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Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

At one time, this was to be the apparent final installment in the original Hellraiser film continuity, and there was a very real reason for that.  Since the Weinstein’s have been unable to get their remake off the ground, they slap dashed another sequel together after this one which I will never see.  Hellraiser: Hellworld is like The Matrix meets New Nightmare crossed with the worse entries in this franchise.  Don’t be fooled by the presence of Lance Henriksen – he’s made plenty of bad movies.  While it is nice to see Lance and Pinhead share a scene, it’s brief and doesn’t save the film one bit.  In fact, it confuses the issue even further – what reality is this set in?

A young man named Adam (Stelian Urian) commits suicide after forging a deep obsession with the Hellraiser mythos and an internet game called Hellworld.  His friends fail to act when Adam was spiraling out of control, aside from Jake (Christopher Jacot), who ultimately blames them for everything.  This is all, supposedly, a reality where the films are real and everything else is fiction, but that’s not for certain.  Adam’s friends grieve his death, and two years later, are invited to a mansion-filled Hellworld party by The Host (Lance Henriksen).  They are greeted by the mysterious, cryptic gentleman, and are shown into his private, macabre collection to explore freely.  Though, what they see and experience soon horrifies them.  Somehow, they have entered into a manufactured hell, designed to take their sanity and their lives, but what is the true reality here?

What honestly drags the value of this film down into the dumps really is the story.  Setting it in a world such as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare where Hellraiser is an actual film series and internet presence, and making it that the Cenobites, supposedly, are not real, they are just a device for which Henriksen’s character seeks revenge, sets itself up for failure.  While New Nightmare was a very intelligent and effective film with a cleverly crafted premise, Hellworld just doesn’t have that ambition or creativity to coherently make the concept work.  The story really has nothing to do with the mythology of the series, or anything of a personal hell.  If this was produced as a film with no connection of any kind to Hellraiser, as it originally was written as, it might have been pretty decent, but you cannot follow this film’s logic.  You cannot setup a world where the Cenobites, Leviathan, the Lament Configuration, and so forth are merely fictional creations, but then, turn around at the very end to show that they are completely real.  New Nightmare handled it differently, and had actual explanations for how it was possible for Freddy, or a demon in the guise thereof, was able to transcend the realities.  Hellworld’s ending has some satisfaction, but as I said, it’s too short-lived to make a real impact on the quality of the film.

Regardless of the plot or script, the film is as generally well-acted as any of the last few sequels – nothing spectacular, but just good enough.  Henriksen, obviously, presents a strong performance that helps to gravitate the film’s events and characters.  It’s pretty much what you’d expect from him in a villainous role.  It is sad that Henriksen is such a damn good and very dedicated actor, but he continually stars in such poor quality films.  I really think he should seek out new representation, and get himself back into better roles in better movies.  Moving on, we still get faithful Doug Bradley in his usual role.  Not much to say about it.  Same old, reliable thing, as expected.  Personally, I would have liked to see Doug Bradley have more to work with in this series, such as in the third film when the filmmakers were exploring Elliot Spenser.  Give him somewhere new to go with the character and his acting talents.  By this point, it felt like he was just playing it by-the-numbers, but at least he had enough sense to back out of Hellraiser: Revelations.  The supporting cast of Hellworld is your usual horror film youngsters all looking pretty, and ready to get ripped to shreds.  No one exceptional stands out, but they all hold their own well enough.  I don’t mean to be cavalier about it, but it’s mostly your standard horror movie performances.  There’s not a great deal of room for the actors to stretch their abilities, but it is comfortably above the cheap talent we’ve all occasionally endured in other horror films.

The effects here are about standard for the direct-to-video end of the series.  There’s very little that will jump out and amaze you at its awesomeness.  After watching all of these lower budgeted sequels, it’s difficult to conjure up anything substantive to say about the practical or visual effects.  At times with Hellworld, there is fast cutting, trying to give the film a more disorienting experience, but I can’t say it’s all that favorable.  It works as good as it can.  Unfortunately, it does little but to confuse an audience.  Computer generated imagery is, inevitably, made use of in this film.  You can’t escape it, especially on the lower budgets of these direct-to-video films.  It simply allows the filmmakers to do more while spending less, in comparison to practical, physical effects.

Now, despite the whole mixed bag of crap we have here, I do have to say that the cinematography and general look of the film is very good.  It is probably one of the better entries to establish a visual self-identity.  The use of dark and light along with a select color palette truly allow the imagery to pop out and be eye-catching.  Granted, we’re not talking Blade Runner here, but it certainly lends itself towards a workable and generally effective atmosphere.  While the production values are still rather sleek, the lighting helps to shadow almost anything that may, potentially, appear to be too cheap or fabricated.  That’s something to credit director Rick Bota for since he has a solid career as a cinematographer, but the film’s actual director of photograph, Gabriel Kosuth, deserves the credit for realizing this style.

While I have left two prior sequels un-reviewed at this time, I might get around to them eventually for compeltist’s sake.  In short, Inferno is one I’ve never liked at all, not one bit.  It turns Pinhead into a figure of moral persecution in the extremely little screentime he has, and gives us a fully morally corrupt and unsympathetic character as a lead.  I do own Hellraiser: Deader, but it’s been a long time since I’ve watched it.  I do recall it being very surreal, but it manages to tie itself back into the mythology with connections back to Bloodline.  I recall liking it enough to warrant a purchase when it was released, which was around the same time as Hellworld.  The summation of this franchise seems to be that it started out with brilliance and progressively got diluted into a mess of inconsistency and frequent incoherence.  It’s a very hit or miss franchise following Hellbound, but each entry, more or less, seems to have its fans.  Perhaps, some sequels would have been better films apart from the Hellraiser name, or simply judged in a vacuum.  However, it’s difficult to watch a lesser grade sequel knowing just how amazing and awe-inspiring its early predecessors were.

Taking all things into account with this sequel, there’s really too much going against it to make a recommendation for it.  The franchise just fizzled out completely with Hellworld.  Granted, there’s plenty of ways to rebound, but Dimension Films still seems like the wholly wrong studio to be controlling this franchise.  They don’t seem to care about making the best movie they possibly can.  They just want the most commercialized, wide appealing pile of incoherence they can put together.  In any case, there are worthwhile qualities within this film, but the negatives bog it down far too much.

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Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)

The direct-to-video end of the Hellraiser franchise has not yielded very admirable results.  However, I found this entry to be a great surprise.  Granted, this one doesn’t have a lot of Hellraiser-style gore, but gore alone does not make a Hellraiser film.  Although, one early scene might spur thoughts from Hellbound, and  I feel this is the best sequel since Hellbound: Hellraiser II.  While this does share some elements with Hellraiser: Inferno, it blends everything together very nicely for a superior film.  It is a whole twisting story that wraps itself with past mythology and storylines featuring the return of Ashley Laurence.

