The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Hellraiser’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, I picked “Hellraiser.”

The info:

The Movie: “Hellraiser”

Starring: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence

Director: Clive Barker

Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Clive Barker’s feature directing debut graphically depicts the tale of a man and wife who move into an old house and discover a hideous creature – the man’s half-brother, who is also the woman’s former lover – hiding upstairs. Having lost his earthly body to a trio of S&M demons, the Cenobites, he is brought back into existence by a drop of blood on the floor. He soon forces his former mistress to bring him his necessary human sacrifices to complete his body… but the Cenobites won’t be happy about this.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 63 percent

Our take:

Froemming: All right, last week we ventured into the grim world of a killer wrestler who, for reasons unknown, didn’t really wrestle people to death. This week, I figured it was time for Joe Brown and I to venture into the dark, twisted world of Clive Barker and his Cenobites (who look like the creepiest goth band on earth at the time) with 1987’s “Hellraiser.” Now, I knew this movie would be a living hell for Brown, but I have to reiterate once again that he made me sit through a movie about magic pants, and I am not one to forget such things.

So Brown, how was your experience with Pinhead and his grizzly crew of monsters that run the galaxy’s most deadly S&M club?

Brown: I, too, can hold a grudge. And I haven’t forgotten that “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” has a sequel…

Now, while this movie didn’t scare me a whole lot, it definitely made me feel uneasy, which is more of what this movie was going for. It’s gruesome and the majority of the film gets to be uncomfortable when it isn’t a cliché horror movie. I watched this at 1 a.m. on Saturday and by 2:30 a.m., I was feeling a little queasy. Body horror movies are a special brand of bad for me.

So thanks for making me sit through this. Jerk. You go ahead and get us started while I try to forget the violence of “Hellraiser” with the violence of professional football.

Froemming: It starts off with a flea market in Morocco, where a man buys what is known as the puzzle box that opens doors into other dimensions for the poor bastards that really want that to happen.

In this case, the box was opened by Frank as he was hanging out in his attic. And yes, the violence is intense in this film. He solves the mystery, and hooks rip into his flesh and he is tortured to death by the Cenobites, which are more hilarious looking than scary in this day and age. They looked more like rejects from Chuck E. Cheese’s animatronic band, which I would argue is much more frightening to see in person.

Brown: If that’s the case, I should make you play the game “Five Nights at Freddy’s” so you can be jump-scared by animatronics.

At the start, I scoffed at a couple things. First: The first line is spoken by a man with a stereotypical Asian accent, so this movie automatically got an eye roll. Then yes, Frank gets ripped to shreds by hooks in his skin, but then they have this revolving platform with body parts that look very fake. Finally, you get a glimpse of Pinhead and all of a sudden, this S&M attic is cleaned up? I’m convinced the Cenobites (which I kept thinking of cinnamon bites and wanted to indulge my sweet tooth) were the cleanup crew for Patrick Bateman’s apartment in “American Psycho.”


Froemming: There are a lot of weird things in this movie that are not explained, and why the attic became clean is one of them that I wondered aloud about.

But, we now have Larry (this poor bastard) and his wife, Julia, now moving into Frank’s crash pad because…I don’t even think this was ever explained. Family house? But we soon find out that Julia had an affair with Frank, and she daydreams about these encounters.

It was here I realized this film has aged badly. I kept thinking I was watching a rerun of “Days of Our Lives” or some other soap opera, because this certainly feels and is acted a lot like one.

Brown: Sure… “Days of Our Lives” with a brother who is a lot like Buffalo Bill, which is all I could think of as Julia is rummaging through Frank’s photos.

And speaking of this, we see that Frank has been a squatter in this house with a makeshift bed. And when Larry and Julia walk into the house, they cringe because it smells damp, but then we get to see the kitchen and there is food rotting, complete with maggots. How do you not smell that?

The point I’m getting at: You see that (REDACTED), don’t move into the house. I don’t care if it’s close to Julia’s family and work (which I believe they said was the reason for moving).

Froemming: Yeah, the house looked like a junky’s crash pad from “Trainspotting.” I did not get a creepy vibe from the rotting food and maggots. We also learn that poor, doomed Larry has a daughter, Kirsty, who is living in New York. She and Julia do not get along.

The film starts moving from this paint-drying pace once Larry, who is married to a terrible woman who will be the reason he dies brutally, cuts himself moving furniture. He bleeds on the attic floor, and that blood brings Frank back from his hellish existence with the Cenobites. Which, for being all powerful and knowledgeable entities, seem to not notice when the souls they take have escaped their Nine Inch Nails music video set den of chains and gore.


