This week Ally brought something to the table that was an unknown to the rest of us with neither Fin or myself had seen it before - Hellraiser. The reason, in my case anyway, that I had not viewed this particular film already was that, from what I knew of the Hellraiser franchise, this film was not for me. Or so I thought.
Thinking of Hellraiser, before I saw it this week, the iconic image that would instantly pop into my head was that of Pinhead. And I would imagine that the film was extremely gory, in bad taste, a video nasty of the 80's and not worth my time. Unfortunately, I think this is mainly due the age old horror problem of sequels continually adhering to the law of diminishing returns, and getting more and more extreme in order to try and get viewers to come back for more. However, I should caveat that last statement that this is again based on my preconception of the Hellraiser franchise (until I checked IMDB I had no idea quite how many sequels this had spawned) and my general experience with other horror franchises (I can only hope that the remaining Hellraiser films will confound my expectations as much as this one did, and that I will be forced to write a retraction in future horror club reviews!).
Firstly, whilst there are certainly a great number of unsettling images in the film, they are there to unsettle you, rather than to shock, as with some lesser horror films. It has to be said that the special effects in this film are some of the best I have ever seen even rivalling Horror Club favourite The Thing. Without these effects, or if it was made today (apparently Hollywood has another remake in the works, just what the world needs another Michael Bay Platinum Dunes music video glossy horror remake of a classic, in 3D!) I don't think the film would be as strong as it is. Thats not to say that I wasn't engaged in the story, but the entire film I forgot Frank was a special effect.
Unlike CGI in modern films, which can be jarring and remove you from a film, I was transported to another world when watching Hellraiser. In fact the only scene that has dated badly is at the end where they use computer effects! The fact that someone put so much love, time and effort into creating these models gives the viewer a real sense of admiration when watching the film. Whereas, rightly or wrongly, I view CGI as a cheat, something that can be knocked up by anyone who can be bothered learning programming. There is no skill to it, its all about coding. But making various models of Frank as he struggles through the various states of recomposition - that takes real skill and ingenuity and craftmanship. Added to this there were also some genuinely cinematic and arthouse shots in this. The whole film looked fantastic.
Pinhead himself actually only appears in the film for a matter of minutes, and arguably is not the villain of the piece. I would suggest that this is Frank or even Frank, and human, nature's inability to be content with what he has and to constantly seek something bigger and better. Inevitably Franks downfall, and his corruptive influence on Julia (even before the Lament Configuration is solved), is his inability to control his emotions and desires and to live within the moral code that the rest of us do. Indeed, all the "victims" in the film give in to their carnal desires before they meet their maker, with the exception of Larry.
Franks search for the limits of pleasure lead him to the Cenobites, who "treat" him to sadomasochistic experiences where pleasure and pain are indivisible, and so the horror begins...
I would also like to note that whilst I originally thought Andrew Robinson, playing Larry, was one of the weakest things about the film originally, his portrayal needs to be admired as a whole, and he is simply astonishing at the end in his transformation. Like many of my ideas about Hellraiser, I had to eat my words once again whilst viewing the film.
In summary, if you've not seen Hellraiser and consider yourself a horror fan go out and get it. You will be rewarded with an original screenplay, some stunning visual effects, a glorious looking film, some fantastic quotes and a few genuine scares. Ignore Roger Eberts pleas that this film shows a bankruptcy of imagination, quite the opposite. Sit down and you will be rewarded with a stunning film that will also haunt you. The experiences of pain and pleasure truly are indivisible.