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Hellraiser (1987)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/21/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/27/2009

For everyone, layman and movie critic alike, things should be pretty simple; you either like a movie or you don't. But, if you are like me, and you've seen literally thousands of movies, sometimes you can forget. You pick up the DVD box in the store and think, "I know I've seen this. Did I like it?" I first saw Hellraiser when it opened in theaters in 1987 and I know that I've seen it at least three times since. And every time that I sit down to watch the movie, I'm convinced that I'm doing so because I like the movie. Having just watched the new Blu-ray Disc release from Anchor Bay, I now have the definitive answer.

Hellraiser opens with Frank (Sean Chapman) purchasing an unusual puzzle box. We next see Frank, encircle by candles, opening the box. Suddenly, his flesh is being ripped from his body. The scene then shifts to an indeterminate time later. Frank's brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson), and his new bride, Julia (Clare Higgins), are moving into Frank's house, which is filth. Larry had wanted his young adult daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) to live with them as well, but she has gotten her own apartment. Through flashbacks, we learn that Clare and Frank had once had a torrid affair. While moving in, Larry cuts his hand and he bleeds on the floor in one of the upstairs rooms. The blood causes Frank to be reborn...sort of -- he's only a skeleton with muscles. Clare discovers this creature, and recoils at first, but then she remember her lust for Frank. Frank convinces her to get more blood so that he can be whole again. Meanwhile, Kirsty learns of the puzzle box and the dark powers which it can release.

OK, I've made my decision -- Hellraiser is not a good movie. The film comes from Writer/Director Clive Barker, who made a splash in the 80s as the next big thing in horror fiction. I've read most of his early works, and there's no doubt that Barker is a very creative person with a vivid imagination. He always finds a way to bring something new to the genre and in fact, some of his stories are so out there, that they are hard to follow. (Or imagine where the idea came from. Have you read "In the Hills, The Cities"? What is that all about?)

So, it's entirely surprising that Hellraiser is different from other films which appeared in 1987, a time when horror was just coming out of the slasher cycle. What is surprising is how underwritten the film is. When examined closely, the story is incredibly vague and leaves too many questions unanswered. Where did the puzzle box come from? How does it work? Did Frank die? Is he a ghost? Where did he go? Why did blood bring him back to life? Who are the Cenobites? What's the crazy scorpion monster? When you walk away from the film, you realize that all you really know is that some dude bought a wacky Rubik's Cube which made some pissed-off leather fetishist whip him with chains. And then a frigid woman made him come back to life by giving him blood. What? The last ten minutes of the movie looks as if Barker simply filmed someone going through a carnival funhouse, as various monsters pop out of doorways.

It's interesting to note that as Barker the writer lets us down, Barker the first-time director attempts to at least make the film visually interesting. Barker, who is also an artist, designed the Cenobites, and there's no denying that they have a unique look. The shots of Frank using the puzzle box (which is known as the Lament Configuration, but those words aren't said in this movie) for the first time and the shot where blood flows into the IV are well-staged. The shots of light coming through walls may seem cliched now, but they were cool at the time. However, even these attempts to breathe life into the movie are tripped up by Hellraiser's low budget and the "special effects" during the finale look very cheap and dated by today's standards. In the film, Pinhead (Doug Bradley) (who isn't called that in the movie) says, "We have such sights to show you." OK, as long as those sights are another movie.

Hellraiser raises very little hell on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is somewhat sharp, but it's also notably grainy. There are no defects from the source material. The colors are slightly washed out, and the picture is somewhat dark at times. The levels of detail and depth are OK, but certainly not what we've come to expect from Blu-ray. The Disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, showing nice detail and separation. The surround sound effects really come to life during the finale, and we feel as if the chains are flying all around us. The subwoofer effects are somewhat modest, but they do enhance the monster chase scene.

The Hellraiser Blu-ray Disc offers a handful of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Cliver Barker, actress Ashley Laurence, and screenwriter Peter Atkins. The viewer can choose to watch the film with "Fast Film Facts" which arrives pop-up video style on-screen to let us know about the making of the movie. "Mr. Cotton, I Presume? - An Interview with Star Andrew Robinson" (16 minutes) offers the actor a chance to talk about his work on the film and his view on his character (and how he played two roles in a sense). "Actress from Hell - An Interview with star Ashley Laurence" (12 minutes) is a fun talk as she has a good sense of humor about her role and the film. We get an overview of the music from the film in "Hellcomposer - An Interview with composer Christopher Young" (18 minutes). "Hellraiser: Ressurection" (24 minutes) is a retrospective look at the making of the film with interviews with Barker, Laurence, Douglas Bradley, Young, Steve Johnson (FX! ! makeup), Bob Keen (FX makeup), and others. They discuss the story, the making of the film and the look of the movie. We get an interview with Pinhead himself in "Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser" (13 minutes). The Disc contains three TRAILERS and four T.V. SPOTS. The extras are rounded out by four STILL GALLERIES.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long