Out of all horror movies that have been released over the years, I’m still a sucker for anything ‘80s. 1987 specifically was a great year; not only was it the year I was born, but it was also the year that a ton of scary flicks came out. For me, the one that stands out the most among the rest is Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987). Although I’m a Freddy Krueger fangirl, I have to admit that nothing quite compares to Hellraiser and the unique creatures found within, known as the Cenobites. The success of this twisted horror has created a 9 movie franchise, as well as numerous books and comics that center around it.
The Hellraiser sequels are all worthy of a watch, but like most sequels, they start to become a little silly and less memorable after the first three. It’s hard to live up to the original because that was where all the magic began! In the first Hellraiser, we were introduced to a unique story, awesome leading characters, bizarrely lovable villains, and a mysterious cube that will forever have people asking, “What’s in the box?”
Directed and written by Clive Barker, Hellraiser is based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. The movie had an estimated budget of $1 million dollars but made over $14 million at the box office when released on September 10, 1987. It stars Sean Chapman, Claire Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Andrew Robinson and, of course, Doug Bradley, all who delivered brilliant performances.
Hellraiser begins when Frank (Chapman), a sexual deviant, purchases a puzzle box while abroad in the hopes of expanding his sense of sexual pleasure above any earthly means. He sneaks back into his childhood home and, after tinkering around, figures out how to unlock the box. He opens a portal to hell, unleashing horrible creatures called Cenobites who pull him into another dimension and rip him to shreds with chains. After a while, Frank’s brother Larry (Robinson), moves into the same home with his wife Julia (Higgins) while his daughter, Kristy (Laurence), moves into her own place. Although they can tell Frank has been at the house, he is nowhere to be found, but the place brings up fond memories for Julia as she had a steamy affair with Frank shortly after marrying Larry. But not all hope is lost for Julia. After Larry cuts his hand, the blood seeps through the cracks of the wooden floor, resurrecting Frank. He must have more blood to become fully human again… and she will do anything to make that happen.
It’s hard to pick what I love most about this movie, but let’s start with the unique storyline. In most horror movies, victims are basically innocent. Freddy, Jason, and some of the other killers start out with a vendetta but end up just killing people for shits and giggles. The Cenobites aren’t targeting anyone specific; they only go after people who choose to explore the box and figure out the mystery behind it. Some might not be fully aware of the consequences of the box; however, they make themselves willing participants by choosing to open the cube, an act that always opens the portal to hell. The box is based on the urban legend The Devil’s Toy Box which involves a six-sided cube with inward-facing mirrors. It was said that the box could deliver a surreal experiences and warp minds. Along with the box, each kill is unique. The victims’ suffering is based on their deepest desires and their reason for opening the portal, leading to the question: What’s your pleasure?
Speaking of the Cenobites, they are one of the most amazing things about Hellraiser and, in general, are some of the most fun and unique villains to ever set foot on the movie screen. Each Cenobite has a specific look and a unique back history that you learn about throughout the franchise. Pinhead (Doug Bradley) is the lead cenobite with pins pressed into his face, Chatterer Cenobite (Nicholas Vince) has a huge mouth with chattering teeth, Butterball Cenobite (Simon Bamford) is round with a gash in his stomach, and the Female Cenobite (Grace Kirby) has a similar look to Pinhead, but without the pins and with a gash in her throat.
Originally, Pinhead’s character was to be named “Priest” and the Female Cenobite character was to be named “Deepthroat,” but due to one reason or another, neither names are discussed in the franchise. Although their appearances vary depending on the medium they’re in, they each have been designed and mutated with a specific look after opening the box themselves when they were still human. They are extreme sadomasochists with specific abilities and can only reach people on Earth through the puzzle box. My favorite beyond Pinhead is Chatterer. He can’t talk, he’s quite comical and stands out among the rest.
Although I love the Cenobites, they weren’t the biggest villains in the movie. I think they’re the coolest part about Hellraiser; however, two other characters are far more evil than them in my opinion – Frank and Julia. Julia not only cheated on her husband with his brother, but she also lures men into her home so that Frank can use their blood to become human again in the hope that they can be together. She’ll literally do anything to be with him again. Frank doesn’t care about anyone but himself and still hasn’t learned his lesson, even after experiencing his horrendous torture. Once he becomes mostly human again and no longer needs anyone’s help, his true colors show once more. The only decent people in this movie are Larry and Kristy, two innocent people trapped in a house of pleasure and pain.
Over the years, critics have praised Hellraiser as one of the greatest horror stories ever made while others think it’s ridiculous. Not everyone appreciates it. It’s not your typical mainstream horror movie, but I, for one, love everything about it. The movie allows for originality, creativity, and for viewers to broaden their imagination. It’s darker than most horror movies and exploits how ridiculously selfish humans can be. It makes you wonder, would you open the puzzle box if it was in your possession? Could you resist the temptation?