Hellraiser

Review by Guido Henkel

Hellraiser  (1987)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Length:        93 mins.
Rated:          R
Format:       Anamorphic Widescreen · 1.85:1
                      Pan&Scan
Languages:English
Subtitles:    None
Extras:        Commentary Track
                     Featurette
                     Photo Gallery
                     Theatrical Trailer

"This is the last time I will talk about this son-of-a-bitch movie," with these words director and writer Clive Barker greets viewers in the documentary entitled "Resurrection" found on the latest incarnation of "Hellraiser" on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Since there have been a number of versions of the film available on home video before, it is understandable that he feels he has quite exhausted his remarks and analysis on his directorial debut. But at the same time he wants to make sure that this final rebuttal is celebrated by the best version of the film we have ever seen, in the form of this DVD release that contains a new transfer of the film with some exciting supplements. Does the DVD live up to it? Read on, fellow gorehound.

"Hellraiser" is the story of a poor soul by the name of Frank (Sean Chapman) who buys a weird looking cube that is said to have occult powers. One night he opens the cube and with it opens a direct gateway to Hell that eagerly gobbles him up. But Frank doesn’t like Hell and decides to leave. Through the blood of a fellow human being, Frank is able to escape the clutches of the Cenobites, the guardians of the Flesh, and finds a way back into the real world. But he is paying a dear prize. He needs human blood in order to regenerate his own earthly body that has been shredded to pieces by the Cenobites, and blood he shall have... plenty of it.

In the meanwhile, Frank’s niece Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) discovers the occult cube and not knowing what to make of it also manages to open it unintentionally and unaware of the dangers that lurk within. When the gateway to Hell opens, the Cenobites are awaiting, but with great presence of mind Kirsty offers the demons a deal. She promises the Cenobits to return Frank to them in exchange for her own life. The Cenobites, lead by Pinhead (Doug Bradley), agree and send Kirsty back to find and return the soul that is rightfully theirs.

"Hellraiser" is a truly visionary exploration of the macabre written and directed by British horror novelist Clive Barker. The film was his directorial debut and showed that this twisted mind of his was capable of much more than putting his wicked ideas to paper. "Hellraiser" is unique, it is scary and at many times it is almost repulsive - but in a strange, fascinating way. Barker paints the screen red in blood and offers the viewer images of horror and terror that were never seen like this before. Frank’s character is a raw piece of meat for the majority of the film as he slowly regenerates his body, and the sight is most definitely not for the squeamish.

Nicely played and stylishly directed, the film also offers us one of the most memorable horror icons to come out of the 80s horror craze, Pinhead, the lead Cenobite. Doug Bradley’s commanding performance in the part immediately created a character that remained vividly in viewers’ minds long after the film had ended and has since re-appeared in four sequels of varying quality. The saint-like demonic qualities of the character, the utterly sadistic tendencies and
his imposing looks quickly made him a fan favorite and one can’t watch "Hellraiser" without being impressed by the presence of this figure. The images of mutilation and gore in one shot, combined with the atmospheric blue-tinged, foggy and backlit images in the next, creates a visually striking movie experience that makes quite an impact.

Anchor Bay had previously released "Hellraiser" on DVD but has now created a new transfer of the movie that is enhanced for 16x9 television sets and THX-certified. Also presented in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the differences between the two incarnations is striking. The high level of detail of the new transfer is immediately noticeable, but especially when compared directly to the earlier release, it is quite frankly breathtaking. Details that were undistinguishable in the early version suddenly stand out with immaculate definition. Textures are reproduced with all their detail intact and the image is razor sharp without any signs of edge-enhancement. A lot of noise reduction had been applied to the earlier release of the film, giving the transfer a very soft look without much definition. The new transfer is sure to please the eye and brings out every bit of detail, but also some of the film’s grain.
On top of this incredible improvement, the film’s color reproduction has been corrected and suddenly the image has depth and detail that was clearly not there before. With a bold black level and very good highlights, the new transfer is bold and gives the image a lot of visual depth and dimensionality. To make a long story short, I never thought this particular film could look so good! The disc also includes a cropped pan and scan version of the movie, accessible from the disc’s main menu, but it has neither the color faithfulness, nor the level of detail of the anamorphic widescreen version, so try to avoid it if you can.

This new DVD also includes a newly re-mixed 5.1 channel Dolby Digital mix, which is a nice update from the film’s original Dolby Surround presentation. The new track now adds some spatial dimension to the surround channels that adds a level of unease to the film that perfectly complements the images on the screen. The action is more aggressive with the new mix and if you thought the cold sound of the chains has been chilling before, wait until you hear them on this new track, where danger seems to be all around you! The audio on the disc is absolutely clean without distortion and dialogues are very well integrated.
"Hellraiser" features a great score by Christopher Young that has found a great new home on this DVD with beautiful clarity and brilliance that will run shivers down your spine.

The disc features a new commentary track with Clive Barker and star Ashley Laurence. The track is moderated by Peter Atkins, who co-wrote the scripts for some of the sequels to "Hellraiser." The track is very engaging and informative and especially Barker constantly talks about the development of the film, the characters and his intentions with the film. The commentary is not overly technical but shows the thought process Barker went through to create the picture, combined with fond anecdotes and recollections from the shoot and the production. Atkins makes a superb moderator, not only attempting to bridge potential gaps and pauses, but also to engage Barker and Laurence in conversation, which eventually leads to the unearthing of a lot of valuable information and entertaining moments.

The disc also contains the before-mentioned, new 25-minute featurette called "Resurrection" that has been produced by Clive Barker specifically for this DVD. Also presented in 16x9 widescreen, this documentary covers many aspects of the film and the phenomenon. Apart from Clive Barker’s own, very candid, words we are also treated to interviews with many of the cast and crew members, reminiscing about their participation in the film. Especially the segments covering Doug Bradley and his character Pinhead will no doubt be exceedingly interesting for fans of the film, as we also get to see Clive Barker draw a sketch of the character "live" on camera. Just like he opens the featurette with a revelation, Clive Barker closes it with some late-breaking information, so make sure to watch this featurette to the end.

The film’s theatrical trailer, also presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and a gallery of almost 70 promotional stills are also part of this great release, as well as the THX Optimode that helps you to correctly set up your TV set, in case you haven’t done so before.

Clive Barker’s macabre tale of the grotesque Cenobits is still a terrifying experience after 13 years and hasn’t lost any of its appeal or horror. The visionary style of the film and its unrelenting story have made "Hellraiser" a landmark among modern horror movies and I am awestruck by this great package that Anchor Bay has prepared here. No fan of Clive Barker’s uniquely unsettling horror can afford to miss this fantastic release - or he will have to answer directly to the Cenobites!

Learn more about this and other horror films at the

This title is scheduled for release on 9/19/2000
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September 7, 2000

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