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[Blu-ray Review] Arrow’s ‘Hellraiser’ Scarlet Box Has Such Sights to Show!

Hellraiser. The film (and franchise) that put Clive Barker on the horror map. While the franchise itself has long moved away from its roots as gothic horror from the late 80s, the original film still has the hooks (pun intended) to pull fans into its world. I’m still fascinated by it. Bloody-Disgusting founder Brad Miska loves it. So much so, that when Arrow Films announced its fantastic Scarlet Box Set of the first three Hellraiser films last year, he snapped it up in spite of it being a Region B set. Well, a year later, and Arrow made a deal to bring the boxset to North American fans. So, what exactly is there to explore in the further regions of experience?

In the first film Hellraiser, we’re introduced to Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman), who after toying with a mysterious Puzzle Box, is taken and torn apart by the Cenobites: Creatures from another dimension that specialize in the boundaries of pain and pleasure. Presumed to have skipped town, Frank’s brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his second wife Julia (Clare Higgins) move into Frank’s old house. An accident while moving a mattress causes Frank to reappear in our world, albeit missing his skin. Julia, who unbeknownst to Larry had an affair with Frank, discovers Frank in the attic. Frank convinces Julia to help him rebuild his body through blood. But when Larry’s daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) happens upon their secret and the Puzzle Box, eventually so do the Cenobites.

Pinhead and the Cenobites weren’t the focus of this film, and rightfully so. The twisted love affair and relationship between Frank and Julia is one of the film’s strong points. Claire Higgins plays the multilayered Julia with ease. Initially reluctant to help Frank, and apprehensive about committing murder, Julia morphs into a seductive and deadly black widow who doesn’t give a second thought to bashing a man in the head with a hammer. In contrast, Ashley Laurence turns in a strong performance as the film’s protagonist, conveying the emotion needed for when she uncovers the truth about Julia and Frank, and also employs the cunning needed to outsmart them, as well as the Cenobites. The film’s gore effects are appropriately red, with highlights being the Frank’s resurrection and the squeamish sights of hooks tearing into flesh. Lastly, composer Christopher Young completed the creepy and gothic atmosphere with his score that meshed perfectly with the Barker’s visuals. About the only shortcomings for the film are its script and pacing, which tends to lag at first before we get into the good stuff (typical for 80s films). That, and the hospital scene involving Kirsty being held in order to talk to the police (for what?). But hey, that scene is more than made up for with the entrance of the Cenobites, led by Doug Bradley in his iconic Pinhead makeup. Altogether, Barker created one of the best horror films of the decade, and laid the foundations for a memorable franchise.

4skullrating

With Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Barker handed off directing duties to Tony Randel, and focused on the story. Picking up after the events of the first film, Kirsty is now in a psychiatric hospital, haunted by what she experienced. Unfortunately, the head of the hospital, Doctor Phillip Channard (Kenneth Cranham), seems to not believe her story. Secretly, however, Channard has been searching for the Puzzle Box (known as the Lament Configuration) for years, hoping to gain access to the Cenobites’ world. Using Julia’s bloody mattress, Channard manages to resurrect Julia. With Channard supplying her with his patients, Julia goes about regenerating herself like Frank. Meanwhile, Kirsty befriends Tiffany (Imogen Boorman), a mute and fellow patient at the hospital, who is also skilled at puzzle solving. Kirsty also receives a message in a vision from her father, who is trapped in hell. Channard, with Julia’s help, uses Tiffany to solve the Lament Configuration and open the doorway to the Cenobites’ world. Kirsty follows them into the inferno, hoping to rescue her father.

