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.
“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.
‘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 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.
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):
Disc Two (DVD):
Disc Three (DVD):
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.