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Hellraiser - DVD - Horror

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Loaded with extras and memories (20th Anniversary DVD Edition review)

  • Jun 22, 2011
  • by
It's astounding to ponder that I was twenty-four years younger at the tender age of eight when Clive Barker's directorial debut scared me out of my hi-tops in that splendid year of our Lard, nineteen hundred and eighty-seven. The mind boggles, really. However, the how and why of that venture are at least as entertaining as the features of this disc, which I'll attend to in just a few minutes.

From memory, I can't retrieve the paper name of my babysitter. No matter; as I knew her then as Fat Legs (her most prominent attribute, especially from my then-diminutive perspective), so shall she be known again, if only to avoid confusion. Fat Legs and I arranged numerous clandestine trips to the cinema that my dear mother never knew anything about until I confessed all to her a few years ago. In this way, I was able to view many films that were otherwise verboten and she had a place in which lengthy heavy petting with her noxious boyfriend was possible (I scarcely noticed, though that spectacle beside me was surely more offensive to the senses than anything found in this picture).
Still furious that I hadn't been allowed to attend a screening of Blue Velvet the year before and enticed by a crude TV spot, my little boy's heart was set on, nay, utterly devoted to seeing Hellraiser. When Fat Legs protested by informing me that one of her friends had told her it was "gross," I threatened to reveal her cache of weed, from which I'd confiscated a joint in case she didn't take my threats seriously. Even then, I knew that petty, opportunistic women only understand force, a fact which has helped me to avoid unimaginable suffering.
On a bright, warm weekday in September, we were transported in the IROC-Z of Fat Legs' imbecile beau from the far-flung countryside into culture-free Philadelphia suburbs, and I was treated to my very first taste of horror on the big screen. This was equivalent to learning how to swim by being dropped into the ocean amid a battery of barracudas, though far bloodier. I emerged bewildered, very shaken, vaguely aroused and troubled by nightmares for the next two months...without a single regret.

Working against conventional wisdom, Barker realized that a filmic adaptation of his terrific novella, The Hellbound Heart, would be best served by a unique M.O. Here, gore is good and more is MORE, but these excesses never overshadow the very human drama at the the story's core. Gruesome and twisted, those now-iconic Cenobites plastered on the walls of nearly every '80s horror enthusiast aren't really the monsters of the movie; they're merely impartial enforcers of the underworld, present only to retrieve one who's escaped them and savage anyone who dares interfere. No, the real villains are a pair of deranged lovers - one alive, the other resurrected - driven by love, lust, frustration and monomania to the cruelest murder and deception.

Prior to this, Barker's only movie-making experience had resulted in two awful short films that he wrote, directed and co-starred in during the '70s. Here, his first stab at feature direction is so skillfully indulgent that one would imagine he'd helmed at least a half-dozen major productions before taking this on. Admittedly, he hasn't directed many films since then (and certainly little of worth), but no matter - Hellraiser is a movie that stands the test of time. Barker's style is preoccupied with sweaty close-ups and gory effects, but never to the extent that he neglects his gifted performers, for whom he clearly has enormous respect. Hellraiser's longevity can be attributed to the fact that it incorporates at least as much character development as grue-trigger, and it's all the better for it.

This is the kind of birthday present that's filled to brimming with features to please devoted fans and many invocations of memories long dormant. Twenty-four years later, I've been reminded that I still love Hellraiser to death, though I'd like to think that the feeling isn't mutual.

All of the DVD's menus are decorated with an excess of chains, Cenobites and the famous Lament Configuration, and both the main and extras menus feature music from Christopher Young's sweeping, unforgettable score. Like of most other Anchor Bay releases, the feature's audiovisual quality is first-rate. Properly restored to its 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, the picture is as sharp and vibrant as one could expect from SD. The remastered Dolby Surround 5.1 track has a punchy quality, driving home every sickening snap of bone and thrusting orchestral swell. Though hardly as lucid or forceful, the Dolby Surround 2.0 track is perfectly adequate, and no doubt better suited to smaller speaker configurations. For those of us who grew up watching one washed-out, muddled, mutilated VHS edition of this film after another, this really is a sight and sound for sore eyes and ears. Twenty-eight easily navigable scenes can be accessed from thumbnail selections.

Of this disc's wealth of special features, the commentary track voiced by Barker, Ashley Laurence and horror screenwriter Peter Atkins is by far the best. Personable and self-effacing, Barker and Atkins analyze every aspect of the film's themes, characterizations and production, and tell a few great stories related to the conception and development of the picture. Laurence - whose presence in the movie repeatedly distracted this viewer from the commentary itself - also has a fine sense of humor and a prodigious memory, with which she effortlessly describes myriad difficulties related to any number of scenes with good-natured charm. Genuinely funny, informative, conversational commentary tracks aren't so common, so it's always a treat to hear one.

