Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987)

Lurking in the shadows, patiently waiting for the right moment to strike, you might not know it yet but evil incarnate has moved in upstairs. And get this, they desperately want to feel the warmness of your flesh rubbing against their body. Now, most of you will probably think the "evil incarnate" I'm describing in relation to this film is a demon with a leather fetish and a pin cushion for a head. However, a select number of you out there know exactly who I'm talking about. No, not the guy without skin or that bloodstained monstrosity with the chattering teeth. Let me give you a hint. She has a propensity for satin blouses, she loves to loiter about in a bewitching manner (especially in darkened stairwells) and she never goes anywhere without black stockings firmly attached to her shapely English legs. You know who I'm talking about now, don't you? Well, if you haven't seen Clive Barker's Hellraiser, you probably still have no idea. But those who have, seen the film, that is, know I'm talking about Julia Cotton, one of the greatest horror characters in movie history. What's that? You think Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger are the greatest horror characters of all-time? Well, first of all, none of them wear stockings. And secondly, they're asexual bores. In other words, they do nothing for my genitals. On the other hand, the sexual energy Julia Cotton was repeatedly flinging to and fro from her pulsating pores throughout this movie set my junk on fire. (Hmm, I don't know, is that a good thing? I mean, what you're describing sounds like it might sting a bit. What am I saying, of course it's a good thing; it's a bloody good thing, and not even close to being a waste of good suffering.)

Don't tell anyone this, but it's been a longstanding my dream of mine (and by "longstanding," I mean I've had it since about five days ago) to be zapped with a shrink-ray so that I may live out the rest of my days inside one of Julia Cotton's pumps. (Aren't you worried about being squished by her English feet?) No, no, just tuck me down the side. I'm sure I'll be fine.

(You are aware that by writing this down, you are in a way telling everyone this?) Oh, yeah, I guess I am. Well, nonetheless, let's keep this between you and me, shall we? I don't want the whole world to know that I have this somewhat sane desire to take up residence inside one of Julia Cotton's sensible pumps. (But you just told... never mind.)

Given the reputation this film had when I was a creeper-wearing teen, I'm surprised I never got around to watching it sooner (at the time, I had heard the film was a must-see for fans of sample-heavy industrial dance music). I think the reason I avoided it was because I saw Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth in theatres, and the experience left a bad taste in my mouth, Hellraiser-wise. (Hold on, you saw Hellraiser III before seeing the first two?) That's right. (What's wrong with you?) I don't know. Oh, wait, I actually do know. I was going through my Clive Barker phase when part three came out. And it just so happens that it came out right as I was starting to go to the movies on a semi-regular basis.

(This is all fascinating, but could you get back to lavishing praise on Julia Cotton?) Sure. I just thought I'd give you a quick refresher course on my history with the Hellraiser franchise. (And congratulations, you just did that, now let's get back to Julia Cotton, as we're all dying to know where else it is you would like to dwell on Julia Cotton's anatomy.)

As things get underway, we see a man sitting crossed-legged on the floor surrounded by lit candles. It should go without saying, but whenever you see a white man sitting cross-legged without a shirt, you know some weird shit is about to go down. At any rate, holding an ornate puzzle box in his hands, the man pushes at certain pressure points on the box. Suddenly, part of the box opens up, and hooks tear into his flesh. The sound of chains rattling and the sight of body parts hanging from said chains are what greet us next. We see these odd-looking, some might say, grotesque figures standing about in the darkness. And then the box closes, and everything, the chains, the body parts, the cross-legged man, the grotesque figures, disappear in an instant.

This sequence was just a sneak preview of the ghastliness to come. In the meantime, an American named Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson, Garek from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and his British wife Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins) arrive at their new home somewhere in London, England; even though the film takes place in the U.K., the film lacks an overt national identity. Judging by Larry's enthusiasm, it would seem that he used to live in this house (I think it might even be he's childhood home). However, it's obvious to anyone with eyes that Julia does not share her husband's enthusiasm, as she looks unamused by the home's maggot-laden charms.

