Movie Review: Hellraiser (1987)

After reading my recent Twitter poll, it was made obvious that you guys enjoy movie reviews! Seeing as how I’ve worked on movie reviews for double digit years, it’s a natural fit for me as well. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it retro! How about a deep dive into the abyss for our first review? This Hellraiser review is actually one I did several years ago but it’s not half bad so I’ve resurrected it. If you like it, PLEASE let me know. I thrive on your feedback and if you like what I’m doing on the site I like to hear about it. On the flip side, if you want to see more or less of something, I need to know that too. So, let’s do this.

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Seeing Hellraiser in my younger days was a life changing experience. It was far more serious than any of its competition (does Hellraiser actually have competition?!?) Does it still hold the same amount of weight now as it did then? Or is this another one of those “classic” 80′s horror films that blew your mind back in the day but look like garbage now? Let’s find out!

I’ve been a horror fan for as long as I can remember. As a small child I used to draw pictures of Michael Myers and Jason to make my own Halloween decorations. I tried to make my own Freddy Kreuger claws with a baseball glove (it was a complete and utter failure, but you get my point). There was one thing that I never tried to draw or make out of materials on hand, and that’s the Lament Configuration box from Hellraiser. The thought that I might accidentally summon Pinhead was just too much for my young brain, the same way that even my adult self won’t say Candyman five times in a row. Pinhead held some reverence.

Now that I’ve set the groundwork for my love of all things horror, let’s get to my original experience with Hellraiser. I used to have a grainy VHS tape of the movie, and I wore it out. It was best saved for late night viewings when everyone else was asleep because everything is scarier then. I eventually had to get a new copy and as the years have passed it’s one of those films that I absolutely had to upgrade as I’ve bought new formats. A shiny DVD replaced my old beat up VHS tape (that I still have) and then it was replaced with a blu-ray disc later. Now, why be bothered with a disc when you can watch in in high definition via streaming on demand. Still, there’s something to be said about the old days of popping a movie in the VCR.

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First of all, the movie looks great in HD. This is in contrast to quite a few movies from this era and also a credit to the direction of Clive Barker. Beyond that, the physical effects are very well done and it made me appreciate how much better they look than the CGI effects of today. The metamorphosis scene of Frank is unsettling and it just wouldn’t be the same if it was computer generated. The only thing that takes away from looking at it from today’s standpoint are the cheesy electrical effects put off by the Lament Configuration. This is by no means a specific fault of this movie (I’m looking at you Terminator, Highlander, etc.), so it’s to be expected.

The story is dark, dark, and dark (which is to be expected from Barker adapting his own novella, The Hellbound Heart). The younger version of me didn’t quite grasp how dark the movie was, but as I watched it today I noticed just how many bad people were doing bad things. Pinhead and his Cenobites are generally viewed by the masses as the villains of these films, but they wouldn’t even make an appearance if it weren’t for the acts of truly horrible individuals. You don’t get the 80′s “cheese” factor with this film. This is a highbrow horror film and it’s not playing for any campy crowd. Hellraiser was unlike anything else getting released and it still stands out to this day.

This was Clive Barker’s directorial debut and it was made on a budget of only a million dollars. This is remarkable to me because a.) this in NO way feels like a director’s first film and b.) one year earlier Stephen King made his directorial debut with Maximum Overdrive. Sure, it’s one of those so bad it’s good kind of movies, but it’s nowhere near the quality of Hellraiser (and it was made on a budget of ten million).

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I feel like this movie still holds the same weight it did back in 1987. Is it perfect? No, but the script and the overall feel of the movie keeps it in line. Is it scary? Oh yes. When Pinhead says he’ll tear your soul apart, he means it. For a horror aficionado, this is a must see. For the casual horror fan, it’s a great 80′s horror film that sits above the silliness of a lot of its competitors. For someone that isn’t a seasoned viewer of all things horror, I warn you, this is not for the squeamish. Now come along, Pinhead has such sights to show you.

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