Welcome to the fourth annual Halloween Fifteen event, where fifteen movies were selected for coverage by both contributors and The Moon is a Dead World. This month, we’ll be taking a look at fifteen classic horror films my wife picked (because I often pick some bad ones, and she’s sick of wasting her Halloween on those) – and we’re starting things off with Clive Barker’s fantastic Hellraiser.
FeatheredPandais a self-described “lone blogger obsessed with only the most obscure of video games and only the most popular of movies,” a frequenter of Reddit who was kind enough to contribute some writing on Hellraiser for this blogathon. You can find FeatheredPanda’s work on Tumblr right now until the writing is compiled into a full blog or website, and below, this Halloween Fifteen post documents the use of space and setting within Hellraiser, a unique approach to writing about the film that is well welcomed on this site. Please give FeatheredPanda your warmest regards, and visit more writings here.
Space in Hellraiser
Secret lives, betrayal bred from illicit desire, a lustful middle class wife turned murderous for the sake of love. Take away the supernatural elements and Hellraiser could fit into any midday line-up of cheap melodramas. Thankfully, an explosion of horror movies in the 80s provided that special spooky sauce this movie needed to break through the stratosphere into stardom.
Though there are a lot of things that go into making Hellraiser work (not least of which is the iconic design of the main antagonist, Pinhead), the bedrock of what allows all of them to fit together is Clive Barker’s ability to utilize the small, limiting set to its full potential.
After a creepy and mysterious starting montage that leaves no one guessing as to what kind of movie this will be, Hellraiser opens up with a standard horror set up scene – clueless characters trespassing somewhere they don’t belong. Whether it’s a drive to explore, a foolish seeking of thrills or the naïve conviction that any place can be swept clean and lived in anew, horror movie protagonists are rarely beset by demons they hadn’t roused themselves. The dirty and sacrilegious belongings of Frank that litter the house imply that not even the verve of the husband can make this place fit for a wholesome middle class family.
After this grand tour of the house, Clive Barker narrows down the focus and limits most of the rest of the movie to the staircase and the empty room at the top of it. Since all major interactions happen in these two locations, they feel like a prison the characters are unable to escape from.
The narrow stairs, zig-zagging upwards in short turns make a quick escape all but impossible and up the intimacy of character encounters. Larry cuts his hand here, Julia seduces her victims here and this is where she finally meets her demise, shoved into a corner up the first few steps. Besides being an inherently claustrophobia-inducing place, the staircase is very nondistinct. The only memorable detail in this set is the perversely-placed statue of Christ, bound to observe all the wretchedness going on below him, unable to turn away his gaze.
The second most ubiquitous location, Frank’s room, is spacious, uncluttered, almost a foil to the physical restrictiveness of the staircase, but it works to instil the same dreadful feeling of being trapped. It becomes quickly obvious that no living person is welcome here, the thick layer of filth hangs on even as other rooms seem to be shaping up and the muddy light coming through windows blanketed with heavy spiderweb drapes remains constant throughout the film. Standing in it people feel almost naked, the walls hidden in shadows seem treacherous and the absence of any furnishings give off the impression that there’s nothing to hide behind. The expansive, empty room highlights the fact that the men in polished suits, the pure daughter and the unsuspecting father are hopelessly alone and out of their element here.
By grounding the film in this hostile and cold terrain, Clive Barker managed to tell an incredibly tense and haunting story with not much of a budget. In the end Hellraiser spawned a whole franchise of direct sequels, comic books and even a Wolfenstein 3D clone (which ironically was remade at the last minute before release into a Bible-themed shooter in which Noah runs around shooting fruit at goats with a sligshot). Pinhead, the chief Cenobite, was raised onto the same honourable pedestal as Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Leatherface, spearheading movies that would become staples in any campy Halloween movie marathon set.
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