, each one housing a demon--a demon that proceeds to wreak havoc among the man's friends. All of Hellraiser is about trying to put genies back in bottles. Frank trying to get the Cenobites to leave him alone; Frank's lover, Julia (Clare Higgins), trying to get Frank back in a skin suit, maybe that of her husband/Frank's brother, Larry (Dirty Harry's Andrew Robinson); and Kirsty ultimately trying to send Frank back to Hell. The source of all the troubles is sex, of course: Frank's hungry for the ultimate kink and Julia's desperate for Frank to be less goopy because she wants a proper fucking (God knows milquetoast Larry's not doing the job). This leads to Julia luring a bunch of one-night stands to Frank's abandoned house like a black widow for Frank to eat or something, I don't know. Barker lights a hammer murder's harsh aftermath with an institutional lamp, making Julia's features suddenly harsh and haggard. It's a nice touch and hints at a path for Barker to become a masterful visual storyteller. Alas, he has a competing penchant for exposition, and so Frank explains everything to Julia in precise, mood-destroying terms. It's a danger for first-time directors who are also wildly successful authors. The word is sacred...and it shouldn't be, it's cinema. Barker never completely reconciled this tension over the course of his three times at bat. There are great visual moments in his films, offset by dialogue no one can speak, long stretches of unhelpful explanation and lore, and symbolic myth-making best left as a puzzle for the viewer to unravel.
What's good about Hellraiser is Julia's evolution from stuffy British lady to cold-blooded killer and siren. Even better is the creature design and some inventive model work when Frank first erupts from the floorboards after getting a little taste of blood. There are terrible sequences, too, alas, like the one where Kirsty discovers Frank in the attic, steals the box, and stumbles down the street, cuing a bunch of double-exposures that superimpose bloody Frank over a flower, which then melts into an image of Kirsty in a hospital bed. It's...is "corny" the word? That's not exactly right. It's a campy sort of expressionism--the type of thing Dario Argento was doing in Phenomena, or Jim Henson in Labyrinth. Indeed, the moment the film centres Kirsty as its hero (about an hour into this 90-minute picture), it becomes a dark, coming-of-age, gynecological fantasy starting in an asylum (à la Walter Murch's horribly underestimated nightmare Return to Oz) and progressing through Kirsty's opening of the box and the box's opening of a crack in her cell's wall that leads to a corridor inhabited by a scorpion-like monster with a human face and baby arms. It's a terrible effect, but terrible in a way I admire. The idea of the film hitting its stride when it becomes gynocentric anchors Barker's images: the opening flower, the opening box, the chasms and splits in reality into which and from which figures issue and disappear. I'm reminded of another Barker story, "Jacqueline Ess, Her Will and Testament," in which the feminine is deified into mother destroyer. Pinhead's first proper appearance in the film happens not long after the hospital sequence. He introduces the Cenobites as "demons to some, angels to others" and sets out the rules of the universe: you open the box, they come to drag the opener off to enjoy pleasures he or she can't even imagine. Kirsty bargains for her life. She mentions Frank, and Pinhead says, "NO ONE ESCAPES US," then almost immediately follows it up with, "Well, okay, suppose he did escape us..." It's curiously ineffective. An inefficient Hell. And why let Kirsty go? Is there a statement embedded here about how torture doesn't lead to useful information? You would think these masters of sadomasochism should be able to get the information they need in short order.
There's something else going on. Kirsty's inadvertent summoning of them elicits no shame. She's not looking for kink, she's just fucking around with a box. Since the Cenobites are manifestations of shame, of "be careful what you ask for" Monkey's Paw-isms, her guilelessness renders them moot. Compare them to Candyman, summoned if you say his name five times. It doesn't matter to Candyman whether you know his story or not, whether you satisfy some symbolic purpose for him--all that matters is you've heard his story somewhere and, Roland Barthes-like, co-opted his suffering for the sake of a cheap thrill. It makes him a more powerful villain. The Cenobites are just lapdogs to a ritual. It's debatable they're even villains--they're mere administrators. You can escape them if you're guilty, and you can bargain with them if you're not; they're no big deal if you're boring. In Hellraiser, the sin is excess, in the equation of indulgence with life. Which side of it Barker falls on is not entirely clear. In the superior first sequel, Pinhead keeps his buddies from killing a troubled youngster who's solved the box, saying, "NO! It is not hands that call us. It is desire."
