Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker

This was probably one of the last films (if not the very last) that I saw for the first time on VHS. By that time I’d actually entered the digital age (so we’re probably talking mid-late 2003), and at that time a number of the old Anchor Bay horror DVDs were showing up in Sydney shops, including my local suburban HMV, as region-free imports, including this one. Which I was interested in but didn’t really want to buy without knowing what I was in for—at this very early stage in my DVD buying I was still a bit loath to buy things sight unseen—and so ventured to the local video shop to rent their somewhat elderly tape of it. I was sufficiently impressed to then buy the DVD, and I will say the Cenobites are still a pretty striking concept; as monsters go, they must’ve seemed something, if not entirely new, certainly markedly different from the raft of slashers the decade had been overflowing with. And it gave the world a new horror icon in Pinhead, of course, even though he’s not called that here (and apparently even while making the second film they thought Julia would actually be the recurring character through the series until they realised how popular Pinhead was). But rewatching tonight reminded me of something notable, i.e. the Cenobites don’t actually do much until reasonably late in the game… they obviously don’t even realise Frank’s escaped them until Kirsty inadvertently summons them, and they do kind of bugger all to help her for the most part when he’s trying to kill her; otherwise they’re really just a very background presence. Talking of presence, is it just me or is Andrew Robinson’s presence an odd one? You know, Scorpio from Dirty Harry as this nice suburban husband and father? Watching the film tonight, I felt there was something… off about him even before the last act when we realise he’s not exactly Larry any more… I don’t know what I make of the film now, but it seemed less satisfying tonight for some reason. The geographical vagueness of it—where exactly is it set?—irritated me more than ever before, and the rat killing business just seemed hugely unnecessary (like the people killings didn’t?). Still, I’ll give it points for bravery in trying to present a somewhat singular vision even if it did exceed the available resources at times; shame that vision didn’t survive much further into the series…

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