Thursday, July 17, 2014

VHS Memories: Hellraiser (1987)

I first approached Hellraiser with amusement, not fear. Who was this hysterical woman being held captive by these mythical creatures? Not quite monsters, one donning pins on his noggin. Angels to some, demons to others. And what about this box?


Clive Barker's 1987 film is a deeply disturbing love story that involves a mysterious puzzle box that summons hell's goth clique. Based on his novel, The Hellbound Heart, a tremendous part of what makes Hellraiser so special in care and quality is Barker's front man role from pen to screen.

When I was six years old, I caught that scene while my mother watched her dubbed VHS copy on our gargantuan floor television. After Kirsty's (Ashley Laurence) fateful curiosity positioned her in a tailspin, having to con the godfather of the underworld, Pinhead for self preservation. That scene in context as I watched the film in full years later was... seductive. Hellraiser was such a daring film to implement multiple characters, all perfectly woven into a singular mess of a predicament that promised nothing but terror, paranoia, and eternal despair. With a desperate yet clever final girl archetype in Kirsty, Hellraiser elevates our attitudes about love and women, especially when it comes to its opposite female character in Julia.


An unstable thrillseeker, Julia (Clare Higgins) discovers her revived from the bowels of damnation lover will only come back full form with some human sustenance. In remembrance of the assault Frank (Sean Chapman) put on her five senses all sexily like, she does what any woman would for love by luring horny men back to her domicile for him to devour. What remains frustrating in a fun manner for myself is that I can't really pinpoint who Julia is. She is both master of her own command yet motivated by every man in her life. Her moves are not made in absolution and they are a mess of calculation and emotions. She goes on a journey where her "morally questionable" actions walk the thin line and completely transitions into a nastiness that she fully embraces. Any facade of the demure woman we see glimpses of, fades quickly.

From that first scene I watched, Hellraiser made my imagination soar. The meticulousness and care Barker put into this masterpiece is what drew a heart around my memory of my first encounter so for so long. As a kid, I was obsessed with fantasy. Playing make believe and imaginary friends was a refuge for my loneliness. As a natural introvert, I constantly felt misunderstood. My interest in horror, for worse before it became that much better, only exacerbated that feeling.

Imagine my excitement when the horror community lit a bit with the announcement that a Hellraiser documentary, Leviathan: The story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 was in the works. Currently, Clive Barker has joined the project and the producers have received the support needed for additional interviews and post production expenses. I'm over the moon about seeing the finish product! Hellraiser played a part in the foundation of my horror fandom but even if it didn't, I would still enjoy and revere this film for being both immersed in and ahead of its time.

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