Coming out a mere 15 months after the first film, Hellbound: Hellraiser II can best be summed up as “hectic”. Whereas the first film was more gothic, this film leans more into the visuals. Everything is beefier this time. The bigger budget opens the special effects door, putting out quantity as well as quality. Christopher Young returns with his efforts, with his amped-up score giving the film more muscle. Claire Higgens once again turns on the seductive charm as Julia, while also being the master manipulator. Her performance has competition in the form of Kenneth Cranham’s Channard, who is also calculating and deceptive. Once he undergoes his makeover, Channard is a hoot with his over-the-top lines (“I recommend…amputation!”). Kirsty is still our hero, still matching wits with our antagonists, and seems more comfortable in the role now than in the previous film. Boorman is alright as Tiffany, though her character is basically just a vehicle to get everyone into Hell. And then there’s Pinhead. Barker drops hints at the character’s origins in a flashback (as well as the Cenobites themselves), but the Pinhead character is (wisely) kept in the background for the film’s real villains, Julia and Channard. The pacing problems from the first film have been remedied, although not without cost. While we do get tidbits of information about Hell, its ruler Leviathan, and the Cenobites, there’s no real time to develop characters outside of Channard (though we already know about Julia and Kirsty). Much like Imogen Boorman’s character, William Hope’s Kyle MacRae is there as another vehicle to advance the plot. Clocking in at 95 minutes, the film goes on a breakneck pace once we get to Hell. From there, the story starts to thin out even more, becoming glimpses of scenes, rather than full-on sequences. The power struggle that ensues between Channard and Pinhead is brief and rather laughable, as was Pinhead’s “Darth Vader” moment. Also, what exactly happens to those residents of Hell who die in Hell? In spite of these faults, Hellbound is still a blast to watch, and is the best of the sequels in the series. The gory effects are just as wincing as the first film, and there’s plenty of them to satisfy.

4skullrating

Now comes the final film of the set in Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth. After the events of Hellbound, the man known as Captain Elliot Spencer has been split into two: His pre-Cenobite self, and the manifestation of Spencer’s own desires and impulses, known as Pinhead. While Spencer is trapped in limbo, Pinhead is trapped in the Pillar Of Souls that emerged from the Julia’s mattress. The pillar is bought by JP Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt), the rich owner of a popular nightclub called The Boiler Room. Meanwhile, while doing research on Monroe and his nightclub, reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) stumbles upon the Pillar’s past, along with the Lament Configuration. Joey is visited by the spirit of Captain Spencer, who warns Joey that against the rules of the Cenobite realm, Pinhead seeks to free himself and wreak havoc on earth. In order to stop him, Spencer and Pinhead must fuse together.

Directed by Anthony Hickox of Waxwork fame, the film is the many firsts of the series. For starters, this is the first film in the series to be filmed in America instead of Britain. Instead of being produced by New World Pictures, Hell On Earth was picked up by Dimension Films and distributed by Miramax. Unfortunately, this is also where many fans of the first two films were alienated by the change in direction. Pinhead is brought to the forefront and made the central antagonist. As a result, instead of being a gatekeeper of Hell, Pinhead is (in the words of a friend of mine) turned into “that drunken uncle we all hate” with over-the-top dialogue and a seemingly out-of-character presentation. Also, if Pinhead is supposed to be breaking the rules of the Cenobite realm, why is there no other Cenobite sent to stop him? Instead, we have this weak split-personality storyline. Mixed in with that storyline is Joey’s story involving her visions with Captain Spencer, and her coming to terms with her father’s experience and death in Vietnam. The two main storylines eventually come together, but it’s all schizophrenic in the meantime. It doesn’t help that once Pinhead is free to wreak havoc, we get scenes that feel far more Hollywood-esque and out of place in a Hellraiser film. The segment involving the new Cenobites tracking down Joey through the streets of LA feels very cheesy and ripe with blatant fodder for kills (the cops, the clueless dude, the cabbie). On the plus side, the gore is one of the redeeming qualities of the film. The scene in The Boiler Room is appropriately chaotic and full of hooks and chains. And the new Cenobites, while cheesy-looking, do have a certain charm to them (though the CD Cenobite looks like a muppet). Terry Farrell is no Ashley Laurence in terms of endearing her character to the audience, but she’s likeable enough in spite of the weak script. Bernhardt is appropriately douchey enough in his role, so good on him for coming through on that one. And while Christopher Young wasn’t entirely involved in the score, Randy Miller uses a few samples of his work to remind fans that this is a Hellraiser film, while mixing in his own score. It’s not quite as bombastic, however. And given this is Hollywood doing Hellraiser, we get some hard rock and metal songs (I’m always down for Motörhead) to show off the polished Hollywood feel. Again, it just feels out of place. But honestly, as a horror film, Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth is okay. It’s rough, but there’s some goofy fun to glean from it if you ignore the Hellraiser mythos. As part of the Hellraiser franchise, it feels more like a betrayal of the first two films rather than the next step in the evolution of the series.

