Hellraiser – The Scarlet Box Limited Edition Trilogy
Directed by Clive Barker/Tony Randel/Anthony Hickox.
Starring Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Doug Bradley , Ashley Laurence, Nicholas Vince, Simon Bamford, Barbie Wilde, Sean Chapman, Kenneth Cranham, Oliver Parker, Terry Farrell, Kevin Bernhardt, Oliver Smith, Grace Kirby, Paula Marshall, Ken Carpenter, Imogen Boorman, William Hope.
The first three films in the Hellraiser series are given a new lease of life in an expansive Blu-ray box set, courtesy of Arrow Video.
To say that this release has been highly anticipated in the horror community since it was first announced several months ago would be something of an understatement; in fact, it would be a total lie as once it was announced that Clive Barker’s classic Hellraiser and its two immediate sequels were getting a 2K restoration then October 26th 2015 became judgement day for anybody with an appreciation for Barker’s masterpiece and the mythology it spawned, for not only were these three films being remastered and released on Blu-ray – only the first film has had a previous Blu-ray release in the UK before – but some juicy, never-seen-before extras were also promised. As if it needed the hard sell…
Originally released in 1987, Hellraiser was a shot in the arm for a horror scene that was starting to look a little tired and silly. A Nightmare on Elm Street had offered an inventive slant on the slasher genre a few years before but that franchise was on its third instalment and on the verge of mainstream acceptance with its new accessible and humorous direction, and the other big horror franchises were following suit. Based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, Clive Barker offered up a new vision of terror with Hellraiser, a Faustian tale of desire and deceit but at its heart a love story with a blackened twist that sees newlyweds Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia (Clare Higgins) Cotton move into Larry’s old family home, unaware that the essence of Larry’s brother Frank (Sean Chapman) is living in the attic upstairs.
In life, Frank was a thrill seeker looking for the ultimate pleasure, and after solving a mysterious puzzle box – later to be known as the Lament Configuration – he finds exactly what he’s looking for when the Cenobites – sadistic demons from another dimension who experiment in testing the limits of the flesh – claim his body and soul for their own nefarious needs. However, Frank has managed to escape his captors and returns to the place where he ‘died’, resurrected by his brother’s blood after Larry cuts himself and begging Julia – who hankers for the excitement of Frank after their brief affair shortly after her marriage to his brother – to bring him more before the Cenobites realise he is gone and come after him. However, once Larry’s daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) gets wind of Julia’s wicked ways she sets about a chain of events that forces Frank to look closer to home for his nourishment.
Not your usual straightforward horror movie, Hellraiser was a darker, more serious take on horror than anything that had been seen since The Exorcist back in 1973, and thanks to the imagery of the Cenobites, particularly the lead Cenobite later to be known as Pinhead (Doug Bradley), audiences were keen for more so Hellbound: Hellraiser II emerged a year later. With Clive Barker now in a writer/producer role the film was directed by Tony Randel, who had worked on the first film, and picked up right where the original left off with Kirsty recounting the events that happened to her family to Doctor Channard (Kenneth Cranham) and his assistant Kyle (William Hope). Unaware that Channard is an expert in the occult and is well aware of the puzzle box and what it can do, Kirsty must once again open the gateway to Hell and face the Cenobites, only this time it is on their turf.
With a bigger budget to play with and a greater sense of scope, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a proper sequel that continues what the first film started but adds a few new twists in the direction of the story, most notably a sense of the surreal that plays into much of the imagery. Possibly not quite as cohesive as its predecessor it nonetheless proved popular with horror fans and put Pinhead up there with Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees as a bona fide modern horror icon. However, it would be another four years until Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth finally arrived and this time the tone was very different. The story had now moved to America – despite the ambiguous nature of the first two movies they were clearly filmed in the UK – and the budget was significantly bigger, which may have been beneficial to the early CGI effects that were being used but took away the rough edges that made the first two films so atmospheric.
