Written By: Karla Cortes
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Director: Clive Barker
Producer: Christopher Figg
Writer: Clive Barker
Date Released: September 10, 1987
Andrew Robinson as Larry Cotton
Clare Higgins as Julia Cotton
Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton
Sean Chapman as Frank Cotton
Oliver Smith as “Skinless” Frank/Frank the Monster
Robert Hines as Steve Doug Bradley as Pinhead/Lead Cenobite
Nicholas Vince as Chattering Cenobite
Simon Bamford as Butterball Cenobite
Grace Kirby as Female Cenobite
Rating = 4/5 Graves
***May contain some spoilers***
After a journey to Morocco, Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) arrives home with a strange puzzle in the form of a three-dimensional box. As soon as he solves the puzzle, chained hooks rip Frank to shred which then sends a call to a cenobite who repositions the puzzle back to its normal shape. Time fast forwards to Frank’s brother Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson) moving into the house with his second wife Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins) who had an affair with Frank right after the wedding. As they are moving in, Larry cuts his hand on a box that makes him bleed on the floor of the attic which seeps into the floor reviving Frank as a skinless corpse who needs bodies to restore his human form. Julia Cotton discovers Frank and agrees to help him restore by luring men into her home and giving them for Frank to feast on. On one of Julia’s escapades, Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence), Frank’s daughter, follows Julia and discovers Frank as well as the puzzle box. Kirsty then steals the puzzle and solves it, summoning the cenobites who deem themselves as explorers from another dimension seeking experiences but who can no longer see the difference between pain and pleasure.
By far, Hellraiser (1987) is one of the goriest horror movies that had risen to fame in the 80s. Of course, there are many movies such as Flowers of Flesh and Blood or The Prowler, but none of these movies have gotten as much praise by the public as Hellraiser has. As Barker quoted, “It is unapologetically a horror film” meaning that every gory take is one to shock and take its audience far beyond the limits of true horror. Hooks sinking deep into flesh and yanking chunks spewing blood and guts across the room to a half-living cadaver stripped of skin and muscle crawling across a dusty room really sets the mood for a cringing, goosebump feeling for a movie. Hellraiser constantly shows new and inhumane ways of human torture and sacrifice that make sure to leave in the gory details.
The Grave Review
Based on the novella, The Hellbound Heart written by Barker, the film Hellraiser (1987) is a must-see movie not only for its various and intriguing forms of human torture and mutilation but for the storyline itself. Each character, especially the cenobites, has a story of their own that, because each character’s backstory isn’t fully covered in the film, leaves the audience wanting to know more.
Although there are more cenobites both in the novel and sequel, four main cenobites are depicted in Hellraiser. The sequel dives deeper into each cenobite, but within the first film we see the leader of the group Pinhead, Butterball, Chatterer, and The Female Cenobite. The film makes note that not everyone can become a cenobite. It is noted in the novella that the god of hell Leviathan takes the person he believes is worthy of becoming a cenobite and drags them to hell where they are transformed into a cenobite by the Engineer. In this process, the body of the chosen person is excessively mutilated where the blood is extracted and replaced with blue fluid and the mind is broken down completely to erase all memory in the past life. The final product is a disfigured caricature of their original form to highlight their worst features and aspects.
Hellraiser (1987) is also a film that incorporates various small plots into the overarching plot. It does so in a strategically enticing way where everything connects to a singular object, the Lament Configuration. The box has a deeper meaning than being the “door” to another dimension, plane of existence, or the human version of hell. The message behind the box is supposed to represent how curiosity and/or desire within the unknown can lead to far more consequences than one might think. Since the premise of the film revolves around the message that lust, pleasure, and desire leads to a hellhound eternity, fear tends to linger within the audience’s minds at the thought that true hell might really be what Barker presents.
Barker only had what is known in the film community as a micro-budget to work with when producing Hellraiser. Due to this reason, there was a lot of trial and error with makeup and special effects, especially when producing the look of each cenobite. Pinhead was drawn up as to having six-inch nails coming out of the top of his head. After many mockups, Doug Bradley and Barker came up with the idea to stick pins along a grid of latex and create the iconic mask for the lead Cenobite.
