Feb 12, 2014


Undoubtedly, seeing Hellraiser (1987) aka Clive Barker’s Hellraiser aka Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave directed by British queer horror novelist turned auteur Clive Barker (Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions), which I first saw during elementary school, was a life changing experience as it demonstrated to me that horror films could not only be artful, spiritual, and hermetic, but also that some wanton women are willing to commit the most ungodly of evils just to get laid, including feeding male-prey to a sexually sadistic flesh-eating corpse. Shot on a budget of a mere $1,000,000 and earning $2,000,000, Hellraiser announced to the world that Barker was not a mere passive novelist who hides in his lair and masturbates to works by the Marquis de Sade, but an aesthetically aberrant auteur who was not afraid to cinematically produce his fetishism for sadomasochism, phantasmagoric surrealism, and arthouse cinema for mass consumption. Fed up with the fact that British hack George Pavolou destroyed his literary vision with goofy b-movies like Underworld (1985) aka Transmutations and Rawhead Rex (1986), Clive Barker—who previously dabbled with directing the quasi-homoerotic esoteric arthouse shorts Salome (1973) and The Forbidden (1978)—decided that he would be faithful to his own novella The Hellbound Heart (1986) and cinematically adapt it himself, thus resulting in Hellraiser; the hermetic homo horror answer to the films of Derek Jarman. In fact, the British experimental industrial group Coil, which previously composed the score from Jarman’s The Angelic Conversation (1985) and later the filmmaker’s swansong Blue (1993), also created a soundtrack for Hellraiser, but the group had to withdraw their music (which Barker described as “bowel churning” and which was ultimately released in isolation in 1987 as the album The Unreleased Themes for Hellraiser) after some higher-ups decided it was commercially unfitting, thus a more ‘traditional’ horror score by hack American composer Christopher Young (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, Hellbound: Hellraiser II) was added to the film. Indeed, I almost hate to admit it, but what makes Hellraiser as successful as it is, is its seemingly aesthetically unruly combination of ominously oneiric and fiercely foreboding aestheticism with cheap classic horror conventions that trick the most Hollywood lobotomized of philistine filmgoers to devour actual celluloid art. Like The Orphic Trilogy directed by Jean Cocteau (who Barker has cited as a major influence) as reinterpreted by the sodomite serial killer(s) from William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) yet set in an ostensibly heterosexual pandemonium inhabited by lethally lecherous femme fatales and debauched sexual psychopaths, Hellraiser is nothing short of one of the finest and most important celluloid nightmares ever to reach the mainstream and a work that is only all the more relevant today with BDSM and so-called ‘body modification’ (as Barker has noted, the appearance of the Cenobites and the sets were influenced by gay S&M magazines that members of Coil lent to him) having become all the more trendy since the film’s initial release over 25 years ago. 

 Beginning in Morocco—a historical hotspot for depraved Europeans in exile—a degenerate white man named Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) is asked by a junk-peddling Chinaman, “What’s your pleasure, sir?” in what is one of the mostly unintentionally humorous scenes of Hellraiser. Ultimately, fucked Frank buys the seemingly ancient ‘puzzle box’ (aka ‘Lemarchand's box,’ with the specific box Frank buys being the ‘Lament Configuration’ box) and needless to say, he solves the puzzle, thus resulting in his entire body being ripped into shreds by chains with hooks and the room he was occupying turning into a sort of sodomite serial killer butcher shop from hell. Flash forward to an undisclosed period of time not long after, Frank’s cuckold brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into the Cotton family home with his lecherous second wife Julia (Clare Higgins), who had an affair with Frank right before she got married to her more respectable yet less than sexually virile husband. Since Frank’s teenage daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) thinks her stepmother Julia is a two-faced bitch, she decides to live elsewhere somewhere near by. With ancient Asian sex statues and pornography adorning the Cotton home, it is quite apparent that Frank recently squatted there, but Larry believes his brother has fled the authorities and will not be back anytime soon. Unbeknownst to the Cottons, the butchered remnants of Frank’s corpse lie under the floorboards of the attic and when Larry cuts his hand and a drip of blood seeps into the floor, the body of the dismembered pervert is partly rejuvenated. Ultimately, Julia finds zombie-like Frank crawling around in the attic like a misbegotten, aborted fetus come back to life and since she is still in lust with him and his sexual thrust, she agrees to lure men back to the Cotton abode and kill them, so he can devour their flesh and blood so as to make his corpsy body whole again and the two sociopathic killers can rekindle their unsavory sadomasochistic romance. Frank confesses that his interest in the puzzle box came after he had experienced every sick and twisted sexual experience he could think of and heard the box offered a whole new ballgame regarding the paradox that is the connection between pain and pleasure. Of course, after solving the puzzle, Frank was introduced to the ‘Cenobites,’ grotesque and ritualistically mutilated extra-dimensional beings who described themselves as, “explorers in the further regions of experience…demons to some, angels to others.” Of course, Frank was no match for the Cenobites’ otherworldly orgasmic powers and was ripped to shreds like a wet noodle. 

