Hellraiser is a 1987 British horror film written and directed by Clive Barker, and produced by Christopher Figg, based on Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart. The film marked Barker’s directorial debut. The film involves the resurrection of Frank (Sean Chapman), who had opened the door to an alternate dimension and had his body torn to pieces by creatures known as Cenobites. Years later, Frank’s brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into their late mother’s abandoned house with new wife Julia (Clare Higgins). An accident causes some of Larry’s blood to spill on the attic floor, which triggers Frank’s resurrection. To complete his resurrection, he requires more blood which Julia provides while Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence), Larry’s daughter, discovers Frank’s puzzlebox which leads her to meet with the Cenobites.
Hellraiser was filmed in late 1986. Barker originally wanted the electronic music group Coil to perform the music for the film, but on insistence from producers the film was re-scored by Christopher Young. Some of Coil’s themes were reworked by Young into the final score. Hellraiser had its first public showing at the Prince Charles Cinema on 10 September 1987.
Since release, the film has divided critics but generally received praise; initial reviews ranged from Melody Maker calling it the greatest horror film made in Britain, to Roger Ebert decrying its “bankruptcy of imagination”. It was followed by nine sequels, the first seven of which featured Doug Bradley reprising his role as the lead Cenobite Pinhead.
In Morocco, Frank Cotton buys a puzzle box from a dealer. In a bare attic, when Frank solves the puzzle, hooked chains emerge and tear him apart. Later, the room is filled with swinging chains and covered with the remnants of his body. A black-robed figure picks up the box and returns it to its original state, restoring the room to normal.
Some time afterward, Frank’s brother Larry moves into the house to rebuild his strained relationship with his second wife, Julia, who had an affair with Frank shortly after their wedding. Larry’s teenage daughter, Kirsty, has chosen not to live with them and moves into her own place. Larry cuts his hand carrying a bed up the stairs, and lets his blood drip on the attic floor. The blood resurrects Frank as a skinless corpse, who is soon found by Julia. Still obsessed with Frank, she agrees to harvest blood for him so that he can be fully restored, and they can run away together. Julia begins picking up men in bars and bringing them back to the house, where she murders them. Frank consumes their blood, regenerating his body. Frank explains to Julia that he had exhausted all sensory experiences and sought out the puzzle box, with the promise that it would open a portal to a realm of new carnal pleasures. When solved, the “Cenobites” came to subject him to the extremes of sadomasochism.
Kirsty spies Julia bringing a man to the house; she follows her to the attic, where she interrupts Frank’s latest feeding. Frank attacks her, but Kirsty throws the puzzle box out the window, creating a distraction and allowing her to escape. Kirsty retrieves the box and flees, but collapses shortly thereafter. Awakening in a hospital, Kirsty solves the box, summoning the Cenobites and a monster called the Engineer, which Kirsty narrowly escapes from. The Cenobites’ leader, Pinhead, explains that although they have been perceived as both angels and demons, they are simply “explorers” from another dimension seeking carnal experiences, and they can no longer differentiate between pain and pleasure. When they attempt to force Kirsty to return to their realm with them, she informs Pinhead that Frank has escaped. The Cenobites agree to take Frank back and, in exchange, say they will consider giving Kirsty her freedom; however, the catch is that Frank has to confess to escaping them.
Kirsty returns home, where Frank has killed Larry and taken his identity by stealing his skin. Julia shows her what is purported to be Frank’s flayed corpse in the attic, locking the door behind her. The Cenobites appear and, not fooled by the deception, demand the man who “did this”. Kirsty tries to escape but is held by Julia and Frank. Frank reveals his true identity to Kirsty and, when his sexual advances are rejected, he decides to kill her to complete his rejuvenation. He accidentally stabs Julia instead and drinks her blood without remorse. Frank chases Kirsty to the attic and, when he is about to kill her, the Cenobites appear after hearing him confess to killing her father. Now sure he is the one they are looking for, they ensnare him with chains and tear him to pieces. With Frank out of the picture, the Cenobites renege on the deal and attempt to abduct Kirsty. Ripping the puzzle box from Julia’s dead hands, Kirsty banishes the Cenobites by reversing the motions needed to open the puzzle box. Kirsty’s boyfriend shows up and helps her escape the collapsing house.
