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Feature


Frank Cotton solves a mysterious puzzle box and is sent to Hell for his troubles. Later, Frank’s brother Larry and his wife, Julia, move into Frank’s abandoned house. While moving, Larry cuts his hand and bleeds on the floor of the attic where Frank was ‘killed’. The blood brings Frank back to the land of the living, but only partially. Frank convinces Julia, his former lover, to lure men to the attics so that he may kill them and use their blood to rebuild his cells.

Meanwhile, Larry’s daughter Kristy catches wind of Frank and Julia’s plan, and solves the puzzle box herself. When the demonic Cenobites come calling to take her to Hell, she strikes a deal for the soul of the man that escaped them.

Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition
I’ll go on record right off the bat here and say that I respect Hellraiser more than I like it. Even as a rather rabid horror fan I’ve never found the film quite as indispensable as so many other genre aficionados. It just never quite did it for me, but I do understand the film’s place in modern horror history, and I do recommend it to anyone who asks.

Hellraiser’s first two acts are creepy-crawly and artful, but overall are fairly dull. First time feature director Clive Barker (only widely known for his novella collection The Books of Blood at the time) manages a handful of arresting images, and reigns in a sophisticated and talented cast. There is a sense of fearless experimentation, as Barker fiddles with montages, non-linear story telling, and the occasional surrealist dream sequence. Barker also plays with both the modern and classic conventions of the horror genre, visually and thematically, and this early section of the film contains specific homage to everyone from Poe and Whale to Hitchcock and Argento. If only it wasn’t so slow.

When the Cenobites (oh my God, spell check knows that word) finally start talking, and the third act gets rolling, the film begins a rather thrilling and rather gory sprint to the climax. The plot becomes a little cumbersome, and the optical effects are a bit wonky, but the visuals are mostly breathless and the monsters truly original. It’s interesting to note that the Cenobites themselves were introduced to use as a common element between possible sequels, proving that Barker and his producers were thinking ahead (it’s just too bad that so many awful Hellraiser sequels came of it).

Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition
Hellraiser’s greatest asset is its lustfully tactile nature. The film is positively dripping with sexual perversion, and the violence is painfully pinpointed. When a Lucio Fulci zombie unravels a spool of guts the audience says “Ew”, when fishhooks pierce Frank’s flesh and pull the audience screams “Ow”. The film features such nightmarishly gross moments as in the re-birth of Frank via Larry’s blood, and the maggot spewing head that suddenly appears beside Kristy when she’s hiding from the Frank (probably the most enduring image in the entire film for me), but it excels when it makes its audience wince in empathetic agony.

Had Barker’s follow up features panned out in any way this early promise might’ve been the first sign of a brilliant career, as honestly Hellraiser is a better first film than most genre masters ever mustered. It’s no The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Night of the Living Dead, but it’s more impressive than say Bad Taste or Last House on the Left. Unfortunately Barker’s two directorial follow-ups were the studio butchered Night Breed, and the generally bad Lord of Illusions.

Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition

Video


Hellraiser is a very dark feature, and this DVD suffers unjustly because of it. Various noise levels are sometimes jarring, darker reds being most obviously afflicted. Details are higher than previous VHS releases, and quite likely as high as humanly possible given original source material, but there is a definitive lack of definition in several shots, wide shots especially. I don’t own any previous releases of the film, so I am unable to do a screen shot comparison, but I assume, based on other recent AB/Starz re-releases, that this is the same transfer already made available on the THX certified disc. I doubt this one needs a Blu-ray release guys, I just don’t think the material is there.

Audio


I haven’t heard the original THX certified Anchor Bay release since I rented it about five years ago, so I couldn’t tell you if this 5.1 mix is identical, but again, I’m going to assume it is. The track is half average and half great. The average half is the dialogue and the majority of the sound effects. These things are all a little bit flat, and sometimes the sync appears to be slightly off (beyond the fact that some of the English actors had been dubbed with American accents). It’s all clear and clean, but no one is going to mistake the track elements for a film of less than twenty years.

Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition
The great half comes with Christopher Young’s positively wondrous score. I don’t love Hellraiser, as I made clear in my feature review, but I love this score, and so does pretty much everyone else with an interest in film music. Even Sam Raimi loved this score enough to drive a stake between his long relationships with Danny Elfman. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix doesn’t fill the channels quite to the degree I’d like, but the music is very rich and thick with deep bass.

Extras


This is more or less a re-release of the last Anchor Bay THX certified DVD, which was released about five years ago. The only new editions are a series of interviews, totalling almost sixty minutes. I don’t think this is worth a double dip for passing fans that already own that disc, because the interviews are a little repetitive when compared to the original featurette and commentary tracks.

'Mr. Cotton, I Presume?' is an interview with star Andrew Robinson, who chats candidly about his experiences in Hollywood and on stage. Specifically he talks about getting his start in Dirty Harry, and making a comeback in Hellraiser, which are easily his most recognizable films. He seems a little bitter about his subsequent typecasting, but not as much as actress Ashley Lawrence, who gets her chance to chat during ‘Actress from Hell’. Lawrence starts and ends her amusing interview impersonating a bimbo actress, and is also quite candid. ‘Hellcomposer’ is a chat with Christopher Young, who does not look or act anything like one might expect from the man behind such wonderfully soulful music. The final solo interview is with Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley. This interview can also be seen on the Anchor Bay UK Special Edition, and is the shortest of the bunch at only about twelve minutes, but Bradley’s warm intelligence is effective and informational.

Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition
The commentary with Clive Barker, Ashley Lawrence, and moderated by screenwriter Peter Atkins is a Clive heavy track, and a busy track. Barker and Lawrence are both very honest with their work, some of which they really don’t like. It’s always nice when artists are capable of recalling older work and properly contextualizing it with what they’ve done and learned since. This is a good track, and we really don’t need a new one.

‘Hellraiser Resurrection’ is a hold over from the previous THX certified Anchor Bay release, and though not particularly long, is a fine and informative featurette. The time restraints seems to halt some of the more interesting ideas, but for fewer than twenty-five minutes it’s rather chock full of stuff. I’d prefer Anchor Bay/Starz making a new and longer documentary, and if they had I could recommend the double dip.

Everything comes to an end with a poster & still gallery, TV and radio spots, and the complete screenplay on DVDROM.

Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition

Overall


Hellraiser is a genre classic, whether I like it or not, and every self respecting genre fan really should see it. It’s slow to get started, but is very well acted, features some (then) original elements, and has a tactile nature not often found in era film. This 20th Anniversary re-release seems to be the same as the previous R1 release, plus three new interviews and one interview swiped from the R2 release. Until AB/Starz gets around to releasing the inevitable Ultimate Edition (give it another year or so), this is probably the most complete disc on the market. Perhaps not worth a double dip, but definitely worth a look.


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