Inventive, thoroughly original and outlandishly energetic, Hellraiser is the best horror film of the latter half of the 1980s.
Written and directed by Clive Barker, it is a wonderfully dark hybrid of terror and science-fiction. Gruesome special effects, interesting photography...and an overtly sadomasochistic storyline, sets it apart from others in the genre.
In a foreign country, Frank (Sean Chapman) buys an intricate Chinese-style puzzle box from an Asian man. He brings it back home and begins to solve it. Before long, an intense light starts pouring into the room.
Suddenly, the puzzle starts moving by itself...as hooks eject out and become imbedded into Frank's body. He screams in agony as his flesh is ripped apart.
There is a chamber filled with chains, hooks, nails and body parts. It is another dimension...a hell ruled by the Cenobites. Frank has unwittingly opened this schism and is now a prisoner of it. Or rather, parts of his being are scattered on the ground.
Frank's brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) are considering moving into the house. Frank has not been seen in some time and they believe he has disappeared.
The place is a mess...and Larry even finds an ashtray with maggots in one of the rooms. The couple decides to make it their home nevertheless.
On the day of the move...Julia has visions of her past. She remembers a torrid affair she had with her brother-in-law Frank. Larry cuts his hand severely on a nail protruding from a wall, as he is carrying a mattress up the stairs.
His blood seeps through the floorboards and into the room below. It begins to regenerate and form what appears to be a skinless human body.
That evening, Larry and Julia have a dinner party. Among the guests is Larry's daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence).
Julia feels restless and leaves the table to wanders through the house. She enters one of the rooms and is grabbed by a hand. Julia looks down and screams when she sees the skinless body...who reveals himself to be Frank.
Frank tells her that Larry's blood brought him back to life - and that he needs more of the red stuff to be complete. Julia agrees to help him.
At her apartment, Kirsty has a nightmare about her father...a premonition about death. She calls him but he tells her that everything is okay.
Meanwhile, Julia goes out to a bar and picks up a stranger (Anthony Allen). She takes him back to the house and into the room where Frank is hiding. As the guy is undressing...and with his back turned...Julia smashes his head with a hammer.
The dirty deed done, she goes into the bathroom to wash up, while Frank crawls over to
the body. When Julia returns, she sees the corpse on the floor drained of all its blood. Frank walks over to her...he is becoming whole again.
He tells her to bring him more people because when the Cenobites find out that he is returning to normal, they'll come after him. Julia disposes of the body in another room before Larry comes home.
She brings a second person home (played by Leon Davis) and the sequence of events is repeated. This time, Julia demands an explanation. Frank shows her the puzzle and tells the story.
He describes the other dimension with the Cenobites...how they promise eternal pain and pleasure.
Julia isn't producing bodies fast enough for Frank. During a storm, Frank's impatience increases. While Larry and Julia are in bed together, Frank walks into the bedroom and mutilates a rat behind Larry's back. It's a not so subtle gesture for Julia to bring another victim to him.
Kirsty sees Julia escorting a third man (Michael Cassidy) back into her father's home. She follows them into the house...and discovers the man bloodied and near death.
Frank appears and reveals himself to Kirsty. She finds the puzzle...and realizing how valuable it is to Frank, she runs out of the house with it. However, Kirsty faints and is taken to a hospital.
While playing with the puzzle in bed, Kirsty opens up the dimension of the Cenobites. There are four of them, led by someone who was to be dubbed "Pinhead" (Doug Bradley). (The other three are portrayed by Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford and Grace Kirby.) The creatures tell her that she must go with them. Kirsty pleads for her life and promises to lead them to Frank.
She goes to her father's house to warn him that Frank wants to kill him - but it's too late. He's been murdered and Frank is now wearing Larry's skin.
Frank tries to kill Kirsty...but ends up stabbing Julia by mistake. He then drains her of all her blood.
The Cenobites appear and Frank is suddenly impaled with hooks and chains. He is literally torn apart.
But the Cenobites don't keep their word with Kirsty and come after her. The plucky Kirsty outwits them. She picks up the square puzzle and plays with it, making them vanish in the process.
Kirsty then tosses the puzzle into a bonfire...and after she has walked away, a strange derelict (Frank Baker) comes over and walks directly into the fire to retrieve it. In flames, he morphs into a skeletal bird and flys away!
In the final scene, we see the puzzle again being sold to an unsuspecting future victim. The merchant asks the buyer, "What's your pleasure, sir"?
Hellraiser is pouring with creativity. Clive Barker's imagination worked overtime to visualize a hell like we had never seen before. It's a sensational foray into the dimensions of horror, with an intriguing storyline to boot. Unbelievably, Barker has directed very little during his career, preferring instead to write.
The special effects are chilling and betray the rather low budget (with the exception of a few moments in the conclusion). Led by designer Bob Keen, the effects crew went to great lengths to conjure up a frightening, bloody nightmare of torn flesh and rotting corpses.
The score by Christopher Young is notable, for it seems to set the tone for the dual worlds where the action is played out...and serves as a nice bridge between the two.
The cast are all fine, with Ashley Laurence making a fetching heroine. Sean Chapman and Clare Higgins, meanwhile, are the epitome of human malevolence.
Of course, it was Doug Bradley as the lead Centobite who would enter the public consciousness and take his place besides iconic genre figures such as Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers. His infamous "Jesus wept" line as Frank is destroyed, is one of the all-time great goose bump moments.