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Evil Julia helps her lover, Frank, come back to the mortal world from hell. Because Frank has used the Lament Configuration box to taste pleasures outside the normal realm of human sensation, freeing him from hell unleashes Pinhead and a menagerie of demons (cenobites) back unto earth.
For more about Hellraiser and the Hellraiser Blu-ray release, see the Hellraiser Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on November 6, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Doug Bradley, Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman
Director: Clive Barker
» See full cast & crew
Hellraiser Blu-ray Review
Is Image's release scarier than Anchor Bay's?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, November 6, 2011
This isn't for your eyes.
Talk about hardcore. Hellraiser is a simple tale that is devoured by its intensely graphic and often disturbing visuals. Certainly not a film for the timid, or even the casual Horror fan that enjoys tamer, more "audience-friendly" films like 1408 or The Eye, Hellraiser is an unapologetic, nose-to-the-grindstone picture that features it all in excruciating detail -- body parts strewn about; scary, grotesque creatures; and torture devices used to revolting and skin-tearing effect. Released at a time when the hack-and-slash Horror craze was in full swing, Hellraiser takes a radically different approach, guiding audiences down a path of unspeakable terror where pain and pleasure become one, where terror knows no bounds, and where the macabre becomes an art form.
Frank (Sean Chapman) purchases a small puzzle box and through it summons the "Cenobites," a group of badly disfigured travelers from another dimension where pleasure and pain are indivisible. Franks's physical body is torn apart by the Cenobites and their hellish torture devices. Meanwhile, his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) move into the old house where Frank summoned the Cenobites. When Larry cuts his hand and bleeds on the attic floor, the blood begins to re-grow Frank's body. He emerges an incomplete man with no flesh and asks Julia, his one-time lover, to obtain for him fresh human blood so he may continue his revitalization and escape the Cenobites for good. Julia, blinded by her passion, agrees, seducing men and luring them back to her home only to murder them. As Frank regains his strength, Larry's daughter Kristy (Ashley Laurence) returns to the home and begins to realize that something is amiss. It seems now only the dastardly Cenobites, led by the imposing Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and mistakenly summoned by Kristy, can stop Frank's re-emergence into this world.
Directed by Clive Barker, Hellraiser plays out as more than an average gore-fest. Behind the blood and disturbing visuals is a rather simple tale, yet one that is often elegantly shot, making good use of shadows and the drab locations for maximum impact during the scenes of terror. To the film's credit, it attempts to build a story around the gore, one that allows for the carnage to work in a context where it may be as nasty as it wants without becoming detached from the film, playing as gore for gore's sake. Hellraiser creates two worlds, each polar opposites. On one end of the spectrum is a seemingly normal family in a normal home. Its head, Larry, remains oblivious to his wife's infidelity and the wanton carnage that happens inside his own home. For as disturbing as the violence and the unnatural rebirth of a man may be, Hellraiser takes the terror a step further by introducing to the already split world a dimension of pain unlike anything man has ever seen, a world populated by creatures that are vile, despicable, and single-minded in their pursuit of "pain as pleasure" and introducing new beings to their brand of suffering. Hellraiser is a film of parallels, where increasing depravity and unconscionable misery may be closer than anyone believes.
Hellraiser features a pair of good performances that elevate the film and the characters therein. Andrew Robinson is excellent as Larry, an almost gleefully obtuse and unaware man who sees the world as peachy and good, where no evil may befall him, his family, or his home. As the film progresses, his role changes drastically, and Robinson effortlessly transforms himself as required. Stealing the show, however, is Doug Bradley as the lead Cenobite, Pinhead, in a role that is short on screen-time but high on drama and terror. Pinhead is a secondary Horror character, not quite as well-known outside of genre aficionados as Jason, Freddy, and Michael Myers, but he's just as -- if not more so -- disturbing, sinister, and terrifying. He combines the grace of Dracula with the frightening and unnatural stature of Frankenstein, a combination that lends to the character a very dark, troubling, and horrific persona. Hellraiser is a film more about its themes than its characters and its gore. However, the solid performances, not just from Robinson and Bradley but also from the rest of the primary cast, not to mention the well-done and hard-to-watch gore, come together to elevate Hellraiser from the status of B-movie wannabe to serious Horror-as-art that combines the best elements of suspenseful terror and nasty gore very well.
