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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Review: Hellraiser

Director: Clive Barker
Screenplay: Clive Barker
Year: 1987

"Hellraiser" is a movie I have seen several times and every time I appreciate it differently. The first time I saw it, I was too young to appreciate it and ended up hating it. With time I have continued to see it and every time I like it a little bit more. Before seeing it once more for this review, a few years had gone by and I only remembered a few important plot points and not much more.

The story in “Hellraiser” is based on the novel “The Hellbound Heart” from writer Clive Barker (“Candyman”), who also wrote the script of the movie and directed it. It is interesting the fact that it is the first full-length that Barker writes and directs and his experience behind the cameras at the time was limited. Still, he got to create the best adaptation of any of his works, with permission of "Midnight Meat Train" and a horror movie classic.

The plot of this movie and the topics it explores are complex and require a certain maturity, reason why I couldn't appreciate it when I was younger. The initial scene shows Frank (Oliver Smith; "Doctor Who") when it acquires a mysterious box known as the Lament Configuration and in a ritualistic fashion, he devotes to resolving it until he does it, causing hooks and chains to appear and shred his body to pieces. Further in the movie, we get to know that frank was an adventurous daredevil, always looking for pleasure, usually in sex. His purpose for acquiring this box was the promise to have unique experiences. Definitively what he gets is jot what he had in mind. 

Sometime later his brother and wife move to the house where Frank's mutilation took place. While moving, his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson; "Child’s Play 3") suffers a cut in his hand and his blood falls on the floor of the room where Frank died. This blood brings him back to life and we get a disgusting scene where we see his resurrection. From what we see until this moment, it stands out that the special effects have not aged well. Most of them achieve their purpose, which is to be as gross as possible to make the viewer uncomfortable, but they also look outdated. 

A while after Frank's resurrection, Julia (Clare Higgins; "The Convent") discovers him. Until this moment we have been getting pieces of information that reveal that Frank and Julia had a relationship right after she married his brother Larry. The contrast in their personality is abysmal, Larry being educated and sensible but boring and Frank is charismatic but opportunistic and abusive. Her first sexual encounter with Frank means her sexual awakening to experiences she had not had and there is an evident physical change in her, from her clothes to her hair and her projection. Her love for Frank leads her to bring men to her house so that Frank can kill them and use their blood to continue his regeneration process.

The relationship and sexual tension between Julia and Frank, which reflects symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, is just one of the many sexual references in this movie. If you have followed any of the works of Barker it’s not hard to figure out that he frequently uses sexual content, references, and symbology in his movies, writings, and art. The clothing of the popular cenobites is inspired by the sadomasochist culture (BDSM) besides the clear sexual symbology of Pinhead with his nipples pierced and bleeding and the female cenobite, with an opening in her throat that looks very vaginal. Flowers, particularly their color, are important in the sexual symbology; white ones representing innocence and red ones representing the loss of this innocence. There are also multiple phallic references, the most prominent being a creature that appears in Kristy’s hospital room in a tuner, a clear reference to sexual penetration which precedes an image of a flower changing from white to red.

An interesting character in this movie is that of Kristy (Ashley Lawrence; "Lurking Fear"), Larry’s daughter, who is the antithesis of Julia, Maybe their only similarity is that they are both strong women, but their differences are even more evident in their relationship with Frank. It is never explicitly explained, some scenes suggest that she might have been abused by Frank or at least tried to, and, opposite to Julia, she doesn’t fall for the victim’s role, and she does everything in her power to defend herself. We see a similar situation when she confronts the cenobites and even with the fear they produce in her, she manages to negotiate with them and later defend herself, even rejecting help from her boyfriend showing that she can do it on her own.

The cenobites are characters to which hours of analysis could be devoted to. As conceived by Barker, these are creatures whose purpose is to bring experiences beyond human comprehension. Something that stands out from the group leader Pinhead is that he works as a sophisticated villain, something seldom seen in horror cinema, but that in this case is one of the factors that makes it even more terrifying. Unlucky this ambiguous personality is shifted towards pure evilness in the sequels and ends up affecting the general notion people have of them.

I could write thousands of lines about this movie, but I would leave it at that. It is evident that “Hellraiser” has gone over being a movie I considered to be overrated to one I now consider to be underrated and part of it is because of the large number of bad sequels that have been produced, which completely changes the symbology of the cenobites and their purpose. “Hellraiser” is a movie that is much more complex than what it shows, and it needs some maturity and cinematographic knowledge to be properly appreciated.

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