Monday, October 9, 2006

Hellraiser (1987)

You know, if it weren't for the murders, resurrections of dead people, mysterious maggot-eating strangers, S&M demons from Hell who who rip the flesh from your still-living bodies, I would swear this wasn't a horror movie.

Does that make sense?

I've always loved Clive Barker's writing. Whereas someone like Stephen King (whom I also love) paints his tales from the string and bottle caps that make up his own skewered version of New England America, Barker's horror is forever tied up in love, sex, morality, and the transformation of the body and the soul. When he finally came out of the closet years ago, his writing embodied these obsessions even more clearly (the best examples of these themes can be found in the novels Imajica and Sacrament, both highly recommended).

So what does all this have to do with HELLRAISER? Well, at its heart the film deals with these same issues. It's about experiencing the ultimate pleasures of the flesh, and the lengths some will go to achieve it. It's about forbidden love, and the costs that are involved in pursuing it. It's about the corruption of youth, and perhaps it's also about how all of these things are closer to our everyday days then we normally like to think.

Barker introduces two new commercial properties to the world of horror: the first is the Lament Configuration, a strange puzzle box that, used correctly, grant the opener a gateway to experiences and sensations not found in the realms of the real. Barker has a knack for naming things (another common theme in his writing), and the Lament Configuration is very aptly named, as its method of introducing the sensations in question arrive in the form of the Cenobites, headed by Pinhead, one of the most recognizable horror figures in recent memory. At the time HELLRAISER came out, there wasn't anything remotely like these leather-clad demons from beyond. In out current world of THE MATRIX, X-MEN, UNDERWORLD, and countless other movies that adopted the familiar uniform, it's hard to believe Barker did it first almost 19 years ago.

I realize I didn't say much about the movie. It works in a number of key scenes, and appears quite Gothic in the form of Claire Higgins, who resorts to seducing men in bars only to bring them back to her place in order to murder them in an attempt to bring her dead lover back to life. HELLRAISER is really a small English morality tale, dressed up to look like horror.

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