Happy 30th Anniversary, HELLRAISER!

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Hello Friends:

It’s September 10th, 1987. After the May 13 premiere at the Cannes Film Festival,  the Prince Charles Cinema on Leicester Square played HELLRAISER in the UK for the first time, just before the wider UK release the very next day. A week later it would open throughout 1,097 theaters in the US, making 4 times its budget in the opening weekend.

Today marks 30 years since British audiences saw Hellraiser in the silver screen. It would be at least another 4 years before I could watch it in Portugal as a teenager. The scene that still stays with me from that first distant viewing while I zapped through late night TV was a skinned man covered in slime and blood telling a scared Kirsty, “It’s Frank. It’s Uncle Frank. Come to Daddy!” I was literally hooked. Then the 90’s Epic/Marvel comics hit the scene, and then I bought “The Hellbound Heart”, imported at a British bookstore “Livraria Britanica”, in the city of Porto. By that time I was completely immersed in the worlds of Clive Barker; I’d seen his movies in the theater whenever I could, including Nightbreed. I was on my way to importing as many of his books and comics as I could. Hellraiser was my gateway drug into this body of work, my mind-expanding ritual. To this day I can probably recite the lines as the movie plays.

Why do we connect so deeply with a movie like this? Hard to explain. The transcendental nature of the cenobites, the idea that there are no limits— that there is a veil you can walk through, discarding the banal everyday life, is an attractive thought. For at least 90 minutes you find an escape from existential horror, and if you ever found yourself saying aloud “It’s never enough” like Frank, you can shake off that ennui as you experience the wonders of multiple dimensions and magic that this movie brings to the table, full of infinite possibilities and the promise of reinvention of one’s self that goes beyond the mental, but involves a physical transformation as well. It’s a strange spirituality that permeates this film, with punk/goth aesthetics, great performances, an impressive soundtrack providing the musical backdrop to a subversive Faustian tale and of course, the cenobites offering pain and pleasure, indivisible. It’s hard to shake it off.

The vignettes of Hellraiser are deeply impactful and at times, masterful. The very first shot Doug Bradley performed as the Lead Cenobite during principal photography involved walking forward pretty much blind (wearing black contacts) to find his mark on the floor, shouldered by Chattering Cenobite (Nicholas Vince) and Butterball (Simon Bamford), as he raised his hand and said ominously “WE WANT THE MAN WHO DID THIS“.

“Angels to some, demons to others”    (Hellraiser, Cenobites, Pinhead)

Personally I consider the duo of Hellraiser and its first sequel Hellbound as an inevitable double bill. What are your recollections of watching this film for the first time? Leave us your feedback in the comments below here or on our Facebook page.

Here at the @Barkercast, we’re all big fans of Hellraiser, and we’ve covered it extensively in articles, features and commentary tracks. Here’s a quick listing:

If you like Commentary Tracks, try watching the movies with us!

Thank you to Clive Barker for creating this world.

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