Hellraiser is a horrible film! There, I’ve said it! I don’t mean this in a disparaging way, although we will touch on some of the more negative aspects of the film later, I mean this in the best way possible for a horror film! Hellraiser can be hard to look at, the kill scenes grizzly to say the least and the main antagonist, Pinhead, appears like a car crash in that you don’t want to keep looking at him but you just can’t help yourself!
I started re-watching the whole series again recently and was immediately struck by the contrasts of the original Hellraiser. I’m not sure if it was done on purpose but the opening scenes of Hellraiser are shot like an 80s soap opera, it appears in soft focus and Claire (one of the main characters) is a typical 80s business woman complete with killer shoulder pads! I’m not sure if it’s my eyes or if, again, this is done on purpose but I honestly thought that once Frank reappears in muscle and bone form that the soft focus stops, almost as if the arrival of the horror to the film jolts it out of the soft focus and brings the monstrous reality right to the forefront of the film.
For the uninitiated, Hellraiser is really about the Puzzle Box, aka The Lament Configuration. Many people make the mistake of thinking that these films belong to Pinhead and his Cenobites which is partially correct, however, everything begins with this innocuous yet ornate looking box.
For the most part either desperate people or twisted, hedonistic, extreme pleasure seekers seem to come into possession of the box whether it be through a monetary transaction or just ‘happening’ to find it. One thing that quickly becomes clear in the Hellraiser franchise is that there are no accidents when it comes to finding the box. Those who who happen across it are actively looking for perverse pleasures that can’t be found in the everyday, real world. One thing is for sure, when the box is opened, it doesn’t hold back, the chains come out, hooking onto its victims (participants?) and tearing their physical bodies apart before Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobite crew go to work on the person’s eternal soul in hell. The way the box works seems to change over the various entries on the series which does give the series some variation, sometimes the victims body is torn apart and sometimes reality might be altered, in the case of parts 5 & 6 which result in some interesting twists in the tales here. Make no mistake, this franchise belongs to the Lament Configuration Box!
Pinhead is the featured series villain here and he is absolutely the right monster for the job. He is a rare beast in horror in that he is a character that talks yet doesn’t go over the top with the dialogue and what he does say, hits the mark every time with his menacing tone and darkly acerbic wit. Only Freddy Krueger can best Pinhead in this respect. Most of this great line delivery comes from the fantastic Doug Bradley who plays the High Priest of Hell – he nails (pun intended!) this part and, like Freddy, you can’t imagine anyone else playing him. I haven’t seen Revelations or Judgement yet, so can’t comment on the different Pinhead actors.
Bradley has a certain gravitas for the role and he plays it perfectly – Pinhead clearly isn’t someone who is inherently evil, he is someone doing his job – albeit someone who bloody loves his job! As an English actor I think Bradley exercises a certain restraint in the part but it serves to make it even more eerie when he speaks so eloquently and so purposefully about the atrocities that are about to take place. Not that Pinhead thinks these things are atrocious as he says to Kirsty in Hellraiser 2, “Your suffering shall be legendary, even in hell!!”
Speaking of Kirsty, let’s have a look at this character, played by Ashley Laurence. From the picture above i think we can all agree that the woman clearly doesn’t age at all, she must have some kind of Dorian Gray style portrait stashed away in her loft! Kirsty, for me, is one of horrors quintessential final girls. A bold statement perhaps, especially when you think of Jamie Lee Curtis, Heather Langenkamp or Adrienne King. However, Kirsty had bested Pinhead on no fewer than 3 occasions so far with the possibility that maybe her character could return for a swansong, which is something I imagine a lot of fans would like to see. Ashley Laurence also brings with her (along with Doug Bradley) some much needed acting ability to the film, especially the first one as there is apparently nobody else in the film capable of acting at all! It’s a good job that the kills are so inventive and the film is just horrible… In the best possible way, just what you want from your horror films really. Like Bradley, Laurence brings a refinement to the acting staff and you can tell she knows what she’s doing which is more than can be said for some of the other members of the cast.
Step right up Claire!! Kirsty’s stepmother is one of the main offenders in the terrible acting stakes, she is truly awful in this movie. The worst thing is, I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen her in other things which means she has taken her own brand of awfulness over different projects. The problem here is that she is just so wooden as an actress and really doesn’t put any emotion into her lines at all, hers is a real ‘phoned in’ performance. Kirsty’s father is another awful, awful performance – just have a look at him when he cuts his hand! It’s a really pivotal moment of the film and he seems really half arsed about it!! Still, his one saving grace is an unintentional part of the film when he is helping move a sofa – is the lead up to him cutting his hand but I challenge you to watch this part without doing a Ross (from Friends) style voiceover and shout ‘Pivot! Pivot!’ as he goes up the stairs!
However, by far the worst offender in the movie is Frank. Kirsty’s uncle who is having an affair with kirsty’s stepmother which kick-starts the whole story here resulting in Frank’s resurrection. Where he should be engaging and charismatic – you have to believe someone would jeopardize their marriage for him but you never believe that, he is wooden, annoying and a seriously smarmy little shit!! He isn’t believable as the character being portrayed and I think the movie would have been served to have spent more time on the audition process!
It is testament to the movie as a whole that it manages to transcend these acting issues and still be a great movie to watch, there’s not many films that have these massive issues yet still make you watch the movie for its inventive story and great kills. Overall this is still a great movie and one that you have to watch at least once in your life. Go watch it now, “We have such sights to show you!”