I have sometimes wondered why the Hellraiser franchise has never reached the high acclaim that others have - A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Saw - and then I re-watch the first one and it becomes clear.
Hellraiser is not a pleasant experience. It even makes the more recent 'torture porn' genre of Hostel and Saw seem tame in comparison. There are excess amounts of gore, violent demises and an overall theme that indicates extreme (understatement) sadomasochistic sex. The Cenobites, of which 'Pinhead' has become the iconic symbol of this franchise (and for the record, creator Clive Barker hates that name and originally named him 'Priest' so I will refer to him as that as well) are just downright nasty. Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers - although unstoppable killing machines - are all human based, and there are even moments in those franchises where their victims momentarily get the upper hand and strike back either through physical force or with weapons like guns and knives. Not so with the Cenobites. You would definitely not walk up to one of these creatures and punch them, and forget about knives or bullets - useless! These are demons that as one of them mentions, hell won't even take them. That's bad news.
|Getting ready for that scene where all the horror icons brawl - like the newscasters in 'Anchorman'|
|You want me to solve your Rubik's Cube from hell? FINE!|
|Come on already...I used my safeword!|
|When I was a kid my Mom used me as a pincushion because she couldn't afford a real one.|
|You should see what I do when I solve the Sunday New York Times crossword.|
|Seriously, how many monsters are there in this picture?|
Frank finally describes what happened to him. He used the puzzle box to open a gateway to another realm, but instead was taken to a place where he was subjected to intense eternal suffering of excruciating pain mixed with pleasure. We see images of a nasty wooden pole covered in meat hooks and flesh, and see Frank, covered in blood and hanging upside down screaming out in pain. It makes the puzzle box one 'Rubik's Cube' you don't want to solve.
Robinson has a daughter by a previous marriage played by Ashley Laurence who doesn't think too highly of Higgins. She stumbles upon 'monster' Frank and to make a getaway, grabs the puzzle box which freaks Frank out. Passing out in the street she comes-to in a hospital - and a weird one at that as a nurse sits nearby watching a TV that features flowers blooming against black - and accidentally opens the box. The Cenobites show up and plan to take Laurence with them, but she talks herself out of it by offering up Frank instead. The Cenobites agree, but if she doesn't come up with the goods, well, she gets a one-way ticket to a fate worse than hell.
|Mom, Dad...meet my Prom date.|
|Humpty Dumpty had a great fall and was ripped to shreds.|
The makeup effects on Frank as he slowly becomes more 'human' are extraordinary and there is no skimping on blood or gore. Also the scene where he is 'resurrected' is one of the best effects sequences in a horror film I have ever seen. As he has conversations with Higgins, goo drips from his chin and you have to wonder how Higgins' character isn't vomiting constantly around this thing. Even when he gets flesh later, there's still blood and goo, and a sequence where he has a conversation with someone (which I won't spoil) you wonder how she doesn't notice that his head has traces of caked blood on it. There are closeups of meat-hooks ripping apart flesh, a dirty, homeless man eats crickets while a kid pounds on the glass cage of large boa constrictor and the Cenobites have needles and nails sticking out of their flesh. One of them has his gums pulled apart with what appear to be metal wires as he chatters uncontrollably. Even at their worst, none of the A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th pictures ever come close to being this explicit (Saw on the other hand...).
|Maybe a white shirt wasn't the best idea...|
I will admit to fearing the sequels that I will be watching over the next couple of days because they aren't rated very highly. Although the prospect of the disaster that is number four thanks to the Alan Smithee credit does promise a prime opportunity for a truly awful movie which makes for some of the best horror viewing experiences. Regardless, this first Hellraiser film still packs a punch, 27 years after its initial release.