Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Hellraiser: Special Edition (1987)
Studio Line: Anchor Bay - The Definitive Version Of Clive Barker's Masterpiece!

In a place between pleasure and pain, there is sensual experience beyond limits. And in a world between paradise and purgatory, there is a horror that feeds the souls of evil. Welcome to the singular vision of Clive Barker and his landmark horror opus, Hellraiser.

Now for the first time ever, experience this horror classic in an all-new version, fully remastered in state-of-the-art Dolby Digital 5.1 supervised by THX and packed with extras personally compiled by writer/director Clive Barker. This is Hellraiser as you've never seen or heard it before. Now there truly are no limits.

Director: Clive Baker
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Oliver Smith, Robert Hines
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1; THX; subtitles none; single sided - dual layered; 28 chapters; rated R; 93 min.; $29.98; street date 9/19/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Clive Barker and Star Ashley Laurence. Moderated by Writer Pete Atkins; Featurette:Resurrection; Theatrical Trailer; Still Gallery; THX Optimode.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B+/B

Poll time: am I the only one who used to not know the difference between Clive Barker and Wes Craven? Maybe, but I doubt it. After all, the two men had quite a lot in common. Both made horror films and came to the attention of a broad audience in the mid-Eighties. Both achieved the status of getting their names listed as part of movie titles, as in Wes Craven's New Nightmare or Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions.

The two also did a lot to take horror flicks out of their slasher doldrums by creating films that were much more insidious and genuinely unnerving than the usual hack-em-up junk like Sleepaway Camp. Craven made his name through the clever A Nightmare On Elm Street, whereas Barker - already a successful writer - became a horror filmmaker with whom to reckon through 1987's Hellraiser.

That movie never reached the popular heights experienced by Craven's creation, but it maintains a strong following to this day. The film takes on a serious sadomasochistic bent through one character Frank (Sean Chapman); he's been something of a ne'er-do-well throughout the years as he pursues whatever he desires, but he bites off more than he can chew when he gets a mysterious puzzle box. This cube traps him in an alternate dimension where critters called "Cenobites" torture him.

Frank's fairly clean-cut brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his second wife - chilly Julia (Claire Higgins) - move into the house (previously owned by their parents); they see that Frank had been there but have no idea of his current otherworld whereabouts. We learn that Julia had a fling with foxy Frank and apparently she hasn't really gotten over him, a fact that comes back to her in spades; Larry spills some blood on the floor where Frank had last been, which starts to reconstitute Frank's dead form. Horny Julia then starts to kill for Frank so he can sop up the blood and goo and eventually become human.

Got that? Add to the mix Larry's daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), who begins to suspect something's up after a while. The plot follows the action as Frank and Julia pursue their wishes while Kirsty sees what happens and the Cenobites eventually re-enter the picture.

Hellraiser suffers from some fairly dull characters, primarily the lead of Kirsty. Laurence - who bears a strong resemblance to Julia Louis-Dreyfus - is fine in the role, but Kirsty lacks much definition. Frank and Claire have some apparent depth but this isn't really explored, so they remain somewhat shadowy.

Ultimately, these deficiencies don't really matter, as Barker explores the creepy subject matter with aplomb. The Cenobites were truly inspired creations. These Giger-esque terrors seem to exist just to torture. We get no backstory or exposition, and that's actually a positive, as it makes them scarier. They often appear nearly omnipotent, and they provide a genuinely horrific and moody aspect to the tale. Frankly, without the Cenobites, I don't think we'd still care about this film; they take the movie to another level.

Overall, Hellraiser offers a very satisfying horror tale. The film shows some flaws - the effects haven't aged well - but the story gets under your skin - literally! - and is much more unnerving and nightmarish than most in the genre. By the way, don't eat anything while you watch it; it's a pretty gruesome affair at times.

The DVD:

Hellraiser appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. I found the picture to look surprisingly terrific; it showed a few minor flaws but generally appeared top-notch.

