#62 - Hellraiser (Clive Barker)

Pain and Pleasure

Just like it’s the case with “The Omen” I have not seen “Hellraiser” despite being quite familiar with the film. However the difference here is that I actively avoided watching “Hellraiser” and there’s a reason for that. When I was a kid I walked in to a room where a couple of adults where watching a VHS copy of this film, and it was during one of the more extreme scenes in the film (the penis monster chasing Kirsty down that corridor – the image imprinted itself in my brain) and it kind of had a profound effect on me. Even though I was quite a curious child that loved movies I knew then and there that, yep, I was not supposed to be watching that. I had the exact same reaction to seeing pornography for the first time at a similar age. I just simply walked out of that room, stunned by what I’ve glimpsed at.

That notion stuck with me through my whole teenage life and now through the majority of my early adulthood - I’m just not ready to watch that shit. Well I finally watched that shit and, apart from giving me that massive flashback to a semi-forgotten childhood memory, it was not all that bad. First of all because my idea of what “Hellraiser” is was majorly warped by that single experience. I only experienced that shock and gore of it, which made me think it’s a movie that only exploits shock and gore. And I fucking detest films that display no real value beyond providing such extreme imagery.

But last night I found out that “Hellraiser” is actually not that kind of film. And sure, except for the effects, make up and the score the whole production has a rather bland facet to it. The acting, the script, the editing and the cinematography – it all seems very sloppy in a sense, but I’ve already gone at lengths in my other posts how a sub-par presentational quality can elevate a horror film’s effectiveness. This is the case with “Hellraiser” as well as it proves to be quite an effective and tense film. But what stuck with me the most were the sadomasochist themes and aesthetics at the core of the film.

What “Hellraiser” does is that it makes its horrors psychologically tangible with their link to sexuality, a link that is channeled primarily though sadomasochist iconography and character motivations. So these horrors can be a product of a search for the ultimate pleasure (Frank), a yearning for sexual fulfillment (Julia) or even sexual blooming (Kristy). The film taps in to the all human fear of sex and its psychological connections with death, and it does so primarily through visual and storytelling means and in quite a disturbing way. Obviously this makes “Hellraiser” a very controversial horror film that does not hold back its punches.

The only real flaw for me is that it takes itself a bit too seriously. This seriousness even makes it quite laughable at points when combined with the sloppy filmmaking that I mentioned. But then again the film itself also feels like a response to the other franchise horror films of the 80’s like the “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” series, which were becoming very tongue in cheek kill-fests. Anyway what matters is that “Hellraiser” is an intriguing and tense film with some great visual effects and make-up work, but it’s shocking and sexually subversive nature is what makes it so effective and quite unforgettable. Even though many will (and already do) hate it for the exact same reasons.


Andrew Robinson - Larry
Claire Higgins - Julia
Ashley Laurence - Kristy
Sean Chapman - Frank
Doug Bradley - Lead Cenobite

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