Sunday, March 4, 2012

REVIEW: Hellraiser (1987)

Have you ever wondered what would happen if your dead occult-obsessed brother came back to life in the attic of your new house and needed human flesh and blood in order to sustain himself and eventually return to his old self? Me too. This is Hellraiser.

Director: Clive Barker
Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins

"We are demons to some; angels to others."

This is one of those classic horror movies that polarizes audiences even to this day. It was made by resident cheap-ass hack director Clive Barker in the days before he was responsible for movies like Midnight Meat Train and Candyman, and while I don’t have much vitriol to espouse upon it, I’m not raving either, and even if you like this movie, there are certainly some really goofy things about it that I have to point out or else I’ll never be able to sleep right again! Well, okay, maybe not. But…just get on with it.

The movie starts out with a guy named Frank buying an ancient Rubix Cube from a man who you know is trustworthy because his fingernails are dirtier than the underbelly of a gas station bathroom sink:


Anyway, then he goes back to his house and sits in a big circle of candles:

Not even a Satanic ritual could make this movie any good. And what, did that puzzle box thing come with instructions as to what to do?

Then we get the greatest puzzle never solved by man!

Are you shocked yet?!

Then we see our actual main characters of the film, Larry and Julia, a couple of unlikable assholes moving into a house. Larry’s daughter Kirsty is also in town and although she makes a big to-do on the phone about not coming, she ends up coming over in two scenes anyway – spoilers! There’s also a couple of guys helping them move who apparently will ogle any woman who comes by, including Julie as well as Kirsty – they really have no shame, do they? They do it RIGHT IN FRONT OF LARRY.

I especially love this one line where the younger doofus says to Kirsty, “she’s got her mother’s looks,” thinking that Julia is her mother. Larry curtly responds, “Her mother is dead.”

"I was directed to be as big of a douche as I possibly could! Hur hur hur..."

Yeah, you get back to work, you stupid idiot you.

Then we see Julia going up to the attic to fantasize about the one time she had sex with Larry’s brother Frank, who was the guy from the opening. Yup, the movie’s focal character is a lady who continually fantasizes about screwing her husband’s brother – isn’t that just charming? I don’t even think it was an ongoing affair – the movie makes it seem like it was just one time that they had sex, and she just never got over it. What a sad sap.

I actually kind of think this is an interesting plot point, and a decent enough commentary on marriage, but the way they present it is just a bit awkward with it just being a one night stand she had and keeps fantasizing about constantly – maybe if they didn’t keep cutting to flashbacks of the two of them screwing every time Julia is on screen it would be a little more tasteful and realistic, but as it is, the movie just comes off as comical, which I know it wasn't going for…but enough of that; we got BLOODY HANDS to show as Larry cuts himself on a conveniently protruding nail while trying to move the mattress, and then whines about it for like a whole scene like a big wuss:

I’m not sure hands bleed THAT much, movie, not from a cut from a nail…and why did he come all the way up to the attic like that instead of just running to the sink to clean the cut out? And why didn’t those two other morons help him with it? Was that just not in their contract? Are they only obligated to help women they can sexually coerce later?

Also now we see that the floors are able to soak up blood; how convenient! And in return they spit out a bloody skeleton of Larry’s dead brother Frank, who looks like an anorexic Freddy Krueger.

This whole bulimia thing is really getting out of hand...

So then we see a dinner scene in which Julia’s thoughts are dominated by that one night of sex with Frank all those years ago and apparently nothing else at all, literally. I guess it must have been pre-etty good…and Larry just makes stupid conversations…that guy is kind of lame actually.

But you know what ISN’T lame? Random hobos watching you when you go on a date afterwards!

In between his porn reading sessions and his street peddling for change to buy more porn, he just ogles any couple who walks by I guess, being that there's NO WAY he can know Kirsty is going to be involved in the film's events, which is what the movie is actually suggesting...

I also found it weird that Kirsty and her date go home but sleep in different beds…kinda defeats the purpose of a one night stand there, guys.

Meanwhile, Frank the skeleton blood boy in the attic tells Julia that she has to help him become whole again by feeding him human blood and flesh, and like any sane person she doesn’t question it one bit; just starts picking up guys at bars while looking like distilled 80s loneliness, sunglasses and sports coat and high heels and all. The guys she picks up are pretty much the nerdiest guys Clive Barker could find on short notice; probably his Sunday Dungeons and Dragons group.

And yay, probably the worst possible way of hiding a body: when your husband comes home, make sure NOT to just leave the body in the empty attic where no one even goes, and DO drag it across the hallway where it could be very visible if he happened to walk past at the wrong time. You’re so smart, Julia!

I don't think I've ever seen a worse attempt to cover up a murder in a serious film. This is pretty much rock bottom on the list of stupid things you can do.

While that’s going on, Kirsty sees the weird homeless guy in her pet shop and he eats some bugs and then disappears randomly; glad that scene was in the movie!

