Hellraiser (UK - BD RA/B)
Our Leigh Riding prepares to open the box once again, this time on Blu-ray...
Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) finds himself in possession of an intricate puzzle box called the Lament Configuration and, upon opening it in his attic, is brutally dragged to hell. Sometime later, Frank's brother Larry (Andrew Robinson), his wife Julia (Claire Higgins) and their daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) move into Frank's unused house. While moving, Larry cuts his hand, and the ensuing blood seeps into the floor, resurrecting Frank partially. In order to fully reconstitute himself fully Frank convinces his secret former lover Julia to lure men to the attic so that he may kill them and use their blood to revert to his original form. However Kirsty discovers this plan and solves the puzzle box herself, which summons the demonic Cenobites, who arrive to not only reclaim escapee Frank, but also take Kirsty, the new opener of the box, back to hell with them too.
While I'm not exactly a horror aficionado along the lines of our very own Gabe Powers and the Wilson brothers, I can certainly appreciate the genre, and while the impact of the brand has dramatically diminished with countless and pointless sequels, the original Hellraiser still stands as one of the best examples of the genre, and definitely one of my personal favourites.
If one were to come in to Hellraiser blind, they may be rather surprised by the very deliberate pace of the film. While there are numerous setpieces smattered throughout the first two thirds of the film, the majority of the scenes are hugely character based, focussing on the minutae of relationships and family life in a way that can be rather affecting if you relate to Larry and Julia's situation in any way. Rather than drag the tone of the film down, it in fact turns the screws even harder when the more unfortunate and brutal events take place.
Bearing in mind that this is Clive Barker's directorial debut, Hellraiser is directed with an incredibly steady hand despite some wildly fluctuating production values. Barker handles the actors incredibly well, with old Scorpio himself Andrew Robinson shining as both the against-type placid nature of Larry and the complete flip side of his alter ego, which I won't reveal here for fear of serious spoilers.
Barker also handles the technical aspects of the production rather well despite some of the obvious limitations of his rather tight budget. Everything is shot rather ominously, even in relatively naturalistic domestic scenes, but of course the real show is based in the attic, where Kirsty finally gets to meet the bats in the belfry. And what a showstopper that is, as we get a taste of the now iconic Cenobites.
It's hard to believe in the ensuing years of increasingly shoddy Weinstein produced shelf fillers centred around the ubiquitous Pinhead, just how sparingly used these demonic creatures are used in Barker's films, and just how more powerful they are for it. It helps that the creature designs are outstanding, created by British FX supremo and occasional director (I believe he made the not-that-bad Carpenter riff Proteus) Bob Keen, who brings this nightmarish S&M freaks to vivid life. However, the real power of Pinhead himself is not the howling monster he looks, nor is he quipping his way through his scenes Freddy-style. Pinhead (as he's not known as at this point; I believe the first use of that name was in Hellraiser III, and please correct me if I'm wrong) is in fact a rather refined, erudite creature who would be seen as enigmatic if only he wasn't such a horrific vision. What a shame he was reduced to product recognition in what was more an anthology series than true sequels.
Hellraiser, despite some iffy, iffy optical effects (don't even get me started on the wall-crawler) and technical flubs, has aged rather well for a film that is twenty-two years old, and still retains its ability to chill to the bone despite the eventual watering down of the series.
Hellraiser is delivered in 1080p at 24fps in its OAR of 1.85:1, and while it looks as good as it's going to get, there are many of the same problems that have plagued all of the previous releases. While there is none of the digital blocking that occasionally affected the standard def Anchor Bay version of the film, there is still the issue of the image being simply too dark for its own good, presumably in an attempt to hide the fairly poor quality of the original print (remember, Hellraiser was made on an incredibly tight budget). The film still holds a considerable amount of grain, which is fine by me as the film has a soft image as it is, and any more softening to eradicate simple grain would be a poor choice. However, the colour has been toned down from the previous releases, and as a result the regular use of reds and blues isn’t as heavy as they have been before. While it's not a stand out Blu-ay title by any stretch, it really is the best that the film's gonna look.
A TrueHD 5.1 track is offered on this disc, and for the first two thirds of the film, you may question why. Being mostly dialogue based, the whole thing is naturally flat and rather dull by nature, despite everything sounding quite clear. However, things really kick in when we come to Christopher Young's majestic score, which is hugely powerful in its execution, and the track doesn't sell it short. Things also kick up a notch with the arrival of the Cenobites, with chains whipping around the surrounds like nobody's business, a healthy use of bass, and when Pinhead finally speaks, you bloody well know about it. Again, it's worth reinvesting in an upgrade.
While the US have been lavished with this anniversary special edition (which incidentally, this BD is not advertised as), we Brits have been saddled with a pared down version for years, so again this warrants a re-purchase for fans. First up is the old commentary track from previous releases, because as Barker himself says in one of the features on the previous release ‘this is the last time I'm gonna talk about this son-of-a-bitch movie’, but thankfully it's a goody. Featuring Barker, Ashley Laurence and co-screenwriter Peter Atkins, it's an interesting track. Barker naturally holds court, and it's a great listen purely because he is brutally honest about what works and doesn't work in the film.
Next up is a feature new to the UK, (‘Mr Cotton, I Presume?’) in which Andrew Robinson talks about his career from Dirty Harry to Hellraiser and beyond rather candidly, being both disappointed at his typecasting, and alternately proud of his work on this film and with Barker. Another new feature contains an interview with Ashley Laurence, who to be frank, moans about pretty much all of the career that other people have paid for, but hey, it's new content for the BD.
The last of the new UK features is an interview with Christopher Young, which is essential for fans of his wonderful score.
The Doug Bradley interview that was on the previous version appears again here, and it's good to hear his reminiscences of the role and his fondness for it. Also returning is 'Hellraiser: Resurrection', the retrospective documentary, which runs for just under half an hour, but is so rammed with information that the brevity is irrelevant.
The disc is rounded up with various TV Spots, trailers, trivia track and a photo gallery featuring various production stills, FX work and storyboards. It's a sturdy Blu-ray set, and well worth reinvesting in for fans.
I may be a little biased, but even the more ambivalent of reviewers will nod toward the importance of Hellraiser; for reference, take a look at our Gabe Powers' great review for a different view of the film. It's a must if you've never seen it, and if you have, there is enough technical polish and added bonus content to warrant a repeat purchase. Highly recommended.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 20th July 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English HoH, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Clive Barker and Star Ashley Laurence and Peter Atkins), Fast Film Facts, Mr Cotton, I Presume?: An Interview with Star Andrew Robinson, Actress From Hell: An Interview with Star Ashley Lawrence, Hellcomposer: An Interview with Composer Christopher Young, Hellraiser: Resurrection Featurette, Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser, U.S R-Rated Trailer, U.S G-Rated Trailer, International Trailer, 4 TV Spots, 4 Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Ashley laurence, Claire Higgins, Doug Bradley
Length: 94 minutes
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