Someday I will catch up on my sleep and be able to write coherently again. Someday. Maybe. Not today though. Today I just ramble about Pinhead.

It’s probably not helping that I am literally now on edge everywhere I go. Like, every time I walk to the bathroom in my office building, I get flashes of the bathroom scene in Ju-on. Or last night when I was driving home from Hellraiser, I kept seeing a weird combination of images from Hellraiser and the dead lady in Black Sabbath. This mindset is not conducive to sleeping.

There’s a moment in Hellraiser II: Hellbound when Julia, newly arisen from hell, saunters into the living room of Dr. Channard. She stands there, skinless, red and glistening. “How do I look?” She asks. “Surreal? Nightmarish?”

Do I need any other words to describe Hellraiser and Hellraiser II? I’m not sure that I do.

I went last night to Cinefamily’s presentation of Hellraiser, Hellraiser II, and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. How do I describe Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood? It’s this tiny, old theater with tattered chairs; a small screen; only two bathrooms that tend to have a long line at intermissions; a snack counter that sells popcorn, soda, and cupcakes; and a back patio where you can grab a cigarette, find shitty beer, and stretch your legs in between screenings. The programming is definitely their selling point; it’s a random assortment of special guests, rare prints, cult favorites, classics… everything from last night’s triple feature of Hellraiser to a week of Antonioni coming up in early November. If you love movies, there will probably be something here for you.

Something I’ve been trying to express through all of this talk of horror movies, guest posts, and shared experience is that it’s not always so much about whatever individual movie you’re watching, it’s about how you view it. Are you watching alone, in your room, in the dark? Or are you sharing the moment with a roommate? Are you sitting in a crowded theater of fans, cheering as Pinhead utters a classic line or Frank finally gets his comeuppance? The pleasure of film viewing is as much in the communal nature of it as it is in watching the movie itself. It’s why we keep shelling out $15 a pop to see a 3D feature on the big screen. Yes, we want the effects. But we also want to talk about it.

It’s so much fun to share these moments.

Ahem. Again. Me. Tangents.

Hellraiser – UK, 1987. Dir. Clive Barker. Starring Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Doug Bradley.
Hellraiser II: Hellbound – Dir. Tony Randel. Starring Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Imogen Boorman.

Hellraiser movies! I watched them! Or at least, I watched the first two. I’m sad to say that when the second film finished and we had already passed midnight, I had to call it a wash on watching number three. There was no way I was going to get through that and make it to work on time this morning. Still, the first two are great and it was super fun to be there watching them.

I honestly haven’t seen much of the Hellraiser franchise beyond these first two films. I know there were two more theatrical releases and a handful of straight to video sequels. Yeah, they also send Pinhead to space. I have not seen that one. Have to say, I’m not really in a rush to either.

These first two though are great. I touched on Clive Barker and his particular brand of horror a bit in my post on Lord of Illusions. I also really think the quote I began with is the perfect way to describe what is going on here.

The Hellraiser movies have often been described as the S&M films of horror. Which is also pretty accurate. Pinhead and the Cenobites are hell demons, sure, but the ideas of pleasure and pain are presented as tied together. The movies never go so far as to imply there’s a heaven to contrast with the Cenobites’ hell, however that duality is present throughout so sure, there could be a heaven too. Why not? For a film ostensibly about going to hell, it has very little to do with religion though.

In fact, in the first film, as Larry and Julia move into his mother’s house (more on that in a sec), the remaining religious relics that fill bedrooms and windows and crevices are presented as sort of a joke. They have no sort of power against hell, a faith in Jesus offers no protection here, and that’s about as far as religion gets in these movies. The religion of the Cenobites is pleasure, pain, and suffering. The experience of the flesh is all they serve. While it is occasionally hinted at that there is more going on behind the scenes, there are other older and stronger powers, in these first two movies at least that’s never really addressed.

I think it’s telling that Tony Randel, the director of Hellraiser II, described himself last night as being a “Jewish Athiest” (HA! Also, yeah, he was there with Peter Atkins doing a Q&A. It was AWESOME.). He admits he has no real sense of “hell” in the Christian sense. These visions of hell have less to do with where the bible tells us we’re going, and more to do with existing as another dimension, another plane of existence.

In the first Hellraiser, Frank Cotton obtains a mysterious puzzle box and is promised that he will get whatever pleasures he desires. He finds out that along with that pleasure, comes an unimaginable price of pain. His flesh is literally torn to pieces.

Frank’s unsuspecting brother Larry moves with his wife Julia into the same house where, unknown to them, Frank has met a grizzly end (or at least, sort of an end?). Poor Larry unwittingly cuts his hand and spills blood on the spot where Frank had been sucked into Pinhead’s hell. This blood allows Frank to come back.

Unlike later films in the franchise that struggle to constantly up the gore and the body count, this first film is relatively contained. It takes place almost entirely in this house. A perfect, run down mansion complete with creaky stairs, weird stained glass windows, slamming doors, yellowed wall paper, and closets full of maggoty, old… oh wait, that comes later. There are a lot of maggots in this first film. It’s gross.

What is with maggots in horror movies? I feel like they keep happening… Suspiria, the Fly, Hellraiser, Hellraiser II… is it just that they’re really gross? Cause they are really gross. I don’t know. They’re gross. Moving on. (My guess really though is that they’re gross plus they imply rotting flesh, corruption, etc. etc. MOVING ON.)

I’m trying to figure out why it is that I like these movies so much, films basically about S&M, torture, pain, brutality, sex, gore, and yet I really dislike the more recent “torture porn” films. I think part of it is while these may not have the best writing ever, they are really about characters. As terrible a person as Frank is, by the end we have a very clear picture of who is as a character. The same goes for Julia and Kirsty. Even Larry is fairly clearly, if simply, developed. There is also story here. It is not just “bad things happen to people who are barely people.”

You better believe these films are brutal though. The second film especially, as Dr. Channard conspires to bring Julia back from hell. Dr. Channard is the head of an asylum where Kirsty has been sent at the conclusion of the first film. There, the police attempt to question her as she slowly tries to recover. Dr. Channard hears her story of the Cenobites, Frank and Julia’s betrayals, and all of the other horrors she has witnessed. Dr. Channard is not all he seems however, he too is obsessed with pain and power, an obsession that has led him to the puzzle box as well. He will stop at nothing to enter that dimension of hell. And his plan to bring Julia back is a horrifying one.

Also, there are more maggots. Ew.

I really do love these movies. I love them for the sheer insanity, I love them for their balls, I love them for the imagination behind them. I especially love these first two and the practical effects they employ. It was one of my biggest complaints against Lord of Illusions, the sometimes silly and obvious early digital effects. In these films, it’s all puppetry and blood and guts. The scene where Frank first comes back from the dead is incredible. The make-up effects throughout are great. The design of hell in the second film is labyrinthine and while some of the effects may not hold up completely, they are still complicated and evocative of another reality.

I do actually wish I had been up for staying for the third film. While I have obviously heard that it does not really compare to the first two, I’ve still never seen it and I’d like to see where the story goes. That’s a key part to these movies, that there actually is a story. There’s a mythology behind them. Whether or not Clive Barker had all of the details worked out, he created an original world that in turn created one of the most iconic horror villains of the past three decades.

There’s a reason these films were turned into a franchise. That reason is Pinhead.