Hellraiser

Released: 1987
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence
Director: Clive Barker
Writer: Clive Barker
Music: Christopher Young

Frank Cotton’s insatiable appetite for pleasure led him to Lemarchand’s box, a device that once solved, unleashes four demons. Upon Frank’s disappearance, Larry Cotton (Robinson) and his wife Julia Cotton (Higgins) move in, and Julia discovers a bloody way to bring Frank back. But as sensational writer, Clive Barker, said himself, “There is a happy ending, but not for everybody.”

I remember watching bits of Hellraiser as a teenager, but vowed never to watch the film in its entirety because I couldn’t stomach the gore. When I read the novel, I uncovered the
erverse nature that led to the conjuring of the Cenobites, which gave them and their gory nature purpose. The novel inspired me to at least try the film, and honestly, it was a waste of my time. Let’s just say, I’m extremely biased toward the book.

What didn’t work for the movie:

Unnecessary Monsters
What I remember most encouraging my distaste for the film was the scorpion creature and the dragon at the end. In my opinion, according to the original written work (the novel), the
Cenobites were perceived as the antagonists. (Actually the Cenobites weren’t the antagonists. The cheating murderer Julia and the sexually sadistic zombie Frank Cotton were the monsters.) But to identify monsters, the Cenobites were the worst.

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As their introduction into cinema, the Cenobites deserved all of the fear of the audience and were overshadowed by this grotesque, unnatural scorpion creature. I hated it. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t in the book, and it wasn’t necessary. It scared Kirsty in the hospital for like, sixty seconds for no reason whatsoever. Then it reappeared in the climax to fight Kirsty for the puzzle box for an incredibly annoying amount of time.

The dragon monster also ticked me off. He was supposed to embody the character from the book called the Engineer, but him bursting into a dragon and flying away with the box was a
less satisfying ending than what the end of the novel was.

Ashley Laurence as Kirsty
I stopped loving her over dramatic reactions by her second scene, I believe. Beautiful girl with thick, curly chocolate hair and those powerful eyes. But her crying, “Daddy” as a grown
woman annoyed me. Her overdone emotional panic annoyed me. Her screaming was great. Definitely flawless for an ’80’s horror film. But everything else she did on screen was painful to watch. She acted like a baby to her daddy and was a pathetic victim. I cannot handle female roles like this. She tainted Kirsty’s character entirely. For what? A beautiful face?

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If Barker had written his original character into Kirsty’s place, the film would have struck gold for me. Kirsty in the novel is envious of Julia for being married to “Larry”, and while Kirsty is a victim the entire novel for her love for “Larry”, the way the book ends makes her character development feel like a personal win for the audience. I loved that Kirsty much better than the whiny daughter Kirsty.

The Storytelling
In the book, the storytelling was smoothly written and lathered with delicious imagery. The moods were tangible and the family drama was realistic. But in the movie, the scenes felt
brief, which left a lot of the moods undeveloped. I mean, look at the introduction of what happened to Frank.

When Frank solves Lemarchand’s box in the movie, we see him get caught up in the chains and then the scene cuts to the house, so we anticipate the story is shifting to the present time. But what they’re really doing is time looping to the near future right after Frank is ripped apart. It shifts from the house right back to the Cenobites and their room of grim death. Blood all over the floor, chains and hooks dangling as the Cenobite gathers scraps of Frank’s flesh to reconfigure his face.

And then it cuts again to the house, and it’s really present time now. Talk about a dramatic cut to tension and fear. Like being interrupted during intercourse and having to start the mood all over again, that’s how disappointed I was in that introduction to our villains.

Read the book’s first chapter, and you’ll realize it could have gone a lot smoother than that.

Subtle Changes that Made a Big Impact

  • Larry’s name in the book is Rory. Why change the name?
  • Kirsty in the book was a woman Larry’s age, and was envious of Julia’s relationship with him. Why change this for the film? The motives for Kirsty’s involvement, the victory we felt when she escaped the house and the Cenobites. All of it was well-stitched together. Was the change in character solely for the credits? To introduce a young actress (Ashley Laurence) for views? What corruption.
  • How the film made it seem like Frank enjoyed the torture of the Cenobites when in the book, it says, “He wanted pleasure, until we gave it to him. Then he squirmed…” (page 136)
  • There were no bells to signify the arrival of the Cenobites. They used chains to simulate the sound of bells, but I think tension would have been more successfully involved had the bells notified us of their arrival like in the book.
  • The Cenobites came for Kirsty—despite their deal in the hospital to trade Frank for her—which robbed us of our sense of personal justice. Through Kirsty, we delivered the real monster to his “maker”. Instead, the film had to have Kirsty in a dramatic climax running around the house, screaming, fighting the Cenobites and the infamous scorpion-thing with the puzzle box.

What Did Work For the Film:

Make Up

Pinhead was a six-hour transformation in the first film. Imagine spending six hours in a chair and then having to spend an entire day dressed up as Pinhead. What incredible makeup.

Pinhead and the chomper were the best Cenobites. The fat one with the stitched eyes was the least impressive. At least the female Cenobite had her voice. She wasn’t visually scary, but her voice was unnerving. The calmness of it versus the grotesque nature of what she spoke of, brilliant.

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The resurrection of Frank with Larry’s blood was interesting. Gooey and slimy, and appalling. The boards shook way too long, but when half of Frank was structured and he sat up
to release that roar, I was impressed.

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Now, when Frank came crawling out at Julia, I would have screamed bloody murder in the theater. I cowered back in my seat, hiked my legs up off the floor. It was a great jump scare,
and the makeup was intensely petrifying.

After the first kill, when Frank walks to Julia and we hear his wet footstep squelch on the wood. That was an invigorating auditory engagement. I felt that just how I felt his wet, slimy
hand touch the back of her clean white blouse.

Frank’s makeup after the first kill was fantastic for ’87. It was disgusting and vile, exposed and realistic. Down to the bones on his cheeks and the rippling nerves.

Uh, no.

Anyone notice the generic straw-sucking sound when Frank drains the man with the blue tie?

True to the End
Compared to the book, the ending of the film remained nearly identical. The movie didn’t reveal that Frank had drained his brother, Larry, before Kirsty got there. We learned that as Kirsty did. Frank reveals himself, beckoning to Kirsty, “Come to Daddy.” Frank stabbing Julia instead of Kirsty. Down to the word in some scenes, the movie and book were parallel.

My intentions weren’t to create a book comparison to the film. Though I’m a writer and I enjoy reading, I’m really more of a film-fanatic. I’m a visual learner, I enjoy visual stimulation
best. But not on this one.

I did not expect the film to be identical to the book. Did the changes to the story and characters work for the film? Yes. Was it a success? Obviously.

As a writer myself, I understand second chances. A year later than the Hellraiser book was written did Clive Barker have the opportunity to film the movie version. So maybe he had to alter things from the book to fit filming. Maybe he changed things he felt he disliked about the novel. To me, it’ll always be a cheat. He wrote the book how he envisioned the story. He should have made the movie the same way, or waited until he could.

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