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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.


Lord of Illusions (1995)

While I have only ever seen two films directed by macabre horror writer Clive Barker, he is actually one of my favorite filmmakers.  Hellraiser was the first reason, but this film, Lord of Illusions, is the biggest reason.  Released in 1995 in the midst of a bad stretch of time for the horror genre, Clive Barker was ambitious in telling a film noir detective horror story.  Theatrically, the film was not well represented with a lot of pertinent, quality scenes cutout for a tighter runtime, and box office was not very lucrative.  I cannot find a record for the film’s budget, but I’m sure it exceeded the box office gross of $13 million.  Thankfully, the home video market allowed Barker the opportunity to release his definitive director’s cut of this excellent film, and I can’t imagine anyone watching this film in any other way.

New York private detective Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) finds himself repeatedly drawn into disturbing supernatural events, much to his strong reluctance.  He takes an insurance fraud case in Los Angeles as a change of pace, but soon, he finds himself in the world between illusion and true magic.  The world’s greatest illusionist Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor) is killed in a graphic on-stage accident, and Harry is driven to discover the truth behind it.  Hired by Swann’s gorgeous wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen), Harry delves deep into the secretive world of magic, and encounters dangerous foes including the peculiar, yet lethal Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman).  What Harry uncovers is that a cult leader named Nix (Daniel von Bargen), who could perform real magic and taught Swann to do so as well, is feared to be able to defy the grave that Swann and Dorothea put him in, and will return to exact horrific revenge upon the world.  What Harry D’Amour may come to realize is that death is the ultimate illusion.

The film sets a very dangerous, foreboding tone right from the outset.  A series of grim images of a decrepit, desolate wasteland open the picture telling you that dark, evil forces await us.  This opening sequence shows Swann and his friends confronting Nix and his followers in the Mojave Desert thirteen years prior, and sets the stage for where Harry D’Amour will enter their unsettling lives in the present day.  It clues you in on exactly what horrors Nix was capable of, and why Swann and his estranged friends now fear his return so gravely.  The production design of Nix’s stronghold is perfectly macabre and disturbing.  It has that dead-on Clive Barker dark, gritty style with a sort of grotesque beauty.  It is photographed with a generous amount of shadow using the light to accentuate only certain sections of the environment.  This style carries over into all the visually darker scenes creating a gorgeous film noir style.  This is just a beautifully shot movie in any condition of light or shadow.  While cinematographer Ronn Schmidt doesn’t have much in the way of high profile films to his résumé, I can surely tell he had a major wealth of artistic potential when coupled with the right director.

Clive Barker magnificently proves his talent and worth as a filmmaker here.  I think Lord of Illusions really is a masterpiece of supernatural noir horror.  It’s a greatly intelligent film that blends two very comparable genres together in a beautiful way.  The film sets up the horror elements first with that amazingly chilling opening sequence, but doesn’t really explain anything to the audience.  So, as Harry D’Amour is pulled into this plot, we still have questions that need answering, and it is a dangerous path for Harry to walk to reach those answers.  There are plenty of secrets that many would kill to have or to keep hidden, but Harry is an intelligent enough hero to see through the spook tactics and walls of deception to get to that truth.  The moments of horror are powerful such as the flashes Harry has of the exorcism he was involved in.  The sight of the stark white demon is nightmarishly striking.  Dorothea also has visions of blood and death which tell her that Nix’s return is soon to come.  Butterfield’s strange lackey Miller also provides much in the way of savage gore and violence.  How he survives a third story fall to the pavement enhances the bizarre nature of the film’s foes.  Clive Barker knew how to use film as a canvas for brilliant brush strokes.  Melding so many different complex aspects of this story would not be easy to do, but he had a clear and vibrant vision which he was able to realize.  Not to mention, he brought us one of his absolute best creations ever.

