Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is one of those films that stands as a horror pillar in my early teen years. I remember reading all about it in Fangoria and seeing the pictures of those Cenobites. Those visuals were unlike anything my teen brain had ever come across. It felt foreign, alien, new, and disturbing in a way I’d never seen. What were these vile creatures in black leather with the chattering teeth, grotesque features, and nails sticking into their skulls? I wasn’t even 14 years old when Hellraiser was released, yet I knew I had to see this movie. Fortunately for me, my parents dug this kind of shit so they were cool with taking me and my best friend to see it on a Saturday afternoon.
Up to this point, my horror was of the more American-made kind. I was a Romero and Carpenter nerd and dug movies like Fright Night, Silver Bullet, The Howling, An American Werewolf In London, and of course those flicks where horny teens get slaughtered one by one by a hulking man-child with mommy issues. Hellraiser felt decidedly European to me. It felt very foreign and dirty. It was a weird one to see in the theater with Ma and Pa Hubner(as I’m sure it was weird for them as well.) But man, it was a hell of a flick. Very visceral and to the bone. I’d never seen a movie with such Gothic vibes before. Of course I’d later learn just how sexualized Barker’s work was in books like In The Flesh and The Damnation Game, but being a newbie to Barker in the theater on a Saturday afternoon in 1987 I sort of felt mentally violated. This was horror, but there was this dark sensuality I couldn’t quite compute with my 13-year old highly hormonal brain. The leather, the chains, the pain and pleasure,…the Cenobites were dominatrix’ for some netherworld sex club and I was invited to watch their purgatorial peep show. I thought this was supposed to be a horror film of blood-stained sights and terrifying worlds? What are these new “feelings” I was feeling? Are there any female cenobites looking for a date to the 8th Grade Formal? And isn’t that guy the same one who was in Dirty Harry? There was in fact a female cenobite, but she wouldn’t show up till Hellbound: Hellraiser 2(she was already going to the formal with “chattering teeth” cenobite), and that was indeed the Scorpio serial killer Andrew Robinson that played Larry Cotton. As for those weird feelings? What’s wrong with you, ya freak!?
Hellraiser was a one-of-a-kind movie experience, especially for an impressionable, greasy teen. It did open new doorways into art and cinema for me. The best pal I went to see it with got into graphic novels and bought up a bunch of Barker’s books that I would borrow often and read. That whole world led to stuff like Gaiman’s Sandman series, James O’Barr’s The Crow, and even into musical rabbit holes like The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division, and Cocteau Twins. It was very much a British pit of doom, gloom, and goth girls that you wanted to make smile with a stupid joke.
Thanks to the nostalgia bug I recently separated from $29 and in return came home with a copy of the Hellraiser S/T by Christopher Young. Lakeshore Records recently reissued it on a pretty sweet gooey red-colored vinyl. Until a few months ago I hadn’t seen Hellraiser in over 20 years. My son and I watched it one Friday night and I was really impressed by how well it held up. The look put me in mind of Bernard Rose’s excellent Paperhouse. It was another very British film with a weathered, Gothic feel that stuck with me for years. Rose would go on to direct the film adaptation of Barker’s Candyman, which I absolutely loved(and if you haven’t seen his Immortal Beloved with Gary Oldman as Beethoven, you ain’t livin’ Bub.) Back to the cenobites, one thing that really struck me was the score to Hellraiser. As a teen I didn’t really take note of it, but now it really stands out as a beautiful musical work. I’d read that Barker originally wanted Coil to do the soundtrack, but the movie company said they wanted something more traditional. I’d like to see a cut of the film with Coil’s music, but I’m glad that they went with Christopher Young. It’s nuanced, low key, but has just the right amount of melodrama to give the film an almost classic feel, as opposed to the darker, S&M feel of its themes. And apparently Young re-worked some of Coil’s music into orchestral pieces to go into the film. So there’s that.
So are you still bloated from yesterday’s Thanksgiving stomach bludgeoning? Are you contemplating grabbing that turkey leg from the fridge and eating it sans pants in your chair Henry the VIII-style? Well I’m not going to stop you. Hell, I’ll encourage you to do so. But instead of watching some holiday blech on the boob tube, why don’t you cue up some Hellraiser for old time’s sake? It’s okay, do it. Everyone’s out Black Friday shopping. You’ve got the house to yourself.
We have such sights to show you.