Frank gets crazier and crazier, even going so far as to cut a dead rat up over the bed while Julia and Larry attempt to have sex! How utterly shocking! Julia gets freaked out so much that she starts crying, and of course Larry thinks it’s his fault – you’ll have to excuse him. He is just a true blue simple country boy from the sticks! I just love the look on his face here:

"All I knows how t' do is milk cows!"

Kirsty goes to her dad’s house but sees Julia inviting in one of the idiots she picked up from a bar. She also sees Frank killing him, and Frank tries to calm her down, but I don’t think that works very well when he looks like he took a bath in a pool of human entrails. And when that doesn’t work, he tries the sexual harassment route that…pretty much makes no sense, being that we never even saw any evidence that he acted that way towards Kirsty before. Movie, if you want to tell a gross-out sub-plot like this, BRING IT IN EARLIER. Don’t just shove it in randomly to shock the audience for two seconds and then discard it later! 

I'm sorry, but it’s really hard to defend liking this movie when it has scenes like this one. He calls her all kinds of creepy pet names and it’s just downright despicable how much this movie is pandering. It’s just so odd because Barker actually has some very solid scares and atmosphere in this movie – why did he need to resort to scenes like this? It’s not just this one time, either…almost every time Frank is on screen, we get this kind of lewd, low-brow garbage haphazardly forced in that just takes the viewer out of the movie. Ugh.

Kirsty steals his magical Rubix cube and summons the Cenobites, renowned the world over for giving piercing artists more money than anyone else. These characters are pretty vaguely defined right now, but they’re supposed to be some kind of demonic figures who make people repent for various sins they’ve committed, or something like that. I don’t know – they are cool looking, but they don’t really get much screen time here.

Look at this guy. He's too cool for the actual movie he's in.

The Cenobites make a deal with her that they’ll let her live if she brings them to Uncle Frank, who escaped from their torture dimension place, because yeah, these guys look like they’d be the type to make deals…and also, how come these guys can't just find Frank themselves? It seems like they should be able to, given all the other stuff they can do! Are you really telling me these intergalactic torture aficionados with magical powers can't find one little escapee from their dimension? I'm sorry, I just think it's a little silly that these guys don't take any precautions in case this ever happens. Sure, you could say they never thought it would - but no; these guys seem way too smart to even let it happen, let alone be so incompetent that they have to rely on a puny little human to help them recapture their prey.

She goes back to the house and gets jump scared by her mom’s arm on the stairs even though she should have clearly been able to see her coming down:

"AHH! AN ARM!" Seriously, weakest jump scare I've seen in a while.

Uncle Frank has apparently, somehow, it’s never explained, taken over Larry’s body, and Kirsty takes a long time to notice, despite the fact that he has blood all over his face and hands…

Yeah, not noticeable at all when you're sitting right in front of him, right? You could make the argument that she was just in shock. But frankly, I think that's a bit of a stretch.

Is everybody in this movie just blind? No, really. Tell me the truth.

Frank kills Julia by accident – real smart bad guy this movie has! – and then goes up to the attic where Pinhead kills him and he utters the line “Jesus wept.” Why? Because it would later sound good as a soundbyte on many black metal albums. Then the Cenobites start to blow up the house and try to kidnap Kirsty, only her boyfriend shows up – man this guy has bad timing. There’s a lot of stuff that goes on, but it all just really starts to drag. The film finally ends with that crazy hobo from before picking up the Rubix cube and turning into a winged hell-spawn and flying away…yup, that’s the end. Phew. Doesn’t make sense? Who cares, it’s over!

I can’t say I hated this movie, but it had a few big problems. I really don’t think the three main characters were well written, which is bad because we see them constantly. Sure, you don’t have to make every character likable and honorable, far from it - they can be loathsome wretches; but these characters are just too simplistic. Frank is just so blatantly crude that he’s almost a caricature, and he doesn’t have much at all in the way of character depth or texture – he’s pretty much a cardboard cutout; nothing he does really paints a good picture of a character. He just serves as a plot device for gross-out scenes. Julia is blindly stupid and doesn’t have any real personality beyond “Oh, I really miss that one night stand I had twenty years ago before I was married!” And Larry is so bland he might as well not even be there. These characters are the focus of the movie, so even though there are other things I like, the blunt, rather caveman-like character construction and writing makes it really hard to get into at times.

However, the film does have a great morbid atmosphere to it when the Cenobites show up, sort of like a darker Nightmare on Elm Street or something, and the story progresses in a rather noir-meets-occult type of fashion that reminds me of really old school Gothic horror. Doug Bradley is a great actor as Pinhead, and whenever he’s on screen the movie is suddenly really awesome.

If this film had just focused more on giving us that chilling elegant-yet-perverse dichotomy of scares that it is so good at yet only really shows us in like 2-minute intervals, rather than trying to let the trinity of unlikable assholes drive the movie forward. As it is, Hellraiser is flawed and boorish but still pretty interesting, if not an absolute gem of its genre…but hey, at least I don’t have to review any of the sequels! I mean, there are like a dozen of those things! Why would I ever subject myself to that?

What’s that? You’re daring me to do it? You don’t think I can survive a whole month of reviewing these things? YOU’RE ON. THIS IS PROJECT HELLRAISER!

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