REVISITED: ‘Hellraiser’

Who would’ve thought that in 2017 we’d be firmly in the midst of a vinyl revival? As someone who tearfully reduced their record collection just a few years ago, reluctantly allowing the least treasured pieces to slide from my grasp in a desperate bid to create more space, I can tell you I didn’t see it coming. Yet pressing plants once at risk of closure are now more clogged up than ever, hurriedly churning out classics to satisfy the current generation of turntable-owning hipster.

UK Vinyl Sales Sales
UK Vinyl Sales 2007-2016 (Source: BPI; Image: Guardian)

Not that there’s anything wrong with this seemingly endless trend, especially when you have beautiful repackaging’s of old horror soundtracks flying off the shelves (complete with all the now-expected bells and whistles, of course).

‘Hellraiser’ is one such soundtrack that just happens to be thirty years old this year (time flies when you’re wasting good suffering), and it’s next in a long line of heavyweight re-releases from Lakeshore Records.

Hellraiser Vinyl
Light In The Attic Records: ‘Christopher Young‘s score has been remixed and remastered from the Original 24 Track, 2 Inch Analog Master Session Tapes. The Single LP Gatefold Release also includes digitally restored original artwork and photography from the film’s archives.’

Now I’ll be honest here and admit I don’t remember the soundtrack being an essential part of the film on first watch. It leads me to suspect it was more the thought of the iconic, scattershot imagery scrubbed up on a gorgeous (and expensive) gatefold cover, rather than the orchestration, that sparked the ‘imagination’ of the execs.

The film itself, directed by Liverpudlian Clive Barker and utilising thrifty make-up effects by Bob Keen, endeavoured to tell a fantasy-horror story with overtones of sadomasochism, and it’s lived long in our collective memory as a result. (But mostly the memory of permanently scarred thirty-something’s like me, much too young to have legally viewed the film at the time of original release).

‘Hellraiser’ endeavours to tell a fantasy-horror story with overtones of sadomasochism

‘Hellraiser’ was one of an elite batch of films that was a ‘dare’ to watch with friends when Mum and Dad abandoned the VHS machine to slope off down the pub on a Friday night. The press may have warned parents to shift these ‘Video Nasties’ from out of their snooping kids reach, but this only served to make them more desirable.

And so, thirty years on and with the Remastered Original Soundtrack landing just ahead of Arrow Video’s obligatory Blu-Ray Steelbook, it was time to become acquainted with the fear all over again and discover if the intervening years had been kind to this once heralded classic (the film, not me!).

Arrow Video’s Blu Ray Steelbook is out on 30th October 2017 and features original artwork from Matt Ryan Tobin. It’s the fourth time the film has been released by Arrow in two years.

So whilst I probably couldn’t replicate the jittery old VHS player, and definitely couldn’t rediscover the innocence of my bygone youth, I was all set with my favourite cushion, ready to hide from the memorably spooky ‘Cenobites’ once more…

The ‘memorably spooky’ Cenobites

There’s no mistaking that from the outset we’re in classic horror flick territory – panning camera and ripping flesh (that’s chicken skin… right?) giving way to the somewhat ordinary portrayal of a young professional couple (Julia and Larry) moving into an inherited family home. So far, so standard.

As with all good genre films, Barker ensures he sprinkles in a few quick flashes to any important mechanisms that will become more apparent (and more bizarre) later on. Blood pours, splashes and seeps in cut-away shots that form part of the film’s opening section, but it’s the introduction of searing bare flesh that truly churns the stomach. Much like the soundtrack, each scene builds to a toe-curling crescendo, first by ramping up the brief glimpses of maggot-ridden sinew, then by completely revealing it all in the cold light of day.

Audible rising strings accompany the visual rise of unfettered flesh from floorboards

The appearance of the film’s first ‘monster’ is significantly unsettling, bringing back tense memories of the audible rising strings that accompany the visual rise of unfettered flesh from floorboards. This scene in particular was added after the film was wrapped as investors believed they had a potential hit on their hands. It’s a good job too, as this lingering image is an important moment in the stylistic legacy of ‘Hellraiser’.

