Welcome back to the Nightmare on Film Street Video Vault. It’s hard to believe but folks are already talking about the chilly days of October when we’re still in freaking August! I mean, the current weather feels like hellfire sweeping across the land while riding the tradewinds like one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and people are getting their pumpkin spiced-candy corn-printed sweaters out like tomorrow is Halloween. It’s like, fry an egg on Frankenstein’s flattop out there, kids, hold your damn apocalyptic horses!
That’s why this month we’ve pulled our recommendation straight from the depths of Malebolge, the eighth circle of hell. Yes, the eighth. I know there are nine but the last one is really just there because the legal department says it has to be. Circle eight is the circle everyone should be terrified of so we here at the Video Vault figured, what better pairing than NOFS’ Hotter Than Hell Month and Clive Barker’s masterpiece of misery, Hellraiser (1987).
Helluva Story, Frank
When Frank Cotton, messes around with a puzzle box he acquired while in Morocco, he inadvertently opens a portal to hell. The gateway frees four demonic interdimensional beings, referred to as Cenobites, who proceed to then rip Frank’s body asunder. Fast forward to Frank’s brother Larry and his wife, Julia (who happens to be deceased Frank’s ex-lover) as they move into Frank’s old house.
Weird, I know, but trust me when I say it isn’t half as weird as the rest of the story. Once they’re moved in, a drop of blood from a cut accidentally brings what’s left of Frank back to life. Julia finds the skinless version of her old lover and that’s when Frank convinces her to lure men back to the house so he can use their blood to reconstruct himself. What did I tell you? Weird.
Cast From Heave, Cast From Hell
On the earthly plane, our cast of characters begin with the sexually deviant, Frank Cotton played by Sean Chapman (Psychosis, 2010) to the skinless version of himself, aptly dubbed Skinless Frank, played by Oliver Smith (Tale of a Vampire, 1992). Frank’s brother Larry, played by Andrew Robinson (Child’s Play 3, 1991), his teenage daughter Kristy played by Ashley Laurence (Cupid, 1997) and wife Julia Cotton, played by Clare Higgins (Hellbound: Hellraiser II, 1988), round out the humans who inhabit the mortal coil.
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Visiting from hell we have the Cenobites, who are credited in the movie without the famous nicknames they would eventually garner. The Lead Cenobite, more commonly known as Pinhead is played by Doug Bradley (Nightbreed, 1990) while Chattering Cenobite, or Chatterer, is played by Nicholas Vince (Book of Monsters, 2018). The more rotund of the group of demonic interdimensional tourists is Butterball Cenobite played by Simon Bamford (Book of Blood, 2009), and adding a touch of estrogen to the gang from hell is perhaps the most uninspired name of the bunch with Female Cenobite played by Grace Kirby. Fun fact: Kirby happens to be Clive Barker’s cousin.
The genesis of the Cenobites originate in a pseudo-religious sect of Hell called The Order of the Gash, where these “explorers in the further regions of experience” grant sadomasochistic pleasures to those who call upon them, just as Frank did with his Moroccan puzzle box. The novella describes the Pinhead and the Cenobites (rad band name!) in more explicitly sexual terms than what was depicted in the film, although the sexual overtones of the cinematic incantation of the Cenobite world are still very present on screen.
Originally Barker wanted Julia (Higgins) to continue on as the main antagonist in the third sequel, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), pushing the Cenobites into background roles, however, actress Claire Higgins declined to return for the sequel. That paired with the fact that fans were smitten with Pinhead and his pals left Barker and the team no choice but to move forward with Cenobite-centric sequels.
A Director in Peril
Hellraiser, originally titled, The Hellbound Heart, was a part of Barker’s 1986 Night Visions anthology and after being less than impressed with previous adaptations of his work, the author opted to direct Hellraiser himself. Later he would admit to not having a clue about what he was doing, claiming to know nothing about everything from the differences in lenses his camera team used, to the intricacies of working with actors, but also claims that both cast and crew were very kind and understanding with his inexperience.
Once the film was shot and edited, however, Barker was faced with another hurdle, the MPAA. The film was automatically given an X-rating due to its violent sexual nature and in order to secure a more desirable R-rating, some cuts had to be made. The first hammer murder was trimmed, the semi-clothed murder that Julia commits was originally shot as a fully nude murder, close-ups of Kristy’s hand being stitched to Frank’s stomach and a longer version of Frank being torn apart by the Cenobite’s hooks were all excised from the final cut in order to appease the rating board.
Milking The Proverbial Sacrificial Cow
Not even Barker knew that once audiences got ahold of Hellraiser that it would explode into the pop culture collective becoming, at current count, a ten film franchise. The release of the original, with its $900k budget, grossed over $14 million in the US alone and pretty much cemented the need for a sequel. Even after censorship issues and flat out bans, audiences couldn’t get enough of Barker’s darkly sexual vision of hell on earth.
The home video release has seen a VHS release in 1988 with the original 93-minute cut while a DVD of the film of the same cut was released three times. All three were released by Anchor Bay with the first consisting of a bare-bones release which is now out of print. The second was a 2000 rerelease with a new 5.1 mix mastered in THX and the third was a double feature package paired with Hellbound: Hellraiser II. This release offered a 48-page color booklet and both film’s original movie poster artwork.
Aside from the home video releases, starting in 1988 with the release of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, the franchise was born when Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth followed in 1992. Seven more films have since followed with a planned remake in the works as well. It seems that Pinhead and his cohorts are just as profitable as their contemporaries Jason, Michael, and Freddy.
Wrath of The Closing Credits
It seems that any way you slice and dice it, Hellraiser is a sinister look at the depravity of man and the horrors that await him when his time of judgment arrives. Barker created a darkly devious world with his novella and managed to translate those hellish highlights onto film, in turn, birthing, dare I say, Hell on Earth. With its overtly kinky storyline, androgynous villans and sexually charged energy, Hellraiser was ahead of its time when it came to pushing the envelope and Barker’s keen ability to stay true to the source material is a brilliant testament to the progressive nature of the author’s works in both page and screen.
So take this tape, pop it in your VCR, close your blinds, turn out the lights, and get ready to have your soul torn apart. But before you do that, be sure to check out our Nightmare on Film Street Twitter, Subreddit, and Horror Movie Fiend page on Facebook. There you will find all things new and old in the world of horror cinema. And if you happen upon my soul while browsing the pages, please send it back this way. It went out for cigarettes months ago and never came back… Until then, fellow fiends, stay creepy!