Do you ever come upon something that is actually kinda terrible, but for whatever reason you enjoy it anyway? Hellraiser is like that for me. A guilty pleasure; though luckily I don’t feel very guilty about it. I was only recently introduced to these movies, and I haven’t watched them all, but we’re only going to concern ourselves with the first one anyway.
I would love to be able to include this in the FFG series, but that, unfortunately, is impossible because it has to be one of the most painfully straight movie I’ve ever seen. Watch this movie and your gaydar will fall flat on the floor, despite the bondage fetishists and the nymphomaniac villain. In fact, it’s kind of odd that the never-satisfied uncle Frank would go so far as to summon the cenobites before trying men. Maybe some decent butt sex might’ve kept him from losing his skin. But now we’ll never know, and since the guy is a complete asshole, we’ll also never care.
Let me start by saying that by about ten minutes into this movie, excluding the cenobites, I wanted every character to die, and at no point was that desire changed throughout watching it. I sometimes wonder if that is the goal of everyone who writes horror scripts, because by the first half hour, ever victim character has made a complete ass of themselves and you find yourself rooting for the maniac.
The Lineup: First, we meet uncle Frank, and we don’t even know that’s his name. We just know that he bought a mysterious little fox from a guy who might’ve been a villain from Johnny Quest, and was chest-raped by hooks in the first two minutes of the movie. Flash forward to Larry and Julia, the unhappily married couple. Julia is sultry(apparently) and British; Larry is an All American doormat. They are moving into a house that belongs to Larry’s family. The house, I have to say, is awesome and, aside from Mr. Lead Cenobite, is definitely my favorite character. It’s full of creepy crawlies and religious fetishes and all of Frank’s photos of him fucking black chicks. I think that’s meant to shock us, but it’s not like any of the subtle racism in this movie is all that surprising.
Anyway, then we meet Kirsty, who I am convinced is Nancy Thompson’s older sister. Kirsty, your mom isn’t dead; she moved to Springwood, married a cop, and had another daughter who is a lot more resourceful than you. The actress who plays Kirsty is beautiful, but definitely not the smartest heroine ever, though I will give her props for wanting to take a step back from her ridiculous little codependent family.
So, lets get past the boring shit. Larry and Julia move into the house. They hire two idiots who flirt with Julia and Kirsty when she shows up. Kirsty doesn’t want to live in the house-she wants to have her own place and her own job, and Kali only knows why her father doesn’t want that to happen-because of Julia, although other than being a little creepier, its not quite clear what she dislikes about the woman. Then we find out that Julia cheated on Larry with Frank; she has some kind of creepy sex-vision in the attic that apparently causes Larry to cut his hand on the most conveniently placed nail in the history of ever. He runs upstairs, losing his shit over the sight of his own blood, and gets some on the floor, which partially resurrects his brother.
Later, they have a dinner party, and I was very disappointed when this scene didn’t become the bloodbath it should’ve been, though truth be told, I’m not really sure why I wanted them to die so badly. Maybe its my natural aversion to upper-middle-class dinner parties. Maybe there just needed to be some death. IDK. Kirsty is shown making eyes with someone completely inconsequential to the grand scheme of things, even though he manages to be featured throughout the rest of the movie. I forget whether Julia finds out about Frank before or after that scene, but either way, she’s not being very friendly at the party and decides to go to bed early. She actually kisses two other men in the room goodnight but not her husband, which I thought was great.
Skipping some characterization nonsense, Julia finds out Frank is there and starts luring people to the house for Frank to eat. The first guy seems for a second like an awkward but generally decent human being, until he gets pissed when Julia has a moment of hesitation and he thinks he might not be getting any sex. He lashes out at her, and then suddenly Julia doesn’t feel quite so hesitant, and he doesn’t make it onto my ‘Okay, maybe I’ll feel sorry for you’ list. Juxtaposed with this is Kirsty’s casual relationship with random guy, her job at the dirtiest possible pet shop, where this random bum keeps showing up and eating all the crickets, and Julia having a very weird love triangle with Frank and Larry. Lots of horniness with the guy who still doesn’t have any skin; lots of mixed signals for the guy who is actually halfway decent, if only he wasn’t such an idiot.
Eventually, Kirsty runs into Fallout-ghoulesque Frank, who may or may not have molested her when she was younger, and runs out covered in his blood, which lands her in a mental ward, where she solves the box puzzle finds her way into another dimension, gets chased back by some random monster, and is confronted by the cenobites everyone knows and loves.
I think, despite the Lead Cenobite being the Lead Cenobite, we were supposed to care about the other cenobites more than anyone actually did. The one female cenobite was actually featured first in the movie, and you can tell that a lot of thought went into her design, but ultimately she fell pretty flat. The ‘Butterball’ one looks like he might’ve been that one Nazi from Raiders of the Lost Ark who wore the same glasses and was melted. He apparently arrived in hell, ate too much, and became Lead Cenobite’s lackey. I’m not calling the Lead Cenobite ‘Pinhead’ because originally he didn’t have a name, which I think is a lot more interesting then having some blunt nickname worthy of any average serial killer. Compared to the other films, I liked the fact that the cenobites are portrayed here more as aliens or interplanar travelers than as demons from hell. This is mentioned, but you get the impression that this is the human misinterpretation of what they are.
Oh, and there’s the chattering teeth guy, but who cares?
So, Lead Cenobite confronts Kirsty and is all: “HI. WE CENOBYTES. U COME WITH US NOW,” but much more slick because he’s ominous and British. Kirsty is understandably terrified, but she tells them that they need to go get Frank, so that buys her time for whatever reason.