Wearing a grey blazer, a long dark skirt (don't be alarmed by its excessive length, Julia's innate sex appeal is no match for any garment), black stockings and a pair of black heels, Julia pokes around upstairs. Coming across what looks like a makeshift bed in one of the rooms, Larry informs Julia that his brother Frank (Sean Chapman) was probably crashing here. And by looking at the state of the place, it seems as though he hasn't been here for quite some time. (Am I crazy, or does Frank look like the guy who opened the ornate puzzle box in the opening scene?) You're not crazy, they're one in the same. (Oh, boy, this does not bode well for anyone.)

Getting back to Julia, as Larry answers the phone, it's his daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), she snoops around Frank's sleeping area. The camera angle used in this scene, by the way, proves I'm right about Julia's innate sex appeal, as the low angle really brings out the bumpy sheen of her stocking-ensnared ankles. Coming across a box filled with homemade erotica, Julia seems excited by the pictures. (Does Julia have a thing for Frank?) Um, as we'll soon find out, Julia has more than just a thing for him.

In fact, if you call the psycho-sexual mind-fuck that is, or, I should say, was, the relationship between Julia and Frank in this movie a "thing" again, I'm going to tear your soul apart!

As Julia reminisces about the non-thing (careful, don't make me tear your soul apart as well) that was their relationship, Kirsty comes over to act all bubbly and junk. Not wanting to be disturbed (her memories are quite titillating), Julia employs her aforementioned talent for lurking in stairwells. Though, I think Kirsty does hear her lurking up there. Nonetheless, the sight of Julia looking over the banister ever so slightly as her cheerful stepdaughter calls out to her in vain was worthy of one "yeah, baby" (lurk the shit of out of that creepy ass stairwell, you saucy minx) and one mild celebratory, LPGA-approved fist pump.

Remember how I said the fact that Frank is the same guy who is seen opening the ornate puzzle box in the opening scene does not bode well for anyone? Well, the best way to avert disaster is to not spill any blood in the attic. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! Larry cuts his hand on a nail while moving a bed. And guess who he goes running to? (Julia.) Right, and guess where she's lurking? (The attic?) Bingo. The next thing you know, Frank's arms are crashing through the floor and his spinal column is connecting itself with his brain. If what I'm describing sounds disgusting. It is, and beautifully so.

When Julia stumbles across Frank in the attic, he's basically a skeleton covered in goo. In order to put more flesh on Frank's bones, Julia must spill more blood.

You know what that means? That's right, it's time for Julia to bust out her orange blouse. (Um, I don't get it.) You see, Englishmen can't resist a woman in an orange blouse. And since Julia Cotton is a blouse-wearing machine (meaning, no one rocks a blouse quite like Julia Cotton), the Englishmen have no choice but to come with her. Of course, they have no idea she's going to hit him in the face with a hammer so that her skinless lover can absorb their blood in order for him to become whole again.

(How many Englishmen is it going to take to make Frank--gooey Frank is played by Oliver Smith--whole again?) I have no idea. But the sight of Julia standing over her first victim (his face reduced to a bloody mess), the seams on her black stockings tearing up the backs of her legs like black laser beams, is wonderfully lurid.

Even more so is the glass clasping, blouse-flaunting swagger Julia displays after killing the second victim, as she looks like she could do this all day. You'll notice her blouse is blood-free after dispatching the second victim, whereas the orange blouse was covered in blood. That means that Julia has learned the proper way to hit Englishmen in the face with a hammer without creating a torrent of unnecessary splatter.

Proving that we all have things to learn, Julia botches her attempt to kill the third victim. The hammering went fine, it's just that she didn't take in account that Kirsty might drop by.

Holy shit! I just found out that Clive Barker had originally asked Coil to do the film's score (released as The Unreleased Themes of Hellraiser). Anyway, Christopher Young is the actual composer, and I must say, the chime sound that occurs when the Cenobites appear in Kirsty's hospital room is off the bleeding charts in terms awesomeness.

