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A Waste of Good Suffering: The ‘Hellraiser’ Franchise [Part 1]

A Waste of Good Suffering: The ‘Hellraiser’ Franchise [Part 1]

Hellraiser was a vividly original feature debut from a young British author who tired seeing his work translated [poorly] to the big screen by other filmmakers. Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart was the basis for what would go on to become one of the longest-running horror film franchises. The story of an enchanting puzzle box with the power to open a portal to hell and call upon demonic beings with the sole purpose of torment and titillation has spawned a total of nine sequels. The tenth film in the series, Hellraiser: Judgment, is just around the corner from release. Today, we’re going to chronicle the behind the scenes madness that brought us Kirsty Cotton, Pinhead, and the various Cenobites to don yards of black leather within each film. “Part 1” of this article will focus on the theatrical releases, the original 87′ film through to Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996).


Hellraiser (1987) – Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave

IMDb Plot Synopsis: “An unfaithful wife encounters the zombie of her dead lover; the demonic cenobites are pursuing him after he escaped their sadomasochistic underworld.”

A small British production house snapped up the rights to adapt several of Barker’s stories. The first film, released under the titles of Transmutations and Underworld, was such a disaster that Barker felt the need to be more involved with the company’s follow-up. That led to him receiving sole screenwriting credit on Rawhead RexWhile that film certainly has its fans who view the final product as a cheesy monster on the loose throwback, Barker was none too impressed. It was this disappointment that directly inspired Barker to finally get behind the camera himself. The journey to bring The Hellbound Heart to life began.

A string of failed attempts to secure financing eventually landed the project a home with American genre outlet New World Pictures, the company founded by Roger Corman, “The King of the B’s.” They were granted a budget of just under a million dollars, a working title of Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave (after all, Hellbound Heart sounded too much like a romance in the eyes of New World), and tasked with translating Barker’s text into a cinematic nightmare. Minor changes were made, such as the title; they ultimately landed with Hellraiser. It’s easy to imagine a world were Sadomasochists… might not have been given the time of day due to its sensational moniker, thus the franchise could’ve ended right then and there.

Other changes from the source material involved de-aging our heroine, Kirsty, and changing her from a close friend to Larry’s daughter. The obvious British locations were ignored and several characters’ English accents were overdubbed to help provide the illusion of Americana. Producers felt this would give the film a broader appeal. Ultimately, most of Clive’s original vision remained intact. One of the biggest compromises came down to the score. Barker commissioned the experimental electronic group Coil to compose for the film, only for New World to overrule the fledgling director. It was Christopher Young who ultimately tied it all together with his melancholy score. Hellraiser became quite the success, earning over $14 million dollars at the box office and was generally well reviewed by critics.

Critics Said:

“This is a movie without wit, style or reason, and the true horror is that actors were made to portray, and technicians to realize, its bankruptcy of imagination.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“A serious, intelligent and disturbing horror film.” – Nigel Floyd, Time Out

Cenobites Featured: Pinhead (Credited as “Lead Cenobite”, Butterball, Chatterer, Deep Throat (Credited as Female Cenobite)


Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) – Down the Rabbit Hole

Hellbound: Hellraiser 2

IMDb Plot Synopsis: “Kirsty is brought to an institution after the death of her family, where the occult-obsessive head resurrects Julia and unleashes the Cenobites once again.”

It’s the 80’s and you’ve made a horror film that brought in 14 times its budget, what are you to do? Duh. You better get to work on a sequel. While Clive Barker would not be returning to direct this outing, he helped mold the story and was credited as Executive Producer. The directorial reigns fell to Tony Randel who acted as editor on the previous film. Randel was a New World regular who got his start by co-writing the new “American” scenes for Godzilla 1985 and stepping in (uncredited) to help direct the gonzo sci-fi mishmash that was Def-con 4.