We open to Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) and her now husband, Trevor (Dean Winters), driving down the road speaking vaguely of things we are yet to understand.  They start playfully fooling around, start kissing, but Trevor narrowly misses a head-on collision with an SUV which swerves the car off the bridge into the river.  Tthe car sinks, Trevor escapes, but is unable to free Kirsty.  Naturally, Trevor believes she drowned to death, but her body cannot be found.  Trevor wakes up to some amnesia along with several disturbing experiences, but he takes them as nightmares due to his head trauma.  Trevor is re-oriented to his peculiar surroundings including his sexually aggressive boss Gwen, his sexy young neighbor in his apartment complex, and his somewhat oddly-behaving co-worker and friend Bret.  Trevor is plagued by bizarre images and nightmarish experiences all the while more and more of his memory returns.  He can’t explain why someone dies in his apartment, but then, reappear alive with no memory of such events.  Or why he sees an image in the video camera happening right before him, but yet, it isn’t.  Why he feels he’s being watched or followed by a faceless, dark figure.  None of it makes sense to him.  One cop believes he’s done nothing wrong, but another believes he killed his wife.  The further it all progresses, the more it comes together like any sort of puzzle.  It’s all cleverly woven into a worthy sequel to the first two Hellraiser films.

I really have to say that I think Dean Winters is a severely under-recognized talent.  He’s an actor with a lot of charisma and emotional strength capable of being a major leading man.  He always puts everything he has into everything he does.  Hellraiser: Hellseeker is no different.  He carries this film excellently reflecting various states of confusion, heartfelt emotion, inquisitiveness, menace, and passion.  He embodies that wide range with ease and depth.  With both how the story is structured, and the honest quality of his performance, even in the end, I didn’t really despise Trevor despite what he tried to do to Kirsty.  You can come to feel empathy for Trevor as the man you’ve come to know over the course of this film instead of the man he really was.

The entire cast really is a solid mixture.  Detective Lange is given plenty of humanity and compassion by William S. Taylor, and conversely, Detective Givens is nicely hard edged and abrasive by way of Michael Rogers.  The ladies of the film are all very attractive, and handle the steamy, seductive aspects of their roles with a lot of passion and assertiveness.  There’s definite some stimulating sexually charged action in the movie that further throws Trevor into a whirlwind of confusion.

Doug Bradley puts in one of his best performances here.  Of course, he portrays Pinhead, and does so with a lot of chilling, intimidating vigor.  He seemed very amped up for this script as it gives him a very juicy role that he sinks his teeth into very deeply.  The film puts in just the right amount of Pinhead to keep him compelling with just a few poignant scenes.  Since they avoid over indulging in the character, those scenes have strong impact which had been missed in the last several entries.  The previous film, Hellraiser: Inferno, had so little Pinhead in it that he had nearly zero impact.  Hellseeker gets it right.  Bradley also portrays a sort of second character which he brings a different, yet similar quality to.  He’s more cryptic and tempting in a subtle fashion that is very effective.  His performance as this Merchant really sets a foreboding, mysterious tone for much of the film.  The scene is very nicely interspersed throughout the film as Trevor flashes back to it every so often to reveal more of it.

The structure used here to build up these very vivid and terrifying hallucinations, and slowly reveal the darker truths surrounding Trevor is, dare I say, very brilliant.  While it’s not all that original of a structure, the execution is just so exceptionally effective.  The hallucinations are startling and constantly unnerving to an audience who must regularly question the reality of the situation.  The mysterious aspects are greatly interwoven for a very compelling story that moves at strong, steady pace.  Overall, this is just an exceptionally well written and executed script that has a strong punch of a twist ending.

The film was directed by Rick Bota, who had previously been an amazing cinematographer on a number of movies.  So, it’s no surprise that he makes this film look far above its direct-to-video status.  He clearly worked extensively with director of photography John Drake to create a very textured and moody look for Hellseeker with its blue and green tones.  It creates a hardened, cold aesthetic that benefits the story very well.  There is plenty of grit in the darker visuals and a rich depth of contrast that enhances the moodiness.  The visuals really have a lot of weight and integrity, and the camera work is very solid.  There’s plenty of dramatic angles, used sparingly, and competent camera movement to give this film production value and artistic quality.  Overall, this is a film that is shot very solidly.

While the Steven Edwards’ score is definite departure from the classic Christopher Young style music, it suits this film nicely.  There are some electric guitar pieces mixed in with the orchestral work, and I think that gives this Hellraiser film a bit more respectable self-identity.  The score of Edwards surely supports the unnerving and startling tone that is so very well executed by Rick Bota.

Hellseeker still unsettled me after several years since my last watch of it.  There were plenty of graphic sequences that made me squirm and wince.  These are great story beats that weave into the overall plot smartly by the end.  Nothing’s ever gratuitous.  It all has a purpose once understood in retrospect.  The effectiveness of this nerve twitching moments are a testament to both the amazing make-up effects work of Gary Tunnicliffe, and the digital effects work headed up by Jamison Goei.  Regardless of a direct-to-video budget, the results of both are greatly impressive.  Tunnicliffe really raised the standards of practical effects back to the first two films of the franchise.  I will admit that the Cenobites still have the same quality as they do in the other later sequels, they are surely photographed better.  The visual effects of Goei are very admirable on this kind of level.  I’ve seen big budget summer blockbusters with horrendous CGI, but here, it’s quite good.  It’s not Jurassic Park quality, but for a horror franchise of this budget, it’s superior to what you’d likely expect.

All in all, this is a damn good sequel.  While I do feel this is the best sequel since Hellbound, don’t go thinking that this is a comparison to the first two films because it’s not.  Those are different styles of stories than this.  It’s a far more suspenseful, creepy, and mysterious film.  It’s not so dependent on the Cenobites to drive the story forward.  It has its surreal, bewildering qualities as Trevor’s own perception of reality is increasingly distorted.  This is what Hellraiser: Inferno should have been, but failed greatly by detaching itself from any backstory or mythology that the series had been built on.  That’s what Hellraiser is, it’s a story built on mythology as well as inner and outer conflicts.  To lose the mythology and the backstory really doesn’t make it feel like Hellraiser.  From the very beginning of the original Hellraiser, we’ve got mythology and history that was rich with depth.  That’s what gives this series its strength.  Pinhead and the rest of the Hellraiser mythos have so much that is yet to be known.  There’s so much fertile ground that can still be harvested for further stories such as this one.  With something as vast and as dark as Leviathan’s realm, there has to be much more that can be told about it.

While this was another original script re-written and adapted to be a Hellraiser film, I believe those writers did a solid job doing so.  Tying the entire story into Kirsty was exciting and smart.  Seeing her and Pinhead square off yet again was awesome, and acknowledged some substantive history with the franchise.  On the DVD, there is an extended version of that scene which is very well written re-treading their back story that better explains why Pinhead sought her out.  It’s only too bad that Ashley Laurence reportedly said Dimension Films only paid her enough for a single payment on a refrigerator.  That stings, a lot!  Regardless of that, she still put in her all for this performance, and it was a great stronger, edgier side to the character which fit perfectly into this excellent story.