2-5skullrating


Video/Audio:

According to the included book for the set, all three films have had new 2K restorations, with the first two films having their restorations approved by Robin Vidgeon, the director of photography for both Hellraiser and Hellbound. For Hellraiser, the new 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encoded image is greatly improved from the older Anchor Bay and Image releases. The film has always had a healthy amount of grain to it, and thankfully it’s replicated here with excellent results. The image has far more detail than before, with darker areas now showing more of what’s lurking in the shadows. The contrast is also improved, which again allows more of the details in the image to show through. For Hellbound, the 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encoded image again has a greater contrast than past releases, with more detail and colour saturation than before. Given that the film was shot almost back-to-back with Hellraiser, they have a similar look. When it comes to Hellraiser III, it’s a different story. That’s not saying that the 1.85:1 1080p AVC-encode transfer for this film is terrible (far from it). The film looks good, but it just doesn’t share the same visual style as the previous two films (which is obvious, given the different DOP). Also, the instances involving the CG effects (that stupid morphing effect, for instance) take a hit in the clarity department. Grain is present and looks natural, with good details in texture. That’s for the R-Rated Cut. For the Unrated Cut, Arrow has had to splice in 4:3 full frame shots from a pan-and-scan LaserDisc. Apart from the framing change, these shots are instantly recognizable with the serious drop in detail and otherwise smeary look to them. Seeing as these were the only elements available to use, it’s a case of doing the best that they can do.

In the Audio department, Hellraiser and Hellbound have received uncompressed PCM Stereo 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks. All the groans, creaks and screams come through clear without any distortion. The obvious ADR is made all the more apparent, but that’s a production thing. Christopher Young’s operatic scores come through with great range. The 5.1 tracks are kind of a disappointment, as there’s not as immersive as one would hope. They’re still good and have that ‘oomph’ to them, but aren’t going to be a revelation. As for Hellraiser III, we just have the PCM Stereo 2.0 track. This one is also clear, with the appropriate accents in places. And as is the case, the explosions and gunshots all come through with the appropriate punch.

Supplements:

Arrow work their magic with each of the films, providing enough extras to satisfy fans. For Hellraiser, we get director Clive Barker’s Audio Commentary carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD. Barker is always fascinating to listen to, and here it’s no different. He covers the production, the original source material, and his experiences making the film. Also carried over from Anchor Bay’s DVDs is the second Audio Commentary with Clive Barker, writer Peter Atkins and actress Ashley Laurence. This one overlaps information with the previous commentary, but it’s more lively with the additional participants, and has some new info.

The big goodie is the nearly 90-minute documentary ‘Leviathan – The Story of Hellraiser’. Previously only available in a 3-disc PAL DVD set, this is an exhaustive coverage of the production, with interviews new and old and tons of anecdotal information. Definitely a comprehensive look at the film.’Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser’ is a new interview with Sean Chapman on his career prior to Hellraiser, his character of Frank in the film and how he approached it, and working with Barker. Fans of the film know about the abandoned score by avant-garde industrial band Coil. Well, ‘Soundtrack Hell’ covers just that. Former Coil member Stephen Thrower talks about how Barker was enthralled with the band’s score, the process of creating the score and its inspirations, and how it was ultimately rejected once American money started being put into the production (read: Not commercial enough). What’s cool is that the featurette contains brief snippets of scenes from the film accompanied by Coil’s score in the background. Quite the stark departure from the orchestral score by Young.

Rounding out the featurettes are holdovers from older Anchor Bay discs, including ‘Hellraiser: Resurrection’ (an older making-of piece involving input from Barker, Laurence, Bradley and others), ‘Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser’ (Bradley talking about his working relationship with Clive Barker, and his work on the first film), and the film’s Original Electronic Press Kit. Also included are three trailers (including the international trailer with Oliver Smith’s voice as skinless Frank prior to redubbing), three TV Spots and an Image Gallery.

