Medieval tortures and edgy sexuality intermingle in Clive Barker's cult horror classic Hellraiser. The story follows sexy, young Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), her father (Andrew Robinson), and her stepmother (Clare Higgins) as they grapple with a quartet of bizarre demons called Cenobites who are summoned by a strange, cube-shaped puzzle box. Hellraiser features some top-notch gore, particularly the startling appearance of Kirsty's evil -- and skinless -- Uncle Frank. But the movie also creates a strange alternative universe -- about which it raises more questions than it answers, most notably concerning those demonic Cenobites, described by Barker as "ageless experts in the arts of refined pleasures and pain." The S/M-inspired look of these demons -- lead by a character known among fans as Pinhead -- is alone worth the price of admission. Anchor Bay's collectors-edition DVD includes audio commentary by the Barker and Ashley Laurence, a specially made featurette, and theatrical trailers.
Clive Barker's feature-directing debut is not only his strongest work as a filmmaker but one of the finest horror films of the 1980's. Barker's script is ambitious and carefully controlled all at once: the backstory weaves an elaborate mythology that is equal parts H.P. Lovecraft and S&M iconography but the author wisely roots these heady concepts in a scenario driven by a family unit of characters whose dysfunctional relationships give the viewer something to relate to. Barker the writer also works in a number of startling setpieces that allow Barker the director to show off a fully-formed set of filmmaking skills: highlights include the gruesome "rebirth" of Frank and the unnerving scene where reality folds in on itself as Kirsty unwittingly unleashes the Cenobites. Barker's stylish direction is aided immensely by slick lensing from Robin Vidgeon, who makes the film look much more expensive than its million-dollar budget, and the lush orchestral score by Christopher Young, which offsets the gruesome sights and sounds of the film with an almost romantic musical touch. Finally, and most importantly, the performances are fantastic: Clare Higgins is both sexy and scary as the unfaithful wife in thrall to the dark side while Sean Chapman exudes a sleazy charisma as Frank and Andy Robinson does a fine job cast against type as the nice-guy hubby caught in the middle. However, the heart of the film is Ashley Laurence's expressive turn as the daughter forced into fighting the film's evils: she does a fine job creating a character who is both sympathetic and resourceful (and she's also a great screamer). In short, Hellraiser is required viewing for fans of modern horror.