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IT WILL TEAR YOUR SOUL APART


Stephen King was once quoted as saying: “I have seen the future of horror… his name is Clive Barker.” That future became reality when, in 1987, Barker unleashed his directorial début Hellraiser—launching a hit franchise and creating an instant horror icon in the formidable figure of Pinhead.

Barker’s original Hellraiser, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, follows Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) as she comes head-to-head with the Cenobites – demonic beings from another realm who are intent on reclaiming the soul of her deviant Uncle Frank.

Picking up immediately after the events of the original Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II finds Kirsty detained at a psychiatric institute and under the care of Phillip Channard, a doctor who abuses his position to realise his own dark aims. In Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, a reporter investigating a mysterious death at a nightclub finds herself in the way of Pinhead and the Cenobites, who plan to bring their horrifying world into our own.

Coming at a time when the genre was degenerating into self-parody, Hellraiser offered a fiercely unique vision that approached its horrors with a far greater degree of seriousness than many of its contemporaries.. Along with its sequels, the Barker-produced Hellbound and Hell on Earth, Arrow Video is proud to present some of the most terrifyingly original films in the history of horror in brand new 2K transfers.
(Taken from Arrow's synopsis.)

Video


Hellraiser has been granted an all-new 2K scan for its inclusion in the Scarlet Box. As you'd expect there's a real up-tick in detail from the DVD release, but the image is also a significant improvement on the old Anchor Bay UK Blu-ray (said Anchor Bay release had some pretty clumpy grain, unsightly sharpening artefacts and 'dodgy' colours). Of course there's no getting away from the fact that the film is inherently grainy, but here said grain is finely resolved without that artificially 'edgy' look associated with high-pass filtering.  Although some minor artefacts remain in the form of white speckles here and there they're generally unobtrusive and represent a marked improvement on previous releases. Colours are natural and well-saturated, and while the blacks lack purity it's due to the limitations of original photography rather than any deficiencies with the transfer. The only other negative I can think to mention is minor telecine wobble during the opening credits, but it really is minor.

Truth be told, there's not a lot to write about Hellbound's Blu-ray presentation that I haven't already covered above, such are the similarities with Hellraiser. Also granted a new 2K scan, it possesses the same basic characteristics, with strong, natural colours and comparably resolved grain. It also 'suffers' from the occasional film artefact here and there, but again they're fairly innocuous. As with the transfer of the original film, compression is solid throughout and the transfer is very natural.

Hellraiser III is a different story altogether. Although the newest chronologically, it features the patchiest video presentation. I can only assume it’s due in part to the quality of the film stock, but suffice to say that it looks ‘rougher’ than the first two, with coarser grain. That’s not to say the image is entirely unappealing – detail is still much better than any DVD release and the film does have its impressive moments – but for my money it’s definitely most uneven of the three. While print debris appears less of an issue this time around there’s some really obvious wobble during the opening sequence, and any scene that makes use of optical shots come to that.

The optional ‘unrated’ scenes are seamlessly branched into the feature but come from the only available source, an old pan and scan laserdisc master. As you’d expect there’s a huge dip in quality during these scenes, but thankfully they’re short enough that it doesn’t become a major problem. Truth be told none of them significantly adds to the proceedings, so you may want to stick with the theatrical version anyway.

Audio


Hellraiser offers a choice between vanilla LPCM 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The 5.1 track is quite a bit quieter than the 2.0 track, which caused a few issues when I switched over, but once I'd compensated it proved to be very atmospheric. The surrounds are employed to good effect for Christopher Young's symphonic score, and the soundstage is also used to good effect during the more tortuous sequences. Bass is also fairly impressive during said scenes, and lends considerable weight to the Cenobites' arrival.

While dialogue is intelligible, dubbing the actors was, in my opinion, a big mistake. It doesn't help that the film's location is so obviously English, or that numerous lines of dialogue indicate that the characters are in England, but the looped American lines are so loose that it's immediately obvious to anyone from this side of the Atlantic that something is off. Of course that's not unique to this Blu-ray presentation, but I found that I noticed it more than on previous viewings.

As with the video, Hellbound's audio shares much in common with its older sibling, although if anything it's slightly more expansive, with Christopher Young's score effectively evoking the sort of grand scale that one would associate with a trip to Hell. The low end is also that bit deeper, particularly the booming, Morse code claxon calls emitted by Leviathan. Once again the 5.1 audio is that bit quieter than the 2.0 track, but it sounds fine once you compensate for the difference.

Hellraiser III is limited to a stereo soundtrack, which inhibits its ability to create an immersive experience comparable to the other films. However, we’re talking about the original soundtrack here, so it’s not really something that should be of undue concern. The track still has decent stereo panning and dialogue is well prioritised, although some of it is very loose (Doc's lines in particular). I suspect this to be an issue with the original material rather than the Blu-ray though. As with the video (and indeed the film itself) the quality of the audio presentation isn't up to the standards of the previous entries, with even Christopher Young's score feeling slightly incongruous.

Extras


Arrow has assembled a mightily impressive collection of supplemental material for its Scarlett Box release, comprising commentaries, documentaries (both old and new), featurettes, short films, press materials and more. Here's a complete breakdown of the discs' contents.

