Blu-ray
Worth a Look
3.5 stars
Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
3.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
4 Stars
High-Def Extras
0.5 Stars
Bottom Line
Worth a Look

Hellraiser Puzzle Box

Street Date:
April 21st, 2009
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
April 13th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
1987
Studio:
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Length:
192 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

Introduction

Later this month, Starz/Anchor Bay gives the devil his long-awaited due by finally offering ‘Hellraiser’ in high-definition. The ‘80’s horror classic is summoned to Blu-ray in two different incarnations: first as a standalone edition, or for the more dedicated souls—packaged as part of this elaborate ‘Hellraiser Puzzle Box’ collection.

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

“We have such sights to show you!”

In a decade overrun by repetitive slasher flicks, Clive Barker changed the face of horror when he unleashed his terrifying and twisted vision of hell on earth in 1987’s ‘Hellraiser.’ Not only did the film turn the genre on its head by pushing the limits of intensely graphic imagery, it’s also responsible for spawning one of the most ominous and iconic horror legends of all time. I’m sure I speak for many when I say that a mere glimpse of the otherworldly Cenobite we’ve come to know as Pinhead still sends shivers down my spine. And now for the first time ever, we can see ol’ pincushion and the ugly mugs of his cohorts in glistening 1080p.

Adapted from his own novella, ‘The Hellbound Heart,’ writer-director Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser’ tells the tale of Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman), a corrupt and perverted deviant whose life of debauchery and quest for fulfilling his self-centered desires steers him to purchase the key to ultimate ecstasy in the form of a mysterious and mystical puzzle box. Frank takes the box home and solves the puzzle, opening a gateway to the netherworld inhabited by a race of demonic travelers called Cenobites—whose ideas of pleasure involve sadistic torture, bodily mutilation, and nonstop Billy Mays infomercials running 24/7. Okay, maybe I made that last one up. Anyway, Frank is painfully reeled into their dimension and never seen or heard from again.

That is, until Frank’s mild-mannered brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into the Cotton family home sometime later with his second wife Julia (Clare Higgins) and the help of his daughter from his previous marriage, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence). When Larry accidentally cuts his hand on a nail, his blood trickles onto the old wooden floor, somehow allowing an undead Frank to escape and return to our world. Although the blood rejuvenates him, Frank is thirsty for more to become fully human once again, so he secretly recruits his former lover, Julia, to do his bidding. As Frank grows stronger and stronger, Kirsty discovers the peculiar puzzle box, and the answer for thwarting her evil uncle and stepmother just may be resting in the palms of her hands.

Like most horror movies, ‘Hellraiser’ is a little light in the plot department, but at least Barker mixes things up a bit with something that hasn’t really been seen before. While the film is a morbidly ghoulish tale with stomach-churning visuals, at the same time it’s a story driven by intense lust, passion, and seduction undertones that it can practically be considered a chick flick from hell. Plus as a brilliant painter himself, Barker injects his own gothic interpretation of hell with an artistic stroke of genius. Even the way he shoots his scenes with certain camera angles and utilizes the spooky locales to their full effect, it’s hard to believe that his only directorial jobs prior to ‘Hellraiser’ were for a pair of short films a decade earlier.

Of course, the performances themselves don’t hold up as well as Barker’s imaginative writing and stylish direction, but then again that’s to be expected. The stronger ones are Robinson as a relatively simple man completely oblivious to his wife’s infidelity, and at the climax he quite literally shifts into an entirely alternate skin. Then there’s Higgins, who makes for one devious snooty bitch viewers love to hate. We also can’t forget Doug Bradley, either, who doesn’t actually say much as the imposing Pinhead and doesn’t really need to. Laurence on the other hand was probably the worst, and to be fair she didn’t do all that terrible for her first movie role. Too bad she had to suffer the “introducing” curse, though, as that nearly always seems to drag an actor’s career out behind the woodshed and shoot it before it has a chance to take off.

A huge shout-out has to go to special make-up effects designer Bob Keen and his crew for producing the amazing visual effects used in the movie. The Cenobites are unquestionably some of the most disturbing beings ever to grace the screen, and the transformation of Frank through his different stages of decay still looks outstanding by today’s standards. If it weren’t for Keen and his team, ‘Hellraiser’ wouldn't have had nearly the iconic status it has enjoyed over the years.

In the end, 'Hellraiser' isn't what I would call "scary" in the traditional sense, as it doesn’t really make you want to cover your eyes when you know something bad is about to happen and I didn't encounter any real jump moments. But between Barker's haunting story, his effective direction, and Keen's unsettling monster designs, the film etches itself into one's psyche and the vivid imagery lingers long after it's over.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

‘Hellraiser’ is conjured to a BD-50 with a suitable 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer framed in 1.85:1 aspect ratio to fill widescreen televisions. Even though the disc doesn’t exactly boast an immaculate high-definition picture, I’m convinced this is the best the film has ever looked.

In comparison to the standard-definition DVD (conveniently provided in this set), the Blu-ray picture is sharper and detailing is more defined. Black levels are also deeper in the new transfer, plus there’s more to see within the shadows. All one needs to do is take a gander at the grisly body parts hanging on chains in the Cenobites’ realm to see what I mean. A fair amount of grain is still present and the picture is often on the soft side combining to create an almost powdery-look, but in a strange way this actually suits the nightmarish dreamscape of the movie. Other times the video quality is crystal clear with solid depth, such as the flashback scene where Julia opens the door to see Frank standing in the rain and we can make out all of the details in his drenched face. I did notice the odd white speckle here and there, although there weren’t any other noticeable defects in the print. Considering ‘Hellraiser’ is now over twenty years old, Starz/Anchor Bay did a fine job and deserves a silver star for this one.