In this film, a news reporter named Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) witnesses the death of a young man in strange circumstances and begins to investigate, eventually coming across the puzzle box that opens all the wrong kinds of doors. But after the events of the previous film Pinhead is no longer trapped by the rules of Hell and wants the puzzle box in order to stop being sent back so he can wreak havoc on Earth. Only Joey and Pinhead’s former human soul Captain Elliot Spencer can stop the unbound Pinhead from sending the world into oblivion.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is a lot slicker than its predecessors and because of the at-the-time innovative special effects it hasn’t dated all that well. The film does play with some interesting ideas, such as that of Pinhead being split into two entities – the human Elliot Spencer and the demon Pinhead – but it never really pays off that well, the film quickly resorting to slasher movie clichés once Pinhead is unveiled and proceeds to create a new army of Cenobites that totally seem to miss the point of why the original ones were so revered. Featuring a soundtrack that includes Motörhead and Armored Saint, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is very much an early ‘90s horror movie that is geared towards the MTV generation and lacks the imagination that made the first film so distinctive.
So that’s the three films if you’ve never seen them and if you’re wondering how they look in shiny HD then fear not because all three films look fantastic, showing up details that you would no doubt have missed on your old DVD versions – especially in the first film with the skinless Frank looking particularly icky in a way that never came through before – but the real selling point of this box set is the bonus content that Arrow have packed it out with. Quite frankly, there is too much to mention here without it looking like a shopping list but the highlights include a re-edited version of this year’s Leviathan documentary that covers the making of the first two films in great detail along with some interesting interviews with cast and crew, Clive Barker’s early films Salomé and The Forbidden and a featurette covering Clive Barker’s literary works from his legendary Books of Blood right up to this year’s The Scarlet Gospels, which saw Barker kill off Pinhead in spectacular fashion. But that isn’t all as there is also an exclusive documentary entitled Hellraiser: Evolutions that delves into the expandsive Hellraiser universe with contributions from franchise alumni such as Tony Randel, Peter Atkins, Doug Bradley, Scott Derrickson, Rick Bota, Kari Wuher and celebrity fan Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), a new audio commentary for Hellraiser III from writer Peter Atkins, the full unrated cut of Hellraiser III, new and archive interviews with Clive Barker, actors Doug Bradley, Sean Chapman, Paula Marshall and Ashley Laurence plus – and this really is a bonus – the legendary ‘Surgeon Scene’ that was filmed for Hellbound: Hellraiser II but has never been seen until now. A talking point at every convention since the film was made – just ask Doug Bradley – hardcore fans would probably pay out for this little gem all on its own but the inclusion of all of the other nuggets of goodness that Arrow have compiled – and that’s not even going into the 200-page Damnation Games book, 20-page collector’s booklet featuring never-seen-before concept art, art cards and reversible poster that make up the physical content – make this a must-have purchase.
With all of that in mind, it’s a given that this set is worth owning. Despite the fact that the series fell into decline with a string of lamentable sequels that never lived up to the imaginative promise set by the original, there is a lot of love for the world that Clive Barker introduced us to with The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser. Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a more than worthy follow-up that ties up the Kirsty/Frank/Julia story neatly, and although Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is a considerably lesser film its inclusion – along with the excellent bonus features it brings with it – is still welcome. Had Arrow Films included Hellraiser: Bloodline, the much-maligned fourth film in the series and a film whose production history is more interesting than the finished artefact, then that would be all the UK theatrical releases in one package, but with all of the bonus material that film would need to back it up the cost would likely be astronomical. Nevertheless, even without it Hellraiser – The Scarlet Box is a truly special package that is as lavish, tempting and full of mystery as the Lament Configuration box itself and if you aren’t fortunate enough to snap one of these beauties up then you could always try making a deal with Pinhead himself – just be prepared to pay the price.
Hellraiser – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Hellbound: Hellraiser II – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★