Originally released in 1987 writer/director Clive Barker’s Hellraiser introduced the world to Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobites. Disregarding the memorabilia blitz and constant sequel-ization the film inspired there is actually a pretty great movie here. Anchor Bay has just released the first two films in a three disc boxed set shaped like the puzzle box featured in the film.
Barker is a true renaissance man. Most notable for his fiction (a great starting point would be either his anthology The Books of Blood or his novella collection Cabal) Not satisfied with revolutionizing the way the literary world looks at horror, Barker also paints (a sample of his work appears bellow, and some is available in a few gorgeous hardback collections) and directs films. He may not carry the name recognition that Stephen King does, but a quick look at both writer’s directorial debuts (not to slag King, who I love, but compare Hellraiser to Maximum Overdrive– the move where a man is killed by a Coke machine) it is easy to see who is the more versatile artist.
There are strong performances and some incredibly haunting images framed by Barker, but undeniably the star of Hellraiser is its visual effects. The film was made on a minuscule budget in a time before CGI and the makeup, puppets, stop-motion animation, and reverse photography still stand up to close scrutiny over 20 years later, AND in high definition to boot. Compare this to the recent Star Wars prequels whose FX already look drab and overly-fake a few years down the line.
The set comes with the Blu-ray edition of the first film, a duplicate DVD and Hellraiser II: Hellbound. The first film comes with a commentary track by Barker and star Ashley Lawrence, which was recorded several years ago but is still an entertaining listen. There is also several shorter (15-30 min) featurettes that run the gamut from superfluous to very informative. All of the material with Barker is older, and that is a real bummer. He claims in one of the features that it will be the last time he talks about the film, which in some way I understand, but it also robs the audience of the witty, gravely voiced and media-cynical Barker that can be found on the Midnight Meat Train DVD (the film is adapted from one of my favorite Barker short stories and it’s pretty good, but the commentary and features are worth the price of admission on their own).
If you have previous editions of the disc and do not have a Blu-ray player, the box might not be worth the upgrade, but if you can play it I would highly recommend the Blu-ray. The transfer is great and the makeup and cinematography really benefit from the extra detail. The set is modestly priced and looks great on a shelf, the only gripe I have is with how the discs are stored, it doesn’t look like they can get loose, but they are only held in place by wedging the edges into hard plastic slats. There has to be a better way.
Hollywood has been threatening a remake of this movie for years, so I implore you to check out the original before the inevitable happens. You will be glad you did.