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 debut 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.
It's a strange feeling to grow up with a franchise, to see one entry after another line the shelves of your local mom and pop video store. That is exactly what happened with me and 'Hellraiser' - a franchise I was keenly aware of at a very young age but wasn't able to fully appreciate until I was a teenager. When I was a kid we had a great local video store that would rent movies out to people at a rate of a dollar a day. A "late fee" to them was simply paying the difference for how long you kept the movie out. It was also before computer inventories were available so they tracked who checked out what movie by writing the name and phone number on a 3x5 index card. My name was scrawled all over the 'Conan' growing up, but I always wanted to rent 'Hellraiser.' You see, that little shop had a hell of a horror section and the VHS box art lining the shelves was like walking through a museum, I just wanted to look at the covers and I particularly was always taken aback by the gnarly image of a man with nails in his face. But I was way too young rent that one. I would have to wait until I was much older to discover the visceral fleshy horrors Clive Barker created. Today, as an adult, I get to fully appreciate the immense joys the 'Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box' has to offer.
"You solved the box, we came. Now you must come with us, taste our pleasures."
Pain and suffering are but a couple of the pleasures man can enjoy when taken to the extreme. Pleasure took Frank Cotton (Oliver Smith and Robert Hines) to the depths of hell when he opened the mysterious puzzle box and was torn to pieces by the Cenobites (Doug Bradley, Grace Kirby, Nicholas Vince, and Simon Bamford). When the blood from a cut hand falls on the place where he died, Frank is resurrected. His onetime lover and now sister-in-law Julia (Clare Higgins) must help Frank recover by delivering fresh bodies for him to drain the blood from and rebuild his skinned body. Julia's husband Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson) is completely unaware, but his young daughter Kirsty (Ashely Laurence) discovers the horrors living in the attic of the family home - and the only way to stop Frank and Julia's murderous schemes is to make a deal with the same devils who tore Frank to pieces.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
"Your suffering will be legendary, even in Hell!"
Mere hours after surviving the horrors of Julia and Frank, Kirsty Cotton is taken to an asylum run by the seemingly benevolent Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham). At first, Kirsty is calmed and reassured as Channard seems to be the only one who believes her, but the truth is far more nefarious. It turns out Channard is much like Frank, an explorer in the further reaches of pain and pleasure and is obsessed with solving the puzzle box and uses one of his obsessive patients named Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) in order to see the Cenobites for himself. After resurrecting Julia, Channard is finally able to solve the box and is taken deep into the labyrinthian hell of the Lament Configuration. Kirsty must rescue Tiffany and once again escape from Julia, the Cenobites, and a newly transformed Dr. Channard.
Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth
It was a simple statue with some weird stuff sculpted into it, but for New York hell-themed club owner J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt) it's mesmerizing and would make the perfect accent piece for his penthouse above his nightclub. Little does he know it contains the demon Cenobite Pinhead (Doug Bradley). As mysterious deaths surround J.P.'s club, investigative reporter Joey Summers (Terry Farrell) starts digging into the case. When Pinhead is set free, unbound from the and creates a new legion of Cenobites, all hell breaks loose. Guided by a seemingly benevolent spirit of Pinhead's human soul, Joey is the only person capable of solving the puzzle box and banishing Pinhead and his minions back to the black pits of hell where they belong.
When I was growing up, the idea of "the law of diminishing returns" wasn't something I even remotely considered with the movies I watched. 'Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze' was better than the first. 'Aliens' was better than 'Alien.' 'Superman IV: The Quest for Peace' was easily better than 'Superman: The Movie' (don't judge me, I was four when this came out and I have since learned the error of my ways). It was just a truth for me that sequels could only be better than the first movie. Then I started getting older and I became more aware of story flaws and many of the films that I once loved didn't hold up. The 'Friday the 13' sequels progressively became sillier and sillier after the fourth entry. None of the 'Nightmare' sequels really ever held a candle to the first film. When I finally was able to rent the 'Hellraiser' movies, I was keenly aware that the franchise was hitting a harsh downward spiral by the time the opening credits of 'Hellraiser: Hell on Earth' got rolling.
