With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Horror author Clive Barker didn’t initially have any intention to direct films, but the cinematic adaptations of Underworld and Rawhead Rex left him dissatisfied and feeling the need to take control. When trying to determine what it would take for someone to hire a first-time director, his producer Christopher Figg suggested something relegated to a single location with unknown actors and monsters to keep the budget small. Barker thought of his novella The Hellbound Heart, which fit the criteria. Roger Corman’s New World Pictures agreed to fund Hellraiser for just under a million dollars, and thus began the birth of one of horror’s major franchises.
It was Figg who introduced special makeup effects designer Bob Keen to Barker, and the pair hit it off immediately. The two spent weeks exchanging ideas that would still adhere to the small budget. Between Barker and Keen, they eventually settled on the design of the cenobites, with Barker drawing inspiration from punk fashion and the S&M clubs he visited. Their lengthy planning paid off. Butterball, Pinhead (though credited as Lead Cenobite), Chatterer, and the Female only appear on screen for a scant few minutes and still became instantly iconic. It wasn’t just the designs, but the performances that made horror audiences fall hard for the cenobites. Barker insisted on hiring actors when the studio felt stunt performers would have been cheaper. It allowed the cenobites’ personality to shine through when the heavy makeup and prosthetics meant the actors couldn’t even see where they were going. As cool as Pinhead looks, he wouldn’t be nearly as iconic without Doug Bradley in the role.
Keen’s work on this film extends far beyond the cenobites, though. As menacing as the cenobites are there’s still some semblance of humanity to them, and Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) is able to bargain with Pinhead when she accidentally summons them. That’s not the case with the Engineer, a monstrous demon that prowls the corridors of Hell. Kirsty Cotton barely survives her first run-in with the Engineer when she solves the Lament Configuration in her hospital room. This scene was a beast to shoot, though, as the hall the effects team had to work with was only 15 feet long. The Engineer took up 7 feet. The monster was built and mounted on a platform with wheels, with a group of guys behind it to push it forward and puppet its movements. It left Lawrence without much space left to run, so she had to run very slowly. They also had to film this several times over to help create the illusion of a much longer hallway.
The crowning achievement of Keen and the special effects team’s work on this film isn’t the extradimensional realm (though they’re great), but the gruesome and gory resurrection of Frank Cotton. When Kirsty’s father Larry (Andrew Robinson) cuts his hand on a nail, the blood seeps into the floors of the attic that begins one slimy, goopy, bloody sequence that brings Frank back from the dead as a living, skinless corpse. Rigged mechanisms were built under the floorboard to have them move while pumps poured goo through the holes. The beating heart was made from a condom, tubing, and glue to make it look like a real human heart.
Barker shot the film in order, and the budget ran out by the finale. The winged creature that takes off with the lament configuration isn’t nearly as grand as it was envisioned. The gory intensity and sexual themes meant issues with censorship, too, causing scenes to be cut. Despite all of this, the story, special effects work, and characters carved out a space in pop culture memory. For his first-time directorial effort, Barker unleashed a unique world that hadn’t been seen before. His vision and Keen’s spectacular designs delivered the beginning of one of horror’s most memorable franchises.