Hellraiser is an excellent horror film which deserves to be in a genre all on its own. The creation of the sick and twisted Clive Barker, this film is based on his short novel the Hellbound Heart. Released in 1987 the film was made on a shoe string budget and became a springboard for Barker to enter the world of cinema. It lasts a standard ninety minutes, an hour and a half of tense, horrific and dreamlike story telling.The plot surrounds Frank Cotton a bit of a dodgy geezer who solves a puzzle box and opens the gateway to hell. Hideous guardians of the torture chambers of hell, called Cenobites, are responsible for all the souls. Consequently when Frank escapes hell with the help of his brother Larry´s wife (who does a good impression of Lady Macbeth) the Cenobites want him back. Enter dimwitted daughter of Larry who obligingly re-opens the box and then sells out her evil uncle to get Pinhead and his Cenobites to allow her to live.
The plot sounds weird and complicated but it is done convincingly and provides the right mix of revelation and mystery. What really made this film popular was the invention of Pinhead and the Cenobites, terrifyingly hideous characters well versed in the arts of torture and suffering, like a powerful gang of S&M extremists but much more scary. Their characters are expanded further in later films Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (or perhaps hell on video). Although this film is cheap Barker writes and directs and he really knows what he is doing. The locations chosen are all good and suitably creepy, the effects are cheap but convincing, the use of imagery and sound to unsettle the viewer is excellent (especially the scene where the daughter, Kirsty, is in the hospital).
The film builds the tension slowly, an accident when Larry and his wife are moving into his mother's old house allows Frank to begin his return to life. There is an excellent display of acting from Clare Higgins as Julia, and her descent into evil is well documented as she helps Frank with his evil schemes. The rest of the acting is fairly poor but this is never allowed to spoil the film, although I do find Ashley Laurence, who plays Kirsty, very irritating. The mystery and creepiness surrounding Pinhead and the Cenobites is increased by the short amount of screen time they have and yet they are still the most memorable feature of the film. All of the cenobites look genuinely frightening and the scenes showing Frank as he returns to "normal" are fantasticly well done.
This film is an original horror masterpiece and it is a great shame that a bunch of halfwits had to step in and ruin the franchise. This film is written and directed by Barker but the sequels get progressively worse, Hellraiser II is based on a story by Barker and includes him as one of two Executive Producers, it still feels like the creation of Barker and there are some nice touches but it is not up to the standard of the first film. Hellraiser III is based on characters created by Barker and again lists him as an Executive Producer but it has lost the intensity and rawness of the earlier films and does not really follow on from part two.
Any horror fan who is yet to discover Pinhead must go and watch this film now. One of the few imaginitive and enjoyable alternatives to the classic slasher flick this is a horror film with some style and gravity about it. Barker's conception of horror is a great deal more horrible than most people can imagine and yet he cleverly weaves in the usual human problems of adultery, jealousy and devotion to create a well balanced and unsettling film.