Though I am certain Hellraiser is considered a classic in some circles, I was not exactly hopping up and down at the chance to see it for the first time. The horror genre is one I rarely dip into, save for the occasional zombie-based feature, but after considering how popular the franchise is—or was, at least—I decided it wouldn’t hurt to see what all the fuss was about. And aside from the almost orgasmic amount of gore present on the screen, I’m really not sure where all the love is coming from.
The story of Hellraiser plays out like an extended episode of Tales from the Crypt, and it begins with a very sweaty gent named Frank buying a mysterious (and obviously evil) box which, well, kills ‘im good. We’re talking hooks and blades and all kinds of sick gadgetry. You know, the kind of thing a Hot Topic employee might be into if they didn’t work at a Hot Topic. A few weeks later Frank’s house is bought by his brother, Larry, and his wife, Julia. Julia and Frank had a steamy, monkey-like affair back in the day, so Julia’s pretty upset over the sudden disappearance of her old flame.
In a twist which raised more questions than intrigue, blood spilt after Larry slices his hand open on a nail brings Frank back to life, at least somewhat. He starts off as a gooey pile of bones, so throughout the film Julia lures victims to the house so she can offer her lover even more life-affirming blood. All the while Julia’s step-daughter Kirsty slowly learns about the bizarre situation at her father’s new home as well as the box from the film’s introduction. We quickly learn how it calls forth a quartet of “explorers,” led by the overly pierced Pinhead. The gang, known as the Cenobites, is not happy about Frank being back with the living, so Julia strikes a deal with them to kidnap Frank in exchange for her own life being spared.
With so many wildly different ideas bouncing around in one movie, it’s easy to see why nothing is truly explored in detail. Frank’s resurrection doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and neither do the rules of how the box operates. Supposedly it is very hard to solve the puzzle of this little doodad, but it’s clear from watching the movie that all you have to do is press a button and it opens instantly. During the final moments of the film Julia uses the box to somehow defeat the Cenobites, randomly pressing segments of the box in order to make them vanish. Why does this tactic work? Finally, the continual appearance of a very creepy hobo has no real payoff whatsoever, only adding to the stack of tiresome questions I have with this story.
But again, it’s obvious no one cared to consider the answers, as Hellraiser is less an actual film than an exercise in Hollywood makeup skills. And in this department the movie does shine, with a boatload of effects which for the most part still hold up today as being very bizarre and dark. Seeing as how the film is relentlessly grim, however, the gore, blood, and violence becomes second nature after about half an hour. The movie stops being scary and degenerates into predictability, and that’s too bad. I expected a little more in the way of inventive mythos and compelling characters, and all that was given to me was a big bucket of fingers and eyeballs. For some, this may be enough, but I found Hellraiser to be entirely forgettable as an overall piece.