Hellraiser Blu-ray, Video Quality
Image Entertainment's Blu-ray release of Hellraiser isn't exactly on the cutting edge of Blu-ray excellence, but it certainly gets the job done. The big question with this release, however, is how it compares to Anchor Bay's fine and, unfortunately, out-of-print release. While the two are in many ways comparable, the Anchor Bay release nevertheless proves to be the superior version. It's perhaps a hair crisper than the Image release. Fine detail is comparable, with a slight edge again going to Anchor Bay's disc. Still, the Image disc is no slouch. Skin textures are complex, as are brick façades and the many old wooden planks and worn down areas of the house. Gore effects -- dismembered body parts, torn flesh, and various blood-soaked odds and ends -- are highly detailed, and even a closeup of an ashtray full of maggots is gut-churning disgusting thanks to the high level of fine detailing. Colors are fair; the movie has always had something of a slightly washed out look to it, but the palette looks good in context, whether accurate flesh tones, bright blood red, or the earthen browns and blacks seen throughout the house. Image's release also retains a layer of grain. It's a bit wobbly in spots, but excess noise reduction, compression issues, and the like are mostly non-factors. The most noticeable area of separation between the Image and Anchor Bay releases is clearly evident from the start of the movie and right on through to the end. Where Anchor Bay's print was clean, Image's is absolutely littered with black and white -- and even a few green -- speckles and stray vertical lines. They pop up with alarming regularity. It's bad enough to call the Anchor Bay release the clear winner between the two, but not enough, necessarily, to push potential viewers away if this is the only disc available. Image's Hellraiser is no slouch, but it's certainly not Anchor Bay's disc, either.
Hellraiser Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The biggest difference right off the bat between the two competing editions of Hellraiser is Image's ditching of Anchor Bay's Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack in favor of another 5.1 lossless offering from DTS. This DTS track is fair; it's not exceptionally robust, clear, or perfectly crisp, but it does yield rather good front stage spacing. Parts of the track play as if slightly muddled; clarity and separation are lacking, but not to a terribly detrimental extent. The track never sounds perfectly full and rich, something achieved to a greater degree by Anchor Bay's Dolby TrueHD track. This presentation is fairly front heavy, though music in various spots -- for instance in chapter four -- does make for a nice, spacious, immersive experience. A few heavier effects, such as a train zipping across the soundstage, plays with a noticeable potency but also a noticeable absence of clarity. Dialogue is strong, center-focused and crisp, never falling apart or getting lost under various music or effects. Much like Image's video presentation, this soundtrack is more than adequate, but it comes up just short of matching the quality of Anchor Bay's offering.
Hellraiser Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unlike Anchor Bay's satisfying supplemental package, Image Entertainment's release of Hellraiser features only the film's theatrical trailer (480p, 1:24).
Hellraiser Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Hellraiser is often vile, repulsive, and disgusting, a banner film for gore even for the Horror-crazed 1980s. As such, it is something of a cult film; it never enjoyed the mainstream success of some of the decades more well-known franchises, but it's not for lack of a decent story or disturbing visuals. Perhaps Hellraiser was just too much for general audiences, but among Horror afficonados, the film remains a popular and perhaps even quintessential film because of its relentless, grotesque, and unapologetic visuals that transcend simple gore and veer towards a macabre form of cinematic art. Image Entertainment's Blu-ray release of Hellraiser doesn't stack up to Anchor Bay's now out-of-print release. Its video and audio presentations are adequate but lacking in comparison, and there's no comparison between Anchor Bay's thorough supplemental package and Image's skimpy inclusion of just the film's trailer. For viewers who just want to watch Hellraiser in 1080p, the Image disc is a good option, but viewers who want a more satisfying Hellraiser experience should hang on to or seek out the Anchor Bay disc.
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