What’s interesting about Hellraiser to me is that while it’s known these days for spawning a rather large franchise and featuring an ionic horror star in Pinhead, what the character means today isn’t in the same vein of the film that started it all. Think of another horror franchise like Friday the 13rth for instance.
Sure, he’s on the poster and plays a central role in the story. Still, he or his sadomasochistic companions don’t nearly dominate the film as one might think despite the legacy that follows Hellraiser. That could be framed as a negative aspect of the film. Still, I don’t mind this at all, mainly because watching Hellraiser made it clear that Clive Baker and his wonderfully twisted vision ensure that Hellraiser succeeds as a movie rather than a 90-minute exercise in a gore splatter fest.
The premise centers a father and his family moving into his brother’s house and, during an accident, drips his blood through the floor, reanimating his brother seemingly from the dead. When his wife discovers him, we learn that there were secretly lovers, and to make him look normal again, he finds several men to sacrifice, all to have a good time.
Aside from just how original this concept is, it also allows the characters to be put into some spicy situations that are physiologically and visually unsettling. What is pleasantly surprising about Hellraiser is that the central cast of characters is well-defined and given clear motivations as to why they carry out such heinous acts. Even though I would call myself a bit of a gore-hound, it would be easy for the film to have nothing but people getting ripped in half, but Baker wants the gore to feel earned in the story Hellraiser is all the better for it.
Speaking of that gore, though, it is glorious. You can never go wrong when you see the special effects artist credited during the opening. It’s almost as saying, “Yeah, we know how good this is, and we’re going to proudly display it for everyone to see even before things get going.” And for a good reason, because they still look fantastic, and while some of the film’s creations are shown a bit too much now and then, most of the practical effects work is kept in shadows with a brief use of lighting to create a disturbing image onscreen.
It is a total contrast to the bad digital effects that, while not used much, is nowhere near the same level of craft as the other film’s technical aspects. What is so impressive about Hellraiser is that the movie looks and feels above its one million dollar budget despite those particular effects. The only big clue is that most of the narrative takes place in one location, which works when considering the setup. With some cool synthesizer effects, Christopher Young’s score displays his ever-consistent understanding of the horror genre and works perfectly with Baker’s vision.
Though if that is anything else that could make Hellraiser’s age evident, much of the film’s performances and screenplay do scream 80’s horror. While not flat-out bad, there’s a very hammy approach that rears its head at times that is very much reminiscent of other films in that era. But for some viewers, they could see these qualities as part of the charm, so it’s not all bad in the end.
You may come for the gore, but Hellraiser is still very much an enjoyable low-budget affair through Baker’s focus on crafting understandable characters and a story that takes some fun turns along the way. Though watching people get tore apart is still pretty sweet too.