 Ultimately, Julia becomes a Lady Macbeth-like femme fatale who becomes more beauteous and beguiling the more she kills. Meanwhile, Kirsty becomes suspicious of Julia after seeing her bring home strange men to the Cotton home and eventually walks in on Frank feeding off a corpse after following her stepmother to the attic. Naturally, Frank attacks Kirsty but she escapes with the puzzle box and collapses shortly afterward. Awakening in a hospital bed, Kirsty, like her unhinged uncle, solves the puzzle box, which summons the Cenobites. Although the Cenobites intend to give her a ‘good time’ in hedonistic Hades, Kirsty contests their power and explains to the lead Cenobite ‘Pinhead’ aka ‘Priest’ (Doug Bradley) that one of their initiates/victims, Frank, managed to escape. In exchange for her life, Kirsty agrees to lead the Cenobites to Frank. Meanwhile, Frank has taken over his brother Larry’s body and when Kirsty comes to the Cotton home, Frank-as-Larry claims to his 'daughter' that she that has nothing to worry about as he has ostensibly killed her deranged Uncle (the flayed body of her father is used as evidence of ‘Frank’s corpse’). Not long after, the Cenobites show up and Kirsty attempts to run out of the house but is stopped by Frank, who reveals his true identity and attempts to engage in carnal knowledge with his niece. After Kirsty rejects his sexual charm, Frank decides to use his niece’s body to fully rejuvenate himself but accidentally stabs his lover Julia instead and remorselessly suckles on her vital fluids, thus bringing his health back to equilibrium. While Kirsty eventually delivers Frank to the Cenobites as she promised and his body is ripped to shreds, the demons of debauchery renege on their deal and attempt to take her to pain-and-pleasure pandemonium. Kirsty manages to reverse the position of the pieces of the puzzle box and the Cenobites begin to disappear as a result, with her cipher-like boyfriend randomly showing up to finish the job, but ultimately the Cotton house is left in flames. In the end, Kirsty throws the puzzle box in the fire, but a Jesus-like bum comes by and retrieves the object from the flames, ultimately transforming into a winged serpent and flying away. In the end, the film comes full circle and concludes just as curiously as it began with the Chinese peddler asking someone, “What’s your pleasure, sir?,” thus leaving Hellraiser open for countless pointless sequels. 

 Admittedly, while I found the sequel Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) somewhat marginally entertaining, I could not stomach any of the handful of other Hellraiser sequels that I attempted to view. In the end, it is quite ironic that Clive Barker—a man who once stated regarding his reason for deciding to adapt The Hellbound Heart, “12 years ago, having survived two horrendous experiences as a screenwriter, I decided to take the jump into directing something myself”—would give birth to an exceedingly bastardized cinematic franchise with which he would not have any direct involvement after the third sequel (not to mention the fact that most of the sequels are director-to-dvd swill). Indeed, it is rather unfortunate that Pinhead and the Cenobites have now become horror clichés like Jason Vorhees, Leatherface, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger. Luckily, Barker revealed somewhat recently the he will be involved in writing and coordinating a Hellraiser remake, stating in a October 24, 2013 facebook post: “A few weeks ago I had a very productive meeting with Bob Weinstein of Dimension Pictures,in the course of which I pitched a remake of the first HELLRAISER film…Today I have officially been invited to write the script based upon that pitch. What can I tell you about it? Well, it will not be a film awash with CGI. I remain as passionate about the power of practical make-up effects as I was when I wrote and directed the first HELLRAISER. Of course the best make-up in the world loses force if not inhabited by a first-rate actor. I told the Dimension team that in my opinion there could never be a Pinhead without Doug Bradley, and much to my delight Bob Weinstein agreed.” Of course, Mr. Weinstein is one of the last people I would want to see producing a Hellraiser remake, but such is sorry fate of such a popular franchise. 

 In the decades that have passed since the initial release of Hellraiser, ordinary people, especially those of the Europid sort, are beginning to more and more to resemble Cenobites as if they are Pinhead's pussy little brother, which is a sign that masochism has become innate in the Occident where pleasure and pain, especially of the masochistic sort, are beginning to become one in the same. Of course, like much of Barker’s work, Hellraiser features a sodomite subtext yet nowadays the themes are totally relevant to modern debauched heterosexual America as demonstrated by the fact that so-called ‘heteronormative’ individuals nowadays suffer from sexual dysfunction, hence the rise of miscegenation, cuckoldry, cougars, and various other forms of degenerate sexuality and paraphilia. Indeed, mainstream sex-death-art that makes palatable for the mainstream what a film like Jörg Buttgereit’s Der Todesking (1989) cannot, Hellraiser is a sort of allegorical cautionary tale that warns the viewer not to give in too deeply to their perversion or face a deplorable fate like AIDS, the clap, becoming a baby-daddy, or even a slow and agonizing death. Managing to reconcile Cocteau with Burroughs and Cronenberg, and Poe with Shakespeare, Hellraiser is more artfully merited then some might assume upon a superficial glance, but that does not really matter as it is, most importantly, one of the greatest post-German expressionist horror films ever made. The fact that the iconic image of Pinhead has transcended the popularity of Hellraiser itself in mainstream pop culture only further obscures the dilettante-like genius of Barker’s ambitious first feature, but I guess that is a small price to pay for a 1980s horror film that actually matters. 

-Ty E


Unknown said...

Another fucking brilliant write-up, as always.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Pinhead: "We have such sights
to show you!!!"

JBH: "Like what ?"

Pinhead: "Heather O`Rourke
showing her bum in an
un-aired episode of
Happy Days!!!"

JBH: "Great, but first could you
kill Clive Barker for
being a faggot"

Pinhead: "With Pleasure!!!"