Sunday, July 05, 2009

“We have such sights to show you!”

What could possibly be a better way to follow up an imaginative and charming children’s movie like The NeverEnding Story than with Clive Barker’s 1987 flick Hellraiser?

There is a box, rumored to be a gateway to both pleasure and pain, that a man purchases and eventually finds a way to open. Things end badly for him. Some time later, his brother and his wife (the brother's wife, not the kinky guy's) move into our delinquent’s house and trigger his rather painful gradual resurrection. Determined to get away from the things that did this to him, our reanimated fellow enlists the aid of his brother’s wife, who has a history with him, to finish up the “fleshing out process”

Frank: Frank spends most of the movie without skin. At the beginning, he buys the mysterious Lament Configuration Puzzle Box, solves it, and is treated to a world of hurt by creatures called the Cenobites. A chance accident by his brother Larry causes some blood to drop onto the floor of the attic, triggering Frank’s incredibly graphic reassembly. Frank really, really doesn’t want to be reunited with the Cenobites, so he hides out in the attic for a while, eventually reconnecting with Julia, Larry’s 2nd wife. Frank & Julia had a thing going on when Frank was still desirable, and Frankie boy plays on that to get Julia to help him out.

Julia: As stated, Larry’s wife, Frank’s lover. She’s not a particularly nice lady, and is usually very reserved through the film (except where Frank is concerned) A lot of the movie is about her descent into depravity as she murders random businessmen that she lures to the house so Frank can “nom nom nom” on them to reconstitute his innards.

Larry: Larry is a poor schlub that has no idea what is going on during the movie. He’s devoted to (read: whipped by) his wife and is a wuss around his own blood.

Kirsty: Our heroine, Larry’s daughter. She kind of senses something amiss in her father’s house, but eventually stumbles upon Frank and the puzzle box at the end of the second act. She doesn’t take her uncle’s Slim Goodbody impression well and runs away, opens the puzzle box and meets the Cenobites herself. She doesn’t take that well either.

Lead Cenobite/Pinhead: A bald fellow with pins stuck into his head and a wearing a long leather jacket-like thing with open spaces for body mutilation, because that’s how he rolls. Pinhead is clearly a sinister figure in the movie, a villain that the normal villain (Frank) fears, but he’s rather vague about his own nature, saying that the cenobites are angels to some, demons to others. Obviously, he doesn’t have to explain himself to the mortals, but it just kind of gets tossed out there. He is quite the badass because he’s got the highest profile of the Cenobites (which is an actual word meaning “members of a religious convent or community” according to
Cenobite Roll call: Butterball Cenobite, a tubby, silent dude who wears his sunglasses at night so he can, so he can. The imaginatively named Female Cenobite, who is exactly what her name is; a female with various metal things stuck into her, and an opened up neck. She’s pretty much Pinhead’s lieutenant and is the only other Cenobite to have a speaking part. Last, is the Chatterer Cenobite, who’s my Badass of the movie. He’s freaky looking, having no eyes to speak of and a madly distorted mouth that keeps moving like those chattering teeth. I know it may be blasphemy to give him the nod over Pinhead, but look at it this way: Pinhead mostly stands around, looks mean and talks. Chatterer is his go-to guy, like throwing chains at escaping people and shoving his fingers into Kirstey’s mouth to get her to shut up. Chatterer gets shit done.

There’s also a Derelict/Hobo in the film with crazy eyes. He stops into the pet shop that Kirsty works in to, uh, sample some of the merchandise.

Visuals (Direction/Effects)Taking into consideration the 1987 nature of the film, the effects are overall extraordinary. The Cenobite costumes are freaky and disturbing, but I have to admit, Frank as the Visible Man is pretty kickass. His entire transformation from gooey ribcage to ligament-connected bones to musculature over a skeleton is really outstanding, both for the time it was made and even for the modern world. Sadly, some of the effects, like the Hallway monster and the dracolich are less well realized (okay, fine they’re cheesy)

An interesting thing that Barker does for the film is that he doesn’t really go for the jump scares. He mostly implies or straightforwardly shows the bad stuff going down, basking in the goriness of his mad creations. There is one jump scare near the end of the movie that does work quite nicely, and also happens to be hilariously awesome in its dénouement, and that’s about it. He gives you enough visuals to stimulate the mind to fill in the blanks about what kind of nastiness is implied.

As far as specific shots, the shots focusing on the puzzle box sitting sinisterly on a table spring to mind and Frank’s early stages of rebirth, and overall the directing was suitably atmospheric for a movie about bad things who cause bad things to happen to people. However, there was one minor plot thread that got completely overlooked at the end (involving the last cenobite)

WritingI am noticing a trend in the two Clive Barker related movies I’ve seen so far. 1) The man loves him some meat hooks. 2) Dialog in the movies (don’t know about his published stories) is serviceable but often nothing that sticks in the mind: there’s no real groaners or outright bad lines, but not a lot that’s truly memorable. 3) He really seems to go for higher concept creepiness. At its base level, this movie is about an evil Rubik’s Cube that summons monsters that tear you up. It’s a little bit silly when you think of it that way, and I think it’s a testament to Barker’s follow through that it becomes about more than just that. The movie’s about sensuality, about how the unbridled desire for sensual experience can get a lot of people hurt. Frank and Julia are two people who honestly can’t restrain their desires. Frank got his hands on the box because he wanted to experience the pleasures it promised. He wants his body back because he wants to continue experiencing the pleasures of life. The movie aspires to be a bit more than just a cheap thrill spattered in viscera, and I can respect Clive Barker for that.

The score was atmospheric, but it remained subservient to everything else on screen. The sound effects were also suitable, but the only thing I can truly remember is the squeaking of the rats throughout the film. This is neither bad nor good.

I’m rather glad I finally saw this movie. Pinhead’s a common enough image in popular culture, and there are apparently eight of these Hellraiser movies made (along with the inevitable franchise decay). Hellraiser gave my imagination a little bit of a tickle, as well as impressing me with the ambition of its effects. I doubt I’d run out and buy it for my shelf, but it was not a waste of my time.

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