Review: The Scarlet Box
If 2014 was the year of Nightbreed, then 2015 has been the year of Hellraiser. First we saw the release of Clive Barker’s The Scarlet Gospels which was a wonderful send off to everyone’s favorite cenobite Pinhead. Then we were given the exhaustive and highly entertaining documentary Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II which I consider to be the final word on the making of the first two films. And finally to end the year, Arrow Video has given the fans The Scarlet Box which contains new 2K remastered transfers of the first three Hellraiser films and is loaded with all sorts of cool (old and new) extras that should please any hardcore fan of the series.
Before I get into my review of the set, my over all impressions of the first three films are very positive and to be honest I wish they would’ve put Hellraiser: Bloodline in here as well. The first four films are the beginning and end to the franchise for me. You can read my Retro Reviews of Hellraiser, Hellbound, and Hell on Earth by clicking on the titles.
The first thing I’d like to talk about is the amazing packaging that Arrow Video has put together for this set. The main color theme of the box is of course red, a crimson red to be more precise. The outside cover art has a somber looking Pinhead on the front with the subtle hint of the Lament Configuration behind him. Also, on the back of the box there’s a series of Leviathan shaped images that overlap on top of one another to create what appears to be a star.
After opening the box (no pun indented) inside we’re treated to a small T-shirt button of the front cover, the movies (which come with their own individual cases), a book called the Damnation Games by Phil and Sarah Stokes (look for review of that soon), a small booklet containing original cenobite artwork by Clive Barker and storyboards, cenobite post cards, a mini poster of the front cover, and finally a bonus disc that’s filled with even more extras.
The new 2K transfers that Arrow Video has given each film range from very good to outstanding. Out of the three the original Hellraiser looks the best. The image is sharp with detail and colors pop-out like never before. I especially enjoyed watching the hospital scene where the cenobites pay Kirsty a visit. I’ve never noticed the Female Cenobite playing with her wound before and I’ve seen this movie at least 100 times.
Hellbound is the weakest of the transfers sadly because it’s my favorite film of the series. Don’t get me wrong the transfer here is much better than the one Image Entertainment put out, but the main problem I noticed during certain scenes I watched were a lot of scratches to the source print. But when it shines, boy does it shine. The scene where Julia is resurrected has never looked better. You can also see how much detail the make-up effects guys put into the skinless suit.
Hell on Earth’s transfer is the best I’ve seen it look from all other previous editions that have been released to date. Even though I’ve never been a fan of the film’s comic-book visual style this new presentation really does it justice if you are a fan of the film. The scene that really stood was when Pinhead is unleashed from the Pillar of Souls. So much great detail was shown that it felt like I was the scene for the first time.
The sound on all the movies is also topnotch. In Hellraiser the scene where Larry is torn apart by the cenobites packs a little more punch as the hooks and surgical devices tear into his skin. The real treat in Hellbound is being able to experience the rousing opening of Christopher Young’s score in all its thunderous glory. Other than Conan the Barbarian, there has never been another score that perfectly sets the tone for a movie. The best sounding scene in Hell on Earth is when Pinhead destroys the church. I felt like I was actually there.
As far as extras go Arrow Video has packed this baby to the brim. Most of them have been ported over from previous releases, but it’s nice to have all of them available in one set. The new material that’s been created specifically for this set might not be much but it makes up for it in quality and content.
There are two new documentaries called Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser. He talks about his early days in acting and the Alan Clark films he worked on. He even mentions Underworld, which he confesses he’s never seen. What I found most interesting was that he created a whole back story for Frank that helped get him into the character. As much as Frank is central to the story of Hellraiser I tend to forget Sean Chapman isn’t in the movie that much but his presence is felt all over the picture. He only worked a total of six days on the film. He also talks about a deleted wedding scene (briefly used in Hellbound) that was shot where Frank acts like an asshole. He also discusses his dissatisfaction with his voice being dubbed over, which I totally agree with. He comments on how they lost some tenderness to the character by choosing to do that. He then moves onto talk about working on Hellbound: Hellraiser II which he described as a “work a day” film. He really didn’t connect with director Tony Randel and found the whole scene he was involved to be rather silly. To put it bluntly, he didn’t care too much for the movie.
We also get a nice documentary called, Soundtrack Hell which covers the unused score by the band COIL. Former member Stephen Thrower talks about when he first met Clive and his unusual taste in music. Clive wanted a score that was similar to films like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Carrie. They spent a week in a recording studio coming up with themes that Clive could choose from but as you all know they were kicked off the project before they could even begin the scoring process. What’s cool is that we get to see some of their score played to certain parts of the movie. It really would’ve been a different movie had they scored the picture. I think it would’ve made the film creepier.
There’s also the famous deleted Surgeon Scene which makes its video debut on this set. I did a review for it awhile back, but I’ll go on the record again and say if they would’ve had enough money to finish the scene, I believe it would’ve worked and been a great moment in the movie.
Hell on Earth is also given some fine new features as well. The first being a new documentary interview with actress Paula Marshall called Time with Terri. She admits that she didn’t see the first two Hellraiser movies prior to getting the role, but during production actually saw the first one. She had a great working relationship with Teri Farrel and referred to Doug Bradley as an old pro. The most grueling part of the shoot for her was working in the make-up. I really enjoyed the character of Terri and it was nice getting to hear Paula talk about the movie after all these years.
There’s also a new commentary track from writer Peter Atkins. He drops in all kinds of cool little stories about the production and talks about different versions of the story for Hell on Earth that never happened. Of course the best part of the commentary is the shout out he gives to the Clive Barker Podcast.
The fourth and last disc called The Clive Barker Legacy which sends the set out with a bang. You get both of Barker’s early experimental films The Forbidden and Salome. I personally enjoy Salome out of the two because of the way Barker visually tells the story. The score that’s played over it is very haunting and bizarre. In some ways I think this was the kind of score Clive Barker wanted for the first Hellraiser if he’d gotten his way.
Next up is a documentary called Books of Blood and Beyond with horror author David Gatward. He goes through Barker’s literally career starting with The Books of Blood and ending with The Scarlet Gospels. It’s a good documentary but I must confess I’m tired of people attacking The Scarlet Gospels and saying it’s not Barker’s true vision. Love it or hate it the book that was released was what Barker wanted. Personally I loved the book’s breakneck pace and mean spirited nature. I might get flack for saying this but a thousand page Harry D’Amour versus Pinhead story is a little too much for me. But that’s just my opinion.
And to end the disc is the documentary Hellraiser: Evolutions which talks to a lot of the key players behind the direct-to-video franchise. Surprisingly, little is discussed about those particular films but more about how the filmmakers themselves were inspired by the first film. It’s strange to hear how these different writers and directors seem to understand the Hellraiser mythology but none of the films they made conveyed that at all. But it’s a fun documentary and I’m glad these interviews were made available to the fans.
Arrow Video really out did themselves with this set. From the excellent video and audio presentations of each film along with a ton of extras, you can ask for anything more. But I’m pretty sure this isn’t the last time we’re going to get a huge Hellraiser release. My gut tells me that somewhere down the line we’ll get a nine disc box set eventually with all kinds of crazy features. But for the time being The Scarlet Box is enough to satisfy any Hellraiser fanatic!