Horror Week: Hellraiser (1987) Review

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In the pantheon of iconic horror villains, Hellraiser’s Pinhead is definitely high on the list. His design is so shocking and instantly creepy that it is no wonder he stands toe-to-toe with the likes of Freddie Kruger or Jason Voorhees. It also explains the decision to have him included in the marketing for the first installment in this horror franchise, even though he doesn’t necessarily feature that prominently.

Hellraiser is about demons from hell trying to reclaim an escapee but for the most part, it is more about that escapee and his urges, desires and attempts to become “human” once again. This confusion for what the horror, or just the story, is trying to be in Hellraiser makes for a mess of a movie.

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Iconic but hardly in the movie

There are more than a few times that the audience will be confused as to what is actually going on. This feels like a mix and mash of plenty of horror tropes, thrown in and mixed to make a sub-standard horror movie with little in the way of actual scares. It has all the usual horror cliches but with no real purpose or effect. Teenage heroine, unsuspecting father, shocking imagery and classic 80’s gore all make an appearance but don’t make a coherent story.

You will find yourself strangely intrigued by how the movie develops. A lot of this is down to the strange performances and weird story which encompasses the first act. This isn’t a movie about Hellraiser’s Pinhead like the marketing suggests but about a half-skeleton, half-flesh monster which persuades his brother’s wife to kill people so he can steal their blood. It feels more like an episode of Tales from the Crypt than a full movie feature.

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The visual design is impressive

To Hellraiser’s credit though, there is a great mix of visual design. There is something about the old fashioned practical effects which makes this movie very appealing. From the graphic hooking at the start of the movie to the design of the half-man-monster that the main character becomes.

Of course, the most iconic design is the demons themselves. When compared to the other demons, Pinhead is actually quite tame with some great design of the other Cenobites. There is a woman with an exposed throat, a monster who is all teeth and some other bizarre creatures who border more on the disgusting than scary.

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Some of the effects struggle

That is one of the biggest issues with Hellraiser: it has aged and not well. It isn’t scary and tries too hard to go down the disgusting and gory route rather than being truly chilling. Unfortunately, as ingenious as the designs are, they still look as fake as ever. Ironically, the best looking villain of the series is the simplest and Pinhead holds up better than any of the others.

Overall, Hellraiser is a classic 80’s horror but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can still be appreciated today. It is mix and mess of different horror tropes and struggles to get a hold of what it wants to be. Add to this some dodgy effects, although very inspired, and you get a movie that struggles to break from the time it was created.

Rating – 2.5

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

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It is easy to see why Pinhead became the star


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