31 Horror Films (2014) #16 Hellraiser 1987 Dir. Clive Barker

Hellraiser 1987 Dir. Clive Barker

The rise of artist Clive Barker should give hope to a all of us who toil in the creative arts. As a young man, he painted, was a playwright, actor and director. While he was touring with his theatre company, his agent peddled around a few of his short stories. These stories eventually became the first “Books of Blood” volume, and while not and “overnight” success, Barker became the freshest voice in horror, weaving stories of other dimensions, eroticism, torture, magic and dark fantasy. It was these sensibilities that Barker brought to bare in his first directorial feature, Hellraiser.

Hellraiser begins with a man, Frank Cotton, purchasing a puzzle box in South America and upon discovering the box's solution, is torn a part by demonic chains. Later, Frank’s body is inadvertently resurrected, after his brother Larry cuts his hand on a nail while moving into their childhood home. What follows is a disturbing tale about love, obsession and trans-dimensional debts that need to be paid.

This film, like all of Barker’s work, is difficult to describe. Hellraiser is the first film in a series to introduce the infamous puzzle box known as “The Lament Configuration” as well as the demonic cenobites led by horror icon,“Pinhead”. The future films built an elaborate backstory for the box and the tormented people who would come into contact with it. However, Hellraiser only hints at the larger implications of this world, choosing to tell a more intimate tale. There are other Barker films that are better, Candy Man and Night Breed are two such examples. I also have to say that I enjoy the adaptation of Barker’s short story “The Midnight Meat Train” the best of all of his material on screen. However, Hellraiser is a classic for its iconic imagery, but also for taking risks on a strange story. We don’t see horror take many risks these days, and for that alone, I applaud Mr. Barker and his work.

Hellraiser will not be for everyone, but for those who solve this filmic puzzle box, there are treasures to be found.