My Movie Review: HELLRAISER (1987)

What would you do if you were offered unimaginable eternal pleasure?
What would you do if you were offered to see things no one has ever seen before?What would you do if you were offered immortality?
What would you for that?
A lot?
Even give your soul?

These are some of the questions the movie Hellraiser asks. It is the old motive of a person who seeks pleasure and sells his soul to the devil. We have come across this story in books like Goethe´s Faust or in movies like Rye´s The Student of Prague. But in 1987, director and author Clive Barker released his movie and opened a new dimension of how to tell this story…

The plot: The Cenobites annihilate his body and take his soul

… Julia Cotton and her husband Larry move into an old family house in London. They do not know that something terrible happened here before. Frank Cotton, Larry´s brother, was given a strange puzzle box that resembles a cube. This box can be altered to different constellations. By chance, Frank changes the box to the Lament Configuration. This summons the demons from another dimension, dark angels from hell – the Cenobites. Frank now has to learn to he can only have eternal pleasure when he suffers unimaginable pain, too. The Cenobites annihilate his body and take his soul. His remains are left in the attic.

When Larry injures himself, blood spills on the floor and Frank comes back to life. He needs more blood to revive and reconstruct his body. Julia, Larry´s wife and Frank´s former lover, helps him. She brings people to the attic and Frank kills them and sucks their blood. His body is almost complete when Larry´s daughter, Kirsty, who visits her father and her stepmother, discovers Frank´s hideout. Frank tries to kill her in order to complete his body´s reconstruction and get away from this place before the Cenobites get to know he is still alive and has escaped them. But Kirsty manages to escape – and she has the puzzle box with her.

Kirsty awakes in the hospital. She lost consciousness because of exhaustion. While lying in her bed, she plays with the box – and changes it to the Lament Configuration. The walls open and the Cenobites appear, ready to take her to hell.

But Kirsty has one last chance to save her life and makes a pact with the dark angels…

Hellraiser set a new standard in the genre of horror

With this movie, Clive Barker did a great job in transforming his short story The Hellbound Heart into a movie. Hellraiser set a new standard in the genre of horror movies at this time: the movie´s atmosphere is very dense and dark, depressing and realistic. The producers and the film release company New World Pictures had a lot of courage to make his movie against the clean and bright Hollywood movies and their often static and one-dimensional protagonists. The characters are wonderfully depicted and multidimensional. Moreover, the special effects and the costumes are stunning: The Cenobites really are very threatening and their gothic looks fit into the plot perfectly. This movie revived the genre in the 1980s and shaped the looks of many horror movies to come. Although the graphic violence is sometimes extreme, it is never misplaced and always serves the story.

Hellraiser is a must-see.

Hellraiser deals with the story of the devil taking your soul in a whole new way. It succeeds in actually giving a visual idea what hell could look like. And these impressions are very frightening. Moreover, the way in which the movie deals with the themes of belief, morality, greed and the self-destructive longing in man to explore everything, no matter what risk is to be taken, is very convincing and gives a whole new fascinating insight. Hellraiser is a must-see. To describe what kind of effect this movie will have on you, the movie´s tag line may be quoted: It will tear your soul apart.

Image: New World Pictures.


I have written this film response in 2000 in my “The Horror Movie” undergraduate class (University of Massachusetts at Amherst).

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