For me, 'Hellraiser' is an exceptional piece of modern gothic horror. By playing with themes and ideas found within Dante's Inferno and putting a unique spin on the vampire mythos, 'Hellraiser' became a bloody, disgusting, and at times uncomfortable horror movie favorite. It also happened to be my introduction to what could be described as BDSM culture. This was a pre-internet era, after all, I couldn't just Google the stuff like kids can do today. I had to rent violent horror movies to understand that there was a subsection of the population that took pleasure in pain - at least controlled amounts of it. The thing that I always loved about the original 'Hellraiser' film is that it was - at least to me - about addiction and the effects it has on family. This is obviously a very loose interpretation but it's applicable. Uncle Frank has a problem that he ropes his brother's wife into and the results tear apart the entire family. On top of the blood, the guts, and the liberal usage of maggots and offal to depict some truly gut-churning imagery, 'Hellraiser' was a horrific movie and scary because it hit home. The terrors of Pinhead and the Cenobites were localized, they were intimate to the immediate characters and the rest of society was unaffected by these events. As a result, I became a Clive Barker fan and began reading his works.
By the time I was rewinding 'Hellbound: Hellraiser II' I was well aware that the series was starting to show the strain of its concept. It had to go bigger. it had to take the audience to hell and back and the only way to do that was through some familiar characters. While I was fine with Ashely Laurence's Kirsty as some sort of anchor character, I like most audience members was there to see Pinhead and pals distribute some hook and chain pain and suffering on some unsuspecting rube who managed to open that damn box. As much as I did enjoy in concept how they expanded the universe and introduced the Leviathan and the Escheresque depictions of hell, I did feel like the Cenobites and the emergence of the phallic-fingered Channard Cenobite started to look and feel too much like a traditional slasher film. It's because of the ideas behind Pinhead and the depictions of Hell and how unrelated they were to characters like Michael, Freddy, and Jason that made these films so appealing to me. It was a horror franchise that didn't follow those traditional tropes. So by the end of this film, I felt like it was a good follow-up, but was starting to drift into becoming a bit of a traditional slasher film filled with scenes of our heroines endlessly running away from slowly stalking monsters. Even with the cliched elements, the series was still fresh, it still had potential.
All of the goodwill built up through the first two films dissolved into a pile of celluloid goop with 'Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.' Initially, I was not a fan of this film. At all. In fact, I despised it. In the years since I've come to appreciate it for the goofball horror fun it provides, but I don't really consider it as much of a sequel to the series. Simply put, you can feel the lack of involvement from Clive Barker and the subtlety the first two films enjoyed. Subtle is not at all a word that can be used to describe this film. While it's fun watching Doug Bradley emerge as the franchise lead character Pinhead and get a lot more screen time, the rest of the story this film tries to weave together is just a sad mess. The new Cenobites aren't scary and instead are just silly hammy creatures with great makeup effects who deliver entirely too many one-liners. The original Cenobites, Butterball, Female, and Chatter were fearsome. They were creepy and made you fear the dark corners of a room. These new guys made you laugh. You shouldn't be laughing at these hell-spawn creatures. But, that's what you get when Dimension Films acquires a beloved horror franchise. They become sad comedic versions of themselves designed by comity to sell a chart-topping soundtrack and merchandise rather than scaring the crap out of people.
While I do consider 'Hellraiser: Bloodline' to be a worthwhile and satisfying entry into the series, and to a certain degree 'Hellraiser: Inferno,' the 'Hellraiser' brand in of itself could use the reboot magic. Under the right conditions, that is. After spending the last fifteen years wallowing in the depths of direct-to-DVD hell, Pinhead is primed for a comeback. While a remake/reboot has been in the works for some time and is rumored to be overseen by Barker himself, this new vision for the franchise has yet to materialize in earnest. Perhaps it should stay dead. I for one wouldn't mind trying out some brave new filmmaker's vision of terror under the right conditions. Where the franchise rests now is like so many other horror series, a couple of decent films followed by numerous terrible ones. 'Hellraiser' and 'Hellbound: Hellraiser II' are classics in my book. They're unnerving, uncomfortable, grotesque and scary. 'Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth' can be viewed as a good bit of gory fun, but it's the prime example of what can happen when a small independent horror franchise becomes too commercial.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Arrow Video's 'Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box' is a beautiful box set special edition. As a four-disc set, each film is given their own Region A BD-50 disc and is packed with new and archival bonus features and easter eggs. Each disc is given their own book-like sleeve and rests in a hard, secure plastic cradle. Each disc opens with the Arrow Video intro before arriving at their respective animated main menus with traditional navigation options. In addition to the discs, this box set comes with a 200-page hardcover book by Clive Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes, Character Image cards, as well as reprintings of Barker's own concept art for the Cenobites with storyboards from the first film. Also included is a double-sided pinhead poster that looks amazing in a lightbox frame (should you have one).
