Sometimes the most beautiful stories are told in the most gruesome ways. Hellraiser is triumphant at telling a story that makes the viewer both cringe and beg for more. It all begins when Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) buys an interesting puzzle box from a shady dealer. He then decides to open the box, which releases complete torture and what we assume to be his death. Later on, Frank’s brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into his childhood home with his creepy and unfriendly wife, Julia (Clare Higgins). In addition, Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) is staying in a house near her fathers. The family soon realizes that Frank was recently in the old home and after an accident that involves serious amounts of blood the disfigured Frank is back in the picture again.
What we eventually learn is that the puzzle box has supernatural powers that bring forth demons from hell. The demons are mutilated and creepy to the core, but they also seem somewhat fair. If you open the box, then you either see demons or angels, depending on your desires and passions. We never get the chance to see angels, but the demons bring enough scares and genuine interest that you won’t really care about heaven all that much.
While the concept of Hellraiser is incredibly simple, it also comes across as mythical and fascinating. The idea that this small little box brings forth pain, pleasure, death, and beauty is intellectual and fundamentally human. We aren’t privy to all the answers about the box, but viewers won’t feel confused because of this film's excellent storytelling and pacing. Hellraiser exhibits genuine fear in the form of splatter, mutilation, and pop-out scares. While all the gore may be too much for some, I believe the interesting story will keep people watching even if they have to close their eyes once in a while.
The score, by Christopher Young, is brilliant and arguably one of the best. The ending, while open-ended, is satisfying and rewarding for the viewers. Negatives about this film really only include the effects. When body parts are being torn apart, it pretty much looks like Play-Doh stretching to its outer limits. I think this is beneficial for some; realistic mutilation would have been too much for some viewers. The amount of sheer gore will seem over the top, but I think the excess of blood is exactly what the philosophy of the puzzle box is going for. Some people desire so much pleasure that their entire life is about searching for excess.
Horror fans who desire a wonderful film that pushes you intellectually and emotionally should watch Hellraiser. While you may not like all the guts, bugs, and body parts, you will understand and accept it as necessary storytelling. Horror island is receiving demons who understand the natural insatiability and greed many individuals exhibit. It is quite possible these demons are necessary and important. While spiders keep insect populations down and the human race thriving, demons keep the voracity of life at bay and allow for the appreciation of the truly great and wonderful.
If you liked Hellraiser, you might also like Phantasm.