One of my least favourite expressions of the modern area is when people refer to throwing someone under the bus. Well, get ready, as I'm about to use it myself. As the Cenobites (the grotesque figures I mentioned earlier)  show up in Kirsty's hospital room, including the "Lead Cenobite" (Doug Bradley) and "Female Cenobite" (Grace Kirby), Kirsty totally throws Frank under the bus. I don't blame her, as the "Chattering Cenobite" (Nicholas Vince) had her in a headlock and the Lead Cenobite was threatening to tear her soul apart.

Speaking of tearing souls apart, every line uttered by Doug Bradley is perfectly delivered. Imbued with just the right amount of authoritative menace, Doug Bradley's performance is the reason the Cenobites are the horror icons they are today. Even though I have no intention of watching all seven(!) Hellraiser  movies, I'm sure Doug Bradley is the best thing about all of them.

Well, to be perfectly honest, he's second best thing about the first film, as Clare Higgins is the film's real monster. Whether bashing in heads with a hammer or lurking in stairwells, Clare Higgins is sexy and dangerous. (Don't you mean, dangerously sexy?) Whatever. She has decided to make her lover whole again and will stop at nothing to make it happen. And, I have to admit, I admire her dedication. Oh, and she better be in the sequel.

Unlike any horror movie I have ever seen, the influence of Hellraiser can be seen everywhere. (Really?) Yeah, baby. You can see it in movies, comic books, video games, music (the industrial music scene had a field day sampling this movie), and even fashion (any time you see someone with a pierced forehead in line at a coffee shop, you can thank Hellraiser). In other words, the reach of this film seems to have no limits.


  1. Wooooo!-

    Goddamn. Her performance in this film is killer. Killer. Damn fine actress. Her sexual energy is going to RIP YOUR SOUL APART. Or rip apart those blouses and long skirts. You definitely hit the nail on the head with this review. Or sunk the hook and chain into the smooth, subtle flesh (as it were.) Clare Higgins's body language, presence, and facial expressions convey an exquisite depth of character and turgid sexuality rarely seen on film.

    She is repulsed by Frank's new form and her grim task. But even more aroused by the murder and cruelty she inflicts. As well as her new role as his caretaker. In life he held her completely in his wild, manly spell. But in his death-in-life-state, half-formed, he'd be helpless without her providing fresh blood (and then some) for him. Ultimately she's being used but can Frank really drag is gooey ass out of the attic without help? Who else would help him? Most other reviews of "Hellraiser" spend time discussing Frank, the Cenobites, the brother's relationship, the S+M concepts in the films, and the metaphysics of the other realm. But Julia is front and center in the films (the first two, anyway. Haven't seen the others. They look terrible.)

    Speaking of "An Angel to some, a Demon to others.... I'll TEAR YOUR SOUL APART!!!!"-

    1. Woo-hoo... more love for Julia Cotton.

      It's too bad I didn't stumble across a foreign Hellraiser poster that featured Julia's bloodstained face on it front and center... or else this entry would have been 100% Julia.

    2. Just watched this again. Haven't sat down to it in several years. It truly is exquisitely written and made. Some of the animation FX are a little dated. But the Gooey Frank creature stuff is all mucus laden and nasty. Very, very cool. Is this the first thing Barker ever directed? I watched the credits and he had two assistant directors. Maybe they helped a lot with backing him up. But the pacing and overall flow of this film is just so perfect.

      Julia Cotton and the Gooey Frank actor are excellent. Clair Higgins is the ultimate '80s horror Queen as far as I'm concerned. Look at her outfits, make up, hair, jewelry, depth of character, and cruelty. Perfect.

      I could go on forever about Ashley Laurence, too. I loved how Barker had the balls to give us two burnets in lead roles. Fuck yeah. Ashley's Kirsty starts out as a bubbly teenage dealing with tragic but somewhat typical teenage problems (ice-queen mega bitch step-mom) only to transform to ultra-mega super spunky badass who must confront mind-warping visions of hell that drive men insane. She somehow pulls this off. My favorite part is her pouty-face as she escourts Beelzebub in his Hobo-form out of the pet store.

      Oh, and the Cenobites. They are all haunting and ghastly presences here. That's obsessive typing for another day.

    3. There should be more love for Ashley Laurence in my upcoming Hellbound entry.