Frank, post-floorboard re-birth

Away from the punctuating horns, the strings are beautiful as they rise and fall with lusty abandon. In fact, the sound design as a whole is excellent, always living up to the perception of raised anxiety, expertly bringing the chills when required.

Originally, industrial band ‘Coil’ had recorded a full score, but this was thrown out after distributors decided straight-up classical music was more in keeping with the movie. Maybe a 30th Anniversary re-issue of this ‘lost’ soundtrack would have been more prudent, a chance to reunite the two for the first time?.. Never mind.

A 30th Anniversary release of the ‘lost’ original score by industrial band ‘Coil’ may have been more prudent

For a woman who seems meek and proper in the opening scenes, Julia soon cracks on with transforming herself into the honey-trap for her past/future lover’s cannibalistic necessities. The first victim sequence is played out in almost total dialogue- no music. You’re watching something potentially perverse, but Barker doesn’t let the climax of the scene give too much away, instead allowing the masochistic elements to build as the film progresses. The mere thought alone is enough to create a disconcerting feeling, negating the modern need for ‘Hostel’-esque levels of torture porn in the hope they’ll provide the same result.

Julia soon cracks on with helping Frank

The arrival of the uniquely iconic ‘Cenobites’ around halfway through the film provides some welcome relief (pun intended). In juxtaposition to generic horror-villains like ‘Jigsaw’ (‘Saw 1’ to ‘Saw 317’) dishing out involuntary punishment to his victims, the ‘Cenobites’ are the guardians of sadomasochistic pain, and only appear when someone has specifically requested it (how nice of them!).

It’s incredibly rare to have a ‘monster’ in a horror film be so eloquent in expressing their reason for being

It’s incredibly rare to have a ‘monster’ in a horror film be so eloquent in expressing their reason for being, and it’s fair to say that Pinhead’s low, resonating voice – part of what terrified me upon first watch – still gives me chills when I hear it now. What’s distinctly frightening about him is his intellectual equality with the viewer. Pinhead isn’t your typical, mentally unstable psychopath bumbling through the streets and jumping out from behind bushes, and the modern strand of horror would be wise to take note.

It’s at this midway point that ‘Hellraiser’ hits its stride, but it’s almost to the film’s detriment, rubbing awkwardly with the pace of its earlier, tension-building sequences.

Hellraiser 2
Pinhead still stands up as a uniquely iconic horror-villain

It’s unfortunate that the closing scenes of ‘Hellraiser’ fail to make an impact as the budget restrictions become glaringly obvious. This in particular damages the final attempted escape, hampering any real scope to the depth of either realm whilst betraying the peril of the protagonist’s flight.

Barker does get it right with his last lingering shot of Frank though. The smile emblazoned across our antagonist’s hook-stretched face provides a distilled snapshot of the film’s rason d’etre that only a selfish man can dance with the Devil and live to tell the tale.

A love story at heart, ‘Hellraiser’ warns of how lust and greed can drive us to do unimaginable things to each other

The more astute critic may point out at that ‘Hellraiser’ is a love story at the very base level, a social comment on how lust and greed can drive people to do unimaginable things to others. The more astute critic may also highlight how ‘Hellraiser’ is a warning to eighties ‘yuppies’ that their behaviour is ultimately foolish, and that the pursuit of it will end very badly for all involved (to say the least).

The closing sequences of ‘Hellraiser’ are sadly let down by budget constraints

The more acute critic may continue to find the deeper themes and hidden messages in ‘Hellraiser’, but my personal conclusion is that it hasn’t aged particularly well. That said, this ‘flawed classic’ is peppered with groundbreaking ideas that continue to stand up today. The soundtrack is wonderfully orchestrated, but it’s the film’s quotes rather than it’s score that have provided sample-fodder for many a bedroom producer around the world, making the vinyl release not just a rare miss from a respected label, but a shameless cash in as well.

So, as I cautiously emerge from behind my cold, sweaty cushion and steal a nervous glance towards the attic above, you ask for my last words on the film:

‘It could do with a reboot further down the line…’


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