It’s also worth mentioning that the ’Hellraiser’ Blu-ray apparently isn’t region-locked, so the disc should play in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The Blu-ray gives ‘Hellraiser’ an upgrade to a lossless English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. I’d say it’s a step up over the DVD’s lossy soundtracks, but still isn’t quite up to par as some of the newer releases we’ve seen lately.

Christopher Young’s haunting score is without question the highlight of the track, filling the soundstage nicely by sometimes seeping into the rear channels and frequently accommodating a low bass. Eerie rustlings and other unearthly sound effects also creep to the surrounds every once in awhile, too, enhancing the already chilling atmosphere.

Where the movie suffers a little is with the dialogue, as parts of it comes through clear while other times I found it a hair distant and quieter than expected. This could just be a factor resulting from some of the British accents being dubbed over with American voiceovers, however, and even with this minor wart ‘Hellraiser’ fans should still be pleased with what the Blu-ray delivers.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Starz/Anchor Bay includes a whole slew of supplements scattered across the three discs in this set. All of the bonus features are presented in standard definition only and most of what’s included on the Blu-ray are extras recycled from the ‘Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition’ DVD.

Disc One (Blu-ray):

  • Audio Commentary – First we have an audio commentary with writer/director Clive Barker and actress Ashley Laurence, moderated by screenwriter Peter Atkins. Barker is a fascinating and enigmatic individual, and although I didn’t find this one quite as intriguing as his contribution for ‘The Midnight Meat Train,’ it’s still a worthwhile track to check out for fans of classic horror.

  • Mr. Cotton, I Presume? – An Interview with Andrew Robinson (SD, 16:11) – In this more recent interview, actor Andrew Robinson reminisces about his first movie role as Scorpio in ‘Dirty Harry,’ how he ended up starring as Larry Cotton in ‘Hellraiser,‘ and much more.

  • Actress From Hell – An Interview with Ashley Laurence (SD, 11:57) – Another recent interview with actress Ashley Laurence. She’s pretty candid in this one, as she has no qualms talking about how the sequels didn’t live up to the first movie and how she was under contractual obligations to appear in them.

  • Hellcomposer – An Interview with Composer Christopher Young (SD, 18:18) – The composer for the ‘Hellraiser’ score discusses how he got started making music, what it was like working with Clive Barker, and other insights in this interview.

  • Hellraiser: Resurrection (SD, 24:23) – A traditional “making of” featurette where Clive Barker delves into the creation of the story and directing process. There are also interviews with the stars and a look behind the scenes.

  • Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on 'Hellraiser' (SD, 12:31) – In this featurette, Doug Bradley talks about the Pinhead character, what makes him tick, and his experiences in the make-up.

  • Trailers and TV Spots – Three ‘Hellraiser’ theatrical trailers (two U.S. and one international) along with four television commercials.

  • Still Galleries – Four different still galleries: “Behind the Scenes,” “Make-up & SFX Photos,” “Promotional Material,” and “Storyboards.”

Disc Two (DVD):

  • ’Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary Edition’ – The second disc of this box set is a DVD of the original film for those who may not have jumped on the Blu-ray bandwagon yet or wish to have a copy for the computer or cabin. This DVD includes all of the above bonus features, as well as DVD-ROM access to the first and final drafts of the screenplays in PDF format.

Disc Three (DVD):

  • ’Hellbound: Hellraiser II: 20th Anniversary Edition’ – The last disc is a DVD copy of the first sequel. This DVD also contains an audio commentary with director Tony Randel, writer Peter Atkins, and actress Ashley Laurence; seven featurettes; four theatrical trailers and two TV spots; and a poster and still gallery.

Collectible Packaging:

  • Puzzle Box – All three discs come housed inside a plastic case resembling the Lament Configuration Puzzle Box from the films. The box is slightly bigger than the one seen in the movies to accommodate the size of the discs, which are held firmly in slots in the center.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

The Blu-ray does include a few high-definition exclusive supplements:

  • Fast Film Facts – Various factoids about ’Hellraiser’ and Clive Barker periodically appear on screen when this pop-up trivia track is activated. Many of these informative tidbits are mentioned in the commentary.

  • BD-Live – The Blu-ray is also BD-Live enabled with an area that is supposed to feature trailers and downloadable content in the future, but as of this writing the section is still “coming soon.”

Final Thoughts

Due to the explicit gore and demonic subject matter, Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser’ obviously isn’t a movie for everyone, but to this day it still remains a classic in the genre that pushed the envelope of the macabre and introduced the world to the now legendary Pinhead. This ‘Hellraiser Puzzle Box’ makes a great gift for any hardcore ‘Hellraiser’ fan since it includes the first and second films on DVD as well as the first feature on Blu-ray (for those who have or are planning to get into the high-def market), and the plastic replica casing of the sinister puzzle box is a nice touch. More casual collectors who aren’t interested in all of this swag may just opt for the single Blu-ray release (which is virtually identical to the disc found in this set) that boasts pretty decent audio and video and a great assortment of supplements even if they are recycled from previous releases. Whichever product is your pleasure, either one is bound to raise a little hell.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray BD-50
  • 2 DVDs

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC (Blu-ray)

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Spanish

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Featurettes
  • Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots
  • Galleries

Exclusive HD Content

  • Pop-up Trivia Track
  • BD-Live

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