October 08, 2013

HELLRAISER: A Rapey Love Affair Thwarted By Torture Demons

 "Jesus wept."
Friday night I had intended to travel to the Coolidge for a midnight screening of The Amityville Horror, however I also had tickets to see Streetlight Manifesto play the House Of Blues on their final tour earlier that night.  It was a fantastic show, made all the better by a friend who got us passes to watch the show from a private balcony that literally hung over the stage.  It had been a while since I'd been to a ska/punk show and seeing the throng of energetic kids filling the floor, pulsing and swaying with the the rhythm of the music, I was a bit nostalgic for the nights of my youth, spent at the row of cramped, sweaty clubs that have since been converted into one giant space personified by Jake and Elwood.  Part of me wanted to run down into the pit and crowdsurf my way to the stage, just for a taste of those days gone by.  But for the most part I was happy to sit with my friends above the fray and sip my whiskey from a privileged position of comfort.  So very un-punk of me.

Anyway, I misjudged the time, having initially confused doors with the start of the show.  So by the time we left and jumped back on the train, there was simply no way for me to make it out to the Coolidge by midnight.  Instead I returned home and fired up the Netflix around one in the morning.  I still wanted to watch something a little older, a classic of sorts, and eventually settled on Cliver Barker's Hellraiser, the first in a long running horror franchise that I've never really explored.  I don't have any particular aversion to horror films, but something about the genre just never really resonated with me as a kid, not the way that science fiction did at least.  I think the repetitive nature of these franchises, seeing the same psychotic monster person killing a fresh crop of attractive teenagers in movie after movie, somehow seemed boring to me.  I love a good onscreen kill as much as the next guy, but after a while it all bleeds together.  (Hooray puns!)  As a result, most of the "classic" horror franchises, stuff like Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Leprechaun, Hellraiser or Texas Chainsaw Massacre* have gone largely ignored by me, something I'm hoping to rectify over the course of this month.

But even having not seen most of those films, I at least have some basic familiarity with each of those franchises' central characters.  But Hellraiser was really hanging just on the fringe of that awareness.  A week ago, all I could have told you is that there's a guy named Pinhead who wears black leather and has a bunch of needles sticking out of his face.  Oh, and I remembered that there were others like him and that they had a name...it's not Deadite, that's Evil Dead, but it's something similar...oh yeah, Cenobite!  Whatever the fuck that means.  Why does he kill people?  I assume he's some kind of demon or something.  I dunno, he's got pins in his head.  What more do you need from a villain?

Turns out that Pinhead isn't even really the first film's main villain.  It wasn't until the later sequels that the creative teams really started to flesh out the punctured nether-creature into the franchise's head honcho.  But, to be honest, in this first go-round, Pinhead and the Cenobites (great band name) is only in about 20 minutes of actual movie!  In fact, after their introduction in the first scene, we don't see them again for over an hour.  So what is Hellraiser if it's not about the murderous rampage of a porcupine-faced man?  The movie is really a weird sado-masochistic trip about a woman who lures men into her house on the promise of sexy time but then kills them with a hammer so she can restore the body of her partially reanimated dead lover/rapist/brother-in-law.  And that's just the tip of the bloody, leather-clad iceberg.

So we start with a guy buying a puzzle box from a mysterious old Chinese man.  He takes it home, lights some candles in the attic and sits shirtless while he figures out how to open the thing.  As soon as he does, in come the Cenobites, four demonic beings who are super enthusiastic about body modification.  Fortunately each as their own very specific look to make them easily identifiable.  We've got The Fat One, The One With No Lips, The Lady One, and The Pinhead One.  It seems the Cenobites' weapon of choice is a whole lot of hooks on chains that fly in from out of nowhere and dig into Franks's flesh, stretching his Silly Putty, uh, I mean skin every which way.  After a few brief flashes of Frank's prolonged agony, including his organs dangling from the ceiling and the torn up shards of his face lying on the floor, the whole operation suddenly disappears, leaving behind nothing but the puzzle box in the empty attic.

Enter Frank's brother Larry and his uppity wife Julia, she of the magical disappearing/reappearing British accent.  Turns out the house belongs to the family and Frank and Julia are planning on moving in.  No one's seen Frank in a while, but he's a good for nothing asshole so no one really seems to care either.  We get a lot of boring house stuff while they move in and we meet Larry's attractive daughter Kirsty.  She has her own place in town and Larry thinks she should move into the house but Kirsty doesn't want to and it was at this point that I was in serious danger of falling asleep.  After all, it was about 1:30 AM now and I could feel a cold coming on.  But I was determined to make it through, so I jumped over to Twitter and discovered the #AddaWordRuinaMovie hashtag, which turned out to be the perfect intellectual exercise to keep me awake and alert.  My Left Foot Fungus?  Hilarious.