This film really stands up, and it’s good that you learn things along with Trevor.  You’re about as confused as he is as these bizarre, horrific, and startling events keep intruding on what he believes is reality.  It’s all a puzzle that both you and Trevor discover together.  It’s a film that really pays respect to the origins of the franchise, and continues on Kirsty’s story in a very intelligent way.  Rick Bota proved he could be a solid director of horror with the right script.  The film has a great level of grit and harden atmosphere that sets a perfect unsettling and creepy tone.  Simply said, Hellraiser: Hellseeker is one to see for any Hellraiser fan!


Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

When your movie’s opening credits end with “Directed by Alan Smithee,” I think it’s best to not have opening credits at all.  That name used to be a placeholder credit for directors who had disowned their movie.  While this sequel moved away from the slasher film stupidity of the previous film, it traded it for another kind of a stupidity.  Studio interference once again ruins what could’ve been another fantastic film with a frightening story.  If you ask Clive Barker, this turned into a disastrous mess.  Beyond just what Dimension Films rejected of Barker’s far more visceral and satisfying story, special makeup effects artist Kevin Yagher was the original director of the film, but after Dimension Films decided to cut down the film for time constraints and creative differences, he disowned the film.  They brought in Joe Chapelle, the director of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, to re-shoot several sequences.  Beyond just new scenes being shot, a vast number were cutout entirely, and the film was fully re-structured as being told in flashback instead of the original, fully linear storytelling that was intended.  What we were left with is an excessively watered down concept with a lot of problems that are more examples of why Dimension Films never should have been given this franchise.  Clive Barker even filed a lawsuit to get his name removed from the film, among other things.

We start out in the year 2127 on the space station Minos with Dr. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) using a remote controlled droid to open the Lament Configuration in a sealed chamber.  The droid succeeds only to be blown to pieces as “a most unsatisfying victim,” as Pinhead puts it.  Meanwhile, the station is stormed by a small group of Marines sent to capture Dr. Merchant for hijacking the very station he designed.  He’s captured before he can put his potential plan into action, and thus, pleads with them to allow him to finish his work.  After enough pleading, he convinces the female marine to hear his story.  Merchant tells of how his ancestor, Phillip L’Merchant (also played by Bruce Ramsay), created the puzzle box in the eighteenth century based on the specific instructions of the most famous magician in France, Duc De L’Isle (Mickey Cottrel).  Phillip never could’ve imagined what it would unlock.  De L’Isle used the box to bring forth a demon in a woman’s skin, and named her Angelique (Valentina Vargas).  Paul says that Phillip witnessed this devilry and attempted to undo it by designing the Elysium Configuration – something he would be incapable of implementing as it had to do with the reflecting of light beams to be a counteracting prison for these demons…the Cenobites.  The design was passed down through the family’s bloodline (hence, the subtitle), and eventually, the twentieth century descendant, John Merchant (Ramsay, again), a architect / computer designer, had potentially built what could become the Elysium Configuration, but Pinhead states that it could be a very large doorway (the office building featured at the conclusion of the previous film).  Angelique attempts to seduce its secrets from John, but Pinhead states that seduction is useless as pain and suffering are the way of hell now.  Pinhead attempts to trap John by holding his family prisoner, but in the end, both sides lose.  In the twenty-second century, Dr. Paul Merchant believes that he can destroy the Cenobites once and for all, but the marines’ untimely arrival have prevented that.  Naturally, no one believes his elaborate story, but he must find a way to destroy the Cenobites or else the bloodline will end with him.

There was vast potential to make this an immensely amazing film.  Clive Barker’s original ideas had so much of his macabre sensibilities in it including Phillip being a gruesome serial killer instead of a humble toymaker.  It would’ve had far more depth than this shallow, tamed down commercial film we were given.  I’ll admit that the story they give us holds together decently well, but it’s just not gripping or all that interesting.  I think the narrative would have been more tense, interesting, and suspenseful if not told in flashback.  The scenes in eighteenth century France are probably the best in the film as they are the most Hellraiser-like with grisly gore in abundance.  It also has the richest art direction, and actually contains no Pinhead.  To me, it is the most fascinating segment of the film.  Although, as the film goes on, we see the further divergence from the original, established mythology.  Pinhead once again creates his own Cenobites despite not having the power to do so.  As stated in my review of Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, Leviathan is the only one with that kind of power as he is a god.  Pinhead is merely a minion who has been granted a leadership role amongst the Cenobites.  Also, there is a conversation between Pinhead and Angelique in the present day segment that creates a confusing continuity problem.  They act as if they know each other even though Angelique has been outside of Hell for centuries, and Pinhead has only been a Cenobite for a few decades.  It’s also a little odd that Pinhead refers to her as Angelique as if that’s her name in Hell, but that name was seemingly given to her by Duc De L’Isle.  The film also fails to explain how Jacque happens to be immortal.  He’s still alive in the late twentieth century not having aged a day in two hundred years alongside Angelique.

Performance wise, Doug Bradley seems quite comfortable here, playing Pinhead somewhat less outrageous than in the last film, bringing back the coldness, but it still lacks the fierce intimidation of the first two films.  Valentina Vargas is nicely seductive and dangerous as Angelique, and creates some stimulation with her character.  Bruce Ramsay shows a good flexibility as he portrays Phillip, John, and Paul.  Each one is a different type of character.  Phillip being the naive “little man,” John being the protective father, and Paul being the intelligent and cunning one of the lot.  I hand it to him for showing the diversity of his acting abilities.  However, it is a bit of a cheap idea using the same actor to portray three different people in three different time periods.  There’s no artistic merit to have them look identical except to stupidly remind the audience that they’re all related.  It would’ve added more uniqueness to Philip, John, and Paul if three different actors had been cast to play them.  Each one would bring their own distinct qualities to the roles to make them feel more authentic and poignant, but instead, we just get one actor doing only a decent job playing all three.  It just makes the characters bleed together, not making one really standout over another for an audience’s sake.

Sadly, we are subjected to another team of space marines that lack a sense of realism or intelligence.  They were not conceived as a capable, powerful, and competent force to contend with.  They are simply shallow cannon fodder.  They are just meat ready to be ripped apart by Pinhead’s chains, and that is another crippling sensibility carried over from Hellraiser III.  This is not a slasher film franchise where a high body count of dumbass stereotypes equals a fun movie.  This was a franchise started on deep thematic ideals of human evil and dark desires.  It was amazingly well written material that captured a macabre imagination that could run wild.  Almost all of these sequels from Dimension Films either severely lack coherent imagination or the competency to properly execute a smart idea.  Stupid characters like these marines are a strong example of the creative forces involved not understanding the property they are working with.  Many studios don’t seem to understand that you will probably make more money in the long run by producing a solid, smart, high quality movie over a stupid, slap dash amalgamation of commercial garbage.  This is why so many franchises end up in such a lower grade place than where they started.  They want to make it more commercial by stripping away everything that made it successful in the first place, which clearly is the dumbest thing you could possibly do.

