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Movie Review: Hellraiser


Pimping ain’t NEVER been easy.

Hellraiser (1987 New World Dir. Clive Barker)

Depending on your view, either nothing good or something wonderful will come from this box.

There’s a Monty Python sketch that starts with a bishop and two of his buddies sitting in an audience for a game show and they sit up and yell “Open the box! Open the box!” for whatever reason. I always assumed it was some British game show I knew nothing about. But what if, what if they were kinky? Maybe those religious people in that sketch wanted this box opened, so they could share in the delights that the cenobites have to offer. Now the rest of this review has got some pretty bad images, so I’m going to have to put them under a cut because this is a family LJ.

Insert stupid joke about “Don’t go to pieces” here.

It’s sometimes hard to go back and watch Hellraiser just on its own merits now, after so many bad sequels have come and gone. I liked the first sequel well enough, but after that they were pretty terrible. Of course part of the problem is my view of what makes a proper horror movie. I’m not too keen on slasher flicks and from Hellraiser 3 and on that was all they were. The first two though were what I like in horror, they were monster movies.

Sadly, I’m a sexless twerp.

Of course being a Clive Barker story, the real monsters turn out to be the normal people, while those who are outwardly monstrous seem to be sort of okay. Well, not okay because the cenobites are still monsters who would like to rip your face off, but their not as bad as Frank and Julia. Frank and Julia wouldn’t even wait for you to finish the funky Rubick’s Cube from Hell before starting in on you. At least the Cenobites wait to be called and don’t just jump you for your blood or anything like that.

I’m the pretty one, so I shall live!

This is still pretty early in Barker’s career and in some ways the rough edges are still showing where they shouldn’t. Barker’s work always has a pretty rough edge, but here the edge is rough because of limitations in budget and experience. That’s not to say the movie is bad in anyway, but merely that one can see the room for improvement. There is also still a shyness about the work in an odd sort of way. For something so famously explicit, I’ve always felt there was a certain coolness and distance in his work when it comes to some of the subjects. The subjects he seems to get fussy over though are the normal things, meals, conversations, the semi-almost-not-quite romance between Kirsty and her boy toy. When it comes to creatures with sewn shut eyes and necks held open by wire, he’s got no problem with that. Something about the ordinary seems to disturb him though.

A small gathering of saints.

One of the things about this movie, is that it seems like they want you to think that it takes place in American, with a lot of American actors. They’ve dubbed half the actors in the movie to give them American accents. The main characters (besides Julia) are all supposed to be American and the father Larry clearly states that it’s his parent’s home. There are bits with people in New York Yankee’s ball caps, and other little oh so American touches. Except that it’s England. It’s so clearly England though that the wikipedia article states the movie takes place in England. Actually it was shot to take place in England, and then the distributors decided to get them to blur that line and pretend it was America because they thought it would do better that way. That’s not important though, because where the movie takes place hardly matters, what matters is the movie itself.

He’s going to get “nailed” here. Oh gods, what lousy jokes.

If you miss the first two minutes of the movie, you’re going to wonder what the hell this movie is about. Except for those two minutes, the first twenty minutes are just a story about a guy moving back to his parent’s old house while his wife remembers an affair she had with his brother. If you miss the bit at the beginning where Frank gets torn apart by the Cenobites, who you only see for a few seconds, you’d wonder why it’s called Hellraiser at all. Not only that, but you’ll wonder why so much detail is given to certain parts of the movie. If you miss those first two minutes, you’ll be totally out to sea for a good long while. Guess how I saw it the first time. Go ahead, guess! Even having seen the opening two minutes, it seems there is a long bit of family drama before the horror gets started.

What a sweet face, you could take him home to mother.

So the movie starts with a guy getting a wood and metal box, the lament configuration. It’s never actually called that in the movie, but that’s what it is. He gets the box, opens it up, and chains suddenly rip into his flesh and tear him apart. The room is then re-decorated with a lovely chain and spinning rectangular column motif. We then see an early shot of the cenobites playing around in the attic and putting Frank’s face together on a floor. Then he closes the box and it all vanishes, including the lovely re-decorating job. I can only assume Frank was behind on his mortgage repayments and they repossessed everything including him. That really is the first two minutes of the movie, roughly. I’ve never actually timed it out or anything, but it seems to go by very fast.

Bride of Frankenstein hair here.

