Last night, I watched 1987’s classic horror film, Hellraiser. I bet you couldn’t guess that from the title. I don’t think my partner liked it, but she has never had a taste for old movies. There are a few interesting things to talk about, mainly behind the scenes stuff, so I figured it would serve as a good topic for today’s piece.
Hellraiser was based on the novella, The Hellbound Heart by horror author extraordinaire, Clive Barker. I never knew what a novella was, so I finally decided to google it. For those of you like me who didn’t know, a novella is basically a short story. Usually about 100 pages. The Hellbound Heart was written in 1986 and was about 56 pages in length. I have not read it, but I will once I finish my current book. It’s interesting how a 56 page short story ended up making a film franchise that is 10 movies long.
Not only did Barker write the story for Hellraiser, he also directed it. He had had his stories adapted to the big screen before (Underworld in 1985 and Rawhead Rex in 1986), but he was always displeased with the result. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. The working title for the film was “Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave” and I can’t pretend I’m not disappointed it wasn’t released under that name. Barker wanted to go with the title “Hellbound”, but producer, Chris Figg suggested “Hellraiser”. I’m not sure why he suggested that name, but personally, it’s my least favourite of the three.
Whilst we are on the topic of the producer, we may as well talk about the production and filming a little bit. Barker had already stated he wanted to direct it and Christopher Figg agreed to be his producer. The film was funded by New World Pictures for $900,000. Barker had almost no knowledge on how to make a movie, but production went mostly smooth, thanks in large part to the kindness of the crew. There were a few minor setbacks throughout, but nothing major. The film remained on budget and was shot over 10 weeks (the original plan was 7) in Britain.
The score was done by Christopher Young, who had worked on horror films before. Most notably in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 : Freddy’s Revenge. Barker originally wanted the London group Coil to do the score, but the editor suggested using Young instead. It worked out fairly well and the score was well received.
I think the effects were done fairly well, especially for the time. The Cenobites all looked and sounded awesome. I still can’t decide if my favourite was the one wearing shades or the one with the teeth.
There was some editing to be made afterwards, mainly due to censorship issues from the Motion Picture Association of America. Originally, it was given a “X” rating and had to make numerous cuts to get it down to an “R”. Apparently the original cut was a lot more erotic and a lot more gruesome. I hear there was even supposed to be a spanking scene that was filmed and removed from the final cut. Barker has been quoted as saying “The MPAA told me I was allowed two consecutive buttock thrusts from Frank, but three is deemed obscene”. I find that very amusing.
New World Cinema also wanted to change the film from being British. They wanted to change its setting to be somewhere in America, I think in Atlanta. This meant that they had to record over all of the voice acting to remove the British accents
Hellraiser had its first showing on the 10th of September, 1987 at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. It was released in the United States and Canada a week later, grossing over 14.5 million dollars. The rest, as you probably know, is history. The film has been generally well received throughout its lifetime and continues to sell on home video to this day, more than 30 years later.
Let’s talk about the movie itself, the story and the characters. Basically, there is this magic puzzle box and when it is solved it summons the Cenobites. Cenobites are creatures from another dimension who specialise in sadomasochism. A man named Frank purchases the box, solves it (apparently he is bored and looking for new kicks) and is ripped into pieces by the Cenophites. That’s one way to let your hair down, Frank. The puzzle box is closed and the room Frank is in returns to normal, no sign of blood or death.
Fast forward an unspecified amount of time and Frank’s brother Larry moves into the house, with his second wife Julia. When they are moving in, Larry cuts his hand open and the blood resurrects Frank. Kind of. He isn’t completely alive and needs more blood to complete the job. Julia agrees to help him. Turns out they were having an affair and she is still very much in love with him. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t have legs, or even skin. Love is love. Julia goes out and picks up random men at bars to bring them back so Frank can feed.
At a dinner with friends, presumably on their first night in the house, Julia excuses herself to go to bed early. I only include this scene, because Larry’s daughter, Kirsty is introduced to her love interest. I don’t think we are given his name, but if we are, I can’t recall it. He flips a burning cigarette in his mouth and Kirsty is way impressed. He walks Kirsty home and Kirsty is weirded out by a homeless man who is watching her.