The scope for this sequel was expanded greatly from the first film’s basic setup of “three people in a house.” Not content on just repeating the same premise over again, Hellbound: Hellraiser II sees Kirsty venturing into hell in order to save her father…so she thinks. The bloody cry for help that kicks off her second nightmarish adventure turns out to be a trick from good ol’ Uncle Frank, still hankering for that incestuous Kirsty-action he never got to play out before. There’s a moment in the infamous excised “Surgeon Scene” where Kirsty breaks down from the realization her father is gone for good. It’s a touching beat that gives some pathos to her character.

Beyond the emotional thrust of the tale there’s also the return of Julia in true femme-fatale form, a backstory for Pinhead, a mute girl who is really good at puzzles, and the evil Dr. Channard who’s obsessed with learning the secrets hell’s depths have to offer…he also winds up cracking wise like that other popular horror villain of the time. The truth of the matter is, Hellbound has a hell of a lot going on for one 93 minute runtime. And to think, Larry was originally supposed to be in the film too until actor Andrew Robinson declined to return! It’s this frenetic energy that has made it a favorite to many fans. From the ghastly, violent, and sexual images you can still feel Barker’s influence. From the newly found focus on Pinhead, you can feel the influence of the marketing team who realized they’d struck gold with the menacing guy with needles in his head.

The film showed only a modest decline in box office from the first film ($12 million down from $14 million). However, the epic scope also meant it cost more to make at $3 million. Though, the budget was originally to be much larger than even that. Ultimately, this was the last sequel to be made under the New World banner as well. From here on out, we’re in the Weinstein business… 🙁

Critics Said: 

Hellraiser II is a maggotty carnival of mayhem, mutation and dismemberment, awash in blood and recommended only for those who thrive on such junk.” – Variety

“Even if you discount the cliches, there are enough bizarre and shocking effects here to satisfy all but the most demanding genre fans.” – Richard Harrington, Washington Post

Cenobites Featured: Pinhead, Butterball, Chatterer, Deep Throat


Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) – CD Cenobite…Because the 90’s

Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth

IMDb Plot Synopsis: An investigative reporter must send the newly unbound Pinhead and his legions back to Hell.

After two fairly successful films in the franchise, most of the creative parties involved were eager to get a third film off the ground. Barker’s initial concept to focus more on Julia was harpooned by actress Clare Higgins’ refusal to return. Other ideas were kicked around for some time, including an Egyptian set entry. Ultimately, though, New World was on the brink of filing bankruptcy and Barker’s own production company was going under due to the financial failure of Nightbreed. So, Hellraiser III languished in proverbial development hell for several years.

Eventually, series screenwriter Peter Atkins along with Hellbound director Randell crafted a script that would go on to become Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. Apparently not much changed from their initial draft to the finished film (plus or minus a few OG cenobites with a few more…modern ones – including Atkins himself as the Barbie Cenobite). Kirsty was no longer the focus, though she does make a mini-cameo on footage taken from the Channard Institute. Instead, we follow aspiring investigative reporter Joey and wounded goth chick Terri as they run afoul of a freed Pinhead, free to wreak havoc upon anyone whether they open the box or not!

While Randell was originally set to return, new production company Trans Atlantic replaced him with Anthony Hickox (Warlock 2: Armageddon, the Waxworks films). They were concerned that Randell’s vision was too bleak, ultimately ending with Joey making a Faustian deal with Pinhead to become his bride in exchange for her “star reporter” dreams coming true.  While Hickox was known more for horror comedies at the time, he gave Barker his word he would take the material seriously. He brought in a relatively new crew, peppered with those he had worked with on previous shoots, including special effects artist Gary J. Tunnicliffe (remember that name for later). Once the film was completed, a deal was struck with Dimension Films to distribute and Barker was brought in during post to provide his two cents. Several of his suggestions, including an emphasis on more blood, were inserted into the final film (including the first ever use of CGI in a horror film). The film went on to gross a smidge more than Hellbound with $12.5 million.

