Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Sixty-two - Hellraiser, "We have SUCH sights to show you."

It's hard to argue the value of a cult icon such as Pinhead. He's become the inspiration for countless horror writers and artists and is instantly recognizable for the sado-sexual menace that he and his fellow Cenobites represent, culling pleasure from ultimate suffering. The first in a long series of films, the original Hellraiser rates among the highest, its sequels having dropped off majorly in quality after Hellraiser II: Hellbound.

A rather self-contained film, Hellraiser sports a small cast of unknowns and D-listers who fill out the Cotton family tree. There's Frank, whom we're introduced to first, who acquires the mysterious Puzzle Box from your stereotypical Oriental Mystic Shopkeeper. He uses the box and is instantly taken by the Cenobites. From there we're shown the unhappy marriage of Frank's brother, Larry, who is married to Julia. Unknown to Larry, Frank and Julia were lovers and would be again, as Larry's blood partially resurrects Frank. Julia, enthralled by her skinless lover, brings Frank victims to drain to regenerate him further, until Larry's daughter discovers the gory details and accidentally summons the Cenobites... who want them all!

Hellraiser is definitely a picture that captured the imagination of movie-goers. While its effects are rough by today's standards, at the time they were tremendously creative and frightening. Even now, despite my lack of suspension of disbelief, I can respect them for what they are... especially that initial regeneration sequence which is a combination of reverse motion and clever puppetry.

I also want to praise Clive Barker for the design of the cenobites. Most movie monsters of the era were hulking monoliths hidden behind masks. Here, Clive took several different striking concepts towards prosthetics and makeup to create terrifying visages of torture demons like Pinhead, Butterball, and Chatterer. Conceptually, he also breaks the mold by including an aggressive female Cenobite who is just as threatening as her male counterparts. Sin knows no gender lines here and I find that right proper.

Now, all of this praise shouldn't belie the fact that there's some serious cheese that holds the movie down. Effects aside, pretty much any scene with the movie's innocent, Kristy... from her work at the pet store to her courtship with her fashion disaster boyfriend... well, right up until she's confronted by the supernatural elements of the film, she's a mess of a character.

Similarly, while Frank and Julia's tawdry affair and the lengths that Julia goes to in order to bring him back are damned compelling, Julia's actual marriage is a laughable sham, both in terms of the lack of actual chemistry and the overall storyline. Add to that the silly sex fiend victims that she brings back to the love nest to be consumed by Frank, it's often hard to take the good portions of the movie seriously.

Overall, though, for all its faults, Hellraiser is an excellent horror film... and one of Clive Barker's best. It reminds me of Fulci and Argento, but with a very serious, mainstream slant. Brave, but still sticking to its genre roots. Honestly, it's a must for any horror fan and, while it might not scare as well as it used to in comparison to today's standards, I'd add it to any movie-goer's standard film education.

One final note, I just wanted to mention how far reaching Hellraiser and it's Cenobites are, showing up in homage in the manga Berserk. It is so very obvious that Miura drew inspiration from the Cenobites in creating the Godhand of the Apostles.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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