Sometimes the most beautiful stories are told in the most gruesome ways. Hellraiser is triumphant at telling a story that makes the viewer both cringe and begs for more. It all begins when Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) buys an attractive puzzle box from a shady dealer. He then opens the box, which releases complete torture and what we assume to be his death. Later on, Frank’s brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson), moves into his childhood home with his creepy and unfriendly wife, Julia (Clare Higgins). In addition, Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), is staying near her father’s house. The family soon realizes that Frank was recently in the old home, and after an accident that involves severe amounts of blood, the disfigured Frank is back in the picture again.
We eventually learn that the puzzle box has supernatural powers that bring forth demons from hell. The demons are mutilated and creepy, but they also seem somewhat fair. If you open the box, you see demons or angels, depending on your desires and passions. We never see angels, but the demons bring enough scares and genuine interest that you will not care much about heaven.
While the concept of Hellraiser is straightforward, it also comes across as mythical and fascinating. The idea that this tiny little box brings forth pain, pleasure, death, and beauty is intellectual and fundamentally human. We are not privy to all the answers about the box, but viewers will not feel confused because of this film’s excellent storytelling and pacing. Hellraiser exhibits genuine fear through splatter, mutilation, and pop-out scares. While all the gore may be too much for some, the exciting story will keep people watching even if they occasionally have to close their eyes.
The score, by Christopher Young, is brilliant and arguably one of the best. The ending, while open-ended, is satisfying and rewarding for the viewers. Negatives about this film only include the effects. When body parts are torn apart, it looks like Play-Doh stretches to its outer limits. This benefits some; realistic mutilation would have been too much for some viewers. The amount of sheer gore will seem over the top, but the excess of blood is exactly what the philosophy of the puzzle box is going for. Some people desire so much pleasure that their entire life is about searching for excess.
Horror fans who desire an excellent film that pushes you intellectually and emotionally should watch Hellraiser. While you may not like all the guts, bugs, and body parts, you will understand and accept it as necessary storytelling.
If you liked Hellraiser, you might also like Phantasm.