Retro Review: Hellraiser (1987)

I had never read the book ‘Hellbound Heart’ by Clive Barker, but caught the buzz around this British horror film that he wrote and directed, based on his story. Reading the book first would certainly have given me a better idea of what I was about to see unfolding on screen, but the startling visuals and effects made knowing the plot secondary to experiencing this unusual slice of horror.

(This review is about the original film. I have not watched the many sequels that followed.)

There is a puzzle box that unleashes terror. Strange creatures from another place, and eye-popping body-horror that has stayed with me ever since. Flashbacks set the mood, and explain some of the story, but this is not a film you sit back and analyze, rather one that keeps coming at you, and hitting you in the face. One man’s (Barker’s) vision of Hell on Earth, and oustanding in its execution of that vision too.

I will give you some idea of the plot, but believe me when I say that it really doesn’t matter.

Frank finds a strange puzzle box, and tries to solve its complicated design. As he does so, he is captured by the Cenobites, a chilling group of half-human disfigured creatures who live to inflict pain. Later, his own brother saves him, when he also finds and tries to solve the puzzle box. But in saving him, he is also doomed to the Cenobites. Frank returns stripped of his flesh, and uses his loyal girlfriend to lure victims to the house, so he can use their skin to regenerate his body. But the Cenobites are not to be trusted, and come back after Frank, and his family too.

It doesn’t sound much, I agree. But it is much more than it sounds. Characters like the Cenobite leader, Pinhead, his face and head pierced by countless needles, and the exposed body of Frank, devoid of any skin covering. Such images will stay with you for a very long time. And Pinhead left us with one of the best lines in any horror film, ever.

“We have eternity to know your flesh”.

30 thoughts on “Retro Review: Hellraiser (1987)

  1. I remember watching this, it was certainly graphic, but like most in the horror category it did little for me. You know they usual, they never turn the lights on, they always go into empty house with a stick for protection, can never undo the chain latch on the door when trying to escape πŸ™‚ Once Hammer went out of business I moved onto Sci-fi πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pete, i don’t recall whether I watched this at the movie theater or on videocassette shortly after its release, but I remember that I barely survived it. At the time, it was very powerful, and overwhelmed me with its horror. In 2005, I made the mistake of purchasing “Hostel” on DVD. I like horror in general, but not torture porn (I make an exception for torture-porn-light “Turistas” because of the underwater scenes and exotic locale, even though it’s not a particularly good film). Anyway, I never watched “Hellraiser” again, and haven’t seen any of the sequels. I suppose it would be interesting to gauge my reaction these many years later. The trailer is inviting…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it is anyone’s taste, Theo. But to be honest, it did leave me reeling back then. Something of an experience, rather than a film viewing. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

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