Friday, December 2, 2011
Hellraiser (1987, Clive Barker)
Every time I have ever watched English author/artist/film maker Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" (1987), I find myself amazed at how a film of this sort had ever been released theatrically. The film features very little in terms of traditional horror elements, despite it often mentioned in the same breath as John Carpenter's "Halloween" and Sean Cunningham's "Friday the 13th". Those pitiful few who have yet to see "Hellraiser" and expecting your formulaic stalk-n-slash premise will probably look upon the film with confusion and disgust.
Frank, a world traveler and compulsive sex-fiend, acquires a box from a Chinatown vagrant and ritualistically summons what he believes to be a world of great pleasures. As it turns out, extreme pain is not Frank's thang and he is whisked to a world of insurmountable torture. His brother and former mistress/brother's wife eventually move into the house where Frank was squatting and, while moving in furniture, accidentally spill blood on the floorboards of the attic. This causes the intense resurrection of Frank, whose body is only partially reconstructed. After his brother's wife finds him, he coerces her into luring men to the house and killing them so he can drink their blood and gain strength and skin. Of course, he can't escape his fate that easily...
"Hellraiser" is the best film adaptation of any of Clive Barker's literary works. It is based on the 1986 novella, "The Hellbound Heart", which I have not read. Admittedly, I have not read any of Barker's stories due to my unintentional unwillingness to maintain a personal standard of literacy, but like the book, "Hellraiser" is a highly abrasive and stunningly visceral surrealist assimilation of torture, fetishism, and Hell. Pinhead - the presumed leader of a quartet of demons known as the Cenobites - may have become a cultural icon known worldwide due to his amazing physical deformation, but anyone who has actually seen "Hellraiser" will confirm that he lacks any semblance of a personality or likability that most people have come to love in other "slasher" icons like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. This is good. Pinhead is, by far, the scariest horror villain ever manifested on screen. He takes no ascertainable pride or joy in what he does. He just believes that pain and suffering is the blissful eternity that those who tinker with the puzzle box have brought upon themselves as he thrusts them into his nightmarish world. His evil seems limitless. Speaking of which, the Cenobites themselves have very little hands-on involvement in the brutalization of their victims. The evil forces that adhere to their conjuring guide hooks and chains from all angles, as well as an odd, rotating wooden pillar decorated with human flesh and bones. Of course, the follow-up film, "Hellbound: Hellraiser II", greatly expanded the hellish world of the Cenobites.
One cannot deny that the concept of "Hellraiser" is one of a kind. I see films of this kind as a dying breed as the cinematic medium continues to cheapen due to Hollywood's ignorance and disrespect for horror and just film in general, as well as many indie film makers recycling each other's tired ideas. It's rare that a truly bizarre and imaginative film like "Hellraiser" or "Phantasm" comes along, let alone makes any kind of impact in this age of sterile, market-researched blandness that passes for high-quality entertainment. Blowhard, jawless cocksuckers like Roger Ebert who think a film like "Hellraiser" is "without wit, style or reason", clearly have a hard time understanding the various magnitudes of subversive horror inflections. To say "Hellraiser" is without wit or style is an immensely ignorant remark considering the film came out in the 80s, amongst a barrage of popcorn slasher films that ensconced that particular decade of the horror genre. In comparison, "Hellraiser" was pretty fucking fresh.
Simply for the fact that "Hellraiser" is such an uncompromising and oddball film that doesn't pander to those demanding explanation every five minutes is what intrigues me every time I pop it in. It's a insanely gory, dark, and morbid flick that just makes you feel FILTHY after watching it.