Thursday, October 18, 2012


31 Days of Horror, Part 14
There are nine Hellraiser movies.  Did you know that?  I certainly didn't.  Nine movies?!?  That's just ridiculous, especially when you consider that Speed 2: Cruise Control has out-grossed the entire Hellraiser series at the box office.  Sure, five of the Hellraiser sequels went direct-to-DVD, but being quantifiably less impressive than Speed 2 is still difficult to fathom.  While Hellraiser has not been as financially successful as some of its other horror movie brethren, there has to be some reason they still keep making these movies, right?  Right...?

When you think Hellraiser, you naturally think of Pinhead, the face of the franchise, right?  Well, this is only the first entry in the series, so you're going to have to wait a bit to catch more than a glimpse of him here.  Larry (Andrew Robinson, who looks like the evil cousin of Randy Quaid) and his wife, Julia (Clare Higgins) are moving into a new house.  Well, it's a "new" house; it used to belong to someone in Larry's family, but is now dilapidated.  The house technically belongs to Larry's brother, Frank (Sean Chapman), but nobody has heard from Frank in years; knowing Frank, he's probably dying from syphilis in jail somewhere.  He won't mind if Larry moves in and takes over this fixer-upper, right?  Not so fast.  Larry is missing two crucial pieces of information about Frank.  The first is that Frank had a passionate affair with Julia a few years ago; it was not about love so much as it was about expressing carnal appreciation.
Frank exudes sexuality like...wait...that's Frank?  Really?  Ew.
The other interesting factoid is that Frank is actually living in the house with them.  Sort of.  You see, Frank tired of his lifelong quest for new physical experiences and sexually transmitted diseases; when he learned of a puzzle box that would take his senses to a new plane of existence, he was all in.
Interestingly, he left his pants on
Frank didn't exactly get what he was looking for, though.  The puzzle box opened up some sort of dimensional rift, which allowed the Cenobites to capture him and bring him to their realm.  What is a Cenobite?  They are "explorers of pleasure and pain," and their particular flavor of sadomasochism has transcended the sensory limits of humans.
To put it another way, you won't hear this guy complain about his shoes being too tight
A freak coincidence allows Frank to escape the Cenobite dimension, although not in his typical physical form.  He needs to feed on the blood and organs of others to regain his classic mediocre looks.  Lucky for Frank, Julia can't say no to a pretty face and agrees to lure victims to Frank so he can slowly regenerate himself.
It is explicitly stated that Julia wants to have sex.  With this.  Interesting.
So what's the problem?  Well, Larry is still around, and he probably wouldn't be cool with Julia seducing strangers, murdering them and allowing his nogoodnick brother, Frank, to feast on their remains.  And Larry's daughter from a previous marriage, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), has started poking her nose into things, too...and she finds this weird puzzle box thing.  I wonder what will happen if she solves it?

There is not a whole lot of acting in Hellraiser.  The main character, I guess, is Ashley Laurence's, and she treats the role like a typical slasher movie part.  And that's fair, given her scenes.  She's not bad, but she's not exactly impressive, either.  Clare Higgins was pretty dreadful as Julia.  It's one thing to play a character that is hopelessly, irrationally in love with someone who asks them to do bad things.  It's another issue entirely when that "someone" looks like they were turned inside-out.  I don't care how much you lust for someone, that is a turn-off; if it's not, I suggest you stop torturing small animals and preemptively turn yourself in before you start murdering transients.  Also, Higgins has to play a woman who is seducing men in the middle of the day, and her "come hither" hairstyle is basically a 1980s version of Bride of Frankenstein?  I just don't get the 80s.  Andrew Robinson typically plays unlikable characters, so I was a bit surprised when he appeared to be a bland but friendly fellow for the first three-quarters of the film; it turns out that he's not quite believable as a nice guy.
This is his "sympathetic" face
The last act throws in a twist and lets him get a little nasty, though, so I think it more or less balances out.  I found it interesting that two actors played Frank.  Sean Chapman played the only-sexy-because-it's-in-the-script "Normal Frank," while Oliver Smith played "Frank the Monster."  Neither was particularly noteworthy, but you've got to give Smith more credit for playing a harder part.  As for Pinhead, Doug Bradley was used sparingly, which allowed him to remain mysterious and creepy.  What else can you ask for in your iconic villain?