We don’t really get to see how Kirsty escapes the ward, but I’m just gonna assume the cenobites did it. She gets back to the house to tell her father, and Julia, who she doesn’t realize is in on it. Larry has been taken over by Frank, but Kirsty doesn‘t immediately notice. This is kind of my lead example for why I think she’s an idiot. Her actual father pretty much oozes ’nice guy’, while her uncle, even in her father’s body, is so obviously fucked up that even I wouldn’t associate with him. Frank eventually says something way too creepy to be ignored, and Kirsty does the whole ’back away in horror’ thing that is so common in these movies when everyone else watching the film already knows what’s going on, but it took the main character this long to figure it out. A tussle ensues; Julia is stabbed, but no one cares. Frank chases Kirsty around a bit, but the cenobites come and snag the hell out of him with meat hooks. Frank gets to say the most out of place line in the movie(“Jesus wept” Did he Frank? Probably not for you), and you’d think the conflict would be over.
But no. Now the cenobites want Kirsty. The action here is a mindfuck. Kirsty is running every which way, and cenobites are popping up everywhere, including the random monster from the other dimension, who was apparently just laying in wait for someone to stop by. The best part of this whole sequence is Lead Cenobite appearing to say “We have such sights to show you,” for all the world sounding like a proud little kid about to present his science project. “DON’T YOU WANT TO SEE MY SPINNING BODYPARTS PILLAR KIRSTY? I MADE IT MYSELF :D!” Then Kirsty’s random-ass boyfriend shows up, and cenobites start chasing him around too, even though he really has nothing to do with anything. Kirsty some how figures out that the box can become a laser and starts blasting cenobites back to wherever they come from, and then she and useless guy run out of the house, which is being shaken to pieces by a miniature earthquake. Later, Kirsty and whatever-his-name-is go to an abandoned lot to kill the puzzle box with fire, but that one bum I mentioned briefly before shows up, turns into a skeletal dragon, and flies away with it. We see the box back on the table of that Johnny Quest villain, and the movie ends.
So, yeah . . .
A lot of people out there who think that Freddy Krueger is a bit too silly, Michael Myers is a bit too silent, and Jason Voorhees is a bit too already-dead, like these movies because Lead Cenobite/Pinhead/Random-Aztec-God-No-One-Has-Ever-Heard-Of is much more aloof and dignified. I like that about him, too; he was apparently supposed to be evocative of Dracula, and I can see it. They like that cenobites aren’t just ghosts or average crazy fucks. They think meat hooks are scary, and so forth. Personally, though, I think the whole thing is a lot of missed marks and wasted potential. In an effort to keep the cenobites mysterious, they end up just being really random. It might have actually been a lot more unnerving for Frank to just come back from the dead, with no explanation whatsoever as to why. True, that would have turned it into something closer to the average haunting movie, but having both the already-built-upon Frank featured with the sudden near-inexplicable appearance of the cenobites makes it seem as though two stories have been spliced. Frank is freaky enough to stand on his own, and because the cenobites are not featured much in the first half of the movie, they don’t really have much to build on, and everything after Frank gets ripped apart seems tacked-on and unnecessary. Beyond that, either the acting is terrible, the writing is terrible, or the directing was terrible; it’s always hard to know which. I can’t believe most of the shit that people say in this movie; I can’t think of one instance where a whole scene didn’t seem fake.
So why, I’m sure you’re wondering, after having sat through to this point, do I still like this movie, and why did I still feel compelled to watch all of the others?
Well, Lead Cenobite is kind of awesome. I’m not going to say that the strength of his presence made up for all this other nonsense, but just when you’ve had enough of Kirsty’s not-personality and you think ‘if that box doesn’t eat her or whatever I am not sitting through the rest of this movie’ he appears out of nowhere to take over the whole scene with hit ultra-dom self. For those of you who are into BDSM, particularly on the submissive side: I dare you to tell me he isn’t your idea of the perfect dom. You will do whatever the fuck he tells you because he has one of those voices that just commands reality to obey.
Reason Number 2: I like puzzles. Seriously, I would go out and find that racist-stereotype-Johnny-Quest-Villain-guy and buy that box off him right now. I would be the idiot who is all ‘it doesn’t matter if it’s gonna kill me, Imma solve this stupid little box!’ and get my ass carted off by the cenobite gang immediately. This is the Hellraiser series equivalent of the stupid white boy who decides he’s gonna go off alone, in the middle of a creepy forest, with a flashlight while everyone knows there’s a killer just outside the window. Somehow we can pretend there is a little more dignity to it because hey, you need brainpower to solve a puzzle, right? But no, the box is gonna kill you, but I’d still be that stupid.
And, finally, it’s just kinda fun. I was sad for at least some of the characters who died in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but I do not give a shit about any of these people, so I can sit there and just be entertained. Hellraiser is there for you if you like gore porn and bad special effects. It’s there for you if you want to watch a cold, aloof psycho-bitch strut around and seduce people to their deaths. It’s there if you had a thing for the ghouls from Fallout, and it’s there for you if you want to watch Kirsty catwalk across a bridge for no conceivable reason. It’s there for you if you like creepy homeless men who can randomly turn into dragons. If you want something just a little unusual, a little messed up, a little gory, with an awesome inhuman bad guy and you don’t have to think too hard, Hellraiser is there for you, man.
And in case you were wondering, Clive Barker himself did not play the skeleton-dragon-bum. I just kinda like to pretend he did.