The overall style and look of the film is very slick and smooth.  It sets the style for the following direct-to-video sequels, but it’s not very favorable over the earlier films.  There is a definite lack of artistry and ambition displayed here in exchange for more commercial sensibilities with the cinematography and direction.  It just looks like your generic Dimension Films production with a lot of soft blue tones and often times, gimmicky camera work.  I think the low budget tends to show through the most in the future space station scenes.  They’re all very small sets with shadowy corners hiding parts of the set which don’t exist.  There’s just a very generic design to this space station, and no budget to create a complete or impressive environment.  Atmosphere is very light, working more off of stylized lighting and camera angles than solid directing to create anything truly captivating or chilling.  A film from around this time that actually took this sort of futuristic Hellraiser concept and did it well was Event Horizon.  And that’s giving praise to a film directed by the man who gave us one of the worst theatrical films I’ve ever seen – Alien vs. Predator.

The make-up effects are quite good, as one would expect from a film partially directed by a special make-up effects master.  The majority of the gore is contained in the France sequences, and definitely serves up some solid Hellraiser visuals.  As the film goes on, there is still blood and gore, but it feeds back into that bad idea of a gratuitous body count which is not suitable for Hellraiser.  The Cenobite make-up and costumes are still at a decent theatrical release level, but as with everything else, lack that gritty texture that was such a powerful element of the first two movies.  This film features numerous digital visual effects, and they generally fall in that average low budget range.  They’re never wholly awful, but they certainly are a very long way from exceptional.  With a budget of $4 million, I think you can easily forge an accurate expectation of the quality of mid-90s CGI contained within Hellraiser: Bloodline.

For anyone seeking a reprise of the essence of Hellraiser, this film won’t do it for you.  My opinion of this film has probably gone down a little over the years.  Beyond just building up better filmmaking standards, I have gotten more worn down by studios corrupting franchises.  They have something very good to start with that has a lot of potential which has proven its success, but then, squander it by over commercializing it to where it’s counteractive to them making money off of it.  That’s not a very artistic statement, but one that the studio machine understands.  Dimension Films has constantly screwed over and brushed aside Clive Barker’s creative input on this franchise, and that couldn’t be a worse idea.  Hellraiser is a distinctly original property that has a vast wealth of ideas and stories to be intelligently told about it, but Dimension has tried so hard to make it an indistinguishable franchise that blends into all the other half-baked horror franchises out there.  After this film, Hellraiser was a direct-to-video franchise with no consistency because the studio constantly took original scripts that had nothing to with Hellraiser, and re-wrote them to be Hellraiser movies.  Hell On Earth was the first misstep, but there was a chance to rebound strong with Bloodline.  What we got slipped up far too much by embracing sleek mediocrity instead of visceral innovation.  Considering, in this same year, New Line Cinema released the deeply gritty and grisly crime thriller Se7en, proving that something that disturbing and grim could still capture a wide, mass audience and critical acclaim, there was little reason to believe that Hellraiser: Bloodline needed to be so tamed down from a very dark, violent, and fascinating concept.  Now that I think of it, Clive Barker’s original premise for Philip L’Merchant’s story was essentially Hellraiser crossed with Se7en.

This had the basis for a great installment, but the execution was flawed throughout production.  There are several cut scenes, mostly from the eighteenth century segment, that would have helped enhance the Hellraiser style and feel of the film.  A workprint bootleg is out there somewhere featuring a number of these sequences in a very rough form.  That’s the best you’ll likely ever get of Kevin Yagher’s vision for the film.  As it stands, Hellraiser: Bloodline fails in some places, but has some shining moments in its climax.  Ultimately, the film does feel too short for its conceptual potential.  It does get really compelling in the last ten minutes when Paul Merchant is squaring off against Pinhead.  Both actors do an exceptional job building up apprehension for the climax.  There was clearly a better movie that was filmed than what Dimension Films gave us, and somehow, that simply doesn’t surprise me one bit.  In the end, this sequel still delivers some good story, great makeup work, and good visual effects.  While others would disagree, I do feel this is a better film than Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth mainly due to only a few flashes of inspiration and effectiveness.


Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992)

Something went wrong with Hellraiser III.  Clive Barker might be credited as an executive producer, but it essentially means nothing.  He proposed a storyline, but then, was relegated to a back seat executive producer’s credit.  I can’t perceive any of his influence here, but that’s not what’s really wrong with this sequel.  This sequel had workable elements for a thoroughly fascinating story, but what might seem to have some potential eventually degrades into sub-standard horror movie cheesiness.  The execution of Hell on Earth diverges far away from the style of the previous two films.  Part of the problem is that the franchise was now in the hands of a Hollywood studio who wanted to push a far more commercial appeal.  The script needed an overhaul, and the quality of acting is akin to a jokey slasher flick, which is exactly what this film descends into.

Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) is a failing television news reporter in search of that story that will break her out of obscurity.  While finishing a report on some go-nowhere story at the hospital one night, a young man is carted into the emergency room with chains ripped into his flesh and dangling from his body.  Then, before the eyes of many in the emergency operating room, the man’s body is torn apart, and of course, Joey believes this is the caliber of story she’s been seeking.  She tracks the young woman, Terri (Paula Marshall), that accompanied the man to the hospital and finds that her boyfriend is night club owner J.P. Munroe (Kevin Bernhardt), who owns a familiar pillar – the pillar of souls which now contains an imprisoned Pinhead who became trapped there after the confrontation with the Channard Cenobite in the previous film.  After the spilling of blood on the pillar, Pinhead begins to reawaken, and with more blood, he can be fully regenerated.  Meanwhile, Joey comes into possession of the Lament Configuration through Terri., and details of Pinhead’s mortal, human life as British Captain Elliott Spenser are soon revealed.  Elliott exists apart from Pinhead now who is a free being, separated from Leviathan and Spenser, and thus, has become a far more lively and sadistic being. There is no more reasoning, no more hesitation, and no more bargains.  Elliott believes he can defeat Pinhead, but Joey must bring the two together within Elliott’s realm to do so.  Therefore, Joey is sent out on her mission to lure Pinhead into a trap, but Pinhead proves to be a more cunning adversary than she anticipates.

There was a very good Pinhead origin story buried underneath the second rate qualities of this sequel.  It follows a logical story progression from the first two films, but the script they put together and the execution thereof just crashed and burned so hard.  At the start, it doesn’t seem like a bad movie, but the garbage just continues to accumulate to turn it into a bad, cringable entry in the Hellraiser franchise.  Instead of carrying on an ambitious, intelligent, and bold storytelling mentality, the film constantly takes the soft, cheap, or thinly developed route.  Worse yet is that so much of the Hellraiser mythology and atmosphere is abandoned here that measuring up to the first two films becomes hopeless.  For one, aside from Pinhead, all of the other Cenobites we’ve seen are gone, and new ones are created by Pinhead for his own convenience.  That alone contradicts the mythology.  Leviathan creates Cenobites, and only those that solve the Lament Configuration have the potential to become one.  Pinhead and other Cenobites do not have the power to create other Cenobites at will.  Where this new power comes from for Pinhead is a complete mystery, and it only gets worse in the following film.  Granted, Pinhead does say that these new minions are a mere shadow of his former troops, but that’s a thin consolation for giving us such jokey trash.  Hellraiser III simply bestows a wealth of powers upon Pinhead including gaining psychic abilities as well as creating illusions and dream-like realities without ever explaining how he or even Elliott Spenser obtained such powers.  Captain Spenser says he and Pinhead have been unbound from Hell, but since all the power they had was derived from Leviathan, shouldn’t that mean being cutoff from Hell would leave them powerless?  That would seem logical.