In the midst of all this domestic banality is also where the movie makes it's first abrupt left turn.  While Larry struggles to move a mattress up the stairs (Ghost Dust Busters) Julia starts daydreaming about that time that Frank showed up for their wedding, introduced himself and proceeded to force himself on her, literally cutting her clothes away with a switchblade and fucking her on top of her wedding dress.  But I guess it's cool because she liked it?  No seriously, she kind of resists for like 30 seconds, and the she's all about boning this stranger who's related to her dorky future husband.  Julia stands in the attic reminiscing while Larry tries to move a mattress up the stairs (A Bug's Flatulent Life) until finally past-Julia climaxes while current-Larry cuts his hand on a rusty nail.  He goes up to the attic so Julia will tend to his wound (he's squeamish about blood, unlike his kinda-rapist brother) and he bleeds all over the floor, where it's immediately sucked up into the wood and magically brings Frank back to life.  Sorta.  He gets his body back, but his reanimation stalls out at the spinal/tendon phase.

All snark aside, the sequence where his brain and skeleton sprout from the floorboards is totally fucking awesome.  It's a slow, gross, wet transformation, with kickass creature work reminiscent of an underfunded version of John Carpenter's The Thing.  Over the course of the movie Frank is slowly reconstituted one set of bodily functions at a time, so that he eventually is all muscles, and then all dripping blood...each one looks absolutely great and totally creepy.  As you can imagine, it only gets better when he starts wearing clothes and smoking cigarettes despite not having skin or even proper lips.  It all made me really long for the days before digital.  Reanimated Frank is one of the two best parts of the movie, and the film's first half really suffers whenever he's not onscreen.

The other best thing in the movie is the Cenobites and they're tragically AWOL for far too long.  Instead we're left watching Julia go full Stockholme syndrome, helping Frank complete his resurrection by luring dorky guys to the house and offering them up as a blood sacrifice to aid her rapist/lover.  This goes on for a while, while Larry is oblivious (Stop Masturbating Or My Mom Will Shoot) and Kirsty gets scared by a homeless guy (Rosemary's Baby Porn).  Larry even tries to have sex with Julia, but he doesn't have a knife to her throat or a pair of cold, dead eyes so she's all, "Whatever, BORING."  Frank attacks Kirsty and she ends up in the hospital along with puzzle box (There Will Be Menstrual Blood) and accidentally wanders into the Cenobite's weird torture dimension FUCKING FINALLY.  The Pinhead One is about to pull out the hook chains when she points out that they totally dropped the fucking ball with Frank and that he's currently making a mess of her dad's attic.  So she convinces the progenitors of Hot Topic to let her go if she can deliver Uncle Frank unto them.  (All Dogs Don't Go To Heaven)

So not only are the Cenobites not the villains, they're actually sort of deus ex machina heroes!  (Lawrence Welk Of Arabia)  Kirsty returns home only to discover Larry acting SUPER creepy and hey, what's that huge bleeding wound on his hairline and OH SHIT Frank is wearing Larry's skin!  Was this always his plan?  Did Julia's local bar run out of dweebs to take home, or did the magic just stop short of the epidermis?  We may never know.  Frank sticks Julia with his blade and also he stabs her.  (Man Bulge Of Steel)  Kirsty heads back to the attic where the Cenobites are waiting to do Cenobitey things and Frank gets all his sweet new Larry skin torn up by those darn hook chains, but he's into that sort of thing so I'm not entirely convinced that's a fair punishment.  (The Foot Fist Fetish Way)  But then those crafty Cenobites pull the old double cross on Kirsty and she has to use the puzzle box to Rubix cube them to their dungeon world.  She fights them all off while her house crumbles to pieces around her, although judging by the debris that house was apparently made out of cardboard and instant mashed potatoes.  She escapes and in the blink of an eye the entire house has been reduced to one flaming chair in an empty field.  Kirsty tosses the puzzle box onto the fire, only to see that one creepy homeless dude wander up, grab the puzzle box, cosplay as the Human Torch and then transform into some kind of skeletal demon bird, who flies away with the box in its talons so that the old Chinese dude can find another creepy rapist to sell it to.


*I have seen Tobe Hooper's original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which is awesome) and the first modern remake with Jessica Biel (which is not awesome).  I think I've also seen the very first Halloween before, but it was an awful long time ago.  But I've disregarded the various sequels.

Title: Hellraiser
Director: Clive Barker
Starring: Doug Bradley, Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Oliver Smith, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman,
Year Of Release: 1987
Viewing Methd: Netflix Instant (TV)

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