Sporting a fresh new 2K transfer approved by Director of PhotographyRobin Vidgeon, the final results of this 1.85:1 1080p transfer may divide fans. For comparison sake, I only have the original Anchor Bay release from 2009 so my review skews from that experience. While the Anchor Bay release was pretty good for its day, I always felt that certain scenes were too soft and could appear overly dark. On the flip side, this new transfer from Arrow appears significantly brighter. This doesn't ruin the mood of the film any as blacks are still oppressively black and bleak, but there are some moments where whites almost bloom. That is the only negative I really have for this transfer. Contrast is under control and the image sports and impressive sense of three-dimensional depth. Film grain is present throughout and to some may have a bit of a "mosquito" appearance, however, the uptick in detail levels more than makes up for the somewhat noisier appearance. Colors are still very strong here with reds given that deliciously gooey appreciation they deserve. Flesh tones are accurate and healthy and our favorite pain-dealing cenobites look appropriately pale and disturbing. This new restoration also mitigates visible print damage the previous Anchor Bay release exhibited as there are far fewer scratches and only very minimal speckling apparent. Where I would give the previous Anchor Bay release a respectable 3.5/5, I'm giving this new one from Arrow a solid 4/5.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II:
Also benefitting of a fresh new 2k restoration approved by Director of Photography Robin Vidgeon. This transfer is light and day above the previous Image release. Film grain is retained and can still maintain that "mosquito" look in some places as the transfer for 'Hellraiser,' however, this one appears much more stable and less overtly noisy. It's also a lot clearer and more sharply detailed than ever before. I've owned this film on VHS, LaserDisc, and DVD, and was never really impressed by the transfers as the film always tended to look soupy. That look is why I never purchased the Image Blu-ray from 2011 because it just never impressed me enough to make the upgrade. All misgivings I ever had about the appearance of this film flew out the door as soon as the primary film got rolling. Details are stronger than I've ever seen them, Skinless Julia, for example, offers up some impressive fleshy details in the costuming and makeup. Colors are bold but favor that cool clinical look of that eery hospital. Flesh tones are stable and healthy looking with some very strong primaries. As a far bloodier film than the first, the blood effects look better than ever as in previous releases blood tended to look rather orange. Contrast is kept to normal levels as blacks look richly inky and provide the image a strong sense of depth. Free of any speckling or scratches, the only negative I have for this transfer is some very slight flicker in a couple of scenes. Taken as a whole, this is easily the best 'Hellbound: Hellraiser II' has ever looked in my eyes. 4/5
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth:
Also given a fresh new 2k transfer, 'Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth' makes a solid Blu-ray debut with it's 1.85:1 1080p transfer. Film grain is apparent, but much finer and less pronounced than its predecessors. Detail levels are pretty decent throughout, there are a few sequences where that can appear a tad hazy and soft and can lose some of the finer facial features but overall everything looks pretty good, not blow your hair back amazing but still impressive. Costuming comes through fine, even though most may not want to remember late 80s, early 90s stylings. The Cenobites, even for how ridiculous they appear in this film do look pretty fantastic allowing fans to see and appreciate all of the gory details. Colors favor the warmer side of things, flesh tones skew a bit tan than the previous films but otherwise healthy and accurate. Primaries have a strong presence with plenty of pop. Damage, if any, is minimal as there doesn't appear to be any scratches or speckling present.