The characters and acting are a mixed bag.  Being a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fan, I know Terry Farrell is quite a good and capable actress, but her performance as Joey Summerskill is very unimpressive.  She’s supposed to be this driven journalist frustrated at her obscure status trying to crack open this riveting case, but what’s on the page doesn’t come out on screen.  There’s no intensity or hard hitting motivation in Farrell’s performance.  It’s almost all very soft and bland.  I was continually struck by how flat her performance was throughout this movie.  She makes what was an underdeveloped character on the page, and made it terribly yawn inducing.  One would expect something along the lines of a Margot Kidder Lois Lane who is assertive, aggressive, and driven to prove herself.  Instead, Farrell seems to put the minimum amount of effort into this role.  The dream sequences about Joey’s father are meant to make her a sympathetic character, but they just came off as cheap, forced, and uninspired.  They have almost nothing at all to do with the plot except for a very thinly veiled deception near the end.  Between the lazy screenwriting and the lackluster acting, this is not a character or performance that could carry this film at all.  Ashley Laurence has more depth, life, and emotion in her momentary cameo on a videotape than Terry Farrell shows in the entire movie.

Thankfully, Paula Marshall puts in a much better performance as Terri.  Although, some of the stuff they write in to give the character depth is rather ridiculous.  It would be one thing if Terri had nothing to aspire to, no ambition or direction in life, but to not have actual dreams when she sleeps would actually result in severe health problems.  Maybe I’m taking things a little too seriously here, but it’s clearly something would’ve worked better as a metaphor instead of a literal statement.  Regardless of this off-the-mark idea, Marshall really brings some viable depth and vulnerability to the role.  She comes off as vastly more dimensional than Joey by way of a more grounded and relatable emotional portrayal.  I would’ve preferred her being the central protagonist in the film picking up the reins from Kirsty Cotton.  She seems to have more fertile emotional ground to explore than the uneven and uninteresting character of Joey.  Being a drifter with no home or family, Terri automatically has a wealth of potential for a screenwriter to delve into, and Paula Marshall clearly had the talent to handle such material.  It’s sad that this movie was constantly ignorant towards the potential it had on-hand, and made no effort to utilize that potential to its fullest effect.

Kevin Bernhardt’s J.P. Munroe is the most one dimensional, cheap sleaze as it gets.  He’s just a cog in the story, and the script doesn’t do anything with the character.  Likewise, Bernhardt doesn’t do anything worth noting with the role.  He has no more to him than any low grade slasher flick, and that’s what this seems to span out to in the third act.  Bloodbaths, senseless killings, and a high body count – none of which are in the Hellraiser style.  The studio took Hellraiser, and turned it into a cheesy slasher franchise, eliminating anything innovative, thematic, or chilling about the mythos.  The filmmakers turn Pinhead into the new Freddy Krueger with one-liners, over the top moments, and a group of seriously lame Cenobites.  Pinhead loses his coldness and his seemingly heartless passion for hell.  Some fans say that the appeal of this film is seeing Pinhead unleashed, but for me, that becomes its least intriguing quality.  The character was far more fascinating when there was still a chilling air of mystique to his personality.  On the whole here, he has been written as a completely different character that is bad enough on its own, but in the guise of Pinhead, it becomes excessively ridiculous and continually cringable.  Pinhead becomes a deceiver, manipulator, and tempter of desires.  He comes off more like a standard, melodramatic portrayal of the Devil than a logical progression of Pinhead.  You’ve got Doug Bradley just going for broke like it doesn’t matter.  He does a good job early on, but once the film does begin to “unleash” the character, his performance just becomes terribly uninteresting.  Pinhead becomes another schlocky, cackling, dumb villain who’s there just to chew up scenery.  Conversely, Bradley does a fine job as Elliott Spenser giving him both a strong sense of will and determination with a subtle humanity.  It’s a decent performance, but it’s only too bad that it wasn’t in a better quality film to allow the Spenser character to be more fleshed out with a stronger dynamic with Pinhead.

Further contradictions to the established Hellraiser universe come with all the religious references and quips.  Beyond just the betrayal of tone, one would swear that screenwriter Peter Atkins didn’t understand the franchise he was writing for, but he also co-wrote the incredible Hellbound: Hellraiser II.  So, it entirely baffles me how he wrote this weak, uninspired script.  What Hell really is in this fictional universe has no connection to religious interpretations or beliefs.  It’s not a place for sinners or where your soul goes after death.  It’s another dimension accessed by the solving of the Lament Configuration in conjunction with one’s desires to be subjected to the indivisible experiences of pain and pleasure that Leviathan offers.  Atkins shows no respect to the established mythology or tone of these films.  The scene of Pinhead in the church is one of the absolute worst scenes of the entire franchise because it exemplifies every downright horrible aspect of this movie.  It is gratuitous in the extreme, and puts Pinhead in a setting he has no necessity to ever be in.  The film is simply going as over-the-top at this point as possible not caring about story or character relevance, and just indulging in whatever the filmmakers want to do on a whim.

Thematically or visually, Hellraiser III isn’t really dark at all, let alone macabre, and repeatedly delves into a completely out-of-place self-parodying style.  It conforms to the trends of the time, and thus, loses a lot of credibility for the future of the franchise.  The cinematography is generally gimmicky and frenetic at times relying on a cheap early 90s MTV style.  It’s definitely something that would be more enjoyable in a B-grade action movie than a horror film.  Lighting schemes that might have potential just come off as ineffective due to a lack of vision and talent to create proper atmosphere.  Unlike the previous two Hellraiser movies, there is no thematic material here, and instead, the movie simply gratifies itself with cheap gore and sexual content with no substance to justify any of it.  An unrated cut was released on VHS and Laserdisc including extra gore and some other minor additions, but apparently, this version has not been released on DVD in North America.  The film, as it is, is obviously cut down for gore as there are numerous quick, bad cutaways from the bloodier moments creating a quite tame and unsatisfying experience.  However, an unrated cut is nothing that could salvage this film as a whole.  A lack of substantive gore is the very least of this film’s problems.

Director Anthony Hickox demonstrates no better handle on horror than he ever has before.  It’s a cheesy, jokey film with a light, commercial tone that is more interested in silly, cheap entertainment than offering up a chilling, intelligent vision of horror.  The entire third act of the movie is just wretched for a Hellraiser movie.  It couldn’t be any more of a betrayal and insult to what the series had stood for up to this point.  It’s horrendously schlocky, terribly cheap, and stupidly over-the-top.  It demonstrates no respect for the franchise by having Pinhead cackling like a brainless third rate villain, and throwing loads of gratuitous violence and action set pieces which have no relevance to horror.  This is where those aforementioned poor excuses for Cenobites are revealed, and they are even given bad dialogue with cringable one-liners.  This is not a Hellraiser movie, but it is quite expected for an Anthony Hickox movie.  Warlock: The Armageddon had many of these cheesy qualities which indulged in underwhelming characters, some bad acting, and a severe lack of horror related content.  Where that film is essentially disposable and dismissible, Hellraiser III ultimately develops into a giant slap in the face of the franchise.  It’s hard to believe that Clive Barker would still want his name associated with this movie because he surely didn’t want it with Hellraiser: Bloodline.  This is a mid-to-late 80s slasher film made in the early 90s when horror was on a very steep decline in quality and popularity.  Between terrible handling by Dimension Films, and helmed by a cheap director, Hellraiser III easily falls short of all its potential.