Brown: When Larry (who is the epitome of WASP) bleeds onto the attic floor, you see a shot below the floor where a heart is beating, and all I could think of is the episode of “The Simpsons” when Lisa’s rival builds a diorama of Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” complete with floorboards moving with a heart beat. Then, we see what looks like Brundlefly from “The Fly,” and Julia is horrified to see her former lover as a mess of bones and organs.

Frank, however, doesn’t understand basic human communication when he yells Julia’s name, only to tell her to not look at him. Dude, that’s confusing.

My question is this: How non-observant is Larry? Even after he bled all over the attic floor, he never goes up there and sees the decayed remains of his brother? You’re trying to make this house livable… you never thought to put some junk upstairs? Lazy homeownership, I tell you what.

Froemming: Well, that gets even more baffling as Frank needs blood so his body can rejuvenate (why it is just blood I have no idea), so he has Julia pick up guys at what looks like every airport bar ever. She brings them back to her attic, where she bashes them in the head with a hammer. And Frank, looking a lot like Red Skull from “Captain America,” drinks their blood.

And Julia disposes these rotting corpses…in a room down the hall. How does this house not smell of dead bodies? I mean, I understand new houses may have peculiar smells, but come on Larry, that would be unbearable to live with.

And while all this is going on, Kirsty sees a weird hobo at the pet store she works at. I thought it might have been the creepy hobo from “Mulholland Drive,” but it wasn’t.

Brown: The first time I got really creeped out by this movie was the first victim in the attic, where you see his face bashed with the hammer. You see the guy’s teeth all jacked up… I don’t do well with missing/falling out/messed-up teeth.

I hope Frank was truly the love of Julia’s life because yeah… once you commit murder for a man, you’re in WAY over your head.

What exactly was the point of the bearded hobo? I know it pays off at the end, but he’s just there for the sake of being creepy. There’s so little rhyme or reason to a lot of what’s going on, namely why does Frank buy the puzzle box to begin with? But whatever.

I did get a laugh when I saw Kirsty’s boyfriend. He looks like pudgy ‘80s Tom Hanks.


Froemming: I think Frank got the puzzle box because he knew it would give him crazy S&M pleasures with the Cenobites. It was briefly explained, but not how he knew of the box in the first place. I mean, he lives like a junky and squats in a house, has no job yet somehow can afford a trip to Morocco to buy a weird puzzle box that is a gateway to other dimensions? I call shenanigans on this premise.

Brown: For as much as the scares are supposed to come from the body disfigurement, I do have to applaud how unnerving they made Julia in this film with her big hair and the low-angle camera shots that gave her this haunting authoritarian vibe. She felt very “Mommy Dearest.”

When Larry FINALLY gets the idea to go to the attic when they hear some strange noises, Julia acts bipolar in order to get him to stop. Frank decides to play with Julia’s emotions and hints (as subtly as a sledgehammer) that she’ll have to sacrifice Larry eventually.

But I am not the type that trusts Frank’s judgement: This is a man with no skin and exposed muscle (that’s bleeding everywhere) that is wearing slacks and a white shirt. That’s just a waste of laundry soap.

Froemming: He must use Patrick Bateman’s dry cleaners to get those stains out of his clothes.

Now, Larry has a talk with Kirsty because he is concerned about Julia. Kirsty decides to spy on her step-mother, and she finds her bringing strange men into the house. What she doesn’t know yet is that those men are being clobbered to death with a hammer in a murder room. So, because she is upset, she goes into the house and finds her bloody uncle, who comes onto her. It was creepy for many reasons. But, she finds the box and distracts her back-from-the-dead-and-has-no-skin uncle by…throwing the puzzle box out a window. I used a similar tactic watching my co-workers’ cats this weekend: I tossed a toy to distract them so they wouldn’t run out the door as I left. Works great.

Brown: Well, if you’re Frank, I’m not stepping out of that house. He has no skin. Some debris kicks up and that is going to be an incredible pain (he does have his nerves back). I did write in my notes: I can only imagine how painful it would be if you poured salt on Frank.

Now, if this movie couldn’t make me feel even more gross, they have to throw an incestuous uncle into the mix. I honestly don’t know what bugged me the most in this movie between that, the gore or the weird S&M creatures.

But now, Kirsty is in an (out-of-date) hospital with the puzzle box. My biggest concern here was one of the nurses is just sitting there watching TV, which is showing nothing but flowers blooming. Stuff like that is a hallmark of movies trying too hard to be artsy and/or scary.

And with a circular motion of her index finger, the easiest puzzle box in the world opens and reveals a medieval hallway. And OF COURSE Kirsty walks down it…


Froemming: I think solving a Rubik’s Cube is harder to solve than the puzzle box that opens the gates of hell.

