Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Dead of Night: Hull Horror Film Festival (27-31 October 2017)

Hellraiser 30th Anniversary Restoration

Matt Ryan Tobin's new 30th Anniversary Hellraiser  poster.

UK: 1987/ 94 mins/ Cert. 18
Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Doug Bradley, Sean Chapman, Clare Higgins, Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence.

Thirty years after Clive Barker’s Hellraiser was premiered at the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s West End, the Cenobites are back on the big-screen to tear our souls apart again. The cult horror classic’s anniversary has been marked by a restoration for the cinema and accompanied by the release of a range of merchandise including a limited-edition Blu-ray steelbook, re-issue of Christopher Young’s soundtrack and a newly designed poster designed by artist Matt Ryan Tobin. Three decades on and Hellraiser’s extreme depiction of ‘pleasure and pain indivisible’ is as delightfully perverted and repulsive as ever.

When Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia (Clare Higgins) move into Larry’s mother’s old home, Julia discovers that Larry’s missing brother, Frank (Sean Chapman), is in one of the spare rooms. In a flashback sequence, we discover that Frank and Julia had an illicit affair a few years previously and that Frank has a taste for transgressive sex. This desire to experience the extreme limits of gratification drove Frank to purchase an antique puzzle box from a Chinese merchant in Morocco. The box- a kind of demonic Rubik’s Cube- opens a portal into another dimension and after solving the puzzle in an occult-style ritual, the Cenobites are summoned. Frank is transported to the Cenobites’ domain where he is tortured, hooks agonisingly piercing his skin and tearing the flesh from his body in graphic, excruciating detail.

50 shades of torture and pain.
Having escaped the clutches of the Cenobites, the skinless, zombie-like Frank requires a regular supply of blood to regenerate his body. Julia, bored with her relationship with her husband, agrees to help Frank and run away with him, luring victims back to the house and murdering them for Frank to drain their blood. Later, Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), comes into possession of the box and opens the portal. She makes a pact with the Cenobites to release her from their sadomasochistic torments in return for leading them to Frank.

The Cenobites: Sadomasochistics From Beyond the Grave.
The four surgically mutilated Cenobites in their leather fetish gear and self-inflicted gaping wounds, are an incredible achievement; a collection of grotesques seemingly conjured from Dante’s Inferno and reimagined by Robert Mapplethorpe that have entered horror iconography. The Cenobites’ leader, Pinhead (Doug Bradley), describes them as ‘explorers in the further regions of experience’, explaining to Kirsty that they are ‘demons to some, angels to others’. According to Barker, the Cenobites’ look was inspired by ‘punk, Catholicism and by the visits I would take to S and M clubs in New York and Amsterdam’. Considering the modest budget, Cliff Wallace’s special effects, Joanna Johnston’s costume design and the make-up on the film are outstanding. Hellraiser cost only $900,000 to make, half the amount that it took Wes Craven to make A Nightmare on Elm Street, released just three years earlier.

Barker was motivated to make his debut as a director, adapting his novella The Hellbound Heart for the screen after being disappointed in a couple of adaptations of his stories directed by George Pavlou: Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1987). He admits he knew nothing about filmmaking when he started the project, which was originally titled Sadomasochistics From Beyond the Grave, an unwieldy but rather wonderful title which pretty much sums up Hellraiser’s transgressive themes. What Barker ultimately achieved with no experience and little money is quite remarkable. Hellraiser took over $14 million at the box office, instigating a series of sequels and there is currently talk doing the rounds of Barker writing a reboot of the original. The film, which required a few minor cuts in the US before its release and was originally banned in Ontario, made the Time Out list of 100 greatest Horror films. It is also probably the only film in cinema history to feature both a maggot and a roach wrangler in its production.

"Chattering Cenobite" captures Kirsty.
Hellraiser broke the mould as it was one of the earliest examples of torture horror and went against the grain of most other films of the period when the slasher genre and horror with camp and comedic elements were predominant. There are touches of humour present in the film, but it’s a humour that emerges from the darkest recesses of the imagination and, with its sickening imagery, decidedly not played for laughs. A portrayal of extreme carnality, like Pasolini’s Salò being dragged on a dog chain through the bowels of hell, rarely has deviancy been presented in such a vicious manner. Hellraiser is fifty shades of torture and pain and then some. A nasty, visceral and excessive modern gothic horror. 

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