Hello and Hallo-welcome to How Have We Not Reviewed This Wednesday, where we pick up our own slack and review those big name films we know you were dying to hear our opinions on all these many years of Hallowfest! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, two writers in the further regions of experience who are demons to some and angels to others.
Today’s Film Offering: Hellraiser
Andy: You OK?
Lilly: Yeah just … give me a minute.
Andy: Get a glass of water or something. Or have a mint out of the box. NO NOT THAT BOah damn.
Cenobite: YOU RANG.
Andy: Yeah, sorry mate, we did the thing with the mints again.
Cenobite: YOU NEED TO STOP STORING INTERDIMENSIONAL PORTALS ON YOUR COFFEE TA-
Andy: Yeah, yeah I know.
Anyway. Hellraiser is one of the largest franchises we haven’t covered in any way, shape or form. Based on a novella by Clive Barker called The Hellbound Heart (way to spoil the ending, dude) there are no less than 9 movies in the series, with a 10th due sometime this year.
Lilly: Wait, what! I’m in. I’ve seen none of the other eight, will that be a problem? Whatever, I got time!
Cenobite: ACTUALLY THEY DECLINE IN QUALITY AFTER THE SECOND INSTALLMENT.
Lilly: That is surprisingly self-critical and meta of you, Cenobite.
Andy: WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?
It’s also fairly unusual as far as horror franchises go. It’s British, for a start, as is Barker, and he directed and wrote the screenplay for the first movie. It’s a long running horror franchise that ISN’T a slasher, and it also began in 1987, at a time when most other franchises were merrily beginning to plow themselves into the ground. The worst offender, Friday the 13th, was between Part VI and VII. In a market well past its late-70s prime, this is shockingly original.
The plot involves a man called Frank, a jaded man seeking new extremes of sensation. Purchasing a puzzle box in a Marrakech (or somewhere like it) he solves it – opening a portal to a dimension of ultimate pleasure and pain: indeed a place where the distinction between the two is essentially meaningless. And in the opening move of what promises to be a deeply unpleasant experience, he is torn apart by rusty hooks. Exit Frank.
Lilly: Oh, PS, this movie is super graphic.
Andy: Some time later (months? years?) his brother Larry moves into his house with his British (read: uptight) wife, Julia. As we here at Hallowfest know all too well, moving house is a pain in the ass; and in Larry’s case thanks to a rusty nail, the hand. A few drops of blood on the attic floor later, and Frank is back minus a few essentials. Like his skin.
Frank has some kind of hold over Julia through the power of boning, and convinces her to bring her more blood to help restore his body. Meanwhile, Kristy, Larry’s daughter, realises her stepmother is up to no good and investigates. And of course, the Cenobites, nightmarish denizens of the other realm, are not too happy about Frank escaping their clutches…
Lilly: So this film was a thing.
First things first–holy wow, this was an exploration of how far people go for pleasure. Hellraiser is at the core a nasty, gorey journey towards sexual fulfillment that sees pain as being part of the experience. Acceptable and consensual adult s&m relationships are turned up to eleven by Frank’s ever growing need for more dangerous stimuli. Unfortunately for him, the Cenobites go all the way up to twenty seven (see: rusty hooks). It does give a whole new meaning to ‘aftercare’, though.
I need to talk about the Cenobites. Seriously. I want to talk about them at length, and try and figure out what the heck I was seeing. I loved them. They were confusing ins-and-outs of orifices and piercings and oh all that leather–a symbol of extreme that transcends Heaven and Hell, clearly. I love how they were visibly walking the walk of their gospel. One of them is so hardcore, he doesn’t even have a face! I mean. That’s dedication. Or mutation? Who knows!
Cenobite: WE’RE NOT MUTATIONS. MORE MUTILATIONS.
Andy: Was that a PUN? NOBODY OUTPUNS ME IN MY OWN HOME I’LL KI-
Lilly: Whoa now! First off, don’t bother threatening him, he’ll just like it. Second off, I’m not cleaning up your bits they nail to a spinning display. I’m just not.
For creatures that have no basis in…anything? Any mythology known to my simple mind, the Cenobites march out on screen in the first few minutes of the film and take command of the space like true proud dom/mes. I wanted to see more, wanted to know more, and honestly am now pressuring poor Andy to watch more of the series so I can watch these loveable creeps in action.
The best part is that these terrifying beings aren’t even really evil. They operate on a whole different level than humanity, so it can appear as such, but they are just pushing the limits of what is pleasure and what we understand as pleasure to the extremes that the human flesh can withstand (and then just past that). They only appear when summoned, the ultimate submission needed. You need to request that they do what they do so well. Oh, and figure out a weird rubix cube for horny people. You have to do that, too.
Andy: There are very, very few works that get to the core ideas of H. P. Lovecraft as well as this. His elder gods are not evil, per se – they are simply vast, unknowable and operate without our concepts of what is right and fair. Ash’s “perfect organism” without “delusions of morality” in Alien is one, but it can’t talk. The Cenobites can, and every sentence out of their mouths is coherent, consistent, and utterly indifferent to the unfortunate mortals who stumble into their path.
Instead, the film asks us to consider who the real monsters are – the Cenobites, alien, unknowable and outside our own limited senses and perceptions? Or is it Julia and Frank, the sordid, down-to-earth, flawed humans who make terrible choices?
Lilly: Or is it the weird upside monster thing that defies gravity? Who knows!
Andy: Yeah, what is that thing?
Cenobite: NO IDEA.
Lilly: I really don’t find that comforting at all.
Hellraiser is the sort of film you hear about for years, followed by groans of remembrance of ‘that scene’ (which is different for everyone) and sniggers due to it being about sex. But it’s not just that. It’s about the morality of pleasure and the limits that can be stretched and, a bit troublingly, about how once you say yes to that world, there is no going back.
Andy: It’s also not perfect – Clive Barker is a writer first, and clearly a director a distant second, the result being that it’s shot like a really gory TV movie. But the ideas it has, the broader implications of its story, mean that I did not regret one bit jumping in on this franchise, er, 30 years late.
Lilly: So do we recommend this film? A hearty ‘yes please!’ from me.
Andy: And me!
Andy: What now?
Cenobite: I PREFER CLIVE BARKER’S LORD OF ILLUSIONS.
Andy: …Trust us to get one from the Hipster Dimension. How do we close this box again?