Her opening the box brings attention to the Cenobites, who are just hanging out in their Sex Cauldron, which I thought they closed that place down. Here Pinhead and the Gang explain to Kirsty that they are explorers who can no longer tell the difference between pain and pleasure, which I assumed anyway since the guy has pins hammered into his skull.

Brown: Quick aside: List the Cenobites by how creepy they are. Because all things considered, Pinhead isn’t all that spooky. He just happens to be the mouthpiece, so he’s the iconic figure. My list: 1. Chatterer; 2. The Female; 3. Pinhead; 4. Butterball.

Froemming: I would say 1. Chatterer; 2. Butterball (he looks kind of like fat Elvis, which made me laugh); 3. Pinhead; 4. The Female. Again, by today’s horror standards they are not all that creepy, except Chatterer.

Brown: As the Cenobites try to take Kirsty away, she makes a bargain: If she can bring Frank to the Cenobites, they’ll let her go. Yes, because I’m sure the S&M monsters will stay true to the bartering system (Spoiler alert: They don’t).

After this deal, we finally see the grizzly demise of Larry by Frank, which Julia enjoys with some old-fashioned coitus. But, there’s a loose end in Kirsty, who just so happens to come a wrappin’ at the door.

Froemming: Frank does not have the same build or bone structure as his brother Larry, yet he can put on his dead brother’s skin perfectly for some reason. That made no sense, but given a lot of this movie makes little sense, here we are.

And Kirsty falls for it at first, despite the blood all over the back of her dad’s head. A note to directors: If I can see that blood and gore, your characters can too.

Brown: His hairline is all blood! If you’re Kirsty, how are you not running away at the sight of this? Or, at the very least, saying “Umm, dad, you’re bleeding.” Nope, she’s cool with this. And for this, she gets into a scuffle with Mommy Dearest, who gets a knife to the abdomen by accident from Frank. And now the hunt is on. Kirsty hides in the room across from the attic and, as much as I hate jump scares, I do appreciate a callback to one of the previous bodies falling toward her with maggots in the mouth.

But, all of this comes to a head in the attic between Kirsty and her dad/uncle.


Froemming: And like an 80s metal band in an 80s metal band video, the Cenobites show up to rock out. Now, Frank brought this upon himself because he is sort of announcing himself loudly. Dude, you are on the run from those things, and you know this girl had the box at some point. You should try to be a little more quiet about who you are. Granted, you have no skin….

Brown: Part of me thinks Kirsty is deaf at times. Pinhead tells her, as the S&M parlor sprouts up from the floor like the beginning of the movie that, “This isn’t for your eyes.” WHY ARE YOU STANDING AROUND? SPRINT OUT OF THE HOUSE!

Also, with her dad, step-mom and uncle dead, I think Kirsty just inherited a house. My notes: May be time to set that bad boy ablaze.

Froemming: Oh, yeah. Burn it down. Also, she is going to have to explain to the authorities why there are all these dead people in her parents’ home. And saying “the band members of Marilyn Manson showed up and murdered everybody” isn’t going to fly in the court of law.

Brown: She won’t have to, because she disposes of all the Cenobites by shutting the puzzle box (by again, running her finger around it). And, she does follow my advice and burns the house down. The authorities won’t find any dead bodies there. Fire cleanses all!

Froemming: Yes, Kirsty takes the cue from the Talking Heads song, and burns down the house. And here we see that creepy hobo, who mind you made no sense earlier, and he steps into the flames to retrieve the puzzle box, and then turns into a dragon/demon thing and flies away.

I…didn’t know what to make of that. But hey, the market in Morocco has the box back to sell to another dupe.

Brown: I’ll say this: The effect of the hobo turning into a winged beast is still better than Liu Kang turning into a dragon in “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.” The moral of the story: Never buy anything from a stereotypical racist Asian in a Moroccan market.

And with that, let’s reset our puzzle boxes and end this nightmare.


Froemming: Eh, of all the classic 80s horror films, this one certainly hasn’t aged as well as the others. I like the concepts and ideas here, but time has done no favors for “Hellraiser.” I say skip this one.

Brown: I would not. As far as body horror movies go, I think “The Fly” is better than this. It’s at least more memorable. Really, just go with any David Cronenberg movie over this. And after finally seeing this movie, I honestly don’t understand how Pinhead became a horror icon besides, you know, marketing. It’s visually appealing in the same way HR Giger is, but that’s all it has going for it.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

We have recorded the first ever JOE-DOWN podcast for next week. We watched “KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park.”

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