This edition contains five featurettes - about two more than I needed or wanted, but it can't be argued that Anchor Bay isn't catering to completists. In Hellraiser: Resurrection, a slickly edited featurette shot a decade ago, Barker and Laurence hadn't much to say that they didn't reiterate more ably in the commentary track. Still, Barker and Doug Bradley read some intriguing passages from The Hellbound Heart, and there's plenty of discussion with Cenobite actors and the film's makeup wizards on the challenge of creating and wearing those ghastly cosmetics. In Under the Skin, Pinhead actor Bradley explains in far greater detail the exhaustive physical and psychological difficulties of his stolid role, his interactions with Barker and footage cut from the film that nobody else seems to know about. His interview is interspersed with video shot between takes that I haven't seen anywhere else.
If you own a prior edition of Hellraiser on DVD, the three interviews with Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence and Christopher Young that are new to this disc really don't warrant its purchase, but they're very good. In addition to his talent as an actor, Robinson is a great orator (why he's not called on to record commentary tracks is inexplicable), and his insights regarding the movie's characters and his fellow performers bear terrific nuance. He also explains his career in summary by recounting his work with Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood on Dirty Harry, and his subsequent typecasting - a story that should have been featured on the substandard Dirty Harry DVD.
Laurence's interview begins and ends with her best impression of a teenage airhead, a persona that's been unintentionally adopted by most middle-aged American actresses nowadays. With an affection for trivia mongers, she describes her casting and character, the arduous nature of the shoot, the disappointment of insubstantial sequels and her (rather good) fantasy artwork. Her career is a curiosity - she hasn't the depth to be an actor of any distinct excellence, but she's still much more talented than most other attractive women who are typecast as ingenues and shrieking eye candy; a comparison with her performance and that of the wooden, unappealing Terry Farrell in the second sequel confirms that much.
Composer Young also has plenty to relate: his earliest influence in film music (Herrmann, to no surprise), how he was chosen over British musical group Coil to score the movie, his working relationship with Barker, the dynamics of composition and the challenge of composing another score for the sequel, Hellbound.

Three trailers and four TV spots are included. Of the two U.S. theatrical trailers - one "R-rated," the other "G-rated" - the latter is certainly better, more suggestive and restrained, and edited with a keener eye. The international trailer is essentially a long, poorly-cut spoiler sporting a very stupid tagline; it's only interesting because Sean Chapman's vocals aren't dubbed over by an American voice as they are in the movie. I remember the TV spots well enough - brief, murky little allurements that filled my juvenile noggin with such longing for those sights they had to show me!

Over two hundred images can be viewed in the still gallery slide shows, which can't be accessed one-by-one, but can be navigated like any other video. These include photos of the cast and crew while performing; application of makeup; prosthetic fabrication; the many alignments of the Lament Configuration prop; the design, development and execution of special effects; American, French, German and English publicity photos; Japanese theatrical posters; plenty of storyboards, including a shot-by-shot comparison of the footage and storyboards of Frank's resurrection.

Both the first and final drafts of the screenplay in PDF format can be accessed with a DVD-ROM drive.

Those who intend to buy the Blu-Ray edition should note that nearly all of the aforementioned features are available therein.

A year after I saw this, I was much more prepared for its sequel...but that's another story for another review.

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June 22, 2011
This is always a delightful filmsie to watchie *and* Hellraiser 2, heehee! ^-^ Even though these are really scary, I love watching them with you, heehee! ^-^ Muu ^-^ ♥ Annusya ♥
June 22, 2011
You're always so nervous prior to another viewing; throughout, you remember how fun they are! *wiggly cuddles* *smooches*
June 22, 2011
Yes! ^-^ Heehee! ^-^ *wiggly snuggles* *smuuuchies* *buuups* ^-^ ♥ Annusya ♥
More Hellraiser reviews
review by . November 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
 *** out of ****      What I found to be imaginative and entertaining in “Hellraiser” may instead be revolting and cheesy to others. Whatever good I see in this film probably isn’t mutual with professional film critics or many other people (for the matter) alike. And I can see why. This is the very definition of “cult classic”. For once, all too many critics just plain disliked it. It’s not like “The Big Lebowski”, which garnered …
review by . May 05, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Rumor abounds that Clive Barker's masterpiece will be re-made & that's a truly hideous notion indeed. I will try to remain calm here & less objective until I see the finished product but I also must encourage everyone to see the original work of art as only Clive Barker could have given it to us.       Yes, this is truly one of the most original horror films ever made & it's no wonder that Hellraiser stands the test of time. Forget all the useless …
review by . May 11, 2009
A nasty lil' auld box that'll bring you pain or pleasure
Hellraiser is a dark masterpiece from the twisted world of Clive Barker. Based upon his novel "The Hellbound Heart", Mr. Barker takes us on a trip where people desperate for kicks search out for the ultimate thrill. A sleaze ball named Frank manages to get his oily mitts upon a gaudy looking Rubik's cube that he bought at a bizarre bazaar from a greasy moth eating merchant. Frank (never the sharpest tool in the drawer) gets more than he bargain for when he some how manages to open it up.   …
review by . November 04, 2008
I've read The Hellbound Heart, but the fresh approach Clive Barker made in directing the film added "uumph" to an already excellent story. What a visual conception! Goobers coming up from the floor, the unforgettable scene of spinal cord meeting the goopy brain, the gelid, slippery goo, the half-formed rib cage - hello vicar!     Larry and Julia Cotton are moving into the house left to Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his wayward brother Frank (Sean Chapman). The house is a mess, …
review by . October 23, 2007
Pros: EW GROSS (yes, that's a pro, somehow, haha). Cenobites. Woot.     Cons: Messy, messy, messy (so if you don't like messy, then pass)     The Bottom Line: Don't play with toys you don't fully understand (NO I don't want to play a game!!)     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. I remember the days of when I was younger and perusing the video store for something that didn’t suck and that I hadn’t …
About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan ()
Ranked #29
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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About this movie


Starring Andrew Robinson, Claire Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley
Directed by Clive Barker
Written by Clive Barker
Based on the novel "The Hellbound Heart" by Clive Barker

Product Description
In a place between pleasure and pain there is sensual experience beyond limits. And in a world between paradise and purgatory there is a horror that feeds the souls of evil. Studio: Starz/sphe Release Date: 06/25/2002 Starring: Andrew Robinson Ashley Laurence Run time: 93 minutes Rating: R Director: Clive Barker
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Director: Clive Barker
Genre: Horror
Release Date: September 18, 1987
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Clive Barker
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Studio: Cinemarque Entertainment BV, New World Production
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