Hellblazer was written and directed by Clive Barker.  His direction is a little shaky at times, but he makes up for it with the horror elements.  Basic things, like editing and continuity, are recurring problems; thankfully, they are all fairly minor moments.  The score doesn't help matters much, because it is stereotypical and cheesy.  Barker manages to balance those flaws with some pretty cool horror elements.  The practical effects, for the most part, stand the test of time and are still disturbing.
The face puzzle?  Not so much.
The special effects are unusual and consistently disgusting.  In a movie about torture-porn villains, it only makes sense for the audience to witness all sorts of weird and painful-looking moments.
Barker's attempts to utilize CGI effects did not work as smoothly.  I don't care what is going on in your story, but you should never take characters that look like they could fit in a Lord of the Rings battle scene and have this happen:
Who let John Madden in the editing booth?
 The real problems for Clive Barker occur in the writing department.  From the wretched dialogue to the idiotic character motives, I have a hard time believing that a professional novelist wrote this script.  To give you an idea, here is how Monster Frank convinced Julia to murder people so he could eat them:
1) He told her, "Believe me, it's me."  Bear in mind that this is a different actor's voice we're hearing in this scene, too, since the Frank roles were split between two people.
2) When Julia acts justifiably freaked out, Monster Frank gets annoyed.  He actually cuts her off, saying "Just help me, will ya?"  Oh, when you put it that way, I would love to feed my murder corpses to an ozzing pile of slime and pus.  Oh, wait, I am not a mass murderer, looking for a way to get rid of the bodies.  I am Julia, a dissatisfied housewife.  And I just let Inside-Out Man win me over with promises of sex.
3) ?
4) Profit
And I'm not even going to touch the Joseph Mengelev joke during the dinner party scene.  It's not just the dialogue that is lacking in Hellraiser.   There are some basic plot elements that simply fail to work.  Characters make inexcusably stupid decisions and the plot that has built up over 80 minutes devolves into a chase scene, starring a magical box.  But every time the story takes a wrong turn, it follows up with a scene of unique cinema violence, which almost neutralizes the stupidity with gore.
Pages 87-93 are just this guy dropping the F-bomb over and over

What Hellblazer boils down to is how entertaining it is when there is not blood and gore on the screen versus how good it is when things get icky.  Every horror movie has these filler moments that are typically used to try (and fail) to make the audience care about the characters.  Barker puts effort into these scenes, but they are scripted awkwardly and are fairly dull.  However, when the bizarre/gory scenes occur, they are pretty fun to watch.  The moments that made me squirm the most were fairly basic.  One involves Andrew Robinson cutting his hand on an old nail --- specifically, the suspense that went into that scene --- and the other was how weird it would be for some stranger (Cenobite or not) to put his fingers in my mouth.
Why does this freak me out so much more than eternal torture with hooks and chains?
If Hellraiser had more moments that were unsettling instead of just visually impressive, I would be able to overlook the weak script.  As it stands, the dialogue and plot are pretty miserable, even when you spice things up with the novelty of a torture demon/angel.  Even that is barely enough to make this film worth watching.  It makes me wonder how good the eight sequels are, since they will inevitably have less novelty.  Maybe this series is a metaphor for the puzzle box, and all who watch it are being tortured by the Cenobites of cinema!  Heeey...I think I just pitched the plot to Hellraiser X: Pinhead in Space.


  1. It is never a good sign for a cast when the promotional poster has to point out that one of the actors was actually in another movie, and the prospects only get dimmer when that movie is Cobra. Personally, I was unable to get past the acting and the writing in this flick. I went into it with a friend and booze, and came out disappointed.

    1. To be fair, Andrew Robinson was also the killer in Dirty Harry, but you are still correct.

      Yeah, it's not a whole lot of fun. I laughed at every bit of sexual tension in the movie, especially the movers hitting on the daughter and Julia's idea of what sexy looks like.

      I found the core concepts interesting enough to warrant a viewing. It's unique (as far as I can tell) in the horror genre, because the villains aren't the crazy monsters. And the crazy monsters don't kill you, either. Heck, they don't even come after you, unless you've gone to great lengths to find the puzzle cube. I was kind of hoping that the plot would delve into the dominator/dominated relationship, and how the more powerful one is the one receiving the pain (because they determine how much is enough), but that never happened. Contemplating that stuff was enough to amuse me until the movie ended. I'm positive that the rest of the series is pure shit, though.

  2. For the record Hellraiser: Bloodline is Hellraiser in space.

    Hellraiser II is pretty novel though. The ony thing weirder than the actual movie, is the fact that it was released to movie theaters around the world. I don't remember much of the plot, but the movie's visual aesthetic is fucking hilariously bizarre. Contemplating the pitch meeting for the movie provided an endless source of amusement throughout the film.

    After that though the cenobites quickly descend into generic demons bent on global domination.

    1. Hmm...I think you've convinced me to do two things, Dan. 1) Eventually watch Hellraiser II. 2) Watch a bunch of "in space" horror movies next year. Let's see, I already did Jason, but I know there's Leprechaun 4, Dracula 3000,and I think one of the Critters movies...are there any other trashy space horror flicks?

  3. Ghosts of Mars and Event Horizon are two "good" ones. Is Doom in space? I know it is pure shit, but I think I remember it being in space. And by this time next year, there is a better than decent chance that the Final Destination will have a space edition.

    1. Final Destination in Space needs to happen. Fact.

      I haven't seen Event Horizon (that I can recall), but I am well aware of how "good" Ghosts of Mars is. Not even Ice Cube could save that one.

    2. Ran across this today:

    3. Duly noted. My queue is already filling up for next year.