The sequel is in retrospect an improvement in every way on the original plus a cogent analysis of the good things in Hellraiser, an avoidance, mainly, of the bad things in it, and a refinement of the film's memorable gags, which play better the second time around. But first, Kirsty prevails, tricking her uncle (wearing her dad's skin) back into the clutches of Pinhead and his buddies and then, when the Cenobites more or less turn on her, un-solving the puzzle box to send them away. Again, it would seem that demons with chain power would be able to slow her puzzle-undoing effectively, but: no. There's a great movie contained in the hospital sequence, one not beholden to the curiously-paced domestic horror film, complete with Oedipal unpleasantness and a resolution that's more House, the Steve Miner one, or Poltergeist than The Scarlet Gospels. A pity, then, Barker endeavoured to give his lawless imagination a bridle and reins, the better for broad consumption I suppose of what could at the end of the day only ever be so broad. How much more appeal could he possibly court with a story about repressed British sex demons? Barker was a rock star for a while like Peter Murphy was a rock star: of extreme cult interest and influence but limited crossover appeal.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II opens with a quick montage of scenes from the first film that makes Hellraiser look fast-paced and exciting. It highlights a good punchline ("Jesus wept," right before Frank explodes) and details Kirsty's flight from Frank's house before depositing her back in the best scene from the original. The first hour of Hellbound is indeed loaded with flashbacks to Hellraiser, a product, perhaps, of Barker having an executive producer role and receiving an "idea by" credit despite taking a backseat to a new director (Tony Randel) and screenwriter (Peter Atkins). Once the picture finds its own traction, however, it's a bloom of genuinely great ideas arrived at from an understanding of and interaction with Barker's source material. Because Pinhead reminds a lot of a carnival barker (and his fan-given name refers to one of the traditional sideshow's most famous attractions), Hellbound imagines Hell, at least part of it, as a carnival midway complete with banner line and a collection of sideshows: the blind juggler (the balls are eyes!), the fetus in a jar (sewing its own mouth shut!); when Kirsty covers her ears in the next scene to scream, together they comprise the see/hear/speak no evil triptych. By pulling Kirsty into its collection of meaningful freakism, the film identifies the innocent as complicit in their corruption.
Pinhead clarifies: "Oh Kirsty, so eager to play, so reluctant to admit it. Are you teasing us?" If Kirsty is meant to be our avatar, her inclusion in this little joke about trying to deny atrocity by pretending it doesn't exist speaks volumes about where Randel places the audience for films like Hellbound. Voyeurs, after all, aren't blameless. The movie nails the fetishism of horror fans by portraying its villain, Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), as an obsessive collector of Cenobite paraphernalia, complete with puzzle boxes displayed in glass cases and a scrapbook full of clippings and drawings. And it nails Clive Barker's obsession with puzzles not just by introducing a mute character, Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), as a compulsive solver of them, but by presenting Hell as a labyrinth that must itself be solved. When Kirsty escapes from the Cenobites (again), Pinhead solemnly invites her to go ahead, explore, take a look around, there'll be plenty of time for soul-tearing-apart-ing later. In fact, the torment is the puzzle: the boxes that delay consummations devoutly wished, the maze replicating the physical canals of the brain (with which this film is obsessed in showing/bisecting), and the uncertainty of both the very key to what these movies are about. It's the conundrum of experience: the innocent wish it even though experience kills innocence. It's Pinhead's job to facilitate an individual's moral self-immolation. He's the Serpent in the garden.
Pinhead is our truest avatar in these films. His frustration with the alternately shrill and wheedling Kirsty is ours, and when there's a throwdown at the end between Pinhead and Channard, well, we're obviously rooting for the monk. It's telling that Kirsty is rarely cited as a "final girl" in the horror-movie sense. Pinhead is set up as a martyr in Hellbound, a pilgrim to experience in a prologue who follows Frank's path from the first film to find himself Hell's middle-management for eternity. It's Kirsty who frees him by forcing him to recognize who he once was in a weak, coddling ending to what has otherwise been a shining example of disjointed, throw-it-at-the-wall madness. Why would Pinhead give up a life of shuffling Satan's paperwork for one of quiet desperation? It upends Camus's conclusions derived in his The Myth of Sisyphus. Pinhead's job should provide pleasure in its endless repetition. Humankind must know, no matter the cost--and in facilitating knowledge, Pinhead will always know what tomorrow brings. In addition to not understanding where Barker falls on the innocence/experience divide, it's also impossible to tell where he lands on the What Does Pinhead Want spectrum. Channard represents what real ambition looks like in Hell. As a kind of response, Barker, decades later, writes Pinhead in a very Channard sort of way in his novel The Scarlet Gospels, which, in attempting to simultaneously be a sequel and a universe-bridger for his Harry D'Amour Lovecraftian-noir character to meet Pinhead, lands as Barker's weakest effort by a long shot. Channard wants to rule in Hell rather than serve in Heaven, and so he gets all the lunatics in his asylum to work on the puzzle of opening a crack into the Underworld. This leads to a few exceptional images of what happens when you privatize medicine and, especially, the treatment of the mentally ill. The film's not about that, but the point's well taken.
Channard, the neurosurgeon, is an open rip-off of the Dr. Hill character from Re-Animator, but since it works as symbolic shorthand why not recycle? He's a brain doctor, and Hellbound is about aberrant choices. What I love about it is this blanket suggestion that choice in and of itself is aberrant--and the fact God has given us choice is, by extension, perverse. It's WOPR's warning in WarGames: The only winning move is not to play. With the help of the recently-reanimated Julia (Higgins again), skinless naturally, Channard infiltrates Hell and becomes an awesome new Cenobite, an extension of Leviathan replete with razored, maybe sentient tentacles. And what of Leviathan it/himself? A geometric shape. What does it suggest about the face of God if the face of Lucifer is an irregular tetrahedron? The most beautiful of His angels is revealed to be a product of math, its fearful symmetry echoed in the carefully-plotted squares on Pinhead's skull. It speaks to me of an ultimate, unavoidable plan. God gives us a choice, yet He has a plan from which we cannot deviate and that we cannot know, nor even question. As Leviathan's agent, Channard wreaks havoc, killing wards of his patients before being duped by Kirsty in Julia-clothing. (The image of sloughed-off skins becomes one of the stickiest this series produces--echoes of Leatherface's "mother" outfit at dinner, of course--and presages Rob Zombie's incredible use of a flesh suit in The Devil's Rejects.) For Channard's weakness to be his lust for a woman positions Hellbound as a strange variety of noir: Channard the detective "hired" by the fatale and ultimately fucked by his obsessive attraction to the same. Kirsty, almost raped by her "father" in the first film, assumes the appearance of her evil stepmother in the second in an attempt to save her real father, with the help of a mute solver of riddles dealing with her own mother issues. Hellbound offers the possibility to free oneself from the sins of the father. Oedipus is the first detective story. Hellraiser is Freudian as fuck. Oedipus ends his life wandering the streets, blinded and outcast, of course, while Hellbound's abominable ending sets up a buddy comedy. Until then, it's pretty cool.
