A man finds he is given more than he bargains for when he solves the puzzle of the Lament Configuration - a doorway to hell. But his ex-lover has found a way of bringing him back, and his niece, Kirsty Lawrence, finds herself bargaining with the Cenobites, angels to some, demons to others, whose greatest pleasure is the greatest pain.
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Clive Barker’s first feature-length film is a visually stunning exercise in visceral horror.
Kirsty, her father Larry and his partner, Julia, move into an old house previously owned by Larry’s mother.
The house is jointly owned by Larry’s estranged brother Larry, who’s pureed remains fester beneath the floorboards in the attic.
Frank and Julia were once lovers.
Julia finds evidence in the attic that Frank had been engaging in sex acts and reminisces about their passionate affair.
Sex was not enough for Frank and he went to great lengths to track down a mysterious puzzle box in search of the ultimate thrill.
Sadly for him, he is torn to pieces and his soul dragged to hell by S&M deities, The Cenobites.
The Cenobites are highly skilled in the art of administering a mixture of pleasure and pain (evidently more of the latter), incorporating chains, hooks and skewers. Their own bodies’ are testament to the journeys they themselves once took.
A rusty nail, a few drops of Larry’s blood later and Franks glistening, skinless corpse is talking Julia into murdering strangers in order to restore his body and the lover she once knew.
Frank is reclaimed (not before stealing his brother’s skin) and the Cenobites come after Kirsty.
Like all typically resourceful Final Girls, Kirsty sends them packing and the puzzle box finds a new owner.
Andrew Robinson’s role as serial killer, Scorpio, in Dirty Harry (1971) is a great contrast to that of drippy Larry. Our expectations are challenged and we are invited to anticipate the progression of his character. We are rewarded when Frank claims Larry’s skin; creepy Frank is also briefly played by Robinson.
The Cenobites were instant horror icons, with stunning costumes and make-up showing much skill and imagination, they are appalling and charismatic works of art, decorated with lacerations and mutilations.
The odd camera angles (born out of necessity due to the film being shot in a real house) and the eerie atmosphere that Barker creates succeed in isolating the family from the world outside of the house.
Added to this accomplished make-up, special effects and solid performances from the cast (save perhaps Kirsty and her boyfriend); Hellraiser raised the bar for future horror films.
It is entirely possible that the premise of a woman led to murder by remnants of her ex-lover, and the Cenobites pleasure and pain doctrines could have seemed too bizarre. The themes are so well-executed; however, that not only do these revolting things seem plausible, they make Kirsty’s “normal” relationship with her boyfriend seem positively boring.