Monday, October 17, 2011

30 Days of Fright - 16: Hellraiser

Reviewing a film is all about perspective; one man’s pleasure is another man’s poison and all that, and horror can be really divisive. I’m aware of this and I hope I understand it too. When watching a film I try to go in with as neutral a point of view as possible, unless of course the film features people who are on my shit list, like Michael Rooker or Juliette Lewis, but even then their films might not be total disasters. Knowing that an opinion can be skewed before you’ve even watched a film is an important consideration and one that I was hyper aware of when it came time to watch last night’s film, as I was really looking forward to it.

Hellraiser (1987) kicks off with something akin to a scene from Gremlins where an idiot buys something mysterious from an oriental gentleman that gets him into a shed load of trouble. In this case the purchase is of a small puzzle box (as opposed to a miniature monkey-creature) that the man was very keen to get his hands on dropping quite a bit of cash for the little box. Getting it home, the man in question seemed to know what he was at as he setup a little ritual for playing with the box. One the puzzle has been completed a bunch of hooks shoot into the man’s skin and promptly tear him apart into itsy bitsy pieces that some strange creature in some parallel world has a bit of a play with.

Sometime later and back in the real world (well, what passes for real in the UK anyway) a man and woman, Larry and Julia are looking around the house where the ritual took place. The place apparently belongs to Larry’s family and he’s arrived back from New York with his second wife to take possession of the gaff as his brother Frank has done another of his regular disappearing acts. Looking around the place it becomes clear that the house needs some work as does Larry and Julia’s marriage. Jumping into a flashback, we see that Julia had cheated on Larry with his dear brother Frank not long after they’d gotten married, and that she's is really in love with Frank.

Larry gets down to sorting out the house while Julia mopes about and Larry’s daughter from his first marriage, Kirsty, arrives to check the place out. While moving a bed upstairs Larry cuts his hand quite badly on a nail and reveals his weakness for the sight of blood, alternating wildly between wanting to faint or throw up as he bleeds all over the floor. As Larry is taken to the hospital for stitches, the blood he dripped on the floor reacts with something that had stained the floorboards and up from the stain rises a foul creature that slowly takes shape into something almost human.

Julia discovers the creature in the spare room that reveals itself to be Frank, returned from God knows where by the drops of blood on the floor. Frank is, to put it mildly, in rough shape. He’s basically a skeleton with a little bit of flesh and gore on it that is able to see, hear, and talk and kinda shuffle around the floor. Frank demands that Julia helps him by getting more blood to complete the healing process. Julia then sets about picking up men in bars during the day (quite eagerly it must be said) to bring home for Frank to consume. As Frank returns to his old self he mentions that he escaped from some demons that had shown him all sorts of fun times on both ends of the experiences spectrum from amazing delights to terrible pain. Now Frank’s worried that the demons are after him, but they’re not the only ones concerned with what’s in the same room...

I have this wicked stabbing pain, like, all over my head!

I was really looking forward to Hellraiser. I didn’t know that much about the movie before I saw it, only that it was written by Clive Barker and featured a baddie called Pinhead (due to the large number of pins driven into his, well, head obviously). Clive Barker has such a reputation in horror circles that I was sure that Hellraiser was going to be brilliant. I was completely, entirely, utterly, fucking wrong.

Hellraiser, and I don't care who or what you are, is shite. And that's hard for me to say as some people whose work I really do like are heavily inspired by Hellraiser.

Clive Barker’s writing talents are a little dubious. Candyman was great but Hellraiser is a bullshit story about a bloke wants to experience all sorts of nice and nasty things so he pays over the odds for a little box that enables him to meet demons who fulfil his wishes, that he then “escapes” from by hiding in the spare room, and then tries to avoid contact with people while at the same time needs to kill a bunch of people in order to heal. Not exactly the horror classic I was expecting but the basis for something more than what ended up vomited onto celluloid and fucked at a screen to be watched.

The characters barely deserve to the called that as they are so one dimensional you can hardly see them. I've seen planets feature on Star Trek that only have one geographic feature (like desert or water or whatever) that are more developed and had more imagination put into them then the people who appear in Hellraiser. Larry is a wimp; Julia is a bitch (and a bit of a whore); Frank is a nutter; and Kirsty is the innocent teen destined to win through in the end. These simple character designs lead to all sorts of plot problems. Frank is radically different to Larry which is fair enough, and Julia is such a bitch that it's easy to see how she'd be attracted to him, but then how the hell did she hook up with Larry in the first place never mind marry and then move country with him?

Whatever about the writing there’s no doubt about Clive Barker’s directing talents as displayed in Hellraiser, he doesn’t have any, the direction was awful! The shitty direction coupled with the piss-poor characters went on to bring out the worst in the actors who feature with nearly all of them putting in substandard performances, which goes some way to explain why Pinhead gets more credit than his screen time would suggest he deserves. Frank is really supposed to be the villain as Pinhead and his bunch of demons are hardly in the movie enough to warrant everyone banging on about them so much, though there is the inescapable fact that Pinhead is the best thing in the film by far!

Pinhead's brilliance is down to Doug Bradley, the man behind all the pins. Bradley knew Clive Barker which is how he ended up in the movie but regardless of how he got there he's absolutely rocks as Pinhead and then went on to star in a bunch of Cradle of Filth songs and their videos, often providing the narration or other spoken word bits, like the intro for the classic Her Ghost in the Fog, which features a part of quote from the film: "Oh, no tears please" (it's a waste of good suffering!)

"The Moon she hangs like a cruel portrait..." Pinhead gets all beardy

The second biggest mystery surrounding Hellraiser is where exactly is the fucking film set? It seemed to be England but there’s loads of American actors in it, which would be fine for Larry’s family, but why were so many passersby in the streets also U.S ex-pats? Also, how come Larry was American, Julia was English, but Frank (Larry’s brother) was also English. But only sometimes. Some other times he seemed to be American. Maybe it's because he was played by two different actors, one pre-gore and one all gory and horrific.I suspect that a lot of Hellraiser was cobbled together out of whatever Clive Barker managed to get his hands on, much like a dodgy Halloween costume. To be fair, what really appears to have happened is that Hellraiser is actually a British film that got Americanised during production, which has to be one of the reasons for the pieced together feel.

The biggest mystery surrounding Hellraiser is how come this piece of shit is so popular that it spawned EIGHT sequels and has a remake on the way? Was Britain, home of the Hammer Horror and so many ghost and folk tales, that hard up for a fright?

Two Thumbs Down  for Hellraiser

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