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31 Days of Horror: ‘Hellraiser’ stretches beyond its iconic character

31 Days of Horror: ‘Hellraiser’ stretches beyond its iconic character


Directed by: Clive Barker

Written by: Clive Barker

USA, 1987

For my final film for the 31 Days of Horror I wanted to choose one that isn’t the traditional ‘haunted house’ film. I wanted something that went beyond the walls of a house and cultivated its fear from something a little deeper. Hellraiser was one of the first films that came to mind.

Clive Barker made his directorial debut adapting his novel The Hellbound Heart and created a moody, and darkly humorous film. Some have criticized it for being somewhat nihilistic and empty, but they may be missing the profoundness of Barker’s statement.

It may not be the most original idea or the most perfectly executed, but Hellraiser finds a sad beauty in our emptiness and loneliness, and in our desperation we find comfort in the self-destructive dens of loathing and pain.

It is an idea that is easily missed, especially when viewed through the passage of over 20 years. For many, the only enduring image of the film is the iconic visage of Pinhead, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Pinhead’s nightmarish look and bellowing voice can bring chills to the most cynical of horror fans, but, the first film in particular, is far more than just a popular villain.

Each character finds themselves in an almost indescribable pain, and they all claw after some type of nourishment for it, both literally, and figuratively. However, Barker doesn’t seem to fully realize this idea, and it gets somewhat muddled in the chaos of the cenobites and puzzle boxes, and portals to hell, but nonetheless, it casts a heavy shadow over the film. It’s one of those things that sticks with the viewer long after they’ve seen it, like a nagging disturbance in the back of their mind.

What allows Barker to use such heavy themes without it coming off as trite or silly is a sense of self-awareness and camp. Whether or not the camp is intended is unclear, but Barker is certainly clever enough to know how to wink at his audience and ease them into the shadows.

Hellraiser, despite its rough edges, is a film that stretches beyond its iconic character and makes a true and earnest statement, and it’s worth an extra look from all horror fans.

– James Merolla