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Image / 99 Minutes / 1988 / Unrated / Street Date: September 6, 2011
You know, I'm not really sure if I ever really "got" the Hellraiser movies. I love copious amounts of nudity, gratuitous gore and a little S&M action as much as the next guy (who can say no to a little spanky from time to time?) but the considerable pleasures and pains doled out in Hellraiser seem about as much fun as squatting on a steak knife. Hooks in your ass? Nails hammered into your skull? A dead ex-lover eating your tricks' flesh in the attic? Some people sure have a strange idea of how to party...
And to add more mystery to this bizarre connection of mine to the Hellraiser franchise, I think I actually prefer Hellraiser II to the original in many ways (the sequel was produced by Clive Barker, though he did not write or direct it.) In Barker's original, his mix of an oppressive, almost theatrical staging of familial drama contrasts badly with the more dank and otherworldly universe of the cenobites. Just when the film seems to be charting a more realistic, if still fantastical, horror odyssey it verges on sci-fi territory, with a fairly silly climax and poorly executed special effects deflating any palatable sense of earthbound suspense or horror.
Hellraiser II, on the other hand, spends much of its time in the Escher-esque galaxy of the Cenobites, and is perhaps all the better for it, even if it makes even less sense than the original. While I think the Hellraiser films are gory, disturbing and often beautiful, they aren't particularly scary, so the adventurous journey the second film attempts to take you on played far better for me than the more confined and claustrophobic path of the original.
Regardless, Barker realized a very original and personal vision, one that is rare in the horror genre (or mainstream cinema, for that matter.) These films are very well-produced and well-acted, and the scores by Christopher Young for both films are superior and still copied today. If the Hellraiser universe fails to always provide context for its bloody mayhem, you can't say it isn't unique.