In recent years, Clive Barker's writings have been poorly treated when adapted for film audiences. Largely, projects based on his works, including the endless sequels of the movie on review, have been drifting towards direct to video oblivion. A lack of confidence in Barker based projects even led to the shoddy treatment by Lionsgate of Midnight Meat Train, despite the film itself proving that there was still plenty of cinematic worth in the writers early work.
In the beginning though, Barker's writing was much valued and it inspired some fine films. This was often down to Barker's close involvement with projects, and the contribution of talented directors like Bernard Rose when Barker himself didn't direct. Barker's experience as a director was clearly a patchy one despite his own abilities in the role. Production interference bedeviled Lord Of Illusions and Nightbreed, and the toll taken on the man himself has seen him away from the director's chair for some fifteen years, although he has recently been announced as taking the reins for the planned Tortured Souls.
His debut feature film was an adaptation of his novella, The Hellbound Heart. Its success spawned more sequels than you'd want to watch, all driven by the icon of Pinhead, and it remains Barker's best movie. Working with his ongoing theme of adventures that go underneath the real world, he translated his book into a more American friendly setting and exploited the well worked vein of an adult world filled with monsters. This is very important to stress because Pinhead and his crew are not the principal danger of Hellraiser, that threat comes from within the suburban family in the shape of a stepmother and a wicked uncle bent on escaping.
It is the aesthetic of his debut film that impresses me most, with Barker realising a Lovecraft-like darker dimension. The settings are unquestionably suburban at first with odd brighter flashbacks of better times to further shame the mundane present. The story begins with the very prosaic business of moving house, the personal strife of an unhappy marriage, and the awkward relationships of a broken family. The flashbacks contrast these scenes with the fantastic and the exotic, and the characters of Frank and Julia are formed from the desire to escape the humdrum. The routine of family life is established as covering up the true feelings underneath, and this disparity is widened dramatically and visually to show extreme contrasts, such as the scene where the dinner party happens underneath the feat of the horribly reconstituted Frank upstairs.
From here, the desire to explore and escape is taken to a graphic conclusion. Pinhead and his Cenobites are the reward for the travellers seeking unworldly pleasures, and their design takes the rebellious piercings and dress of subcultures to blasphemous lengths. Dressed in leather and possessing torture instruments of unspeakable purpose and unimaginable extents - the Cenobites are sadists who take their victims to complete physical disintegration.
Hellraiser manages this contrast between prosaic normalcy and visceral excess with real vigour and invention. Alongside the visual is a story which uses elements of gothic, De Sade, Greek myth, and teenage rebellion. There may be a hint of formula about the characterisation, and there is certainly some old fashioned women in peril moments, but Hellraiser is not a conservative tale of the dangers of moral transgression. In fact, the adult world here is one that many right thinking viewers would want to escape, and plenty of justification is provided for Frank and Julia's desire for something more, even if their actions mark them as the true monsters here.
Barker proves himself a director with a good eye for his own work but perhaps his ear for dialogue is not always so strong. The conversations of the two young lovers are static and unreal, and there is often a tone within the acting that is a little too distanced for my taste. He seems most at home when showing bad Frank or the Cenobites and exploring the moments of extremity and spectacle. And in this respect, Hellraiser is magnificent. Hellraiser still appalls, scares and remains psychologically sound, a real testament to the construction of the story, but most of all it can still obsess your mind's eye long after it has finished.
Transfer and Sound
There is a slightly soft focus appearance to every presentation that I have seen of this film. Thankfully, the desire to sharpen this facet out of this high def transfer is resisted and the extra definition yields more detail without exaggerating grain or edges beyond what is credible. Saying that, there is still plenty of grain, and I wonder if contrast has been boosted a little too far to deepen the blacks. Colours are fairly restrained outside of the heavy reds and basically this is a good transfer which remains true to previous treatments whilst offering much more detail. The filesize of the transfer is 21.1GB.
A single True HD 5.1 track is presented, along with Spanish and English subtitles, and the average bitrate seems to be around 1300Kbps. I wouldn't claim that the surround elements of the mix create a natural sense of directionality or describe locations well, but the coverage is accurate and the added clarity to gloopy sound effects and the terrific music is most welcome.
Discs and Special Features
This seems to be exactly the same disc as the existing US release. 26.1 GB of this AB coded disc is used, and the extra features add up to about 110 minutes of content. The special features, bar the commentary, can only be selected off the main menu and the option exists to view all the featurettes and the galleries together or separately. The film carries a commentary with Barker and Ashley Laurence which is facilitated by Peter Atkins, whose work graces the screenplays of the sequels of this franchise. Barker is not quite as gravelly here as in his gig on the Midnight Meat Train commentary, and Laurence is not quite as kooky as her interview on this disc. Barker's contribution were most interesting to me as Laurence talks mostly about this being her first gig and the difficulties of particular scenes. Barker admits his love of Argento during the heavily influenced dream sequence, and he is reasonably critical of his own shortcomings as a director.
Barker alludes to issues with Andrew Robinson, but the actor doesn't mention these when speaking about the film in his interview. Robinson seems intense and somewhat truculent, revealing why he took no part in the sequel, but he does assertively state that Barker's creative peak was at the time of filming. Ashley Laurence comes over as very, very girly during her interview and it's reassuring when the cameraman switches to close shots of her as the medium shots involve much squirming on the chair and crossing and uncrossing of legs. She explains how she got cast and is very complimentary to Barker.
Two more interviews are included with Christopher Young talking about his marvellous score and how he got hooked on film music by Bernard Herrmann, and Doug Bradley marvelling on what a mistake it would have been to turn down the role of Pinhead. The final featurette is a retrospective on the movie featuring Barker and others reflecting on making the film. Interestingly, Barker describes it as an opportunity for him to say goodbye to the story and lets on that he has grown less fond of it over the years.
You get some trailers, TV spots and picture galleries - of varying origins and quality. The picture gallery plays with soundtrack music and there is no option to flick through the images.
A pretty decent treatment with a nice collection of extras. There is only one Hellraiser film that you need to own and if you have a blu-ray player, this is the version to have.