As any masochist may inform you, sometimes pleasure and pain are one in the same.
Such is the idea behind Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, a psycho-sexual descent into human depravity.
A man named Frank meets a merchant in a foreign country. “What’s your pleasure?” the merchant asks. He gives Frank a gold puzzle box. Once he solves the puzzle box, Frank disappears.
Months later, his brother Peter and Peter’s wife, Julia, move into his old family home, the one Frank disappeared from. His daughter Kirsty is in college and comes to visit. An accident while moving causes some of Peter’s blood to spill on the floor in the house, and then something is freed.
This opening act is full of tension, but not the same kind usually found in a blood and gore horror film. Each frame oozes with sexual tension, the kind a leering man at the end of a bar gives off after he’s bought you a drink. In Hellraiser, sex is subtextually presented as a capital-S ‘Sin’, one that invites the forces of darkness and poisons your soul with greed.
After the accident, Frank frees himself from the prison the puzzle box sent him, and coerces Julia into helping restore him fully to life. She becomes a siren, leading foolish men to their doom.
And then the Cenobites show up, and things get interesting.
The first feature written and directed by horror and fantasy author Clive Barker, Hellraiser, from a film-making standpoint is interesting but not the pinnacle of the genre. The score by Christopher Young sets the mood well and crescendos powerfully whenever Pinhead and the Cenobites appear on screen. The gore and torture scenes are edited for maximum effectiveness, with body modification being a particular fetish of the movie.
Hellraiser is some messed up shit, but it’s some good messed up shit.