“A woman discovers the newly resurrected, partially formed, body of her brother-in-law. She starts killing for him to revitalize his body so he can escape the demonic beings that are pursuing him after he escaped their sadistic underworld.”

Director: Clive Barker
Writer: Clive Barker
Staring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Lawrence
Rating: R
Release Date: September 18, 1987

What’s in the box???

Well, turns out it’s a portal to an experience “without limits. Pain and pleasure, indivisible.”

Hellraiser (1987) is a late addition to the decade of horror and what a welcome delayed arrival it is. Clive Barker’s bloody demonic story hooks you in from the get-go and drags you on its frantic pace until you are frozen in fear and stupefied in both awe and shock. Nothing can quite prepare you for when you first see the Cenobites. Nothing can prepare you for when Pinhead, The Chatterer, Butterball or Smile appear on your screen.

I don’t know if those are their formal names, but if you have seen Hellraiser, then you know.

The movie itself opens up with a man by the name of Frank (Oliver Smith) buying a box from someone in a random obscure market. He is working on this cube and solving its puzzle…unknowingly sentencing himself to a future of mental and physical torture.

Flash forward to generic American suburbia and a newer couple of Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia (Clare Higgins) are moving into a house. A house that was seemingly Frank’s…but no one has heard from him recently…hmmmmm.

While exploring the house, Julia becomes haunted by a voice. This sticky feeling actually manifests itself when blood is spilt in a creepy attic room. Frank The Monster (Oliver Smith) rises from the floor as a skeletal menace, yet even without an ounce of skin on his body, Julia is drawn to him. I mean, really, realy, into him. Julia wants to roll in the sheets with Frank.

The practical effects version of 1999’s The Mummy‘s Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) explains that he can become whole again with more blood and because Julia is so horny for him, she becomes his personal hitman. Let the bodies start hitting the floor. Frank The Monster is becoming more real, and the danger that Julia is placing herself and those she cares about in is becoming violently tangible.

Julia’s husband Larry is noticing a change in his wife so he asks his daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) to go and talk to Julia and try and figure out what is wrong. The young women approaches the doomed home and sees Julia leading yet another male suitor to his death.

Rut-roh. The two lovebirds secret pact is now out of the cage.

Kirsty has a confrontation with Frank The Monster and in a genius move she steals the cube that Mr. Skeleton was guarding with his demented life. Turns out keeping possession of that box was massive for Frank because he is on the run from the dreaded Cenobites. Nobody escapes their grasps…so if they were to find him again…things would go badly.

Guess what? Things go really badly for Frank. Hellraiser‘s last 20 minutes is both wonderful and formulaic. The young women against a force of pure evil isn’t exactly original. The idea that power is crushing and running away from your choices is not ideal is not a new idea. Yet despite the note-for-note ending one could predict, you are still buying into it. Every, single, second of it.

Getting pleasantly surprised by a movie is one of the best feelings in the world. I was scared to watch Hellraiser because I thought it was going to be like an Evil Dead (1981) over gory cult classic that is entertaining but not my personal taste. Hellraiser is a level above that for me. It specializes in making the most out of nothing. It has the Jaws (1975) approach of not revealing the true bad guys until later in the movie. And man-oh-man, did that patience pay off.

The one thing that the new Hellraiser won’t have is the wonderful nostalgia of 1980s practical effects. When Frank the Monster comes up from the wood-floored attic for the first time, it is absolutely beautiful. It is reminiscent of the girl crawling out of the TV in the The Ring (2002). You want to both cover your eyes with the blanket but also walk closer to whatever mystery is arising. It is obvious watching the movie that Barker and the entire visual effects crew had confidence in their styling and vision because they do not shy away from close-ups on the bad guys. The disgusting faces, the rotting skin and the 1980s bright red blood pop off the screen.

Clive Barker really made something uniquely terrifying on a shoe-string budget with fantastic pacing, outstanding practical effects, and truly disturbing visuals.This Hellraiser made me excited to watch the remake that was recently released on Hulu. I honestly don’t see how the reboot matches up. Is it going be similar to the remakes of The Thing (2011), Friday The 13th (2009) and or Nightmare On Elm Street (2010) where the modern effects and enhanced gore blocked the vibes and hindered the quality? Or is the 2022 version of Hellraiser going to be elevated to a newer broader umbrella terror like like the Jordan Peele produced sequel Candyman (2021)?

Regardless of the answer, I am excited to find out. Regardless if you are a fan of modern horror, check out 1987 Hellraiser. It belongs in the 1980s horror movie Hall of Fame. God, what a decade for horror movies. The glory days, without a doubt.

STANKO RATING: B+ (3.5/5 Stars)

P.S. There are now 11 Hellraiser movies? I am genuinely curious how one makes a sequel to this. Do they go deeper into the tunnel that Kirsty was trudging down before she met the worm? That is a lot on Pinhead.

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