Sharpness seemed excellent throughout the film; I saw virtually no instances of any soft or fuzzy images, and the entire picture was crisp and detailed. Moiré effects and jagged edges appeared absent, and I also detected very few artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws were absolutely minimal. I witnessed some very light grain in a few scenes - pretty much just those in the Middle Eastern bazaar - but couldn't find any examples of grit, speckles, scratches, hairs, tears or other defects; this was one clean picture.

Colors largely looked accurate and clean, with some rather rich reds leading the way. Black levels usually seemed deep and dense, although they occasionally came across as mildly bland and gray. The latter factor affected shadow detail at times; during most of the film I thought low-light scenes seemed clear and easily accessible, but a few were mildly hazy due to some slightly-weak blacks. Nonetheless, those complaints should be regarded as minor; overall I thought Hellraiser looked terrific.

Also surprisingly strong was the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of the film's original Dolby Surround soundtrack (which also appears on the DVD). The soundfield displayed some great separation and provided a pretty active environment. The front speakers used the side channels for a lot of directional effects, ambient sounds and music, all of which blended together well and seemed to provide a cleanly-integrated image. The surround contributed less information but they added some nice kick to the presentation with music and some (usually monaural) effects.

Audio quality seemed quite positive as well. Dialogue appeared slightly thin on one or two occasions, but it usually sounded natural and crisp, with no problems related to intelligibility. A few of the "magic box" noises came across as slightly distorted and edgy, but most effects appeared clear and fairly realistic and lacked interference. Music seemed clean and fairly dynamic, and the entire package contributed some reasonably effective bass at times. For a film from 1987, this soundtrack sounded very good.

Hellraiser includes a few supplements, starting with an audio commentary. This track features statements from writer/director Clive Barker and actress Ashley Laurence; it's "moderated" by Pete Atkins, writer of some Hellraiser sequels and longtime friend of Barker. Not surprisingly, Barker dominates the discussion as he talks about what he attempted to do with the film and also relates various technical aspects of making it. Laurence also offers her take on the movie, and Atkins helps move the proceedings along nicely, though Barker and Laurence seem to do well on their own. The three appear to gel with each other, and the commentary has a pleasantly relaxed tone about it. Overall, it's a solid track that should be interesting to fans of the film.

Next up is "Resurrection", a 24-minute and 20-second featurette about Hellraiser. It combines sound bites from a slew of subjects (Barker, actors Laurence, Doug Bradley, Simon Bamford, Nicholas Vince, and Oliver Smith, composer Christopher Young, special effects make-up artists Steve Johnson and Bob Keen, Cenobite costume designer Jane Wildgoose, apparently lame performance artists Puncture, and filmmaker Bill Condon) with film clips and some production shots. I found the program to be generally interesting and informative but rather superficial. You can do the math for yourself and see that with so many interviewees, the amount of onscreen time for any of them is extremely limited in this relatively short show. As such, "Resurrection" provides a fairly entertaining overview of Hellraiser but it lacks depth.

A few other extras round out the DVD. We get the film's original theatrical trailer plus a "Still Gallery". The latter includes 64 shots from the movie and the set plus some publicity pictures. It's not a great package but it merits a look.

Also available with Evil Dead II and some other Anchor Bay DVDs, Hellraiser includes the "THX Optimode" program to set up your TV. This provides you with information to correctly configure various audio and video aspects of your home theater. I don't think it fully replaces something like Video Essentials, but then again, "Optimode" comes as a free addition to a DVD, so it's clearly a bargain. If you haven't already used VE or some similar product, you should find "Optimode" very helpful.

Hellraiser isn't one of the greatest horror films ever made, but it holds up quite well after 13 years and it almost ranks among the genre's absolute best. The story is creepier and more insidious than most, and director Clive Barker provides a tale that really sinks into your subconscious after a while. The DVD offers very solid picture and sound plus a few quality extras. Horror fans could do much worse than Hellraiser, and it definitely merits a look.

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