Clive Barker directs Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins and Ashley Laurence in this demonic horror where a puzzle box opens a gateway to hell and the cenobites who guard / persecute its victims.
One of my favourite horrors. The practical FX especially the make-up are unnerving and fantastic. The cenobites are truly fearsome creations that sear themselves into your nightmares with only a garnish of actual screentime here. It wouldn’t be until the third film that they take centre stage.
Yet all of Barker’s creation is enthused with convincing expansive mythology. The seductively ornate design of the lament configuration with its gilt edged, torturous shapes and animated lightning by-product. The keepers of the key who orbit the story… the curious oriental antique dealer waiting to pass hell on to the next fated owner, the bug eating harbinger tramp who stalks our heroine and the monster within the walls between our worlds. A whole universe of terror is hinted at on a limited budget but a limitless macabre imagination. That Clive Barker is some boy.
Now there are problems with Barker’s debut. Occasionally the cheapness takes you out of the otherwise impressive body horror and oppressive atmosphere. A post-production decision to dub a few extras with thick American accents to suggest this taking place in New York rather than North London fudges the gothic effectiveness of the location work. Back street suburban London works well for this tale of murderous stepmothers and rapey undead uncles.
The Snow White and Evil Queen dynamic between Laurence and Higgins labours particularly well at making this videoshop shocker feel like it is of wider import. You can read allegories of abuse and AIDS and incest and BDSM into the runny spills of blood and exposed carrion. The demonic curse of eternal damnation is passed down between generations of a family and spread to random men via one-off sexual encounters. Hellraiser is one of the few Eighties horrors where it doesn’t feel pretentious to add deeper meanings to the violence and carnage. We are confident Barker is toying with fears ancient and contemporary.
“What’s your pleasure, sir?”
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