Say this for Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth: whatever its shortcomings--and they are manifold--it is not a buddy comedy. Barker now lends his name as a "presenter," never a good sign, but returning as screenwriter is Pete Atkins, who at least seems to have respect for the property and, if Hellbound is any indication, its complex ideas. We're headed, after this one, to a fourth Hellraiser film with Atkins again scripting and special makeup effects designer Kevin Yagher hard-earning an Alan Smithee directing credit for what is, until the series' long-rumoured reboot, the last of these films to receive a token theatrical release. Ben Collins, co-writer of the exceptional Super Dark Times, correctly identifies the first forty-five minutes or so of Hellraiser III as quite good. In place of Kirsty is aspiring television news reporter Joey (Terry Farrell), haunted by a vision of her father left to die in Vietnam and by her inability to land a serious story without compromising her principles. Fortunately, a great story falls in her lap when, while chasing ambulances at the local emergency room, she witnesses a guy, festooned with Cenobite chain-hooks, explode on an operating table. The dialogue is excrescent and, Farrell notwithstanding, completely beyond the cast's abilities, but Atkins and director Anthony Hickox (Waxwork) quickly establish the series' Freudian wonderland with a revolving totem catching the eye of J.P. (Kevin Bernhardt), a privileged club-owning brat asshole in the New York high-art scene. His gallery space has recently acquired documents and artifacts from the now-defunct Channard Institute, evidently, including said totem, which has not only a puzzle box embedded in it but Pinhead, too. Blood gets on it, alas, then a club bimbo is flayed and eaten, and then the speeches start. Pinhead, prone to making deals, initiates one with J.P.. Pinhead: he will Cyrano art pieces for J.P. so he can begin to separate himself from his parents' fortune. In exchange, J.P. will procure a fresh supply of meat.
Initially the worry is that Hellraiser III is going to be not much more than a scathing expose on the superficiality and clannishness of art collectors, but things start to go truly awry when jilted hussy Terri (Paula Marshall) makes a pact with a double-dealing Pinhead, feeds erstwhile boyfriend J.P. to the totem, and...never mind. Meanwhile, Joey delves deep into Pinhead's backstory by doing some time-travelling astral projection to the days when our scoldy demon was WWI doughboy Captain Elliot Spencer (Bradley). Eliot gives Joey a tour of the trenches, paralleling Joey's dream of her father left in the bush. Accordingly, Eliot becomes Joey's surrogate father figure in the coming fight against Pinhead, who is future-Eliot, sure, and also destroyed in the last film, but he's the hero so there you have it. The ideas are rich, and then Pinhead escapes the totem and appears in all his glory at a happenin' nightclub. The correct joke would be that no one notices him; the incorrect joke, as we discover, is everyone trying to run away, only to get Ghost Ship'd in a string of deaths involving ice cubes and pool balls. Needing confederates, Pinhead creates new Cenobites, each reflecting the unique concerns of the Pepsi Generation. There's the DJ one who kills with CDs, the cameraman one who's weaponized his telephoto lens and rapier wit ("Ready for YOUR closeup?")... It's all a terrible idea that serves to cheapen the franchise, most would say fatally. The evolution of Pinhead from a dour bureaucrat to a one-line spouting dom mirrors a similar populist devolution for Freddy Krueger: Somewhere along the way, someone decided it would be good to introduce some badass levity in the middle of all that charnel. With it goes much of the grand, Kafkaesque majesty of Pinhead, replaced by a diminutive dude trading barbs with a failed anchorwoman, and Hickox's struggles with plot and performance and framing coherent action come into stark relief. What I'm saying is that no one acts naturally, nothing seems exciting, and everything veers between unintentional hilarity and cringe-worthy choreography. Watching Joey jog daintily away from the danger that's never quite dangerous enough to catch her, for what feels like hours, is a tough assignment, fam.
Just for the level of its blasphemy and its identification of the Mass as a cannibalistic ritual, I did rather enjoy a moment during the church climax where Pinhead apes the stigmata and declares himself "the way." Shame the rest of it wasn't this Exorcist-style wrestling with Catholicism, or at least less of the camera Cenobite saying "That's a wrap!" after the bartender Cenobite sets a couple of cops on fire. Ashley Laurence's Kirsty does make a cameo via grainy VHS interrogation, giving backstory likely unnecessary for anyone attending though offering this moment of interest in regards to summoning demons: "Your fingers move and you learn." The failure of Hellraiser III is all the more pronounced for the volume of intriguing ideas in it that go unexplored in favour of what, exactly? An action-figure line? An aisle at the costume store? It's not clear what the endgame was meant to be. The picture would have made/lost just as much money if it had spent time dealing with the father issues of its predecessors, with the internal conflicts of abused and abandoned children who can appear as hallucinations of death and salvation. Dimwitted appeals to a broader audience--note that the Brothers Weinstein took over the franchise with this entry--added not a dime to the coffers and may instead have hastened a quicker end to the cash cow. You know, hindsight being 20/20 and all. As it stands, Hellraiser III is a handful of genuinely complex archetypes sharing too much time with lip service to a Joe lunchbox demographic that, if it exists, certainly isn't going to be enticed by the prospect of the third instalment in a British horror series, hard as Motörhead tries.
