Frank (Sean Chapman) searches for a new way to experience pleasure, and ends up being pulled into the realm of the Cenobites – demons of the furthest reaches between pleasure and pain. Years later, Frank returns to the house that his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and sister-in-law Julia (Clare Higgins) now occupy. Desiring to regain his humanity, Frank pulls Julia into a twisted ritual of violence, desperate to complete it before the Cenobites discover he’s escaped.
Most of the practical effects are amazing. Grotesque and disturbing in the best ways, several of the scenes in Hellraiser are far more shocking than any modern CGI.
The score is fantastic, creating a dark and brooding atmosphere that constantly intensifies the feeling of dread that permeates the film.
The overall premise of Hellraiser is intriguing and unique. I’m a huge fan of horror films that deal with horrific creatures from other dimensions, and the idea of Frank actively seeking out these beings makes the story even more interesting.
Unfortunately, the way that the story plays out on screen is far less interesting than its premise. With little to no information about any of the characters, it’s impossible to care about any of them or the things that happen to them. It would have been far more interesting if less time was spent on Frank’s remaking, as that is honestly the least engaging aspect of the film. The Cenobites, the main draw of Hellraiser, receive a minimal amount of screen time. Clive Barker sets up an excellent atmosphere to deliver a gruesome lesson about pleasure and pain, but manages to languish in the aspect of pain without saying anything meaningful.
The writing here is absolutely awful. Some of it can be attributed to the time period that it was written but, as always, I think back to Alien in 1979. I feel like writing ability should have evolved beyond the atrocity that is Hellraiser by 1987, but here we are.
The performances certainly don’t help the script, with every single one being atrocious. Oliver Smith is the worst offender. Any scene where zombie Frank is speaking is nearly unwatchable, bordering on some kind of cringeworthy parody of what is actually being portrayed on screen. Clare Higgins is nearly as bad, her simultaneous overacting and lack of emotion both managing to suck the life from any scene that she inhabits. Ashley Laurence is the tentative best of the worst here.
While Hellraiser has a unique premise and excellent practical effects, it flounders in a mire of horrible writing and awful performances that make for an ultimately boring experience.