“Jesus wept!” exclaims a character in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser before being ripped to shreds. No kidding, and I bet David Cronenberg did too. Explaining the plot of rgis film to someone who hasn’t seen it can be vague and pretty bizarre. “Magic evil Rubik’s cube has the power to summon mutilated, sadomasochist beings from hell who inflict both pain and pleasure by maiming, mauling, dismembering and otherwise dispatching those who called for them in the most inventively graphic ways possible.” Well it is that, but you kind of have to watch it all unfold yourself to see how cool it actually is or it just sounds weird.
Many horror films start by showing a family moving into a house that has a dubious past and so does this but where it goes from there will floor you. Andrew Robinson (cast against type here as a meek dude) is a chatty yuppie who moves his new wife (Claire Higgins) into a family inherited home for some relaxation. Never mind that there’s maggots and decrepitude everywhere, the real danger is the lingering ghost of his reckless alpha male brother Frank (Sean Chapman in a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke which I would have paid big money to see) who got too curious with aforementioned Rubik’s cube and started all kind of trouble. Before too long his half dead corpse is resurrected, Robinson’s young daughter (Ashley Lawrence) becomes involved as do the inter-dimensional Cenobites and yes, all kinds of hell is raised.
It’s cool to see the impact that one film can have on so much in culture after it, the ultra gory practical effects, kinky costume design and overall distinct vibe here has obviously gone on to influence everything from Jacob’s Ladder, Event Horizon, Beetlejuice to countless video games and graphic novels. Pinhead is now an iconic character to the point where people know him before they do the film but back here he wasn’t even called Pinhead, credited simply as ‘Lead Cenobite.’ Every infamous legacy has its beginnings though and this is quite an arresting, gruesome, atmospheric and deliberately weird piece of cosmic horror. The performances are all sensual 80’s melodrama which just somehow works, the score is a bombastic orchestral overture courtesy of Christopher Young but it’s really the special effects that win the day here. Whether it’s a corpse crawling across the floor with no skin, razor sharp meat hooks ripping though flesh, living room walls opening up into other worlds or the startling, otherworldly design of the Cenobites themselves, this is one visually gorgeous piece of horror and looks even better on Blu Ray.