The next bit, the next 20 minutes or so, it very odd by horror standards. I say odd, even though they’re perfectly ordinary in reality. It’s odd because this is not a happy family, but it’s a movie family. If this were a typical movie, we’d have a happy family that would have a perfect life if only those pesky minions of hell would stop trying to interfere with them. Instead we have a dysfunctional family with an insufficient husband, his wife who longs to cheat on him with his brother, and the daughter that isn’t really wanted by her step mother. Not a happy family, so when the reanimated corpse of Frank shows up, it’s already a full tale.

Dancing in the dark.

The thing is that the story is really dependant on this family being the way it is. If it were a happy family the one little thing (hell’s minions) would never be able to touch them. I know that it’s really Frank and Julia who push the dark portions of the story forward, after the first accident of course. See Larry cuts his hand and bleeds all over the floor of the attic where Frank was killed. That blood brings Frank over again, and from there the movie starts to move forward.

Beauty takes effort.

Frank comes back from the dead but only part of the way. He’s sort of a wasted walking skeleton when he comes back, and he needs more blood to come all the way back. Essentially he needs Julia to commit murders for him, which she decided to do in order to get him back. She does this by picking up men and bringing them to the house so she can kill them. After whacking a couple of guys with a hammer, Frank then consumes them somehow that’s not really clear to me. He becomes more complete with each person she brings long though, that much is clear.

There has to be some joke about feeling out of your skin or something that goes here.

During this time Kirsty, the actual star of the film, is being followed around by a creepy tramp in a Dr. Who scarf. She sees him a few times while wandering around the unnamed city. The tramp is just an extra bit of creepiness for the movie, which doesn’t have a pay off until the end of the movie. There is also a semi-subplot about Kirsty having a boyfriend and trying to start a relationship, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. Kirsty fails to have much to do with the story for about half the movie. It’s not until she discovers the box that Kirsty really has anything to do with the movie.

Smoking kills!

Kirsty discovers the box when she sees Julia taking another victim to Frank’s clutches. She hears the man scream and goes into the house, working her way up to the attic where Frank is waiting. Frank tries to attack her, but she gets a hold of the box. Frank reacts immediately to her having the box, and she throws it out the box out the window. She then grabs the box again and runs away, before collapsing on the street. She then wakes up in the hospital where a doctor gives her the box and asks about it.

What a wonderful box she has.

Kirsty, not understanding the significance of the box, plays with it and opens the door to hell. Then the cenobites come onto the stage for real, after a bit with a monster in the corridor of course. When they actually show up, the cenobites are really quite threatening. They don’t come off as any sort of goofy monster with zippers up the back or a silly make up job that was only half done and shot in the dark to cover up the errors. The cenobites are shown in hard white light, so bright that it’s almost like shooting them in the dark because the light allows very little shadow and it almost over lights them.

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

They explain what they are and that she opened the box which called them. Seems the cenobites are sort of the BDSM crowd of the underworld and as such they can get into some REALLY freaky stuff. Instead of just whips and leather cuffs, they go for hooks with chains on the end. Kirsty more or less loses it and demands that she didn’t know what the box was. While they tell her about what the deal is she tells them that she knows where Frank is and that she can lead them to her. See, Frank got away from them and they resent it. Frank it seems is the guy who shows up to a play party thinking it was going to be an ordinary orgy and decided to check out when he discovers it’s a lot of BDSM stuff going on. However, instead of just telling him not to let the door hit him where the good lord split him, the cenobites say he can’t leave until they’ve played with him. When he escapes with the equivalent of a pair of hand cuffs on and a ball gag in his mouth, they come after him.

Hansome man.

She goes back to the house to tell her father and Julia about Frank. The thing is, that it’s not her father who tells her that Frank is dead. It’s Frank in her father’s skin, having stolen it after killing Larry. She goes into the attic to see her father’s dead body, thinking its Frank and finds the cenobites telling her that they want the person who killed the dead body before her. She thinks the dead body is Frank and tells them no. She then runs down stairs thinking that they’ve come for her father, but discovers the truth a little too late. She does manage to lead Frank back up to the attic though, and the cenobites come and get him. I’m putting a lot of tension into a little paragraph, but it’s all there trust me.

The suit makes the sexy.

Of course after coming back to get Frank, they put all their hooks into him and he delivers one of the great lines in horror films. All Frank says, while being held in the hooks before being taken away is the phrase “Jesus wept” which has got to be one of the all time great lines. Barker has said that he had something more obscene planned but that the actor playing adlibbed the line thinking it was a more apt line to give.

Jesus wept.

