Tuesday 10 October 2017

Pinterest: "Hellraiser"

Reissued in cinemas to mark its 30th anniversary (and, not coincidentally, another Friday the 13th), Hellraiser, being the directorial debut of horror novelist Clive Barker, adds both ghoulish and human dimensions to a standard haunted-house scenario. A married couple with all sorts of baggage (Andrew Robinson and Clare Higgins) move into a spacious property that can never be a home for reasons that soon become clear: among them is the presence of the husband's brother (and the wife's sometime lover), a latter-day libertine who's literally been to hell and back, having had the misfortune of being dragged off to a shadow universe after a ritual involving a shiny, Rubik's Cube-like spirit box (a nice piece of production design) went horribly wrong. With an eye to international box-office returns, Barker gives this British-filmed production a curious mid-Atlantic feel, with a lot of actors and accents striving to pass for American - in one especially comical instance, this involving sticking a day player with a baseball cap - though it could just as easily play out as grisly domestic farce, with a wife taking in other men to feed the secret lurking in her closet.

What's particularly persuasive is the film's all-pervasive sense of decay: blackened fingernails, mouldering food, a homeless man with bugs in his beard, organic malevolence festering under the floorboards and in the walls with the rats. All that timelapse footage of carcasses mulching and decomposing in Peter Greenaway's Eighties features Barker here reverses, with creatures emerging out of primordial soup, thanks to some still impressive model work. The computer effects (and, if we're being honest, the bouffant hairstyles) have dated less well, but otherwise it remains an appreciably serious horror remnant from a decade not exactly spilling over with them: sequels inevitably followed, more expensive yet still relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things, not always approved by Barker, and often less concerned with clever plotting than the mythos of the monstrous Cenobites. Doug Bradley's implacable Pinhead became the series' poster boy, its Freddy or Jason, but he's a late arrival here, only announcing his presence during a third-act diversion in a hospital that has nothing very much to do with the main narrative thrust.

Hellraiser returns to selected cinemas from Friday.

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