Critics Said:

“[The themes] might be fascinating if a movie like Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth — great title! — were actually a kinky horror fantasy about the thin line separating pleasure and pain. Instead, it’s mostly about the prospect of getting your skin ripped by fish-hooks.” – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

“With its bravura camerawork, fetishistic Cenobite designs, nerve-jangling soundtrack, and literate Peter Atkins script, Anthony Hickox’s film is a worthy successor to Clive Barker’s flesh-ripping original.” – Nigel Floyd, Time Out

Cenobites Featured: Pinhead, Pistonhead, Dreamer, Barbie, CD, Camerhead


Hellraiser: Bloodlines (1996) – Tales from the Lament

Hellraiser: Bloodline

IMDb Plot Synopsis: “In the 22nd century, a scientist attempts to right the wrong his ancestor created: the puzzle box that opens the gates of Hell and unleashes Pinhead and his Cenobite legions.”

The rights for the franchise were now firmly in the hands of Dimension Films and the Weinsteins, though, it still took Barker along with Atkins to get traction going on a new film. Barker was keen to start fresh and Atkins saw fit to tell the tale of the Lament Configuration’s creation. Their pitch was an anthology of sorts that would chronicle the creation of the box to the ultimate destruction of Pinhead. Dimension greenlit Hellraiser: Bloodline right away and Atkins set out to write the screenplay. The search for a director was a difficult one as the script was the most ambitious of the franchise despite being scaled back after the Weinsteins refused to cough up the cash needed to bring that vision to life. With a budget of only $4 million dollars and a script that spanned from period piece to futuristic Aliens-riff, it was bound to be a difficult shoot. Master of Horror Stuart Gordon was even approached, though, he turned the gig down.

It ultimately came to FX maven Kevin Yagher, whose impressive work under tight budgets and tighter schedules on Tales from the Crypt caught the eyes of producers. Photography began in 94′ and was said to be a nightmarish experience for those involved. Doug Bradley has been quoted as saying it was “the shoot from hell.” Large swaths of crew were fired after one week of shooting, people kept falling ill, sets were ruined to wayward sprinklers, and the cinematographer was replaced mid-shoot among other mishaps. Yagher’s initial cut ran 110 minutes, and Dimension was not pleased by what they saw. Namely, they took issue with Pinhead’s limited screen time…which was exactly as it was scripted. When producers called for extensive reshoots, Yagher did not return to direct, citing exhaustion.

Joe Chappelle (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Phantoms) stepped in to complete the additional photography which were said to be entirely new scenes. Once Yagher saw the final 85-minute cut, he felt he barely recognized as it as his own. Yagher had his name removed and took an “Alan Smithee” credit. There are bootleg versions of a “Workprint” floating around online which showcases more of the original footage, including Angelique actress Valentina Vargas’s actual voice. Her accent was deemed too difficult to understand by producers and overdubbed in the final cut. There’s also that important thing in filmmaking called “character motivation!” You actually get a better grasp of Pinhead and Angelique’s hostile relationship and what ultimately leads to her betraying him.

In the end, Bloodline is a fractured mess that has grown somewhat in popularity over the years. I mean, we never thought we’d see the day when Halloween 6: Producer’s Cut would get a cleaned-up, official release – maybe there’s still hope for Bloodline. The film grossed a meager $9 million dollars and saw the end to Pinhead’s theatrical aspirations (until the inevitable remake at least).

Critics Said:

“Except for the most undiscriminating gorehound, pic is a pointless mess.” – Daniel M. Kimmel, Variety

“[Director] ‘Alan Smithee’ is a wuss. This film isn’t half bad.” – Alex Sandell, Juicy Cerabellum

Cenobites Featured: Pinhead, Angelique, Chatterer Beast, Siamese Twins


Also Read: “A Waste of Good Suffering [Part 2]”



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