Sadly, the nightmare isn’t over then, because the cenobites had decided that she was still needed as a plaything. She plays with the box to close it up the door and send the monsters away. This also causes the house to fall down for reasons I’m not really clear on. The house always falls down in these movies though, so it’s expected. When they get away, Kirsty tries to burn the box. Sadly, after throwing it in the fire the tramp from earlier comes back and grabs the box out of the fire. He then turns into a giant skeletal dragon and flies away with the box. The movie then closes on pretty much the same scene it started on, the bazaar with the man asking “What’s your pleasure sir?”

The world, Pre-Ebay

What’s interesting is that the monsters that this series is known for is hardly in the movie. In total the cenobites have maybe five whole minutes of screen time. It’s jus that they dominate the screen whenever they’re on it. They’re not even the monsters of the movie, as I said earlier on. Frank and Julia are the monsters here. If anything, the cenobites are sort of the hand of authority that come to put things right instead of making things go wrong.

Another dramatic 80s hair moment.

I think there are some six to eight versions of the movie on DVD right now. I have one from Anchor Bay that has a commentary and few other featurettes. It also came with a second disc that holds Hellraiser II on it. I know this review degenerated more into a simple description about the movie rather than being an amusing review. I’ll try harder next time.

The last three are presented because I mis counted my paragraphs.

Sewn up eyes.


I feel a fart comming on!

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Movie Review: The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961 AIP Dir. Roger Corman)

Later! At stately Wayne Manor!

Another of the American International Pictures movies based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s not as colorful as the later of Corman’s Poe movies would be, but it is a good watchably flick. Out of all the movies from the Poe Cycle, as Corman calls it, that I have seen I think this one deviates from the story the most. It takes place during the 16th century in Spain, after the Inquisition is over. A man named Nicholas Medina has lost his wife to fright and morns her deeply, until her brother comes along to berate him about it and sends him into a spiral of insanity.

I’ve said it before, I’m gonna say it again, and I’ll keep on saying it! Pimpin’ ain’t NEVER been easy.

A man named Francis (isn’t there always a guy named Francis?) comes to Spain to find out how his sister died. He comes and hangs out with his brother in law, trying to discover what happened to his sister, becoming more suspicious because of the lameness of the explanations given. He then announces that he’s not leaving until he figures everything out and just try and stop him! This strangely isn’t really argued by anyone. They welcome in fact, even though he treates them with nothing but suspicion and hatred.

A typical scene where Francis is shouting at someone.

Actually, he just gets suspicious because he shows up suspicious and wanders around like he’s Hercule Poirot or something. He seems to think that the fact that it took more than a month to get word to him in England from Spain was just too darn long. Evidently in the 16th century he expected to get a text message. “Dear Frnk: Liz ded. 😦 Nik.” Having not received a text, he harasses the poor members of this house hold until poor Nicholas is driven insane. I think because he’s the so called “normal person” in this story we’re supposed to be on his side, but I wasn’t. I hate Francis and I wanted him to die in a fire! However, as you can probably guess, he doesn’t die in a fire. This is because there is no god, since Nietzsche killed him in the drawing room with the dagger. Having been robbed of a merciful almighty, we are forced to endure Elizabeth’s evil and sadistic brother.

Ah. those heady days when we looked at everything through aqua-marine glasses because we couldn’t get rose ones.

Bringing a doctor over for a drink, he explains to the evil Francis that his sister died of shock. The castle is evidently a place that scares the life out of people on a more than metaphorical level. I hate to harp on the brother so much, but I’m watching a scene right now and all this nitwit does is bark questions at people and all but accuse every person he comes across of killing his sister. He constantly interrupts Nicholas as he tries to tell him what happened until Corman saves us with one of his delightful flashbacks. The tricks used in this would be pretty simple today with a computer, but in those days they had to be run through a processor several times to get the neat looks that they have.

Dude, she just died, ya know?

This leads to another bit of story which explains that as a young boy Nicholas saw his father torturing and killing his mother and uncle. Mostly it’s an excuse to show Vincent Price as the evil man his character would end up emulating at the end of the movie. Of course he only does that after cracking because of Francis and his insatiable need to accuse and decry poor Nicholas. Most of his evils aren’t actually seen on screen, but trust me Francis is at the center of everything that destroys this happy home by the end of the movie.

The past was better because they had color themed rooms.

As part of his campaign to destroy poor Nicholas, Francis gets Elizabeth’s ghost to haunt poor Nicholas. It starts with harpsichord playing at night, which was Elizabeth’s specialty. When they discover the harpsichord they find it splatters with blood and with a ring sitting on it. Francis of course comes to the conclusion that Nicholas faked the whole thing, waving the ring around to cause emotional damage to as many people as he can. The doctor friend then admits that Nicholas thinks that Elizabeth might have been buried alive and that this whole thing could be part of his delusions. So as we can see, Francis has turned Nik’s best friend against him.