The vast majority of these passionate gripes are focused on the final half hour of the movie.  This is when Pinhead is released from the pillar of souls, and becomes this over-the-top, uninteresting villain.  Before that, there are some good qualities in the film such as Paula Marshall’s performance, and the more subtle moments with Doug Bradley as Captain Spenser and Pinhead.  Despite having a new composer, it retains Christopher Young’s iconic themes, and they are used throughout the film.  However, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is barely passable as a horror film.  Atmosphere, suspense, or proper tone have nothing to do with this film, and the majority of the acting is simply devoid of passion or is embarrassingly over-the-top.  There are a lot of duds in this franchise, and it’s hard to say exactly which is the worst.  This is more like another bad, cheesy A Nightmare On Elm Street sequel instead of a chilling and intelligent Hellraiser sequel.  Barker’s involvement seems non-existent here as Pinhead is forced into too much of a foreground, dominant character instead of the ominous, looming figure in the background where he seems to work best.  His limited screen time in the first two movies made his presence and character seem more powerful.  He does tend to do more in a limited time capacity than he achieves in a lengthy role here.  Basically, this is sad excuse for a sequel to the brilliant and macabre masterpieces of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II.  Maybe if this was not a Hellraiser movie, something entirely separate and unrelated, one might be able to view it in a better light and actually gain some cheesy entertainment value out of it.  However, as a part of this franchise, it’s just downright embarrassing  The only consolation you have at the end of this movie is that the excellent track “Hellraiser” by Motörhead from their March Or Die album blares over the end credits.  The music video, directed by Clive Barker, actually features Lemmy Kilmister squaring off with Pinhead in a game of cards.  The song, lyrically, has nothing to do with the Hellraiser films, but this film at least gave us something worthwhile in that very cool music video.  It’s just about the only worthwhile thing it produced.


Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

It is rare for a movie sequel to equal or exceed the original film.  In the realm of horror, there’s always that formulaic trap, but for a film so brilliantly original and powerful as Hellraiser, it becomes a challenge of artistic ambition and macabre thematic imagination.  Hellbound: Hellraiser II is that sequel which takes what the first film unleashed upon us, and built upon it for a fully enveloping vision of masterful horror.  Before, you were only teased at the temptations and horrors of Leviathan’s realm.  Now, you are plunged fully into this experience which will tear your soul apart.  Welcome to Hell, and the 100th review posted to Forever Cinematic.

Picking up just about where the previous film ended, Larry, Frank, and Julia are all dead.  Meanwhile, Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) is being held within the Channard Institute of Mental Health for observation.  She speaks of the Cenobites, the dead returning to life, the opening of a gateway to hell.  Of course, people believe she is psychologically traumatized by the death of her father.  Although, one thing gains the attention of Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham).  Kirsty mentions that they must destroy the mattress that Julia died on for she can return just as Frank did.  Channard put his hands on the bloodstained mattress where her stepmother Julia (Clare Higgins) died, Channard decides to resurrect her, killing his patients and offering them to Julia to quicken her regeneration.  The twisted doctor is shown to have much research into a familiar puzzle box, properly called the Lament Configuration, and via the puzzle-solving talents of one of his patients, Tina (Imogen Boorman), a speechless young girl, the Cenobites are summoned once again.  Soon, all of our main characters venture into hell, Channard and Julia to explore it, Kirsty and Tina to stop the aforementioned duo.

If you haven’t seen the first Hellraiser, this sequel smartly brings you up-to-speed with a few carefully placed flashbacks and expositional sequences.  Still, there’s no excuse these days not to watch that amazing film.  However, back then, it took about a year for a movie to go from theatrical release to home video.  So, audiences needed a little refresher in 1988, and it’s done very smoothly here.

This film treats the Cenobites with the respect they earned in Clive Barker’s original movie.  Flashbacks aside, they don’t make their first appearance until fifty minutes into the picture, but when they do, we get an introduction of majesty.  Pinhead is given a truly iconic moment stepping out from the blinding white light alone, and the music is at its operatic best here.  The Cenobites are still generally background characters, but are given the opportunity to step forward into a more fascinating and revealing role.  It’s one of the many ways this film builds upon the ideas and mystique of the first Hellraiser.  It knows you’re intrigued by all of this boundless imagination, and it reels you in further with enticing insights that do not disappoint.

Dr. Channard is a fascinating new character that pushes the film beyond its smaller, more intimate beginnings.  He is a man of no conscience, and is driven towards exploring the twisted, despicable, dark depths of the human mind.  Where Frank was a sexually charged character, Channard is more cerebral.  He’s psychologically stimulated by the gruesome horrors that he witnesses and even inflicts upon others.  He’s a sociopath, sadist, and psychopath, which is exactly what Leviathan craves.  Channard is in amazement and wonder at the sight of Hell, as if it is his Promised Land.  What he gets from it is more than he ever anticipated, but ultimately, does not regret it.  Actor Kenneth Cranham does a fantastic job with this character, and he restrains nothing when Hell finally gets its way with the Doctor.  It takes a lot to rival Pinhead in the eyes of the fans, but many have long taken a strong liking to Channard.  That’s all due to Cranham’s excellent performance.

Hellbound is absolutely grotesque.  There’s not a drop of blood spared at any moment in this unrated cut.  The violence is as gritty and graphic as you could imagine and then some.  What you witnessed in Clive Barker’s film is multiplied in Tony Randel’s sequel.  The most disgusting and horrific sights come from the Channard Cenobite, who is Leviathan’s most powerful creation.  Channard’s twisted, sickening psyche combined with Leviathan’s power and domination give birth to a frightening monstrosity that ups the stakes in the final act.  This is not a film for the weak of stomach.  This is a heavyweight horror film loaded with terrifying, disturbing imagery, and gore in abundance.  There is nothing held back from the dark, macabre imagination of Clive Barker, screenwriter Peter Atkins, or the magnificent direction of Tony Randel.  The special make-up and creature effects do not fall off one bit from the first film, and are possibly more refined in some places.  It’s more of that signature Clive Barker repulsive beauty that is brought to glorious life.  His imagination delves into places that are far too forbidden for others, but it is where he thrives, creatively.  Barker finds an attraction and an elegant artistry in these dark corners of the human psyche, and the creative forces on these first two Hellraiser films were able to embrace and realize that so marvelously.  The special make-up effects artists employed for both films were clearly masters of their craft bringing gritty, ghastly realism to everything they did.

