Today’s Experiment: Hellraiser
Why I Wouldn’t Ordinarily Watch it: I knew of this film being a second-tier horror classic, so it just didn’t seem all that important to me.
Why I Gave it a Chance: I have seen many references to the villain, Pinhead, and wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.
Review: In my previous installment of My Netflix Adventures, I discussed how Troll 2 was a film that is “so bad it’s good.” Despite having poor acting, directing, writing, editing, and sound, the utter ridiculousness of everything that occurred provided constant entertainment. If you require further clarification as to what separates “bad” bad films from “good” bad films, watch Hellraiser, and understand it completely. Hellraiser is not so bad it’s good, but rather so incompetent that everyone involved should have been barred from filmmaking forever.
Julia is an unfaithful wife stuck in a loveless marriage with the dull Larry. Still hung up on the memories of passionate nights with Larry’s brother, Frank, she can’t seem to muster up any enthusiasm for anything involving her husband. When the couple moves into an old house, Julia discovers something horrid and amazing in the attic. Before they moved in, Frank performed a strange ritual in the attic involving a puzzle box, which ultimately led to his grisly demise. When Larry accidentally drips blood onto the attic floor, it somehow resurrects Frank from the realm of the Cenobites, a race of sadomasochists who take anyone who solves their puzzle box. But Frank isn’t a whole man when he returns, stripped of all flesh and organs. When Julia discovers Frank, she agrees to help him regain his human form by luring unsuspecting men back to the attic for him to feed upon.
Hellraiser is a pointless film without even the slightest hint of quality entertainment. Every character has only one definable quality that motivates his or her every action: Julia is lustful, Larry is naïve, Kirsty (their daughter) loves her dad, and Frank is manipulative. There’s nothing more to be cultivated from them, so there’s really no reason to care. Who exactly is the protagonist of this film? Julia gets the most screen time, but she is a wholly unsympathetic character. If she had any arc by the end of the film, she could be considered a protagonist, but she remains static and never surprises us with redemption. Kirsty gets the most screen time of the “good” guys, but she is absent from almost the entire first half of the film. None of these characters feels like a real person, so how are we supposed to feel the horror?
The best horror movies — that is, those that actually scare us — are the ones that are relatable in some way. Freddy Krueger scares us because he attacks us in our dreams, and we all have to fall asleep sometime. Jason Voorhees preys on promiscuous teenagers who think their actions have no consequences. Jack Torrance was a normal man who simply went insane from a combination of cabin fever and alcoholism. These are all situations with a realistic grounding.
There is zero realism to be found in Hellraiser. The Cenobites do not exist in our world and in fact cannot be summoned unless you play with their puzzle box. So, what is there to fear? How can an audience feel the horror of a situation so completely removed from reality? If the characters were stronger, we would fear for their lives and care about whether or not they were killed. But because they are so one-dimensional, it doesn’t matter to us who lives or dies. Color me uninterested.
Clive Barker, who wrote and directed Hellraiser, appears to have a tenuous grasp on how to make a film. His direction is tedious and boring. It seemed as though he used the same camera angles over and over again, making every scene a case of, “Here we go again.” The poor direction is even more noticeable due to the generic editing style. If a character is speaking, the camera is on him. Once he stops speaking, cut to the other person in the scene so he can begin speaking. When he finishes, cut back to the other person for reaction. This uninventive and lazy approach to editing makes Hellraiser a flat, monotonous bore.
The one thing I can give Hellraiser credit for is its impressive use of makeup for the monstrous Frank. Since the film was released in 1987, there was still a reliance on practical effects, which are used superbly here. The walking abomination living in the attic is a grotesque figure and is actually the only thing in the film that seems real. I could believe a reanimated corpse would look the way it does in Hellraiser long before I would believe any of these characters is real. The makeup department gave a better performance than any of the actors, who were all melodramatic and groan-inducing.
So many questions persist in my brain after watching Hellraiser that won’t go away. Who were the Cenobites? Why were they on a mission to torture people? How did Frank find out about them? How did Larry not discover Frank living in the attic? It’s not like the attic was only accessible through a drop-down ceiling door. It was a regular door right next to his bedroom. Who was that creepy old guy that ate bugs? Why did he *spoiler deleted* at the end? Why on Earth is this movie considered a horror classic, even if it’s second-tier? This is a film that should be buried in the deep recesses of film history so no one could find it again.
My Rating: (1/10)
P.S. – If any of those above questions can be answered by the Hellraiser sequels, I don’t care. This film by itself did not do enough to convince me it should exist, let alone have sequels.