Tempting to focus on how retracing the Hellraiser saga shows a promising concept and a brilliant artist getting swallowed whole by the challenges of a new medium and the demands of commercialism, but better, perhaps, to examine how Pinhead found a place for himself in the iconography of the genre. He's unique in the sense that he's not a stone killer--he's been given a backstory, been allowed to be the saviour of his bestial nature not once, but twice in the first three films (Darth Vader only got the one redemption arc), and still is presented in the popular understanding of him as a remorseless, inexorable agent of the Devil. He's a kink icon, a representative of deviant sexuality portrayed, hilariously, by someone with the mien of a notary clerk in a Monty Python sketch. It's fair to wonder if the type of horror Pinhead represents isn't something to do with a bug falling into a printing machine and changing your name from "Buttle" to "Tuttle." He is the epitome of a clerical error that, once made, cannot be undone, the only member of the modern boogeyman pantheon--Michael, Jason, Freddy, Leatherface--who suggests the brainchild of Douglas Adams and Samuel Beckett. No matter the number of times he makes bargains in the films, he's remembered as merciless. Maybe it's the idea that sometimes you might get away with it that makes Pinhead such an attractive judge. He repeatedly promises to sample Kirsty's flesh but ends up blue-balled and making do. He's the threat of your incognito browsing history being published: that vaginal hole in the wall, covered with goo, opening up in the middle of your cocktail party. Pinhead is shame--a sadistic Pink Floyd schoolmaster with a fat and psychopathic wife waiting at home to beat him within inches of his life. I love him.
THE BLU-RAY DISCS
Encased in a gorgeous-looking tin (though sadly not a recreation of the puzzle box the DVDs came in), Arrow's definitive "Limited Edition Scarlet Box Trilogy" collection of Hellraisers I through III contains four Blu-rays featuring fresh transfers of the first three films in the decalogue plus a bonus disc of Clive Barker ephemera. For review, we only received pre-production discs sans packaging, thus I'm missing the 200-page hardback book of essays by Clive Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes and other associated paraphernalia (a 20-page booklet of concept art, five "art cards," and a fold-out, reversible poster). All three films arrive in 1.85:1, 1080p transfers sourced from 2K scans of the 35mm interpositives, with DP Robin Vidgeon approving the final grading of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. 5.1 DTS-HD MA remixes are available for the trilogy alongside the original 2.0 soundtracks in uncompressed stereo. The results are several notches better than any DVD or VHS release I've seen, although in the case of Hellraiser it's apparent that the more the image is tweaked to perfection the more obvious is the steep cap on the movie's budget. Still, I appreciated the honesty of the presentation, from the increased shadow detail to the abundant grain. The attendant remix doesn't do a lot to expand the atmospherics but does offer a fuller soundstage to a Christopher Young score that sounds to my ears like a major influence on Danny Elfman's Batman themes. For this reason, I slightly prefer it to the 2.0 alternative, but either option is sufficient.
The Hellraiser disc includes the first 90 minutes of Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (90 mins., HD), a massive documentary undertaking that is hamstrung by the lack of any participation from Barker. Whether his unfortunate health issues in recent years or his ongoing fight over the rights to this property resulted in his absence isn't clear. In any case, the piece mixes archival and newish interviews with the principals, who uniformly take pains to talk about how transcendently brilliant is Clive Barker and how clear he was in his vision on set. There is also a surprising amount of shade thrown at Ashley Laurence's performance by pretty much everyone. Bradley comes off as affected and perhaps difficult--maybe it's just the knowledge that he pushed himself out of the ninth sequel by refusing to sign an NDA to read the script. (I wonder if it's an accident that this tenth film, the first without Bradley, is the best sequel since Hellbound.) I loved the detailed discussion of the Cenobite designs, including how upset the female Cenobite, Grace Kirby, was at her appearance in makeup. She didn't come back for the second one. I enjoyed the conversation about how the Engineer monster effect was so shitty that in a few shots you can clearly see the wheels of the trolley underneath it. The equivocation the F/X crew does around Barker wanting this ridiculous thing after all the money had been spent is frankly acrobatic. One guy says the whole thing was "covered with elephant cum," and, you know, what more is there to say? "There was a lot of screaming and shouting," but at the end of the day, I'd rather this silly thing than a smooth, CGI phantom. Also lovely is the conversation about how some of the shitty effects looked better on film than they ever will in HiDef.
