British Horror received a pretty big shot in the arm in 1987 as an adaptation of Liverpudlian Author Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart made its way to the big screen. Rechristened Hellraiser, it became one of the most loved & respected horror debuts of the latter part of the 20th century and for good reason. Giving the world the considerable talents of Barker and introducing us to The Cenobites, the Lament configuration puzzle box and one of the most iconic movie monsters to come out of the 1980’s, Doug Bradley’s Lead Cenobite or Hell Priest as Barker dubbed him in his own literature, more colloquially know as ‘Pinhead’.
The first thing I found most striking about Hellraiser when I first watched it, considering the era in horror in which it was released was how serious it was, there’s no wisecracking Freddy Kruger here, no dumb OTT slayings, Hellraiser was delivered with straight faced dread and building tension. The first time you lay eyes on The Cenobites, you are completely transfixed by these eerie, almost ethereal beings who vow to take those foolhardy enough to summon them to new depths/heights of pleasure & pain and ‘tear their soul apart’. There is no knowing wink, no broadly humorous throw away line before a hapless victim is dispatched, this was the new face of horror, smart, vicious and pretty damn scary.
It’s not a film that didn’t have its production issues. Barker by his own admission was a complete novice as a director relying heavily upon his accommodating crew coupled with cuts made to the more violent scenes and the studio having issues with the erotic & sadomasochistic undertones present in the film also. The studio was also not happy with a UK setting, changing the film to have a more ambiguous location even going as far as to dub English actor Sean Chapman who played a pre-skinned Frank with an American accent, producers also didn’t like that ‘Pinhead’ didn’t quip before he dispatched of his quarry like Freddy although by the time the series hit the lamentable Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth (not just a clever title), he was a quipping, irritating parody of his former self.
Hellraiser was a critical & commercial success raking in $14 million, not bad for a film with a $1 million budget. It’s success prompted a slew of sequels, Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 personally being about the only sequel of note, written & executive produced by Barker. Numerous others would follow of rapidly diminishing quality, none holding a candle to Barker’s original which is arguably, for me anyway, one of the finest British horror films of all time.