Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Halloween Countdown Day 16 - Hellraiser (1987)

"We have such sights to show you."Pinhead.
  Hello hello, your ol' pal eerie Evan again. This time, we're going to take a little trip down memory lane to revisit a film that I hold quite dear. Hellraiser, by Clive Barker. I hold this film in very high esteem, as it's on the same level of Phantasm for me. This film is about as dark as mainstream horror flicks get, and the first two films in the series are brilliant movies. It erodes quickly after that, but hey, they can't all be zingers.

The plot, while simple enough isn't padded and doesn't pander to you. There is a puzzle box that looks simple enough, but when opened causes an experience in which pain and pleasure is indivisible. Nihilist and overall jerkass Frank Cotton finds the puzzle box and opens it... where he goes straight to pieces.

When Cotton's relatives move into his place, all is well and good until someone cuts their hand on the third floor, leaving just enough blood behind to bring a little bit of Frank back from the realm of the Cenobites. Naturally, they don't like this.

I always found Pinhead, even before he was called that to be the most unsettling of the Cenobites. Something about the 'fearful symmetry' of the perfect spacing of cuts and pins on his head just stood out too me to be utterly unnerving. The Cenobites are some of the most unusual and compelling horror creatures I've seen in a movie. Explorers on the edge of pain and pleasure, they attract people who are hopelessly addicted to the extremes of sensation.

This is vastly different than say, a masked madman hacking up normal people. The Cenobites only show up because you asked them too. They only take you because you asked them too. They aren't evil, hell, they don't even have a conventional morality. They are effectively the High Priests and Priestesses of an S&M religion too extreme for humans to even begin to understand. This is the kind of complexity I like to see in a horror flick!

The film is dark and grainy, with a sort of raw grittiness that resembles things like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Barker has a way of making the grotesque and grim appealing, beautiful even and that matches the tone of the movie just so. In fact, there are a lot of German Expressionism/Noir overtones with the grainy, dark look of the film which emphasizes shadows and impossible geometry (particularly in the hell-dimension scene). Even daytime scenes have washed out, dirty, grainy colors.

While the Cenobites are great, the human actors aren't any less marvelous. There is a real depth to the portrayal the actors bring that makes the whole thing seem real. When Frank uses his former affair with his brother's wife to pressure her to bring him more bodies so that he can walk again, it is chilling. The real evil here isn't the Cenobites at all. It is in Frank's desire to become human again, and Julia's willingness to destroy innocent lives so that he might live once more. In fact, you take away the Cenobites and the puzzle box, and you'd have a domestic horror story on your hands.

The score by Christopher Young? Powerful stuff. Reminds me of Danny Elfman's Batman score. So in short, if you've never read anything by Clive Barker or watched his films, I'd heartily recommend Hellraiser.


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