Barker does materialize in the first of two commentaries for the film. Flying solo, he recounts the shoot in detail and elaborates on the movie's metaphors--how the puzzle motif spoke to his inner child in addition to representing what he saw as the intellectual puzzle of raising Hell in a literal way. He's a smart guy, obviously, and it's a joy to listen to him talk about his process. The second yakker pairs Barker with Laurence; Pete Atkins acts as moderator. Barker repeats much of the procedural stuff but is charming and self-effacing in soliciting thoughts from his mates. What's interesting if you listen to both is that you'll find he's more critical of his work when he's by himself, but he seems to be sensitive to Laurence in the second and tones down the auto-critique. He scoffs at some effects in his solo track, saying "that reeks of latex," but alas, what can you do? In the second commentary, he calls the same effect "rather grisly!" He also talks more about the influence of David Cronenberg when in the company of others and the idea of "taming" an audience by scaring the crap out of them immediately in order to get them to accept the next twenty minutes of exposition. Barker can carry off a commentary by himself, but he really comes alive in a group. I will say, though, that if you're primarily a fan of Barker as a writer, listen to the solo track. When he reflects on his script, there are moments where he lapses into a dreamy prosody that he doesn't do in the company of others. He also is more forthcoming about his own prejudices and homosexuality. In the solo he considers the death twitch and its timing; in the collective, the same shot is described by him as a domestic farce with shades of Mario Bava. I guess what I'm saying is that it's worth listening to both commentaries.
"Being Frank: Sean Chapman" (26 mins., HD) is the first part of an interview with the actor who reminisces about his beginnings, working with the great Alan Clarke, working on the Barker co-scripted Underworld, and then finally reading the script for Hellraiser. I was prepared not to like Chapman (a testament to his performance, I suppose), only to encounter a pleasant, humble raconteur who admits not knowing a thing about Barker before signing on. I like the revelation that the Cenobites were a minor element of the script, and he betrays no disappointment that the film turned out to be more a visual showcase than an actor's workshop. Too, he offers up a cogent analysis of Barker himself. Smart guy. In "Soundtrack Hell" (18 mins., HD), Coil's Stephen Thrower remembers meeting Barker at a media store early on in both their careers and agreeing to have his band score Hellraiser. Their visions diverged and they parted ways, alas, but from the bit we hear it sounds like maybe it was an opportunity lost. Thrower reveals that the film's original concept might have been more fringe than the final product. There are some archival photos of body modification that are haunting, so, you know, holy shit. The two touchstones given Thrower by Barker were The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Carrie. "Hellraiser: Resurrection" (24 mins., SD) is an older docu that is essentially the traditional electronic press kit catching Barker in an exhausted mood. He says the movies now belong to Bradley and the fans--people who "love the movies perhaps more than I do." He doesn't seem well. Other creatives are interviewed here about various elements of the shoot--most of it discussed again, by these same people, aged, in the epic Leviathan. "Under the Skin: Doug Bradley" (12 mins., SD) is the first part of a multi-part interview with Pinhead himself, conducted several years ago. Fans will have heard it all before; neophytes will encounter Bradley saying things like, "In many ways, Hellraiser was of its time and not of its time."
The original EPK (6 mins., SD) is promo-reel pabulum, the standard cocktail of B-roll and narrative hagiography. A theatrical trailer (2 mins., HD) sports Stephen King's "future of horror" quote as an intro while the red-band trailer (2 mins., HD) is virtually identical save a few money shots that spice the stew. It features more narration, too. The international trailer (3 mins., HD) is not only interminable, but also the first to eschew King's quote. It speaks to the European sensibility, I think, that a passing shot of a couple of nuns in the street is used therein--as well as some shots I don't remember from any viewing of the film. Fascinating. Misleadingly setting up Pinhead as a traditional monster, it ends with an ill-fitting tagline I like anyway: "Hellraiser... Satan's done waitin'!" Four short TV spots, each bumped up to HD, centre around King's quote. They're arguably in better shape than the trailers. An image gallery packed with photos and sketches finishes things off.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II boasts similar--some would say identical--A/V bona fides in this incarnation. That said, the cinematography is slightly more diffuse this time around and I wondered if the darker set-pieces had been edge-enhanced to compensate for it. Specular highlights also have a greater tendency to blow out. Nevertheless, this is probably the best the film has looked since it spooled out of the camera. On a personal note, my friend Philip and I bought tickets for Beetlejuice and snuck into this instead. We were 15 and needed better supervision. Unlike its predecessor, Hellbound benefits from the discrete remixing, particularly with regards to the LFE channel. You can't go too wrong with either option, but Channard's stuttering "MUUUH MUUUUH MUUUUH" noise is gratifyingly boomy in 5.1.
Two yak-tracks decorate this one, too, the first with director Randel and screenwriter Atkins, the second with Laurence joining the pair. I don't have any inside baseball, but judging by the vibe of these commentaries, it doesn't seem as if there's much love lost between Randel and Atkins. What chemistry there is, is sour, and Laurence is almost cast aside for her part. She tries a few times in the first fifteen minutes to interject, only to be talked over and ignored. By the hour mark, her occasional chuckle is the only real reminder that she's even in the room. Mostly these consist of Randel and Atkins doing disingenuous self-deprecation, saying things like, "Mmmm... I use this technique waaaay too much!" Or better yet, Atkins talking about how easy screenwriting and getting a picture shot was for him. The problem with that, of course, is that the script for Hellbound is no Chinatown. (It's not even The Two Jakes.) Consider a sequence with poor love interest Kyle (William Hope), when he discovers Channard's secret stash. "Jesus... Jesus Christ... Weird... Fucking weird..." Kyle says, and it's, well--superlatives just wouldn't capture it adequately. I do like that they think the movie is hilarious and trace the relationship between horror and high comedy. Atkins humblebrags that one draft had a lot of Noël Coward-esque dialogue but he was talked into getting rid of it. You know, when we talk about that stuff we introduce it into evidence. The two trainspot sets wobbling and other such bullshit when I wish they'd mention the Argento lighting of Hell. Oh well. Fun is when Atkins says that Laurence bears a resemblance to Jennifer Beals, leading to a discussion of Eighties hair. Both of these are skippable, is what I'm going to say.