While the visual effects are still rather low budget using strictly grainy optical techniques, stop motion photography, and animation, they are very ambitious.  They really push the boundaries of anything you’d expect from a generally low budget horror film of this time.  The filmmakers had a bold vision to realize, and they were going to commit every bit of it to film.  For a modern audience, yes, these effects come off as primitive, but it’s something these filmmakers had to work hard to accomplish.  It took a wide imagination, and a commitment to a rigorous process to put them up on screen.  For that alone, I respect these visual effects immensely.

This is truly an exceptionally well shot film creating a masterpiece of horror.  Tony Randel allows this sequel to seamlessly blend with the first Hellraiser.  While that film is incontrovertibly iconic in so many ways, Hellbound simply goes more ambitious with its visuals along with the story.  Once inside Hell, we are treated to powerful, nightmarish images of blood, fire, sexual desires, and epic scope.  Leviathan’s realm is a vast labyrinth of torture and pleasure indivisibly merged as one.  Delving into Frank Cotton’s personal hell shows him tormented by temptation unable to satisfy his desires.  This scene is ultimately a great moment that ties up a little bit of loose ends from the previous film.  Seeing Frank, Kirsty, and Julia confronting one another again is an awesome moment with plenty of pay-off.

Above anything else is Christopher Young’s bold, more expansive score.  The first film was more intimate with a smaller scope, and Young punctuated that tone and atmosphere beautifully.  Here, it’s verbose and operatic.  It’s grand and sweeping matching the film’s broader, more ominous scope.  Hearing the powerful gothic theme crash into the film following the opening flashback just gets my blood pumping.  It makes an immediate statement that Hellbound: Hellraiser II is bigger and bolder.  It sends chills up and down me.  This music is frightening, dark, and gorgeous.  It’s a masterpiece all on its own, but coupled with the film, it’s indelibly iconic.  It’s possibly the best and most beautiful horror movie score I’ve ever heard.  This film in particular is why the name Christopher Young holds so much eternal respect with me.  What he achieved here became inevitably influential in various gothic styled scores in the years following this film such as Batman and The Crow.

Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II are so seamlessly blended together and the latter builds so perfectly on the ideas and aspects of the former, that they can feel like two halves of a single whole story.  This sequel takes the logical progression of plot forward, and expands on everything  While they do both powerfully exist apart from one another, they are immensely stronger as a single entity.  You get a fuller story with wider scope and deeper insights into the themes presents in these stories and characters.  It is an absolutely brilliant piece of work that demonstrates exactly what a great sequel is meant to do.

The returning cast members also push themselves further.  Julia has definitely changed having gone to Hell and back.  She is still a conniving and devilish woman, but now, her motives are far more insidious and grand.  She is no longer than one being manipulated.  Julia is now the one leading the mesmerized Channard towards a dreadful fate.  Clare Higgins takes that strength to a much more imposing and dangerous level.  Doug Bradley is given a great opportunity here as both Pinhead, and his human alter ego British Army Captain Elliott Spenser.  The film offers up a stunning revelation about the Cenobites, and we see who Pinhead was before he was tortured and twisted by Hell.  With only a few moments of screentime in his human form, Bradley gives us a strong sense of humanity and compassion which sets up for a better story than what he got with the next sequel.  His opening scene is shockingly powerful showing the creation of Pinhead himself with each nail being hammered into his skull, and him screaming in agony.

Ashley Laurence evolves with the role of Kirsty.  She’s more aggressive and assertive now.  No longer is Kirsty cowering in fear, trembling at the carnage she sees.  She is motivated forward with a new found courage as she charges straight into Hell on a search to find her father, and does not let her encounters with the Cenobites, Frank, or Julia deter her from attempting this.  Kirsty has become a far stronger person now, and becomes an even more confident hero for the audience.  Yet, there’s still that solid core of warmth and heart that made her so relatable and endearing to begin with.  She has done a remarkable, standout job in this role, and it is thankful that she would get the chance to reprise it once more in Hellraiser: Hellseeker.

There is just no weak link anywhere in this film.  It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the first film as a bonafide horror classic.  I really do love what Clive Barker has brought us in the medium of film.  His imagination seems boundless and always fascinating.  While he believes, same as with his own written and directed Hellraiser, that this is an uneven film, there is nothing I can ever take away from it.  Any technical aspects that haven’t stood the test of time still display an amazing depth of vision that startle the senses.  Tony Randel did a stunning job as director of this picture.  He has said that the film reflects the dark mindset he was in at the time, and while that might not have been favorable for him, it benefitted this film immensely.  This is a dark, intriguing, and revealing journey into an expansive, macabre world that would not have been easy to achieve without that mindset.  Every talent involved was clearly committed wholeheartedly towards this challenging vision, and it resulted in an undeniable masterpiece of horror.  Hellbound: Hellraiser II is one of the best horror films ever made, and many consider it superior to the first film.  Both are different enough in their stories and scopes to offer you something distinct while also complimenting one another beautifully.  With this film, the Hellraiser franchise seemed as if it could have limitless potential for original, innovative stories with the right minds behind it.  Unfortunately, subsequent sequels would be a severely mixed bag with more bad than good in the hands of Dimension Films who would ultimately run it into the ground.


Hellraiser (1987)

Reviewing this film is quite a pleasure.  Of all the masters of horror to come around in the last couple decades, Clive Barker seems to be the one you can always count on.  Even The Midnight Meat Train, while not directed by Barker, is a great film that I enjoyed quite thoroughly.  The man takes a lot of care and heart with his work, both written and on film.  He doesn’t rush every new novel or short story into a film adaptation like Stephen King.  While there were some missteps with Barker’s earlier film adaptations, it wasn’t directly his fault.  Still, you ask Clive questions about this movie, he’ll probably turn you down.  He’s sick of discussing it, and feels it is firmly settled in his past.  But never minding that, Hellraiser still stands as a horror classic.  It was a serious injection of true horror when the rest of the genre was turning campy and being drained of anything resembling a scary movie.  Written & directed by Barker, based on his short story, “The Hellbound Heart” this is possibly, the most gritty horror film since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but far gorier.  The gore quality is damn near off-the-chart.  I still find myself cringing at how gruesome Hellraiser is.  This film is truly an original piece of classic horror cinema.  As stated by Stephen King himself, “I have seen the future of horror fiction, and his name is Clive Barker.”

This film’s premise is certainly original in all aspects.  It starts out with a small puzzle box, seemingly harmless, but is said to unlock an experience where pain and pleasure are indivisible.  The man who seeks it is named Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman).  He thought he’d been to the limits of human pleasures, but his fate is unimaginable.  He solves the puzzle box, and what it invites is hell itself, in the form of the Cenobites.  He dies in the third floor room of this house that is soon inhabited by his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) along with Larry’s wife Julia (Clare Higgins) and daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence).  After cutting himself trying to haul the mattress upstairs, Larry’s blood spills upon the floor that Frank died on.  Unknowingly to them all, that small amount of blood is enough to regenerate some amount of Frank’s living body.  He has escaped from hell, and hell doesn’t like that.  We learn of a past sexual relationship between Julia and Frank, and Frank uses her devotion to him to regain his full form through unsuspecting men.  Kirsty gets caught in the midst of this horrific conspiracy, and things rise to another level when the Cenobites come looking for more victims.