I really love the Harry D’Amour character as portrayed by Scott Bakula.  He is endlessly fascinating to me.  A hardened private investigator who gets caught up in all manner of supernatural danger is so ripe with potential.  The fact that he is reluctant to be wrapped up in this world, but is inevitably drawn to it makes for a great character dynamic.  He’s a man that has subscribed to many faiths in his day, possibly to attempt to find answers or solace for the evil he has faced.  It shows he’s a man of a wide open mind, but not without his skepticism.  True to being a detective, he accepts nothing purely on face value alone.  He has a probing mind with a keen intellect that makes him an interesting hero to follow.  He’s intent on unraveling a mystery in a world built upon secrets.  Scott Bakula gives a warm, soulful quality to D’Amour that comes to life opposite Dorothea.  He also shows Harry to be a capable and confident man of action making him a very well-rounded character.  He’s smart and perceptive as well as having a good heart that contrasts the darkness he’s engulfed in.  Bakula did research the role, and helped add in more traits of what Barker had previously written for the character.  The tattoo on Harry’s back resulted from that research and collaboration.  Scott Bakula does an excellent job with this role that I wish fortunes could’ve allowed us to be exposed to beyond this film, but nothing is ever truly impossible.  One can still hope for another prime opportunity to arise for Bakula and Barker to reunite.

When Clive Barker saw the headshot of Famke Janssen during casting, he knew he had found Dorothea.  Her air of class and elegance truly shines through in this role.  When Harry first sees her its in the golden late afternoon sunlight, and she couldn’t be more captivatingly beautiful.  She easily captures Harry’s heart, and that leads the two down a very passionate path.  Bakula and Janssen have a seductive chemistry that is captured magnificently by the camera.  Their love scene is gorgeous.  I like the fact that Lord of Illusions came just before Famke became a villainous Bond girl in GoldenEye.  Thus, it gives Barker some special credit for recognizing her talent and beauty before her breakout role.  As Dorothea, she is both vulnerable and strong creating a fine mix to make her a damsel in distress, but not one that’s afraid to fight for herself when the opportunity arises.

I have to admit that I love the character of Butterfield.  He’s perfectly androgynous with a slinking quality that makes him very serpent like.  Barry Del Sherman uses his body language fluidly as he slipped into the skin of this peculiar villain.  It’s wonderfully written as a dangerous, off-beat character that one might not take seriously at first glance.  However, Butterfield quickly demonstrates a lethal, sadistic quality that he uses in calculated fashion.  He truly takes deep pleasure in the torturous methods he uses, and Del Sherman absorbs himself fully into that mindset.  He portrays a wonderfully charismatic and juicy villain.  It’s also an interesting dynamic that Butterfield aspires to be Nix’s one and only apprentice, but even Nix acknowledges that there is no one else worthy but Swann.  While Swann gets to bask in the limelight of fame, Butterfield slinks his way through the dark underbelly of the world to prepare for Nix’s return, and he gets no respect for his loyalty or hard work from Nix.

Daniel von Bargen is a hell of a diverse actor that I have gained immense respect for over the years.  He can do drop down hilarious comedy, but also, put in a frighteningly charismatic performance as Nix.  What he does in the first few minutes of the film resonate throughout the rest of the picture.  His horrific power haunts Swann, and that fear translates over to the audience very sharply.  He is an awesome villain full of commanding presence and intense malevolence.  The power von Bargen throws into this role is masterful creating something that could truly haunt your nightmares in terrifying fashion.  He clearly had a fun time portraying this intense, chilling character.

Another amazingly diverse actor is Kevin J. O’Connor.  You may know him from his turn as the cowardly Beni from Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, or from the Patrick Swayze television drama The Beast.  As Philip Swann, he gives us a very unique performance.  I like how the film opens without presenting a clear hero to you.  Swann is not a confident or particularly stable person, and not the type to gravitate to as a protagonist.  He is very shaken by fear, and later on in life, he’s not a content man.  He has fame, wealth, and a beautiful woman at his side.  However, it’s the creeping knowledge of what Nix vowed he would do, defy death, that endlessly troubles him.  If he can do that, Swann cannot imagine what greater terrors he could unleash.  Even with all the power Swann possesses, he knows that Nix is more powerful, but most importantly, he has the will to do things Swann never would.  Nix messed with his mind once, and he’s never been able to shake that.  O’Connor passionately displays the depth of those turbulent emotional and psychological elements so well.  He makes Philip Swann a greatly fascinating and fractured character that maintains the foreboding tone of the film.