The Leviathan doc continues for another 120 minutes. As an aside, the opening credits for this documentary go on for an eternity. No one cares! Get to it. (The film proper starts three minutes in--much too long.) Explanation for Barker's departure from the series is here given as his duties on Nightbreed. It bears mentioning that Barker's stories, a lot like the Wachowskis' work, can be interpreted as coming-out allegories: the process of leaving off illusions to live authentically, no matter how askance the mainstream culture might look upon one's preferences and predilections. Randel stepped in at the eleventh hour when the unidentified first choice bowed out due to illness. He presents himself in this doc as a much different creature than on the commentary. It could be the context that others offer, but he suddenly comes across with a good deal of humility. Maybe the oil/water interaction with Atkins brings out the worst in him. I enjoyed learning that Randel was afraid to go to the set the first day and had to be coaxed. I enjoyed less the apologia for providing Pinhead an extensive backstory, citing audience hunger for more knowledge about him. I...yeah, I don't know that the character is enriched by the knowledge that he was a British WWI soldier who had some humanity left in him Kirsty could reach with her shrieky appeals.
The piece is absolutely exhaustive, as you may expect from a doc that is longer than the film it covers. It's a Herculean accomplishment, though as time drags on and detail after detail is unearthed, one fairly wonders if these are movies that merit that obsessive attention. A lengthy discussion of the stop-motion animation by Rory Fellows and Carl Watkins is worth the price of admission, however. Another instalment of "Being Frank..." (12 mins., HD), finds the agreeable Chapman reflecting on the experience of reprising his character in the second film--the first one, oddly enough, in which we hear his own speaking voice. He objects to Frank's personal Hell, arguing that the movie failed to create enough atrocity for his inferno sequence. "If you're going to replace Clive, you should replace him with someone even more dynamic. That was not the case." For the record, I always thought Frank's Hell was not so bad in the final analysis. Lots of naked ladies writhing under bloody blankets doesn't communicate torture to me per se. I suppose mileage may vary on that. Chapman is the highlight of this platter, hands down.
"Lost in the Labyrinth" (17 mins., SD) is a vintage making-of in which Randel, Atkins, and executive producer Barker give the standard boilerplate. Randel tells a different story about his involvement with the piece, betraying a lot more confidence and vision than is probably merited. Atkins strikes a demure pose about his inexperience that is again at odds with his recollections in the commentary. If one were to piece everything together, one might discover that Atkins and Randel engaged in a pissing match on set that has carried forward. Not a lot of new information in any case. "Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound" (11 mins., SD) continues our chat with Pinhead with more frictionless recollections of the shoot, Randel's understanding of the material, and his character's backstory. He describes in detail a deleted surgical scene that, lucky us, is available on this release. In superfluous HD to boot. Almost five minutes long, it seems to be sourced from raw dailies transferred to video. There's no score, but there is a moment where a Cenobite loses some fingers and makes a pathetic noise. That doesn't seem right for pain demons, but whatever. For the record, this is nothing like what Bradley describes: a gory surgery where it's revealed that Pinhead is the surgeon, his pins piercing his mask as we watch. In truth, it shows Pinhead and the lady Cenobite (Barbie Wilde) telling Kirsty and Tiffany they're trespassing before being unable to stop them from escaping into an elevator. Weak sauce.
"On-Set Interviews" sees Clive Barker (3 mins., SD) reassuring us that Hellbound is still his story and that he's the executive producer and promising that the "flavour" of the film will be "uh, similar to" the flavour of the first Hellraiser. He gives Randel his blessing to "reinterpret" his ideas. It's hard not to read between the lines. "Cast & Crew" (5 mins., SD) recycles Barker's bit about Randel alongside soundbites from Randel and actresses Higgens, who calls herself "the queen of Hell," Laurence, who's super-charming when she's not Kirsty, and Boorman, who is delightfully innocent-seeming. Cranham appears, too, and is a treasure. He would've been at home in virtually any era of the genre, from Val Lewton to Hammer. "Behind the Scenes Footage" offers two minutes of B-roll stuff that excerpts from Christopher Young's score labour to make exciting. It shows Bradley getting his makeup done, actors milling about--nothing, really. A theatrical trailer (2 mins., HD) is pretty cool for having Pinhead say "Time to play!" as he walks with purpose. The redband version (2 mins., HD) of this and two TV spots (30s each, HD) are what they are, while galleries titled "Storyboards," "Alternate Ending Storyboards," and "Stills & Promo Material" are likewise as advertised. The alternate ending, if you're curious, has Julia resurrecting from the abandoned mattress, first nude, then dressed, then as a giant Illuminati eyeball or something. It rounds out the disc.