The homeless man shows up again when she is having a standard days work at a retail job. She is dealing with a rude and unreasonable customer who wants to return a pet bird? There is an unruly child tapping on the glass who Kirsty yells at. Then the homeless man comes in and eats some bugs. Just another day at the office.
Eventually, Julia gets busted by bringing a man home by Kirsty. Kirsty follows them inside and interrupts Frank during a feed and steals the puzzle box. She flees the scene, passes out and wakes up in hospital, with perhaps the most aggressive doctor I’ve seen in a while. They lock her in the room and deny her calling her father. Kirsty solves the puzzle box and summons the Cenobites. She pleas with them not to take her and instead offers the recently escaped, Frank. The Cenobites seem completely unaware that he has escaped, which leads me to believe they need more security. The lead Cenobite (AKA Pinhead) says if she delivers Frank, he will consider not taking her. So basically, he wants 2 for the price of 1.
Kirsty has mysteriously vanished from her hospital room and returns home. She is too late though. Frank has killed her father and is wearing his skin like a suit. It’s called fashion, darling, look it up. Anyway, Frank tries to kill Kirsty but stabs Julia by mistake. He then feeds on Julia, obviously, it’s true love. The Cenobites finally rock up and rip Frank into pieces, again. Then they try and capture Kirsty, but reverses the puzzle box and sends them back to their own dimension. Her boyfriend rocks up to save the day. Better late then never, I guess.
To end the film, Kirsty throws the puzzle box into a fire. She is watching it with her boyfriend and then the homeless bug eater comes along. He takes the puzzle box out of the fire, his skin burns off and he turns into a giant skeletal creature with wings. He flies away with the puzzle box, returning it to the guy who sold it to Frank in the first place. The End.
It’s an enjoyable film and introduces some pretty cool characters with the Cenobites. Apparently, in the books they are for more sexual than they are in the films. They are from a religious sect of Hell, known as the Order of the Gash. They are self described explorers of experience and will grant sadomasochistic pleasures to anyone who summons them.
Moving forward, Barker did have plans for some sequels. I’m not sure if he wanted to do 9 of them, but he had planned some more. However, he wanted the films to be centred around the character of Julia, portrayed in the first film by Clare Higgins. Apparently, she declined to return to the series though. It worked out for the best, because the fans were more interested in Pinhead and the Cenobites. So, they became the central characters and ideas throughout all of the films.
In 2006, Dimension Films announced they were working on a remake of Hellraiser. Due to creative differences, the attached director, Paschal Laugier was taken off of the film. Apparently he wanted to do a serious horror film but Dimension Films wanted a film that appealed to a younger audience.
He was replaced by Julien Maury (to write) and Alexandre Bustillo (to direct). However, due to creative differences with Bob Weinstein, they both left the film. They wanted to make a serious horror film and pay homage to the original. Weinstein wanted to make something lighter and appeal to a larger audience. Hmmm, I’m sensing a theme here.
In 2010, Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer were given the reigns to the Hellraiser reboot. They did not want to do a direct retelling because they were big fans of Barker and the original. They wanted to do a story about the puzzle box and dismissed the idea of making it for a younger audience. “If we do Hellraiser, it’s rated R. If they want to do a PG-13 then they have to get rid of us”. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.
In 2013, Barker stated on Facebook that he had been asked to write the script for the remake and had completed a deal with Dimension Films. Barker had planned to use real effects, not CGI and was trying to get Doug Bradley to reprise his role as Pinhead. In 2017, Barker revealed that he had completed the script years ago and Dimension Films had done nothing with his script.
As it stands, Miramax are currently planning on making some new instalments to the Hellraiser franchise. They were very pleased with the success of their recent Halloween film. In April of this year, David Bruckner was set to direct the upcoming film, Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski are writing the script. I went to school with Ben Collins. I assume it’s a different one. I liked Ben. I guess we will see what happens with this remake when COVID is over. If ever.