On to Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which starts off with two Anchor Bay Audio Commentary holdovers. The first, with director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins, has the duo talking about production, and the response to the film. The second has Randel and Atkins joined by Ashley Laurence, which covers much the same material as before, but is made more livlier with Laurence’s inclusion.

The second part to the Leviathan documentary is here in ‘Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II’. This two-hour documentary again throws everyone involved with Hellbound in here, and covers every aspect of the production. It’s incredibly informative and exhaustive as the first part, and definitely worth watching. Sean Chapman is back again with ‘Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound’, where he talks about his scene in the film, and how working with Randel differed from his experience with Barker’s direction. ‘Lost In The Labyrinth’ is another holdover from earlier DVD releases, and features input from from Barker, Atkins and Randel, as well as actors and the production crew. It’s more of a historical piece, since much of the same information is explored in other featurettes. ‘Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound’ again has Doug Bradley being interviewed, this time talking about his time working on Hellbound, as well as his role as Pinhead. Following that are vintage On-set Interviews with Clive Barker, and the Cast and Crew. Barker talks about his role with the film, while Tony Randel, Clare Higgins, Imogen Boorman and Kenneth Cranham talk about their roles. Rounding things up is a quick Behind the Scenes Footage featurette that focuses on the makeup effects.

The big find for Hellbound is, of course, the long-lost Deleted Surgeon Scene. We already posted the video for all to see earlier in the year, but it originated from this boxset. Again, it’s rough, with no post work. It’s understandable why it wasn’t included in the final film (since it makes little sense), but like the Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6, it’s cool to see a long-rumoured piece of history finally being its due. Rounding things out for the disc are two trailers, two TV Spots, and three Galleries.

On to Disc 3 for Hellraiser III, which again starts off with two commentaries. The first is brand new for the Theatrical Cut, with writer Peter Atkins and Michael Felsher. Atkins talks about the franchise, and the genesis of Hell On Earth, including how Hickox joined the production. It’s another informative track that has makes up for the film’s shortcomings. As for the second commentary with the aforementioned director Anthony Hickox and actor Doug Bradley, it’s reserved for the Unrated Cut. This is another ported Anchor Bay track, and are very informative and lively.

Speaking of the two cuts, you have the option to turn on the Unrated Cut in the Extras menu, which as mentioned before, is cobbled together from a pan-and-scan LaserDisc and the Theatrical Cut. More shots of gore and the first scene were added, as well as some scene extensions.

Not to be left out, the same company that did the Leviathan documentary decided to give Hellraiser III a documentary of its own entitled ‘The Story of Hellraiser III’. Featuring interviews from Ken Carpenter (who played Doc Fisher/Camerahead Cenobite), Doug Bradley, producer Christopher Figg, Hellbound director Tony Randel, writer Peter Atkins and others, the documentary covers the inception of the film (including New World Pictures’ bankruptcy), the production (and the difference between filming in Britain versus this now American shoot) and the response to the film. It’s obviously not as extensive as the previous documentary, and there’s also quite a bit of criticism being tossed the film’s way (Randel felt that the producers were “cheapening” the franchise). It’s not exactly the lovey-lovey “time heals everything” doc, but it’s still very interesting.

Following that are a couple of new interviews. The first with Paula Marshall (who played Terri in the film) has Marshall talking about her career, how she became involved in the production, her character in the film, and her thoughts on her Cenobite makeup. The other interview is with Anthony Hickox, which is another holdover from Anchor Bay. Hickox talks about shooting the film, the casting for the film, and his relationship with Peter Atkins.

Doug Bradley shows up again in ‘Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser III’. Bradley talks about the original concept of Hellraiser III, the legal circus that ended up happening with the rights once New World Pictures went belly-up and other tidbits.

Rounding things out are the film’s original EPK, over twenty minutes of FX Dailies (no sound, though), the film’s Trailer, and two Galleries: One a comic adaptation of the film, and the other consisting of stills and promotional material.

Disc 4 is entitled ‘The Clive Barker Legacy’, and is for fans of Barker. Included are Barker’s two short films, ‘Salome’ and ‘The Forbidden’, both of which I covered here as part of the Clive Barker’s Origins DVD. Besides the upgrade to Blu-Ray, these shorts have the option to watch with their own introductions. The quality is about the same as they were on the DVD, so don’t expect any revelatory restoration work.

