Top positive review
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on 6 November 2012
Hellraiser is an unabashed horror film with demons, monsters, torment and strange things in the attic. Clive Barker is as macabre a storyteller in his way as Edgar Allan Poe. His work writhes with a dark imagination and there's no doubting its genre; this is true horror, not torture porn, not stalk 'n' slash, just pure, gruesome strangeness.
Barker's plot is crisp and economic: Frank (Sean Chapman) buys a puzzle box from one of those stock Oriental characters who sell strange objects, and on solving it is sucked into a world run by sadistic demons, called Cenobites. He somehow escapes them to become residue in his attic floor. The house is now owned by his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Larry's wife Julia (Claire Higgins). Julia had an affair with Frank when he was human, and after Larry cuts himself blood spills on Frank's resting ground, partly giving him form. Frank and Julia then conspire to bring men upstairs, kill and let Frank drain them until he can gain a body. Also around is Larry's daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) who'll have her own encounter with the Cenobites.
This is a very gory film; the special effects sometimes reminded me of those in John Carpenter's The Thing. There's a lot of hooks through skin, crawling skeletons and flayed bodies which look like cadavers; these images are naturally disgusting, but they're crafted with imagination. The Cenobites' world is a grim visual place which manifests itself with some neat visuals, and their violence is delightfully weird. They're fun to look at too. Though he's featured on the poster and DVD cover "Pinhead", as he's known by fans, is a fairly minor character. He's never named or explained in this film, but we sense his leadership. I may be wrong, but I think he's the only Cenobite who speaks. There's also one who looks like H. R. Giger's alien from the Ridley Scott film.
Kirsty's a good heroine. Unlike some she isn't a cliched nice girl; she shows signs of independence and sexuality. Claire Higgins, meanwhile, looks great as Julia, despite her 80s wardrobe. None of the human characters have much psychological depth, but they're sharply and effectively drawn. This DVD comes with interviews in which Higgins almost makes a feminist point about Julia that amused me, because the character came across as a weak and selfish slut. Nonetheless, hers and Frank's misadventures will enthrall many genre fans; to quote Stephen King: "I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker".