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Anchor Bay presents
Hellraiser (1987)

"The box. You opened it. We came."
- Pinhead (Doug Bradley)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: September 26, 2000

Stars: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence
Other Stars: Doug Bradley
Director: Clive Barker

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: R for (graphic violence and sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:33m:00s
Release Date: September 26, 2000
UPC: 013131123296
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- CB+B+ B-

DVD Review

I have never understood the fascination with '80s horror films. These so-called "classics" are usually poorly shot, poorly acted, and poorly written blood baths that do little in 90 minutes that hasn't been seen fifty times since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The only horror film I've really been able to get into was , and that was as much for its deconstruction of the horror genre as for its success as a thriller (but don't get me started there, I wrote a 12-page term paper on Scream). Suffice it to say, it takes a whole lot more to get me interested in a film than sex and blood (wait, I am a guy, right?). In was then with some trepidation that I approached my first viewing of Clive Barker's most successful film.

Frank (Sean Chapman) is bored with life, so he decides to aquire this little puzzle box that is supposed to open the door to all the pleasures of heaven and hell. Once he gets it open, he finds that all it does is release these crazy albinos who want to gash you with hooks. Needless to say, he seems less than enthused, and his soul (or something—it wasn't too clear) is trapped in the room where he opened the box. Later, he is resurrected by (what else?) the blood of his brother (Andrew Robinson), who has moved into the same house where Frank was killed. He comes back to gooey life, but the few drops of blood were not enough to restore him - he needs more! So, he enlists the help of his brother's wife (and his ex-lover). She supplies him with corpses, he supplies her with - . Well - I dunno. Anyway, eventually the puzzle box is reopened, Pinhead comes a-knockin', and dismemberment ensues. Oh, and Frank's niece Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) becomes involved somehow as well -

If you think the plot summary sounds a little disjointed, I'll tell you why. IT DIDN'T MAKE ANY SENSE! Little explanation is given to what the box does, why Frank wants it, and just who these Cenobites are supposed to be. Then there is the problem of motivation - Why in the world does Frank's ex-lover (Julia, Clare Higgens) keep killing for him? I mean, there are some flashbacks of an assumed affair between the two, but still! I don't know about you, but brief, unsatisfying sex on a dirty mattress is not enough to make me want to commit murder. And especially if the guy I'm killing for looks like a textbook diagram of the body's musculature, except with more goo. The script as a whole seems a bit underwritten, which is disappointing considering Barker has written some great horror fiction in novel form.

The problems don't stop there though. I don't know what it is, but people with no acting ability whatsoever just seem to flock to the horror film industry. Well, I guess it's that or porn, but at this point I think working retail would be a better alternative. While the acting here is not nearly as bad as that in The Nightmare on Elm Street, it is bad enough. Wooden delivery, poor inflection, unnatural emotion - If I wanted to see that, I'd go to a middle-school play! Steve (Robert Hines) is especially bad. There is a scene near the end where he and Kirsty come face to face with a demon straight from the depths of hell. His reaction? No reaction! Wait, does that even COUNT as acting?

That is not to say there isn't anything to like here. I assume it is remembered as a classic for two reasons—direction and special effects. Barker directed his own script, and he avoids many of the more annoying cliches of the horror genre. I was happy to NOT have to see a killer POV shot, I can tell you that. The film is very dark, almost reminiscent of black and white at times (except, of course, when the blood gets a-flowin'!), which adds to the creepiness of the house. I have to admit I jumped a bit the first time Frank slithered out of the corner of the room - The film is evenly paced and the action flows well, even if it doesn't make sense much of the time.

The greatest success of the film are obviously the special effects. Frank's half-alive makeup looks pretty impressive even by today's standards, and the scene where he oozes together and reconstitutes himself out of the floor is amazing (even more so when you see how they did it in the documentary—he was made of wax and melted, and the film was reversed). The makeup on the Cenobites was pretty imposing as well. Of course, Pinhead has become a horror icon to stand alongside Freddy and Jason, but the other guys are just as well designed. I was especially intrigued by the female with the hook going all the way through her face—ouch!

When I was doing a bit of background research on the film for this review, I decided to check out a few fansites. What I found were a bunch of, basically, Cenobite fansites. People say they like the film, but really I think they just like the concept of this band of tortured souls who have experienced all the pain and pleasure life has to offer - they have a sort of gore-glamour, a horror-chic. Hey, I'll admit to that. The setup for this film is great, it just isn't fleshed out well. The only things that save it from being another Friday the 13th Part 3.14156827 are the outstanding special effects and Barker's inspired direction. But hey, who am I to tell people what to like? Now don't come after me with hooks and chains again, please?

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The transfer is pretty good for a low-budget film, especially considering that it was made 13 years ago. Colors are a bit washed out and muted, but the black level is excellent (and this being a horror film, much of it is set in the shadows). I noted no edge-enhancement and only a bit of shimmer on some of the fine detail (on Larry's suit, for example). The transfer is anamorphic, and actually turned out better than the transfer of Scream 3, a film less than a year old!

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 sound on this disc offers a marked improvement over the 2.0 track on the older issue (also included here). Dialogue is clean and crisp, and the score (which is actually pretty creepy at times) utilizes the surrounds quite a bit. The most impressive "demo" would have to be during the "chains" scene in chapter 24 - those things really shoot out from all corners of the room - It actually made me jump a bit! This is an excellent example of the way to remix a soundtrack into 5.1.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Writer/Director Clive Barker, Star Ashley Laurence, and Writer Pete Atkins
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Still gallery
Extras Review: Hellraiser was released a few years ago as a bare-bones DVD. This release adds several newly produced features, and they are, honestly, a bit of a mixed bag. The still gallery is very disappointing. I was hoping for storyboards, production photos, or character designs, but what is here amounts to little more than 35 shots taken directly out of the film. The documentary fares a bit better, but it is still one of the lesser quality productions I have seen on a "Special Edition" disc. First of all, it is shot on sets that were meant, I assume, to look spooky (in keeping with the film). Instead, you get the muddy outline of Clive Barker sitting on the floor surrounded by candles and looking like he has a cramp in his leg. Most of the other interviews are done in this weird white room with Hellraiser props on the walls - cool, but the camera is at such an odd angle that all you can see is the memorabilia. The person talking is sort of off to the corner - Overall, a very shoddily produced piece, although it does include new (but mostly fluff) interviews with Barker, Laurence, and Bradley. The commentary is the saving grace. Barker and Laurence are moderated by writer Pete Atkins, and he keeps them talking at length and in depth about the making of the film, the effects, and how different shots were accomplished. It really made me appreciate the film a bit more.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

I understand that many people consider this a horror classic. Well, I have to disagree—the images are great, but the story just doesn't cut it. My theory is that Pinhead is such a cool guy (and the idea of the Cenobites is so cool) that people are able to ignore the under-developed story and bad acting and focus on the imagery - This also explains why The Nightmare on Elm Street films have endured—Freddy is one cool dude. If someone would just create a horror film with good acting and a cool looking killer, I'd be happy. Oh wait, they did - it was Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson, and Scream. And the hate mail comes pouring in! :-)


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