‘Books of Blood and Beyond’ has author David Gatward talking about Barker’s novels and short stories, as well as what makes Barker’s writing so distinctive from similar authors. ‘Hellraiser: Evolutions’ is another new documentary with interviews from Barker’s contemporaries (including Brian Yuzna, and the writer of Hellraiser: Deader, Neal Marshall Stevens). The doc covers the evolution of Pinhead throughout the films, as well as the character’s backstory and his popularity. Also covered is how the producers attempted to make the first film more “American” by redubbing some of the actors, which was easier than thought, given much of the film takes place inside the Cotton house.

Finishing off the disc is another goodie for the fans. ‘The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith’ is a 2005 short film by RN Milward. Part fan film, the short was made primarily to demonstrate the potential of a possible TV series. Given the rough production values (and obvious subject matter), it’s safe to say that there’s a good reason why the idea of a TV series never came to fruition. Also included is the ability to watch the short with optional commentary by Milward.

If you thought that was everything, Arrow went the extra mile to add even more to the set. Included in this Limited Edition is a 200-page hardcover book entitled ‘Damnation Games’, written by Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes. Full of on-set photos and illustrations, the book covers Barker’s short films and plays, the production of the first three films, and the development and appeal of the Cenobites themselves. The original press kits for the three films are included at the end, as well as the details on the restoration of the three films. This is on top of the poster of the illustration of Pinhead on the front of the boxset, and five art cards showing off the Cenobites from the three films.

The whole package is assembled in gorgeously-illustrated cases that stack into the wonderfully-illustrated box, which has an interesting diamond opening to show the spines of the cases on the one side. They could’ve gone the route of the old Lament Configuration boxset, but that’d just be derivative. Plus, this fits much nicer on your shelf.

Bottom line, while the quality of the third film may be up for debate, this boxset is absolutely stacked. Arrow Films have done an amazing job cobbling together extras both new and old to cram onto these discs, and have given us spectacularly-restored transfers of these films. Sure, there are some things that are obviously missing (such as older interviews, trivia tracks, etc), but that’s more than made up for by the Leviathan documentaries. One of the best releases this year. If you’re a fan of these films, get it.

5skullrating

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COMMENTS

11 Comments
  • Elizabeth

    I wasn’t sure if I should fork over the money for this (since I hate the third film), but I think you sold me on it.

    • Saturn

      I still haven’t bought it yet, but I watched the set (the movies, not the extras) at my friends house – it’s pretty good.
      I intend to buy it at some stage – but it’s a shame that they didn’t include the 4th movie in the set too – perhaps they will release another set at some stage with some of the others.

      • Elizabeth

        I still hold out hope that I’ll find the alternative universe version of Bloodlines, the way it was originally intended to be.

        • Saturn

          Why not? Who ever thought we’d get “director’s cuts” of Night Breed and Exorcist 3? It may not be the exact version as intended, but fingers crossed.
          It would be interesting to compare the theatrical and director’ cut version.

          • Elizabeth

            I might be remembering wrong, but I don’t think they ever shot most of the original script. I think the studio brought in other writers and ripped it to shreds (no pun intended) before production.

          • Joe Brick (TGOL)

            You guys should hook up, imagine the joy of watching these movies together, grab some popcorn and enjoy some good horror porn, this could be amaze balls.

        • Saturn

          Solve the puzzle, open the box! Hellraiser 4 uncut has such sights to show you!

    • It’s definitely worth it. I had my reservations on the third film, but they take a critical look at it, and while it’s still so-so, it’s still fascinating to hear what the filmmakers and producers had to say.

  • sliceanddice

    this, along with the alien anthology blu ray, is by far and away the best blue ray i own. the picture is SO crisp on HR1 and the extras are brilliant.

  • enemy

    I missed out when it first came out so i got the trilogy box set instead, and to be honest I’m glad. The hellraiser movies aren’t as good as I remember, but the first ones great such a unique film.

  • The Drucifer

    My shelf took a hit with this one. Make sure you got some room

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