'Hellraiser' arrives with two terrific audio options to choose from: an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 mix as well as a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Apples to apples, they both have their strengths and should please fans. If I was being forced to choose with chains and hooks tearing me apart, I'd have to favor the LPCM 2.0, solely because it feels like it has a stronger LFE presence and gives Christopher Young's beautiful score a little more front and center presence during the darker bits. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 does offer up a fantastic surround experience, however, in some places it can feel a bit too spread out leaving the dialogue to sound a bit softer requiring you to ride the volume controls more than one would normally have to do. On the flip side, the LPCM 2.0 is very front loaded and has a more restricted imaging presence. While both tracks offer up clean and clear dialogue, they have differing spatial experiences. This one is going to come down to user preference as both tracks are fantastic, clear, crisp and without any age-related issues to speak of. 5/5
Hellbound: Hellraiser II:
Just like the first film, 'Hellbound: Hellraiser II' arrives with an LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. In this instance, I give outright preference to the LPCM 2.0 mix. Dialogue seems to sound too soft in the 5.1 by comparison so whenever anyone speaks in a low hushed tone it requires frequent volume riding as the adjoining scene may prove to be too loud. The LPCM mix is given the added benefit of a richer LFE presence as the dark ominous tones of Christopher Young's score once again comes through with a little extra oomph. The sounds of the screaming patients in the disturbed wards are also much more pronounced making that classic utterance "Get them off me!" that much more chilling. The sense of imaging does tend to favor the 5.1 mix, but the film always had a very stereo sound design to it so a 5.1 surround mix never felt needed. Free of any age-related hiss or damage, both tracks get the job done, but the LPCM 2.0 mix is the clear winner in my book.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
This time around, 'Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth' arrives with just an LPCM 2.0 mix. To be honest, that's really all this film needs. It was never much of a movie, to begin with, and this stereo mix takes care of the heavy lifting quite nicely. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout without any interference from the impressive background sound effects mix or the Randy Miller score. That said, it does tend to have a dubbed lifeless quality to it like everyone had to loop their lines in post without enough sleep. Imaging is minimal even in this stereo form as there just isn't much in the way of channel movement. Even when "all hell breaks loose" the mix is pretty front loaded, but thankfully there is enough separation between the elements to give the mix a sense of space and atmosphere. All around this is a pretty great track and serves the film well.
Disc One: Hellraiser
Audio Commentary: This is an older commentary featuring Director Clive Barker flying solo. It's not as strong as the one he did with Ashley Laurence and Peter Atkins, but he does remain engaging throughout offering up some great details about the production. He even keeps a good humor about how "latex" some of the effects look.
Audio Commentary: This is a classic commentary track featuring Barker, Screenwriter Peter Atkins, and Star Ashley Laurence that was featured previously in several other home video releases. Atkins and Barker do a great job of keeping the focus of the commentary committed to what is on screen. Laurence also provides some interesting insights as this was her first film.
Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser: (HD 1:29:17) Comprised of vintage and new interview material, this is really and truly the definitive making-of documentary about the film. Featuring interviews with the cast and crew, it's an exhaustive look at the film and it's legacy all these years later. Doug Bradley, in particular, is a great contributor as he had been a part of the franchise for nearly 20 years and offers up a lot of perspective of where the series started and how it progressed.
Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser: (HD 26:24) The actor talks about how he got into acting very early on in his teens and how he came to be involved with 'Underworld' and then 'Hellraiser.'
Soundtrack Hell: (HD 18:11) Composer and Coil band member Stephen Thrower discusses his abandoned score for the film.
Hellraiser: Resurrection: (SD 24:26) This is a collection of vintage interviews with Braker, Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Bob Keen and other players in the film.
Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser: (SD 12:31) Bradley discusses how he came to know Barker and getting involved with the film.
Original EPK: (SD 5:58) I remember this feature from the end of my old VHS tape I brought from my hometown video store when they closed shop. Still, fun to look at all these years later.
Theatrical Trailer: (SD 1:37) Gotta love how a mention from Stephen King was enough to market a movie!
Red Band Theatrical Trailer: (SD 1:36)
International Trailer: (SD 3:27)
TV Spot 1: (SD 00:34)
TV Spot 2: (SD 00:32)
TV Spot 3: (SD 00:32)
TV Spot 4: (SD 00:33)
Draft Screenplays: Accessible only through a BD-ROM drive.
Disc Two: Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Audio Commentary: Director Tony Randel and Screenwriter Peter Atkins provide and entertaining and engaging commentary track. The two clearly worked well together as they have a great rapport with one another as they discuss the genesis of the ideas behind this sequel, their approach to the material, and bringing the effects to life.