Afterward, Kirsty throws the puzzle box onto a burning pyre. A vagrant who has been stalking Kirsty walks into the fire and retrieves the box before transforming into a winged creature and flying away. The box ends up in the hands of the merchant who sold it to Frank, offering it to another prospective customer.
- Andrew Robinson as Larry Cotton
- Clare Higgins as Julia Cotton
- Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton
- Sean Chapman as Frank Cotton
- Robert Hines as Steve
- Doug Bradley as Lead Cenobite
- Nicholas Vince as Chattering Cenobite
- Simon Bamford as Butterball Cenobite
- Grace Kirby as Female Cenobite
- Oliver Smith as “Skinless” Frank / Frank the Monster
- Cenobites are extra-dimensional beings who appear in the novella The Hellbound Heart, the sequels The Scarlet Gospels and Hellraiser: The Toll, and the ten Hellraiser films. They are theologians from a religious sect in Hell known as the Order of the Gash, describing themselves as “explorers in the further regions of experience”, and granting sadomasochistic pleasures to those who call upon them. Author David McWilliam notes that the Cenobites are described in more explicitly sexual terms in the book compared with their depictions in the film adaptations. Julia, played by Claire Higgins, was Barker’s choice to carry the series as its main antagonist after Hellbound, reducing the Cenobites to a background role. However, fans rallied around Pinhead as the breakout character, and Higgins declined to return to the series. In The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, David McWilliam writes that the Cenobites “provide continuity across the series, as the stories become increasingly stand-alone in nature”.
Having been dismayed at prior cinematic adaptations of his work, Barker decided to attempt to direct a film himself. Christopher Figg agreed to produce and New World Pictures agreed to fund the film for $900,000.
Hellraiser was filmed at the end of 1986 and was set to be made in seven weeks, but was extended over a nine- to ten-week period by New World. The film was originally made under the working title of Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave. Barker also wanted to call the film Hellbound but producer Christopher Figg suggested Hellraiser instead. Barker spoke fondly in The Hellraiser Chronicles about the filming, stating that his memories of production were of “unalloyed fondness … The cast treated my ineptitudes kindly, and the crew were no less forgiving.” Barker admitted his own lack of knowledge on filmmaking, stating that he “didn’t know the difference between a 10-millimetre lens and a 35-millimetre lens. If you’d shown me a plate of spaghetti and said that was a lens, I might have believed you.” After filming, New World convinced Barker to relocate the story to the United States which required overdubbing to remove some British accents.
During production, Doug Bradley had trouble hitting his marks during his takes in make-up as he could not see through his black contact lenses and was afraid of tripping over Pinhead’s skirts. The special effects of the unnamed creature, known as “The Engineer” in the novels, proved difficult as the creature was difficult to manoeuvre. Other issues included a rushed shoot of the Chinese restaurant scene with Kirsty and Larry, due to the lateness of the person responsible for letting the cast and crew into the establishment.
The film had two editors: Richard Marden and an uncredited Tony Randel. Barker originally wanted the electronic music group Coil to perform the music for the film, but that notion was rejected by New World. Editor Tony Randel then suggested Christopher Young as a replacement for Coil for the film’s score. Young had previously composed scores for other horror films such as the 1985 slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and the 1986 Tobe Hooper film Invaders from Mars.
Hellraiser had its first public showing at the Prince Charles Cinema on 10 September 1987. The film was released in the United States on 18 September 1987; it grossed $14,564,000 in the United States and Canada.
Hellraiser was initially banned in Ontario by the Ontario Film and Video Review Board. By a 3-2 majority vote, the film was deemed “not approved in its entirety as it contravenes community standards”. It was banned because of its “brutal, graphic violence with blood-letting throughout, horror, degradation and torture.”
In August 1987, Hellraiser was passed by the Ontario Film Review Board, but only after several cuts were made to the film. New World Mutual Pictures of Canada cut about 40 seconds to get the film passed with an R rating. Thirty-five seconds of an extended torture scene featuring hooks pulling apart a body and face were removed, as well as a scene of squirming rats nailed to a wall.