Disc 1: Hellraiser

  • Audio commentary with writer/director Clive Barker
  • Audio commentary with Barker and actress Ashley Laurence
  • Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser – brand new version of the definitive documentary on the making of Hellraiser, featuring interviews with key cast and crew members
  • Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser – actor Sean Chapman talks candidly about playing the character of Frank Cotton in Barker’s original
  • Soundtrack Hell: The Story of the Abandoned Coil Score – Coil member Stephen Thrower on the Hellraiser score that almost was
  • Hellraiser: Resurrection – vintage featurette including interviews with Clive Barker, actors Doug Bradley and Ashley Laurence, special make-up effects artist Bob Keen and others
  • Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser
  • Original EPK featuring on-set interviews with cast and crew
  • Draft Screenplays (BD-ROM content)
  • Trailers and TV Spots
  • Image Gallery

Disc 2: Hellbound: Hellraiser II

  • Audio Commentary with director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins
  • Audio Commentary with Randel, Atkins and actress Ashley Laurence
  • Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II – brand new version of the definitive documentary on the making of Hellbound, featuring interviews with key cast and crew members
  • Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound – actor Sean Chapman talks about reprising the role of Frank Cotton in the first Hellraiser sequel
  • Surgeon Scene – the home video world premiere of this legendary, never before-seen excised sequence from Hellbound, sourced from a VHS workprint
  • Lost in the Labyrinth – vintage featurette including interviews with Barker, Randel, Keen, Atkins and others
  • Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound: Hellraiser II
  • On-set interview with Clive Barker
  • On-set interviews with cast and crew
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage
  • Rare and unseen storyboards
  • Draft Screenplay (BD-ROM content)
  • Trailers and TV SpotsImage Gallery

Disc 3: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

  • Alternate Unrated Version (97 mins)
  • Brand new audio commentary with writer Peter Atkins
  • Audio commentary with director Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley
  • Hell on Earth: The Story of Hellraiser III – making-of documentary featuring interviews with Atkins, Keen and actor Ken Carpenter
  • Terri’s Tales – brand new interview with actress Paula Marshall
  • Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
  • Raising Hell on Earth – archival interview with Hickox
  • On-set interviews with Barker and Bradley
  • Never-before-seen Hellraiser III SFX dailies
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Image Gallery
  • Hellraiser III comic book adaptation (Disc gallery)

Disc 4: The Clive Barker Legacy

  • Clive Barker short films Salomé and The Forbidden
  • Books of Blood & Beyond: The Literary Works of Clive Barker – horror author David Gatward provides a tour through Barker’s written work, from the first Books of Blood to the recent The Scarlet Gospels
  • Hellraiser: Evolutions – a brand new documentary looking at the evolution of the hit horror franchise and its enduring legacy, featuring interviews with Scott Derrickson (director, Hellraiser: Inferno), Rick Bota (director, Hellraiser: Hellseeker, Deader and Hellworld), Stuart Gordon (director, Re-Animator, From Beyond) and others
  • The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith – short film

  • 200-Page Book: Damnation Games
  • 20-page booklet featuring never-before-seen original Hellraiser concept art
  • Limited Edition packaging with new artwork from Gilles Vranckx
  • Set of 5 exclusive art cards
  • Fold-out reversible poster

As you can see, that's a lot of material. Of particular note is the re-edited, multi-part documentary 'Leviathan', which (Barker aide) includes interviews with just about all of the important players in the films' inception, production and release. For someone relatively unfamiliar with the features it made for compelling viewing. If that isn't enough, you also have six audio commentaries to further elucidate, along with Arrow's new 'Evolutions' documentary, which is exclusive to this release. Also exclusives are some of Barker's early films, an interesting exploration of Barker's written works, and a short film inspired by the original feature (although the production values and acting leave a lot to be desired). Unfortunately we didn't receive a copy of the limited edition book, the art cards, or the poster, so I'm unable to comment on those, but even so this is a fantastic compendium of Hellraiser material. I even found a couple of Easter eggs!

Overall


I must admit to being something of a hardcore Elm Street fan in the eighties and nineties, so I didn't really pay much attention to the other horror franchises of the time. I didn't see Hellraiser and its immediate sequel until some time after their home video release, on a family holiday to Staffordshire when I was given free reign at the rental store. I remember watching them back to back alone one evening in a spooky holiday cottage, but while the imagery stayed with me for years to come I didn't find them particularly scary. The same can be said all of these years later, but now I appreciate other facets; elements and themes that eluded me as a child. I really rate the original picture for its comparatively simple tale of obsession gone wrong ( very wrong), and the sequel for its more ambitious scale. It's a real pity that the third film turned the Cenobites, and in particular Pinhead, into just another bloodthirsty slasher, as Barker's original incarnation of the character was far more interesting.

As for Arrow's Scarlett Box, well the audio-visual presentations are a cut above anything that's come before, with the first two being quite impressive given their low budget origins. I was slightly disappointed that the third film didn't live up to the AV standards set by its predecessors, but it seems fitting given that the feature itself marked the start of the series' inevitable decline. The extras follow a similar trajectory, with the first two pictures receiving the best of the material, but there's still a lot of interesting info on part three. Exclusive to this release, the fourth disc houses some great content and is surely a must for hardcore Barker fans. The materials we didn't get – the book, the art cards and so forth – must surely add to the overall worth. All things considered this is a great release, but unfortunately if you didn't have the foresight to pre-order you'll be paying a hefty premium on sites like eBay. Of course the individual films will receive separate releases down the line, but if you want the fourth disc and additional collectables it's going to cost you...

 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
 Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box


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