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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
"Devils to some, Angels to others."
HELLRAISER is based on a very short story by Clive Barker called THE HELLBOUND HEART. And yet, this short story inspired 5 movies (and counting). Only the first two were any good so those will be the ones we focus on.
HELLRAISER is a movie that goes long on creativity and ideas but falls far short on execution. This is typical of Clive Barker movies whether we are talking about his best (CANDYMAN, NIGHTBREED) or his worst (RAWHEAD REX, LORD OF ILLUSIONS).
HELLRAISER begins with a simple transaction. An ornate puzzlebox sits on a table. There is nothing special about it other than it is nice to look at. Hands enter the picture and begin counting off bills from a large wad of money. The transaction made, the moneyed hands then hesitate to touch the coveted box.
"Go ahead," coaxes the seller. "Take it. It's yours." The man takes the puzzlebox, stands, pauses for a moment, then walks away. With relief, the seller sits back in his chair, brings his pipe to his lips, and says contemptuously, "It always was."
In the next scene the man squats in the center of the floor surrounded by candles. This is some kind of ceremony and the puzzlebox is the focus of it. He attempts to unlock the puzzlebox, running his fingers along its various designs. Little by little it opens up and then . . . Merry Mishaps occur.
Very wicked mishaps!
Lets just leave those mishaps alone and go to the next part of the story where we find a man and his wife moving into a new house. Hubby (Larry played by Andrew Robinson: CHILD'S PLAY 3, TRANCERS III, THE PUPPET MASTERS) is trying to be glad that they are starting over. Wifey (Julia played by Claire Higgins: HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, B. MONKEY) is not. She looks like her skin crawls at the very sight of him.
Later, as they are moving their stuff in, Larry hurts himself rather wicked and goes to his wife so that she'll fix the boo-boo. Larry can't stand the sight of blood, not even his own (Larry was never into sports obviously). He finds Julia standing in his brother Frank's old bedroom. She has been reminiscing over the sex she and Frank used to have, from the very start of her marriage, to Larry. Larry remains unaware of the beau coupe trysts that went on there. Nobody knows where Frank is except us, and we are about to find out that we don't know everything either.
As Larry bleeds on the floor, the blood falls between the floorboards and into something rather nasty looking. Later, in a very gruesome scene, a varmint comes popping out of the floorboards and reconstitutes itself somewhat. This is Frank y'all! Come back from wherever!
Too bad that bitty smattering of blood wasn't near enough to make Frank a whole person again. In a scene that clearly shows just how much
he scares the beejeezus out of her with his bloodied, skinless, bony appearance; then he seduces her.
For a reality check consider the following: Julia is played as the villain here, yet any woman who could love her man this much must be applauded! I mean, if you've ever walked into the house all sweaty from work or sports and your wife or girlfriend refused to hug or kiss you until you got cleaned up - well, your gal's love for you is clearly not in the same league as Julia here. In fact, your gal probably has the bloody zombie corpse of her true love waiting to kill you in the shower! So that swanky new knife block you thought of getting her for her birthday?
Word to the wise!
Frank enlists Julia's help in bringing him men to slaughter. Their deaths will make Frank whole again. Of course, all he really needs to be whole is the rest of his brother Larry, but Julia can't bring herself to do that . . .
Now to make things sticky (even stickier than Frank), Larry's daughter from a previous relationship, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence: HELLBOUND: Hellraiser II, MIKEY, HELLRAISER III, LURKING FEAR, WARLOCK III, HELLRAISER VI), is hanging around and making a nuisance of herself. Kids! Teenage kids!
Little by little this movie which doesn't seem, at first, to have a central hero, focuses on Kirsty. Since HELLRAISER was made in 1987, the teen-style of the day was New Romance: Complete with silly ass hats, poofy poodle hairstyles for the boys, and a laughably ridiculous look altogether. Fashion is a pathetic joke, has always been a pathetic joke, and will always be a pathetic joke. That's why it changes so much so often. It gets old real fast.
Besides the gore, which is not only done quite well but is also necessary to the plot, another fascinating thing HELLRAISER brings to the table are the Cenobites.
These are tortured varmints from Hell. They respond to those who would solve the puzzle boxes. Why? Because the boxes are rare and attract a very specific type of person: A person of malicious, selfish evil more often than not. So the Cenobites, despite their harsh, violent natures, are actually doing the rest of us a favor. We can't have enough of them actually!
Problems with this movie crop up due to poor lighting and poor direction. I've seen all of these actors in other movies and they have all done much better. Clive Barker is an outstanding writer, but as a director he stinks on ice! Like those ads with Shaquille O'Neill as a horse jockey - being great at one thing doesn't mean you can be great at everything.
The writing, also by Clive, falls apart when stretching his 14 page story into a feature length film. A street transient (Frank Baker) makes an ominous appearance here for reasons unknown, does things inexplicable, and then vanishes throughout the rest of the movie. He's like a "Scream Kitty" in those old 70s monster movies. He's only there to go "Boo!" in places where the script drags. Too bad that instead of quick fear he is only used for slow disgust. It makes the draggy parts of this movie even draggier.
So HELLRAISER is not without its problems. That said, the movie does get to the point in a round about fashion and the visuals, and the idea behind them, are amazing!
HELLRAISER doesn't stand up to any of those films, yet for all that it has a place in my heart as one of my favorite all time movies and I really can't explain why. I love it despite its flaws and warts. It makes the mind buzz long after the movie is over and that is why I give it 4 Shriek Girls.
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