I am a big fan of good gritty 80s franchises (like Evil Dead, Mad Max, or Alien), but one that has managed to slip me by until recently is Hellraiser. Nothing really drew me to it, as it just seemed like another schlocky horror franchise. I watched the first four movies on the recommendation of a friend and was pleasantly surprised.





The first installment is, not surprisingly, the best of the bunch. The story isn’t great, but it’s not bad by any means (certainly by 80s horror standards). There’s an inspired bit where a fleshless muscle-less corpse waits in the attic for it’s girlfriend to bring it bodies to eat so that it may become whole again. The slender gory body crawling around on the floor begging for flesh is pretty disturbing, and a great idea. After he regains a bit of strength he becomes a medical journal-accurate skinless body who wears a suit- a pretty great character all around.

Then there’s the Cenobites, a group of pale disfigured demons who are the true villains at work. The infamous Pinhead is the leader of this group. They are some kind of divine mysterious beings who are “Angels to some, demons to others”. None of this is really explained, but they are an intriguing concept. Kind of like if the Crypt Keeper actually played a part in the tales he told.

The true highlight of this film (and all Hellraiser movies) is the special effects. There is some truly imaginative and disturbing stuff here, sort of a combination of David Cronenberg and H.R. Giger. Huge chains coming out of a small box and tearing into people’s skin, and a mind blowing effects sequence where an entire corpse forms out of a small puddle of blood. I think that this is very high up on the list of best special effects I’ve ever seen (fuck Lord of the Rings).

All in all the action starts up early and never really lets up, so you’re never bored. Combined with an imaginative story and kick ass special effects and you’ve got yourself a real winner.




Hellraiser 2 falls into the part 2 trap: more of the same and not as good. But it comes closer to the original than most sequels do. One really great thing about it is that it brings back much, if not all, of the original cast. It’s a continuation of the first story where the same thing basically happens again. More is revealed about the Cenobites, probably a little too much. We travel inside the box that contains the world where they come from, a horror version of Labyrinth. A great looking world. More great special effects, more walking no-skins, and more Pinhead. If you liked the first one you’ll like this one too, but a little less.




Here we go again. The first half of this movie isn’t so bad, if a little annoying. They did a decent job of reconstructing the totally surreal ending from the second installment. This one centers around a couple of girls (a reporter and a goth teen) who we never even get to see naked. One of them was the waitress on Becker, and I think she was also the dork goddess 7 of 9 on Seep Space Nine or whatever. No wait, she was the one with the weird stains all over the side of her head.

Aaaaaanyway, the first half of this movie already treads the line of cool/re-cock-ulous by setting most of it in a goth/rave club. At this point it becomes obvious that this movie is pandering to “what the kids will like”. The the second half really drops the ball by having a half hour long chase scene set to the pace of a light jog, and stupid one-liners like “Ready for your close up?” coming from a camera themed Cenobite.

This is also the end of any mystique that the Cenobites still hold for the viewer. In the first movie they didn’t seem like they were purely evil, just very powerful. Here they are ruthlessly killing whoever gets in their way, and becoming involved in the real world way too much. The origin of Pinhead is told, also taking away much of the interest that that character held. The most dissapointing part of all (for all of the movies) is that the “Angels to some” portion of their tagline is never followed through on. That could have made for some very interesting villains.

The only interesting point to the story is an expansion on the death cry of the main villain from the first movie “Jesus wept.” (which apparently was improvised) There is an interesting (but not completely well done) scene in a church where Pinhead shares some of his feelings on Jesus, and a preacher is surprised to find out that demons really do exist!

All in all, not so good. But the special effects and some remnants of the aesthetic are still there, so it’s worthwhile if you’re in the market for something.




And then there’s Hellraiser 4. There’s a definite point of no return for a franchise when it decides to do its next installment… in space! From Leprechaun to Friday the 13th, let’s just say that it’s never a good sign.

But I’ll tell you, as far as “space” entries go, this is pretty damn good. The movie is actually in three parts. The action is spread out over 18th century France, the modern day, and the future. A pretty intriguing concept, and executed with respect for what had come before. And although this movie delves even deeper into its own origins it barely even mentions the Cenobites, and instead discusses the box that controls the portal between our two worlds, preserving what dignity they have left. After the flashbacks are over, we know that Pinhead is waiting on the space station, ready for a kick ass fight. And we aren’t (really) disappointed.

The special effects that made the series great become less and less visible with each entry, but are still here. While the triptych story is an interesting idea and not poorly executed, it is probably only of interest to people who have seen the first three movies.


All in all this is a great series, held together by great special effects and an original aesthetic. Each movie was a bit worse then the last, but the wear and tear was minimal for this sort of franchise. Each movie also did a good job of not only staying true to what had come before it but expanding upon it, for better or for worse. I would say that if you’re looking for a bunch of horror movies to put on while you have a party, you couldn’t do much better then these four.





Story: 7 Acting: 6 Direction: 7 Visuals: 9 Editing: 7 Moral: Don’t buy occult objects from that creepy old man in Chinatown (same moral as Gremlins)

Overall: 8



Story: 6 Acting: 5 Direction: 6 Visuals: 8 Editing: 6 Hot corpses: 1 Moral: If it worked the first time then it’ll definitely work the second time, right?

Overall: 7



Story: 5 Acting: 5 Direction: 6 Visuals: 7 Editing: 5 Religious offensiveness: 8 Moral: Industrial music is badass and scary.

Overall: 6



Story: 8 Acting: 4 Direction: 6 Visuals: 6 Editing: 6 18th century French whores: 2 Moral: If it don’t work on Earth, it’ll work in space.

Overall: 6

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