The supporting cast really put their all into their roles.  They add to the eclectic flavor of these textured and distinct characters.  Joel Swetow makes Valentin a very sophisticated but shady character.  He furthers adds to the mysterious and treacherous aspects of the plot.  All of the characters appearing in the Magic Castle sequence, portraying illusionists of all sorts, also really boost those spooky and colorful qualities of the film.  It’s just a damn solid cast that Barker put together.  There’s not a single weak link anywhere at all.

Clive Barker turned to the absolute masters of special make-up effects in KNB EFX Group for this film.  Their work has been unparalleled.  Whatever they do, big or small, severe or subtle, it always hold weight on film.  What they did here is bring the gory and challenging imagination of Clive Barker to perfect life.  The make-up on the resurrected Nix is purely, excellently disgusting, as it should be.  The protrusion in his forehead is something I still cannot stomach to look at.  Conversely, the digital visual effects are damn well up to standards.  The early scene of Nix juggling fire is seamless and convincing, and the effect of Swann levitating a car over Harry’s head is quite well handled.  Of course, I’m sure many would contend with the later scene of the apparition that attacks Harry and Dorothea late in the film, but Barker wanted it to look as it did.  He did not want those effects to be dead-on realistic.  He wanted a dream-like, unreal quality to them, and to a point I believe it worked.  I’m sure something a little more refined could’ve benefitted the sequence better, but I generally have no criticism about it.

The film has a very strong, haunting score by Simon Boswell.  It’s an excellent piece of work that regularly keeps the tension and ominous qualities present, but it also has its moments of beauty as with the Harry and Dorothea love scene.  A sensual saxophone chimes in to delve into that seductive passion.  The music during Swann’s stage show is marvelously theatrical.  In its most climactic moments, the score is powerful and darkly operatic.  Overall, it’s an immensely effective composition for a film with such diverse qualities.

Lord of Illusions has its generous share of heightened tension and frightening danger.  The opening and ending sequences with Nix bring the full boar horror in all its macabre glory.  In the bulk of the film, though, we have action based excitement with D’Amour, and some gory visuals that re-instill the haunting, chilling aspects of the story.  This is not a splatter film with some brutal threat stalking the characters.  It’s very supernatural with a more ominous threat stirring up their deepest fears.  The atmosphere is very strong regularly keeping an audience on edge, and keeping them enthralled as each new layer of the mystery is pulled back.  With lives being lost as he gets deeper into this and becomes more invested in Dorothea, Harry can’t just walk away.  It’s a great way to wrap the hero up in the story, and drive him forward in the face of ungodly horror.  Harry never gives into fear, and remains determined in even the darkest moments of the film.

The final act is powerful and amazing.  It serves as the proper climax to this story which pits apprentice against master in a chilling and grotesque confrontation that still manages to keep D’Amour relevant to the outcome.  It bookends the film smartly bringing Nix back in a far more chilling state than before.  The disturbing cultist aspects of the movie really are driven home by this point, and have an ironic, vile pay-off here.  It further sells the grave lethality and power of Nix.  This entire prolonged sequence is like a slow decent into the horrific depths of hell, and there is no one better suited for the task of realizing that than Clive Barker.  This ending will leave you still unsettled as the end credits roll.

If there’s one horror film that has inspired me as a screenwriter more than any other, it would be Lord of Illusions.  This would be the genre I would want to play around in because Clive Barker realized it so well here.  There’s a vast untapped potential for this supernatural noir genre, and this film is a prime example of that potential.  Barker wrote a brilliant screenplay based on his short story The Last Illusion, and turned it into one of the best, most original and intelligent horror films I have ever seen.  Thus, it is one of my favorite films of all time.  This film far exceeds expectations realizing every element and aspect with amazing, top notch quality.  It is only a shame that the studio difficulties Barker faced with this film caused him to turn away from ever directing another film again.  Fortunately, it has not ceased him being a producer on a number of film adaptations of his written work.  I think Clive Barker is one of the best masters of horror because has never let me down.  If this turns out to be the final film he ever directs, no one could ask for a better final bow than Lord of Illusions.


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.