Over on the Hellraiser III platter, an alternate version of the film is made available via seamless branching, with the "new" footage sourced from a LaserDisc variant presented in a different aspect ratio. Among the extra business is a little more of the opening club sequence, a longer lead-up to the discovery of the rat in the totem, inserts here and there that add absolutely nothing. The longest additions are an extended bit in a diner with a girl waiting for something and staring into her cup of coffee as she's doing it, along with a few minor gore inserts in the WWI trench sequence and a quick trip to a bazaar. If you're looking for a radically new experience of the film, you'll be sorely disappointed. There's been a bit of a dust-up in regards to Hellraiser III's video transfer in this collection, and by way of explanation I defer to this blog post from 2015 by James White, Head of Film Restoration & Technical Services for Arrow Video:
In recent days we've received some communications about the framing on our release of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth which we would like to address.
The process taken to bring Hellraiser III to Blu-ray was to utilise new 2K scans delivered by Lakeshore International, the rights-owner of the film for the UK. These scans were made from the original 35mm Interpositive elements (second in the printing chain after the Original 35mm Camera Negative), and these files were delivered to us masked to 1.85:1, the original ratio of the film.
While we appreciate the fact that our framing may look a bit different than on previous editions of Hellraiser III, we would like to point out that older releases incorrectly framed the film in a zoomed and cropped 1.78:1 ratio. When we were working on this film, it was confirmed to us that this film, like the other two Hellraiser films, should be masked to its correct theatrical original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which is how we've presented it on our release.
To my eyes, Hellraiser III looks like every other glossy franchise entry from the early 1990s. It's slick and colourful and bright in a way that betrays the deep atmosphere of the first two films, like them or hate them. Note that even the non-LaserDisc material is noticeably softer in comparison to the previous Hellraisers, which could owe as much to DVNR as it does to a change in cinematographers (to Gerry Lively). There is, in other words, measurably less grain this time around, and while the image offers an improvement on past editions of Hellraiser III, it's never as sharp as one would like. I detected compression artifacts in the night sequences as well, but they're easily overlooked. Hellraiser III is exclusively in 2.0 stereo, alas, albeit bumped up to lossless in DTS-HD MA. To be expected, the club sequences lack depth, as do the war scenes, but the audio is otherwise not conspicuously limited.
Peter Atkins and Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures record the first of two commentaries for the feature. Their talk is from 2015 and Atkins is in a bubbly mood. I don't like when people on these things recognize their names in the credits in mock-delight/surprise, just saying. Atkins revels in Tony Randel being fired off this film just a little too much and often makes the terrible mistake of clipping various anecdotes in favour of narrating what's happening on screen. Though Felsher does his best to mine worthwhile information, Atkins is overly self-satisfied and difficult to wrangle. He also refers to himself in the third person on occasion. He's about to get into how Tony Randel was screwed, then breaks off to notice how beautiful the actresses are, then admonishes himself for being a sexist old bastard, for they're so very talented. Shame on you, Benny Hill. I confess, and maybe it's just familiarity breeding contempt at this point, that I'm having a hard time with Atkins. Lucky for me, then, it's Hickox and Bradley on the commentary for the "alternate" cut of the film. They affect this weird bonhomie that begins with Hickox bitching about Barker's name appearing ahead of theirs, saying, "I don't remember seeing him on set, do you?" They have a laugh, but it doesn't seem like a laugh-laugh. The two of them agree that Hellraiser III was their happiest experience: Everyone liked one another, was taking ecstasy, and made lifelong friends, and North Carolina was wonderful. There are good behind-the-scenes stories now and again as they tone down the shtick a bit. They do mock actress Farrell's personal life, which is just hunky dory. I love the story about needing to light a room full of candles with forty crew guys or else the first candle would be a stump by the time the last was lit. I should say it sounds like Hickox is eating something throughout, so I would not advise listening to the track through headphones. It's not the worst commentary I've ever heard. Worth it for the revelation that Milan revelled in the blasphemy.
"Hell on Earth: The Story of Hellraiser III" (32 mins., HD) is a fun piece that has everyone bashing the damned thing except Atkins, who says that he met his wife on the shoot and got to play the unctuous bartender. Hellraiser distributor New World had gone under, and a new director was brought on board to broaden the concept's appeal for mainstream audiences, which is ridiculous. Barker was paid off handsomely to abandon the property--a decision he's probably regretted ever since, as the Hellraiser brand is jerked back to unnatural life every couple of years. At the end of production, Barker took another big payoff to stamp his blessing on the picture. Is it disappointing to learn all of this? It is. Is it hard to tell the dump truck full of money they have the wrong driveway? It must be. I hope it bought Barker a lifetime's supply of canvases and dog treats for his pack of rescue animals. Good times.
