Much to my surprise, I am not as angry with “Hellraiser” as I assumed I would be. It might be easily dismissed as a just another disgusting, gory cycle of cinematic oblivion if I weren’t forced to admit that it tells a story that I found interesting. That’s not to say that it tells it well, or that this is even a good movie, it’s only to say that it is mounted on an idea that I found mildly intriguing. That’s good news, in a way, when you consider that most films in this splatter genre are so null and void that while you’re watching it you find your mind wandering to other things besides the movie. This movie is only slightly better than that.
“Hellraiser” begins with a box, a metal Rubick’s Cube-looking device that, when turned a certain way, apparently opens a portal to a dimension not a million miles removed from something that might be mistaken for Hell. As the movie opens, it claims one poor soul, named Frank (Sean Chapman), who has his flesh and bones ripped apart by hooks and chains and will spend the rest of the movie trying to get them all back together.
What follows are some spoilers. So be warned. Enter Larry and Julia Cotton (Andrew Robinson and Clare Higgins), a couple whose troubled marriage is held together only by mutual tolerance. In the corner of this unhappiness is Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), Larry’s daughter by his late wife. They buy a house that was once Larry’s childhood home. Larry is Frank’s brother, and unknown to him, the brother’s remains are hidden somewhere in a room on the house’s third floor. Unknown to Larry, Julia and Frank use to be lovers. When Larry cuts himself by accident one day, his bloods seeps through the floorboards and the gelatinous remains of Frank begin writhing around.
For reason that I am unable to explain, Frank needs Julia to bring home fresh victims so that he can . . . somehow use their bodies to reform himself. Every time she brings home a new man, Frank’s body becomes more and more reconstructed. I missed how this works, exactly. Is he stitching flesh back on? Is he ingesting the flesh? Is there some transference of psychic energy and flesh? I’m not sure how it works. Either way, Frank’s condition is tied to the metal puzzle box, and there’s some business with some leather-clad demonic punk rockers from Nether Regions who want Frank to pay for escaping their capture.
As I say, the story is intriguing. The movie was written and directed by novelist Clive Barker and it plays very much like a story from one of his books. Yet, it fails on a basic level. This is one of those horror movies in which all the characters are basically slow learners, especially Larry who never catches on that his brother’s flayed and bloody corpse is living in a room upstairs. This house is not exactly a sprawling mansion. And doesn’t Frank’s corpse give off an odor? I don’t know. Questions like this are moot when your movie supplies Rubick’s Cubes to Hell and punk rockers who swallow your soul. The whole thing is like going to the carnival to watch the guy bite the heads off chickens. You’re suppose to be grossed out by what he’s doing but you aren’t suppose to ask the obvious questions.