This is a dark, gory, and unbound vision of horror by Clive Barker.  In retrospect, it is easy for one’s focus to shift towards Doug Bradley and the other Cenobites as the star attraction.  For me, it is the performances of the human characters that are the real jewels here.  The emotional and psychological depth the actors bring to their roles are rich and real.  Clare Higgins is devilishly seductive, but also, presents an honest vulnerability and apprehension.  She is captivating and fascinating.   She shows a nice wide range in how Frank took a generally decent young woman and ensnared her into becoming the more deceptive and corrupted woman she is now.  Andrew Robinson is also a marvel.  While his portrayal of Larry Cotton is certainly what it should be, and doesn’t seem like much of a standout, he portrays it with a lot of heart.  It’s sincere and honest.  Although, it is his turn at the end of the film which really gets the juices flowing.  He becomes deliciously sadistic and sinister.  He really chews it up, and lets nothing stand in his way of delivering an insidious, lustful villain.  Robinson has repeatedly impressed me with his amazingly diverse and substantive performances, especially in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Our female lead, Ashley Laurence, really draws in an audience, firstly, with her fresh-faced beauty, but quickly becomes an immensely likable protagonist.  Where Kirsty is surrounded by people who are either morally corrupt or faced with emotional conflicts, she shines through as the most innocent.  She maintains strength of character with conviction, and remains an excellent conduit for the audience to experience the horrific fantasy that unfolds before them.  She is the moral center of the story, caught in the eye of the storm which she weathers greatly.  She loves her father deeply, and that motivates her actions throughout the latter half of the film.  Despite the disturbing and horrific things befalling her, she holds onto that love to carry her through in order to keep her dad safe.  Kirsty is an excellent heroine that an audience can really get behind, and feel true sympathy for.

The character of Frank Cotton is brilliantly brought to life by Sean Chapman, who handles the human half, and Oliver Wood, who appears as the skinless Frank.  Chapman establishes the lustful and dangerously seductive man who desires to experience the extreme limits of human pleasure.  Wood creates a man who has been beyond those limits, and is now a darker, more threatening creature.  However, he still has seductive qualities as demonstrated by the fact that he gets Julia to lure in and kill unsuspecting men so he can regenerate himself.  However, he is a man motivated by fear of the Cenobites ready to use and abuse anyone necessary to escape them.  Julia is so blinded by her overwhelming desire to be with him again that she will do anything for him.  Larry is such a lightweight man, cringing at blood, and being a generally decent person that Julia feels her life to be rather bland.  Frank offers the wild erotic excitement and danger that she craves.  Getting a woman to murder for you in order to resurrect yourself is an amazing feat, and shows how psychologically warped Frank has made Julia.  This is the true villain of the film, and demonstrates what kind of twisted evil can lurk in the human heart.

Of course, Doug Bradley does need to be addressed.  In conjunction with Barker, Bradley creates a character that is beautifully dispassionate.  He has a cold zeal regarding the transcendent experiences of Hell.  He has tasted them, reveled in their indescribable sensations, and has been tamed by them into perfect order.  Bradley sinks his teeth into what is best described as a standout supporting role.  The Cenobites are used, essentially, as a plot device, same as the puzzle box.  They are background characters here, but powerful ones.  The full contingent of the Cenobites are well played by their respective actors aided by their deeply detailed prosthetic and make-up designs.  With Bradley, you clearly can’t help but be taken aback by his appearance in this film.  Pinhead, or “Lead Cenobite,” is an instantly iconic character with a more direct and identifiable design than his fellow Cenobites, but they are all memorable to the franchise’s fans.

The look of the film is very dark and grainy, but is shot excellently despite its budgetary limitations.  There is a clear vision of artistry here born out of Clive’s own dense, dark imagination.  The film showcases how rawness and grittiness can create a certain macabre beauty.  The gore of Hellraiser is intense and in abundance.  For the weak of stomach, it could get overwhelming, but the skinless Frank is a genuine work of gruesome art.  Barker has a way to make horror beautiful, in a twisted, demented fashion. The Cenobite makeup, while in a rawer form than later on, truly adds to the texture of this film. Tortured, twisted, and mutilated to hellish perfection, they are amazingly well conceived and designed.  I rather prefer this look over later installments which got cheap in the costuming department, and sleeker in the makeup design.  By the direct-to-video entries, their appearances became more fake and soft than anything else.  In this film, all of the make-up effects work is groundbreaking, in my eyes.  They hold up amazingly well in tight close-ups as hooks dig into prosthetic skin, and lend to the realization of great overall nasty creations.  The only dated piece of effects work comes with the visual effects, which were simple rotoscoped cell animation, but it’s all kept to minimum.  It’s really apparent in the climax, but it hardly diminishes the enjoyment of the film as a whole for me.  However, for a modern audience used to more sophisticated digital effects, it might certainly come off as terribly primitive and jokey.

On the higher quality end of the things, the score by Christopher Young is wonderful and powerful.  It is highly orchestral for a horror film, but that aspect creates a far grander canvas for this film to exist upon.  I have always liked that Hellraiser was a more epic horror franchise presenting operatic visuals, themes, and characterizations with the Cenobites.  That’s where Barker’s imagination lives and thrives.  While the story is more personal in nature, the fantastical elements are always grand and sweeping.  Christopher Young’s gothic stylings really would spark off many similar scores such as Danny Elfman’s Batman themes, and Graeme Revell’s The Crow compositions.  The gothic aspects take the operatic qualities and tones them towards more haunting, atmospheric, and chilling aspects.

Now, despite Clive Barker’s belief that this is an uneven film, I do feel he did a highly admirable job.  Barker had directed a few short films before this in the 1970s, but this was his feature film directorial debut.  I believe a director can be his own harshest critic, and I wholly understand that.  Regardless, the storytelling is tight and solid.  There’s a lot of tension of varying kinds throughout the film, and Barker delivers it all quite well.  I have been a large supporter of Clive Barker as a filmmaker.  Lord of Illusions is one of my all time favorite horror films because of the brilliant genre blending work he did there.  It is unfortunate that studio conflicts and interference soured him towards continuing on as a director, but he has continued as a producer for adaptations of his written work.  I believe Hellraiser to definitely be something for him to be proud of for his first feature length directorial work.  This is a classic for a reason.  In a time where B-level slasher films were the dominant sub-genre in horror, this film came out and changed the standard for horror films.  Fortunately or unfortunately, in my eyes, nothing has yet to equal to Hellraiser, except for its first sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II.  It is an excellent mix of an intelligent, original, and ambitious story with that classic Barker macabre horror.   It has solid, powerful performances all around creating a very diverse, rich set of characters, and a great gritty beauty enhanced masterfully by the score.  This has allowed Barker’s 1987 film to standout still, to this day, as a bonafide horror classic.  You really cannot afford to pass this film up.