Audio Commentary: Director Tony Randel, Star Ashley Laurence, and Screenwriter Peter Atkins provide an interesting commentary. The editing of this track is a little wonky at times, while all three players were recorded together, there are moments that sound like they're not in the same room. Still, a great commentary as the three have some solid interplay discussing their experiences with the film.
Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II: (HD 2:00:46) Like it's predecessor documentary, this is an exhaustive and impressive making of feature. Every aspect of the production is examined ranging from the success of the first film and the drive to showcase and expand the world of the cenobites. It's very interesting to hear the genesis of the ideas behind the film, why Barker wasn't as heavily involved, and how Director Tony Randel managed his first big gig.
Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound: (HD 11:35) This is a nice follow-up interview with the actor as he gets to discuss the short time he had to work on the second film.
Lost in the Labyrinth: (SD 17:03) This is a vintage making-of bonus feature with interviews with Barker, Randel, Atkins and other cast and crew members.
Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound: (SD 10:53) This is another nice vintage feature that lets the actor talk about his character at length.
Clive Barker On Set Interview: (SD 3:18) This is a very brief EPK feature that was included on the old VHS.
Cast and Crew On Set Interview: (SD 4:45) Another brief but informative EPK feature.
Surgeon Scene: (SD 4:49) The long lost scene that was supposedly never shot appears here in workprint form. It's incomplete as they actually never shot the VFX sequences for it. All in all, it's understandable why it was cut, it's sillier when you see it than that infamous photo from the VHS box would have you believe.
Behind the Scenes: (SD 1:51)
Theatrical Trailer: (SD 1:52)
Red Band Theatrical Trailer: (SD 1:33)
TV Spot 1: (SD 00:33)
TV Spot 2: (SD 00:33)
Story Boards and Promo Materials
Draft Screenplay: Accessible only through a BD-ROM drive.
Disc Three: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Audio Commentary: Screenwriter Peter Atkins offers up an interesting and engaging commentary. It's interesting to hear about the ideas he had for the film and its slim link to the second film and how Julia as the Queen of Hell would have been the ongoing baddie of the series if Pinhead hadn't been so iconic.
Unrated Version: (HD/SD 1:36:38) This cut of the film runs a few minutes longer but mostly only showcases some more blood and nudity. Since these extra scenes' original elements elements were missing, they were taken from a fullscreen LaserDisc so the quality notably shifts when they crop up, similar to how Scream Factory added scenes for their 'Exorcist III: Legion' cut, but of a decidedly higher quality.
Unrated Version Audio Commentary: Director Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley provide a fun commentary as the two clearly had a great time working together and share a great amount of information about the production.
The Story of Hellraiser III: (HD 32:01) Similar to the previous "Leviathan" entries, this is a fairly extensive making-of bonus feature, not as long, but still very thorough.
Paula Marshall Interview: (HD 14:55) The actress discusses working on the film and the makeup work involved in turning her into a Cenobite.
Anthony Hickox Interview: (SD 13:59) The director talks about his love for horror, working on the film, making sure Peter Atkins was on set to make sure things felt like they belonged within the Hellraiser series.
Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser III: (SD 13:46) Bradley gives some great details about the crazy circumstances that went with the rights after New World collapsed and new producers began fiddling with the story and crew.
Original EPK: (HD 5:12) This is a very brief, tried and true cast and crew interview material feature.
FX Dailies: (SD 23:49) This is a very cool look at all of the practical effects done on set for the film. It's silent, so you don't get a great sense of what is going on outside of the scene.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 1:52)
Hellraiser III Comic Adaptation: Can be read using the chapter skip function to turn the pages.
Stills and Promo Material
'Hellraiser,' for better or worse, is a franchise that has endured for nearly 30 years now. The series may have gone downhill with each subsequent direct-to-video sequel, but the original trilogy films stand as favorites of the genre. I personally have a deep love for these movies and they have long been staples of my collection on various home video formats. Arrow Video has delivered fans of the series an incredible collection containing the first three films with terrific new image transfers and audio tracks as well as hours upon hours of bonus materials. Add some fun easter eggs, all of the swag, and a 200-page book, they just don't make special edition home video releases like this very often making this one hell of an amazing set. While I know this is something that will only appeal to a few, but to those few, it's safe to call 'Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box' a must own Blu-ray set.