We’re not going to spend too much time reviewing Hellraiser the movie. It’s a pretty classic film written and directed by Clive Barker based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, featuring the introduction of the Cenobites and their leader Pinhead. If you don’t at least know of the film by now, I’m not sure where you’ve been living – perhaps in a hell of your own making?
Whatever the case, Hellraiser is a fairly good film with a lot of great gore effects and an interesting premise about the intersection of pain and pleasure. It’s clear that Barker’s influence came from his own darker interests, taking cues from BDSM, tattoo and piercing worship, and other elements of scarification and bodily harm in sexuality that, to some, signal perverse prurient interests and to others are just another everyday occurrence in their bedrooms. For a rather mainstream film in 1987, Hellraiser pushes a lot of boundaries; it also manages to be a particularly dark and atmospheric film that I would argue not many other horror films match.
With that said, Barker’s film isn’t perfect. Character motivations are at times extremely odd, particularly Julia’s (Clare Higgins); her development just isn’t explored enough to give the audience a reasoning behind her swing from soft-spoken lady of the house to dark mistress. Likewise, the film spends a lot of time exploring Frank (Sean Chapman) as a character before navigating away from him in the final act to focus on the Cenobites. Hellraiser borders on unintentional comedy at times due to its undying moodiness, which can often lead to stilted character deliveries. These tend to be Barker’s weaknesses in film and in his writing, and they do come through when watching the film with a critical eye.
However, the graphic effects and overall nastiness of the film make Hellraiser a particularly defining moment in cinema history. You don’t often see a human reverse-engineered out of the bowels of a house, do you? It’s still a pretty relevant film today, too, as the fringe communities still work to have their fetishes accepted in a time where strangeness isn’t well-tolerated.
Note: this Blu-ray is a single release of Hellraiser that was originally included in the Scarlet Box that has since gone out of print. If you already own the Scarlet Box, this is the exact same release except with a truncated version of the Leviathan documentary splitting Hellraiser and Hellraiser II.
Arrow Video has decided to release their Scarlet Box (at least Hellraiser and Hellraiser II) in individual Blu-rays now that the Scarlet Box is out of print, collecting all of the same extras and transfers. Hellraiser gets a new 2k scan restoration that was approved by director of photography Robin Vidgeon. The new transfer looks quite good, with what I would consider medium-heavy grain. The grain tends to appear chunkier in darker contexts, but overall it’s not obstructive though some might take offense to its less clean look. Otherwise, definition is good as well as color balance and black levels and there are no real issues with the picture on this – even damage is minimal. A good quality scan from Arrow that showcases Hellraiser in all its moody glory.
Screenshots from this Hellraiser Blu-ray.
Audio comes in both LPCM 2.0 stereo and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Both are good, and I didn’t notice any volume level issues or drops on either – and it’s hard to say what the better track is to listen to. I think I prefer the 5.1 myself. English subtitles are also included.
Extra features are directly ported from the Scarlet Box, including Leviathan: The Making of Hellraiser and Hellraiser II. Arrow is calling this “new” but what they really mean is that it breaks up the two making-of featurettes for each disc, and excises some talk about Hellraiser II during the first making-of. This runs as a feature-length doc at 1.5 hours, and it’s a really good discussion about all things Hellraiser from the production to the special effects work.
Also included is a new interview with Sean Chapman on his Frank character – the man rather than the inside-out creature – and he goes over his involvement with the film and some of his criticisms of the film. A new interview with Stephen Thrower documents his band Coil and the intended original Hellraiser soundtrack – and where it all went wrong.
This disc also includes previously available extras like an audio commentary with Clive Barker, a second commentary with Barker and Ashley Laurence, an interview with Doug Bradley, an older featurette, an EPK, trailers, image galleries, and TV spots. If you have a BD-ROM drive you can also read the original screenplays.
NEW 2k restoration approved by director of photography Robin Vidgeon
NEW Reversible cover art
NEWLeviathan: The Story of Hellraiser documentary (HD; 1:29:17)
NEW Interview with Sean Chapman (HD; 26:24)
NEW Interview with Stephen Thrower (HD; 18:11)
Hellraiser: Resurrection featurette (HD; 24:25)
Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser (HD; 12:31)
Original EPK (SD; 5:58)
Audio commentary with Clive Barker
Audio commentary with Clive Barker and Ashley Laurence
Image gallery (chapter breaks; 0:52)
Theatrical trailer (unrestored HD; 1:37)
Red band theatrical trailer (unrestored HD; 1:36)
International trailer (unrestored HD; 3:27)
TV spot 1 (unrestored HD; 0:34)
TV spot 2 (unrestored HD; 0:32)
TV spot 3 (unrestored HD; 0:32)
TV spot 4 (unrestored HD; 0:33)
BD-ROM draft screenplays
Interview with Andrew Robinson
Interview with Christopher Young
Interview with Ashley Laurence
Makeup effects gallery
Promo material gallery
Fast film facts pop-up feature
This single-disc edition of Hellraiser, from Arrow's Scarlet Box trilogy set, collects the film with a great 2k restoration and plenty of new features. If you don't already own the box, this is definitely worth it for an upgrade.