Film Review: The ‘Hellraiser’ Film Series, Part I (1987-1996)

One of the greatest horror franchises in history is the Hellraiser series. Coming from the awesome mind of Clive Barker, this series offered up a mixture of terrifying tales and horrific visuals. It also brought a level of dark fantasy along with it, which became the norm with Barker’s work.

These films go beyond the standard slasher formula that was popular at the time and gave movie-going audiences something fresh and unique. When I was a kid, I was terrified of these films. There was Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers and all the other horror icons of that era… and then there was Pinhead. Pinhead was something more evil and darker than anything else I had experienced at the time. Years before even watching these films, his image on the video store shelf was enough to keep me from popping one of these films into my VCR.

Since there are so many Hellraiser films, nine to be exact, I am going to review the first four here. I will follow up in the near future with the rest of the films.

Hellraiser (1987):

Release Date: September 10th, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: Clive Barker
Written by: Clive Barker
Based on: The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley

Film Futures, Entertainment Film Distributors, New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We have such sights to show you!” – Lead Cenobite (Pinhead)

The first film in the series is considered the best. Where I stand, it is my second favorite. The highpoint of this film, is that Clive Barker actually directs it and it is based off of his novella, The Hellbound Heart.

This film introduces us to the complex world and characters within this franchise, most notably Pinhead and the other Cenobites, as well as Kirsty Cotton, who is involved in four of the films. It also introduces us to a gritty and graphic visual style that was original at the time.

Visually, the colors, tones and style were hijacked by several industrial and metal artists for their music videos for years following this film. It had a style all its own that went on to transcend the film.

As a story, the plot is solid and one of the most original horror/fantasy tales I’ve ever experienced. Clive Barker is on a level all his own in what he creates. His mind is unique and never seems to disappoint in regards to giving his audience something original and provocative. The word “haunting” is used a lot in reference to dark and dreary things, this film is the epitome of the word, as it attacks all the senses in ways one cannot be prepared for before seeing this movie.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988):

Release Date: December 23rd, 1988
Directed by: Tony Randel
Written by: Clive Barker, Peter Atkins
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, Imogen Boorman, Doug Bradley

Film Futures, Troopstar, New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Your suffering will be legendary, even in hell!” – Pinhead

Hellbound is a perfect sequel. It starred many of the same actors from the first film and was worked on by the same crew. The only main difference was that Clive Barker stepped down as director and that spot was filled by Tony Randel, who was an instrumental part in making the first film.

This is my favorite in the series. The style, tone and themes of the film are an expansion of what we were given in the first installment.

Hellbound takes things to a whole new level and starts to open the doors of the Hellraiser universe much more than its predecessor. We are given insight into the origin of Pinhead and the Cenobites. The mythos is also expanded and explained to a larger degree.

The film’s main protagonist is frightening as hell and adds somewhat of a contrast to the personality of Pinhead. He is a much eviler character with more sinister and selfish motivations, where Pinhead is more of an automaton being summoned by characters throughout the films.

The expansion of the mythos, the bigger villain and the fact that this stayed true to the essence of the original picture, is why Hellbound is my favorite. I also feel that it has the best rewatchability factor compared to all the other films in the series.

Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth (1992):

Release Date: May 1992 (Milan)
Directed by: Anthony Hickox
Written by: Peter Atkins, Tony Randel
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Randy Miller
Cast: Terry Farrell, Paula Marshall, Kevin Bernhardt, Peter Boynton, Doug Bradley

Dimension Films, Fifth Avenue Entertainment, Trans Atlantic Entertainment, Miramax Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“There is no good, Monroe. There is no evil. There is only flesh.” – Pinhead

This is the start of the decline of the series.

Hell On Earth was not as good as the first two but it wasn’t an awful sequel. It continued to expand on the Hellraiser mythos and the complexities of Pinhead’s character.

Doug Bradley as Pinhead was the highlight of this film and he got to act a little more and experiment with the character, as this was the first film to really make him the star of the series. He got more screen time here than probably the first two films combined and it made this film enjoyable, despite its flaws.

While Kirtsy shows up in a cameo part, this was the first film without her as a protagonist. Actress Terry Farrell did good stepping into the role of hero. She was a strong character and was believable in the part, as she fought off the hordes of hell in order to bring a little balance to the universe.

The character of Terri was cute as hell but ultimately, her fate sucked. Between her and her scumbag boyfriend’s bickering and turn to evil, I kind of saw a very likable character too easily transformed into a despised character and it just didn’t seem to work well.

The biggest complaint about this installment in the series, is that the new Cenobites were awful. One had a television camera for an eye, another threw CDs like Chinese stars, it was gimmicky and atrocious. In fact, they looked like a couple fanboys doing some Borg cosplay at a Star Trek convention.

While this was a step down from the previous films, this one is still enjoyable.

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996):

Release Date: March 8th, 1996
Directed by: Kevin Yagher (as Alan Smithee), Joe Chapelle (uncredited)
Written by: Peter Atkins
Based on: characters by Clive Barker
Music by: Daniel Licht
Cast: Bruce Ramsay, Valentina Vargas, Adam Scott, Doug Bradley

Dimension Films, Miramax Films, 85 Minutes

Review:

“Do I look like someone who cares what God thinks?” – Pinhead

Now we have reached the infamous fourth film in the series, Bloodline. I say “infamous” because the consensus is that this film was total shit and it was responsible for all the other sequels not getting theatrical releases. Well okay, it wasn’t a great movie. Although, it still had some good shit in it.

Granted, this film starts off in space and as most of us know, whenever a horror franchise goes to space, it is the end of the franchise. Friday the 13th tried it and failed, Leprechaun tried it and failed and Critters tried it and failed. There are probably others too but you get the picture. Unlike the films I just mentioned though, Hellraiser: Bloodline didn’t turn to complete shit when they decided to go the space route. I guess some of that can be attributed to the fact that this story jumped around in time.

In fact, due to following different generations in time throughout this film, Bloodline felt more like an anthology movie. It also expanded the mythos once again and gave us an interesting origin for the puzzle box a.k.a. the Lament Configuration.

Doug Bradley was fantastic again and at this point, four films in, he has reached the horror icon level only reserved for characters like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers.

An added bonus, is that the Cenobites are back to being in awesome form and not looking like phaser fodder from the set of Star Trek: Voyager.

And that’s it for the first four films in the series, I will soon follow up with part two of this review, covering films five through eight… and maybe the recent remake, if I can stomach sitting through its weak 75 minutes.

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