A new music safety film… “Blood on the Keyboard!”

Francis’s campaign of terror continues as he pretends to discover a secret passage he used to destroy Elizabeth’s room. He and his accomplices destroy the place, and then screams badly acted accusations at poor Nicholas, knowing full well he himself did it all to destroy poor Nicholas. Nicholas and company go down to Elizabeth’s tomb and crack it open, of course finding a corpse that had tried to claw it’s way out of the casket. This of course was a plant, put in place by the wicked Francis and his cohorts in order to destroy the innocent Nicholas. This does the job though and sends Nicholas over the edge. This drives even the doctor away, in guilt for his part in helping the evil Francis no doubt.

I’m gonna start bustin’ some caps!

After finding his little game has done so much harm, Francis tries to make up for it by telling Nicholas’s sister that he doesn’t blame Nicholas and that he knows Elizabeth’s death was an accident. Of course in reality, Francis’s intent is much different and he’s only toying with her. In reality he’s kept his sister alive and hidden from view, so they could destroy Nicholas and steal his home and wealth! When it’s reveled that Francis’s sister Elizabeth is indeed alive, it’s quite a shock and sends him into a full blown madness. Strangely, Elizabeth looks sort of like Michael Jackson circa 2002.

Seriously doesn’t this look like Michael Jackson? Anyone? Work with me here people!

When it all comes out, it is shown that the doctor and Elizabeth were in love and faked the whole thing just to help Francis get Nicholas’s money. They don’t mention Francis’s part in the plot, leaving that rather obvious point up to the audience to decide. It’s so clear that you don’t have to mention it, we know what evils Francis has concocted. When they admit their adultery, Nicholas goes nutso and re-enacts his father’s murders, even taking on his personality.

Sadly Francis is not on fire here. An opportunity missed if you ask me.

The thing is, even though Nicholas has now gone mad and throws the doctor into the pit which holds half this story’s name, I still feel for him. I certainly feel for him far more than the wicked Francis, who shows up about this time to look in on his handy-work. Ah! But Nicholas gets his own back on the little scum bag! He put him under the pendulum that carries the other half of this story’s name. This is slightly unfortunate though, as the pendulum is one of the fakest and least threatening things in the whole movie. It looks like something from a high school play.

Not a matte painting, this was all built, and they only use it in one shot! The waste of Hollywood huh?

Of course Nicholas keeps the tension running by slowly lowering the fake looking pendulum, which is nice because Francis deserves it! Sadly he doesn’t get it, Nicholas’s sister and one of the servants who have swallowed Francis’s lies help kill him and get away. I kept expecting that the police would kick down the door and arrest Francis for his evils, but he seems to get away with it. It’s even implied that he and Nicholas’s sister will shack up together for a while, until Francis kills her after she writes him into her will of course.

Um… still in the box! Little help?

As the movie closes, we see Elizabeth still locked in an iron maiden. This is sad because Francis, the sister and the servant are all looking at her in the iron maiden as she says “No one will ever enter this room again” leaving us to understand that Francis is prepared to leave even his sister in his wake of death and madness. I’m not going too far with this, I think, when I say that Francis is the most evil character in American Cinema. We are then treated to a quote from Poe, which kind of sums up my feeling about Francis by that point.

Word brother, word.

I would like to say a few words about Vincent Price’s acting job in this film. I find it interesting that someone who played so many roles in these Poe movies did such a careful job with each one. He could have just phoned in his performances, or played the same character with different names each time, but each performance has a subtlety and grace to them that lacks in many A listed movies never mind the B listed ones. In The Pit and The Pendulum, he plays such a nervous and timid fellow that you just want to protect him from all the world’s evils.

Secret to happiness? Find a job you love!

Even though these movies were made cheap and fast, they don’t really feel lazy or rushed. Each one was made with a careful hand, measured and practiced. I think that’s what makes them a joy to watch even to this day. Corman and crew did a lot of work in pre-production and making moves for economy. If you look carefully as these movies go you can see a lot of the same bits of set over and over because they kept and reused things, adding to the size and scale with each movie, it’s quite a smart movie really. I tease about some of these movies, because it’s hard to write two thousand words about a movie when you’re tired without getting into snarkville (population: me), but I really do love these things. I would always suggest that people hunt these down because they are totally worth watching.

October 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment