Hellraiser (1987)

Happy Halloween… month! It’s October, which basically means it’s already Halloween. It also means it’s time to whip out my annual “review a horror movie each weekday while also covering a big horror franchise” event! This is a spiritual successor to “Chwineka Watches 31 Netflix Horror Movies for October” (or CW31NHMO for short), so don’t expect a concise name for the idea as a whole from me. Anywho, the second annual event is The Hellbound Halloween, where I cover all 10 currently released Hellraiser movies and a few more morsels from Mr. Clive Barker. So let’s dive into what’s probably the horniest big horror franchise out there!

Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the other cenobites are interesting horror villains because they’re not really the main villains of Hellraiser. That changes once Clive Barker stops being hands on with the franchise after Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but for the first two movies I believe the main villains to be Frank (Sean Chapman dubbed over by someone else) and Julia (Clare Higgins). Frank’s a degenerate hedonist who summoned the cenobites by unlocking a Lament Configuration–specifically Lemarchand’s Box–and manages to escape their clutches… somehow. His brother and Julia’s husband, Larry (Andrew Robinson, AKA Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) bleeds on the spot where Frank was torn apart, and that somehow lets Frank start to regrow his body. Keyword being “start,” as he’s missing all of his skin and most of his muscle. He gets Julia to help him regain his body since they had a fling ages ago and she’s not really in love with Larry. She lures men in and then knocks them out so Frank can absorb their flesh. It’s pretty gruesome, but that’s standard for this franchise.

Our protagonist is Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), Larry’s daughter. She catches Julia in the act and sees a fleshless Frank, which justifiably drives her a bit mad. While involuntarily institutionalized she too solves the box, escapes a monster, and summons the cenobites. She manages to avoid an eternity of torture by offering up Frank, and they agree. You can definitely trust BDSM hell monsters to keep their word. But everything’s okay! Larry and Julia killed Frank! Yup, that’s definitely actually Larry and not Frank wearing his brother’s skin. Except it’s totally actually Frank, who tries to molest his niece while wearing her father’s face. A struggle breaks out and Julia is killed by Frank, but he’s caught by the cenobites and torn apart in front of Kirsty. That’s when the cenobites go for her, but the collapsing house and her closing the puzzle box saves her ass. She throws Lemarchand’s Box into a fire, but a homeless guy–I’m 90% certain that’s not actually Alan Moore–grabs it, transforming into a skeletal dragon and flying off. Okay, 80% sure.

The cenobites are sort of secondary villains in their own story because that was the original intention. Minor spoilers for Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but the story was supposed to be Julia’s descent into the Queen of Hell. But actress Clare Higgins reportedly didn’t like horror movies and chose not to return after the second film, while fans really resonated with the Lead Cenobite, AKA the Hell Priest, AKA Pinhead. These sorts of horror franchises tend to work best with an inhuman antagonist. A Nightmare on Elm Street has Freddy, Friday the 13th has the silent Jason who becomes a Frankenstein, and so on. Dude in bondage gear with pins sticking out of his face promising to show you untold horrors is going to have a good amount of fans, and some of them of a non-sexual nature, I’m sure.

Part of the allure of Pinhead–the name everybody calls him but also the name that Clive Barker absolutely hates–is the lore behind them. Who are these creatures? How did they come to be like this? Who do they serve? Several questions get answered in Hellraiser II, but the rest is just… not in the movies. I will admit that normally when a piece of media has answers in a completely separate piece of media, it’s really annoying. Somehow Palpatine returned in Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker and the Sith Lord’s speech was actually heard in Fortnite instead of the movie. Over in video games, World of Warcraft had all the crazy events at the trial of Garrosh Hellscream in a book instead of the game itself, so when the Warlords of Draenor expansion opened with time travel, I was confused as hell. And I can see that problem with Hellraiser, where a lot of the cool lore happens in novels or comic books. Like, what was that monster Kirsty ran from? (it’s called the Engineer) What’s the deal with Alan Moore turning into a dragon? (he’s a Puzzle Guardian who protects the box) But I never said I judge everything fairly, so I give Pinhead and the Order of the Gash–the entourage he rolls with–a pass.

I think this is probably my second favorite major horror franchise after A Nightmare on Elm Street, but man the cenobites are spooky in a way that Freddy can’t match. It’s not secret knowledge that Clive Barker is a gay man and into BDSM, and that really comes through with the body modification/mutilation most of these beings feature. He actually has an inactive Tumblr account for his photography which mostly consists of nude men covered in paint, mud, and probably not actual blood. Sadly my favorite photo seems to have been deleted, but it was a close up of an erect dick surrounded by Froot Loops. What? Why? What? I love it! Why didn’t I save it before Tumblr’s porn ban swept in and ruined everything?!

Next: Hellbound: Hellraiser II

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15 thoughts on “Hellraiser (1987)

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