Review: Hellraiser (1987)


“The box. You opened it, we came.”

Hellraiser is not a movie that’s meant to be stumbled upon; it’s meant to be desired, to be sought out much like the coveted puzzle box that sits at the center of its story. Once opened, the box gives you an experience beyond pain and pleasure, an ecstasy of excess that surpasses any experience on earth, including death. The film is about getting under your skin, testing your limits, it’s about the fine line between repulsion and attraction and learning to enjoy that which seems unenjoyable. If these ideas don’t appeal to you, maybe you should just put down that puzzle box before you accidentally open the gates to hell and walk away while you still have your skin.

For those of you who are intrigued by pins shoved into heads, people being skinned by tiny fishhooks and murderous pseudo incestuous love triangles, rest assured, this movie has it all! And the best part is that in all these wildly horrific, supernatural goings on, there’s not a single wink to the audience or smirking face. It’s all done with an unparalleled sense of seriousness thanks to the darkly imaginative and poetic vision of Clive Barker.

When watching the film, one can feel Barker’s authorship in every element on screen. You get the sense that the story very closely reflects the appetites of its creator, amounting in a work that is even more disturbing in that it’s personal. The difference being that when a character in a Saw movie is torturously murdered, it’s done with a single goal in mind: to shock the audience. Barker’s interested in more than shock; he’s digging deeper into the psychology and personal tastes of his audience. True, it’s horrible to watch someone get their skin ripped off because it’s shocking. However, the act of being shocked is often an enjoyable experience, so therefore maybe skin ripping isn’t really that bad after all. It’s a duality that’s an acquired taste. You know, “demons to some, angels to others”.

The story deals with characters who struggle with exactly the kind of moral ambiguity that’s in question. What makes a demon, what makes an angel? How far is too far? Well, it turns out, just like pain and pleasure, it’s all relative. There is no perfect measure of acceptable and unacceptable and instead of condemning the notion, the film celebrates it as purely as you possibly can, with no boundaries.

Of course, it deserves mentioning that the film gave birth to one of the most recognizable horror icons: Pinhead. The poster image itself is startling enough; a leather clad man with a grid carved into his head complete with pins jutting out from each intersection. It sticks with you. Without fail, every time you explain Hellraiser to someone who hasn’t seen it, they’ll stop you mid sentence and say, as if the veil had just been lifted: “oh, the guy with pins in his head.”

In the pool of 80s horror slashers flooding the cinemas, Hellraiser caused quite the ripple, undoubtedly due to the unique, boundary-pushing, imaginative force driving it. I’m sure having a beautifully designed villain didn’t hurt either. Using the guise of a splatterific supernatural horror film, it disarms us and allows us to honestly ask ourselves, how much of this am I really repulsed by? And how much am I kind of into?

“What’s your pleasure, sir?”

68/100 - An experience beyond pain and pleasure, an ecstasy of excess that surpasses any experience on earth, including death.

Craig Stewart

Am I obsessed? Maybe. I prefer the term “passionate”; it has a less creepy stalker kind of vibe. Not that I have anything against creepy stalkers being that my genre of choice is and forever will be the depraved, demented and deranged dwelling of horror. If you're looking for films that don’t sugarcoat things, that reveal people at their ugliest, that aren’t afraid to spill a little blood and have fun doing it, then look no further!
  • Adam Moody

    Good review, but I absolutely loathed this film.

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