For those of you who don't know, Hellraiser tells the story of Frank (Sean Chapman) and Julia (Clare Higgins); two conniving lovers whose sordid past comes back to haunt them when Frank returns from exile in Hell as little more than a skinless blob of muscle and vein and bone. Julia, now married to Frank's kindly brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson), attempts to help Frank regain his fleshy self by bringing him men she seduces and kills, allowing Frank to feed on their blood. As Frank's rebirth commences, Julia and he conspire about what to do with Larry, and Larry's teenage daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), begins to suspect her wicked stepmother's up to no good. As Kristy gets closer to the truth, she discovers a mystical object that serves as a way to send Frank back to hell, but using it comes at a price.
It took me some time to warm up to Clive Barker's "Hellraiser" when it first came out way back in 1987. At that point I'd not yet read any of the author's fiction, and I really wasn't prepared for anything remotely as sophisticated as the film my friends and I were ultimately shown. I mean, here you have a bunch of stoned kids in acid washed jeans stumbling into a theater expecting to see what Stephen King dubbed "the future of horror", and what we got was this sort of slow-moving, creepy, icky, sticky, all-around uncomfortable viewing experience. Where were the naked teenagers? Where was the masked killer? This wasn't horror; it was Masterpiece Theater with weirdoes in S&M gear. It was all so very...British, and I just hated it.
Flash forward a year or so later. Smoking copious amounts of pot was no longer considered one of my prerequisites for watching a horror movie, I'd since read several of Barker's stories from The Books of Blood (including The Hellbound Heart, upon which Hellraiser is based), and I finally had the chance to revisit the film on glorious VHS. I still wasn't quite sold on it, but, after several more viewings, and, perhaps most importantly, the sequel, Tony Randel's Hellbound:Hellraiser II (my favorite film in the series), I began to truly appreciate the film as the modern horror classic everyone else had long already considered it to be.
Anchor Bay/Starz! brings Hellraiser to life in a lovely 1.85:1 1080p transfer that boasts a crisp and vibrant overall image. Detail is a bit muddied, but that has more to do with the film's soft-focus visual style than the transfer, itself. Hellraiser's color palette was never very bold, as much of the film is bathed in sterile whites and drab interior tones, but what's here is very vibrant and tonally accurate, from Julia's red lipstick to the puddles of purplish goop that surround Frank. This is easily the best the film has ever looked.
Hellraiser's Dolby True HD 5.1 mix is just as solid as the video transfer, offering a fairly robust bass track, crisp and clean highs, and organic sounding dialogue. Much like the look of the film, Hellraiser's original soundtrack was fairly staid and unremarkable, but it served the film's purpose, and is given new sonic life, here.
Pinhead and company arrive on the next generation format with a decent selection of extras, most of which are carried over from previous releases. There's an old commentary track featuring Clive Barker and Ashley Laurence, three trailers, television spots, stills galleries, and a collection of five featurettes, all presented in 480p standard definition, including ;
Mr. Cotton, I Presume? -- An Interview With Star Andrew Robinson
Actress From Hell -- An Interview With Star Ashley Laurence
Hellcomposer -- An Interview With Composer Christopher Young
Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on 'Hellraiser'.
Blu-ray exclusive features include a pop-up trivia track, and BD Live! functionality.
I really do feel that to get the most out of Hellraiser, one needs to immediately follow it up with Hellbound, as that film is no mere sequel, but, rather, an expansion of the ideas and lore presented in the first film, and is, in my opinion, the more satisfying movie. Still, there's no denying that Barker's first foray into filmmaking was a risky gambit in that it didn't embrace the conventions of horror at the time, and, even still, stands out as a strangely elegant and salacious gothic rather than standard horror fare.
This Blu-ray presentation from Anchor Bay/Starz! delivers Hellraiser in fine style, with a solid audio/video presentation and a decent selection of quality extras, earning this release a place in every horror fans Blu-ray collection.