Figg and Barker agreed that they wanted Butterball to be a fat character who plays with his wounds all the time. They got a bigger-sized actor (Simon Bamford) and added a latex mask as well as added latex around his body in order to elevate the grotesque look. Chatter’s character was nicknamed “the poor bastard” because there was no way of seeing through the latex mask designed for the actor. The “chattering” aspect of the cenobite actually came from Vince who had a weird ability to make his teeth naturally chatter as it is seen in the film. The Female Cenobite was the only character that came straight from Barker’s sketches and that required the least amount of latex from the Cenobites.
The makeup took three to four hours to be done and applied for each cenobite and Frank. For the makeup artists, prep took even longer which added an extra two to three hours. All of the Cenobite’s costumes were leather-bound, which caused discomfort for some of the actors due to the heat these costumes trapped. They were inspired by S&M Clubs in New York and Amsterdam and have aesthetics that tie in with the Catholic Church, thus harnessing hidden symbols.
Almost all of the effects were drawn from Barker’s experiences in his prior films. The box was designed from scratch and had four people working on the mechanics/problems on the configuration of the box. Due to the small timing and low-budget of the films, everything had to be moving along quickly and carefully.
Each special effect was centered on creativity, imagination, and quick-mindedness. Effects, such as the beating heart under the floorboard at the beginning of the film, were sometimes even made on the spot. The crew made the beating heart out of a condom, glue, a tube, and scraps all put together to make it “beat”. The maggots and roaches featured in the film were real, which meant that Barker had to appoint someone on set to be the roach and maggot wrangler. There was practically no more money left towards the end of the film, which forced the crew to do some VFX on his own.
An example of this is within the scene where The Engineer chases Kirsty down the corridor. The corridor itself was 15 feet long, where 7 of those feet were taken up by The Engineer which included a number of SFX guys behind it. This meant that the crew had to film several takes of Kirsty running down the corridor and piece the reel together with some masking tape in order to make it seem as though it was a long corridor. Since the hallway was the movie gets much credit for its incredible special effects, makeup, and prosthetic designs.
Most of the animations in the third act were actually produced by hand over a drunken weekend. This included the blue sparks coming out of the box, Pinhead and Chatter’s glowing disappearance, and The Engineer’s “explosion”. Clive and an unnamed Greek man originally had planned to end the movie with the house burning down, but they couldn’t physically burn the house down nor had the funds to make a convincing model. The final result and visual metaphor ended up being a photograph of Frank being burned.
Not all of the actors wanted the role they ended up playing. Doug Bradley, who plays Pinhead or Lead Cenobite, originally wanted to play the mover who leers at Kirsty. Pinhead would need a lot of makeup, and both roles had very little screen time, which meant that even though he would have little screen time, at least with the mover role people would be able to see who he is. In the end, Bradley and Parker drew straws and that is how Bradley got Pinhead.
Hellraiser (1987) was on such a low budget that each shot had to be finished within one to two takes. This meant that there was always a high amount of pressure on the actors to get each scene right. This also meant that some of the actors who are in the same scenes weren’t in the same room when shooting. Ashley Laurence, for example, wasn’t on set with the cenobites most of the time. Almost every scene with her and the cenobites was pieced together by the editing crew. This meant that Ashley had to act as if she were right in front of them thus enhancing her acting abilities.
The acting was surely what elevated this film to what it is today. Some of the most iconic lines and moments in the film were actually improvised and unscripted. The scene where skinless Frank smokes a cigarette was actually cut in when Clive saw chain smoker Oliver Smith smoking a cigarette in his skinless costume while waiting for sets to change. The most famous line where Larry says “Enough of this cat and mouse shit” was actually Robinson’s own ad-lib. Another iconic line that Robinson improvised was the final line “Jesus wept” instead of the scripted line “Fuck off”.
Barker was made to look for good actors to complete the casting for the movie. Many horror movies in the eighties were more concerned with gore rather than with the acting itself. Barker insisted that the film be centered on the ability for each actor to carry out their character with depth and a sense of realness. The realness aspect comes from British theater actors such as Robinson, Bradley, and Higgins. He even quoted, “I’m not just taking the 12 most beautiful youths in California and murdering them, I’ve got real actors, real performers and then I’m murdering them.”
For the foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives Hellraiser (1987) four graves out of five graves.
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