In a "Paula Marshall Interview" (15 mins., HD), the eponymous bit player energetically recalls the shoot, confessing that as it was her first movie, she wasn't going to say "'no' to almost anything" (nervous laughter implied). She touches on her personal background and seems to have warm memories of the whole process. As a fan of "Deep Space Nine", I was glad to hear that Farrell was lovely to her. "Raising Hell on Earth: Anthony Hickox Interview" (14 mins., SD) is an old piece in which the director, with sunglasses resting on his forehead, sheds light on his upbringing (his dad directed Theater of Blood) and talks about how this project fell in his lap after he wined and dined the producer a few times, telling that story in a vaguely nasty way that leaves a bad impression. He delves into matte work, the expectations of him as a director for hire, and says at the screening for Bob Weinstein he brought a ringer with him to act invested in the film, who proceeded to fell asleep. But Bob loved the film, apparently, and gave him an extra week to shoot the nightclub scene and epilogue. "I need trailer shots," Weinstein told him, so Hickox gave him trailer shots. He says he doesn't know anything about Hellraiser but later claims he didn't have trouble shooting a second sequel because he loved Hellraiser so much. Whatever. "Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser III" (14 mins., SD) is the final piece in the Bradley triptych. The actor is transparently pleased to have played a franchise tentpole in retrospect, comparing Pinhead to Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, etc. He expounds on the development of Pinhead's humour and his "exquisitely-turned phrases," adding that he was a monster who wouldn't feel out of place in the company of "Noël Coward and Oscar Wilde." I mean... It just... Yeah. The "Original EPK" (5 mins., SD) recaps the first two films, then sees Barker, freshly bought off, pitching the idea driving the third film. It's hard not to be drawn in by his enthusiasm, but, after all, we did just watch the movie. "FX Dailies" (23 mins., HD) are exactly that. Neat if you're a student of the form to be able to see every stage of a special effect on a loop; pure masochism for everyone else. A "Theatrical Trailer" (2 mins., HD) mostly rehashes the first two minutes of the EPK. Capping the disc are exhaustive step-frame galleries for the "Hellraiser III Comic Adaptation" and "Stills & Promo Material."
The fourth and final Blu-ray, called "The Clive Barker Legacy," boasts Barker's 1970s short films, available here for the first time in HD (not that it's noticeable) with an optional introductory piece (9 mins., HD) featuring talking-heads from Barker, Atkins, Bradley, and documentarian Peter Whittle. Barker counts Kenneth Anger among his inspirations, and his collaborators, Bradley and Atkins, tell great stories about the resourcefulness required to carry off Barker's early visions. I especially appreciated Bradley's tale of wearing a mask that blinded him and tying a rope around his waist to keep him from walking off into the audience. Salome (****/****, 18 mins.), meanwhile, is silent, shot on 16mm, and beautiful. I don't love the score for it, but it's not a dealbreaker. Looking and feeling a great deal like E. Elias Merhige's Begotten, it tells the Biblical tale of seduction and madness with strong, evocative images. One imagines what Hellraiser would have been like as a silent, experimental film. Closing shots of human forms in what appears to be some sort of suspended stasis are the best visual predictor of Barker's fiction I've seen.
The 7-minute, HD intro for the next short clarifies that the second film, The Forbidden (****/****, 43 mins.), has nothing to do with the short story that would inspire Candyman, but instead drew inspiration from the Faust legend. I love Barker saying that the lesson he took from these two projects is to trust what's in your head. I wish he'd done that more in his feature films. The Forbidden is printed largely as a negative image and betrays the origins of the Pinhead design in the visions of its hero. A grunge poem like Aronofsky's Pi, this lengthy piece follows a solver of puzzles (Bradley, natch) who makes his bargain, then finds himself carefully laid out, prepared (each eyelash plucked), and flayed by naked angels. The angels are a horrifying, genuinely lunatic practical effect, while the flaying sequence is tough to watch in a wonderful way; I wondered if Pascal Laugier had seen this prior to his Martyrs. If these were the only films we had from Barker, I think we'd be having a completely different conversation about him as a filmmaker. I wonder if higher budgets compromised him. The intimacy of these shorts is awesome.
In "Books of Blood and Beyond" (19 mins., HD), author Dave Gatward approaches Barker's writing from a fan's perspective. I admire his passion, but Gatward is mainly there to prompt clips from Barker's movies, which feel at this point, 30-odd hours into this box set, redundant, to be kind. Gatward has a bad habit of telling us how many times he's seen things and how long it takes him to read stuff (40,000 words = 1 day)--it's what fans do, after all, but he shines brightest when he leaves himself out of it. "Hellraiser: Evolutions" (48 mins., HD) is an overview of the series that interviews various genre creators (directors Scott Derrickson and Stuart Gordon, makeup artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe), along with the usual suspects (Randel, et al), about what they like about the series. It's the only piece to give extended time to composer Young, though he doesn't have a whole lot to say. With Randel, Bradley, and Atkins recycling their pet anecdotes, it's a genuine relief to hear new voices in the mix. Although my friendship with Derrickson severely biases me, I'm especially fond of his take on the Cenobites as intrusive S&M figures in a noir drama. He helmed the fifth instalment in the Hellraiser saga, Inferno, the first one to go directly to video, and he nails the idea that Pinhead is not Freddy Krueger and never should be. 2005's The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith (½*/****, 32 mins., HD) is a short film presented as a proof-of-concept for a potential television show, the second of three such "chronicles" produced between 1994 and 2009. It opens with a stop-motion animation interesting enough that it's sort of a shame the rest of it is live-action. The action centres on rough-looking Father Dominic Farrell (Rob Leetham), who secures a brokedown flat in which something terrible has gone down. As the priest discovers through visions that send him into convulsions, people were killed there by devil worshippers, or devil worshippers were killed by Cenobites more like. A noble effort, I suppose, but amateur-hour fanfic in the final analysis. R.N. Millward directs and contributes optional commentary.
93 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 LPCM; English SDH subtitles; BD-50; Region A; Arrow
- Hellbound: Hellraiser II
99 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 LPCM; English SDH subtitles; BD-50; Region A; Arrow
- Hellraiser II: Hell on Earth
93/97 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English 2.0 LPCM; English SDH subtitles; BD-50; Region A; Arrow