Notes from ningyo editions studio and gallery

Lobby Card #7: Hellraiser

david curcio

Lobby Card: Hellraiser (drypoint and woodcut with colored pencil and embroidered edges)

Hellraiser may be the culmination of the “dissolution of the nuclear family” genre of horror films that dominated the 1980s. Spurred by developing class divisions, soaring divorce rates and reports of domestic abuse, and the fear that the picket fences and urban sprawl we surrounded and protected ourselves with in the 50s and 60s had become our prisons and our hells, we came to fear that the danger we always hid from in fact lurks at home (e.g. “The call is coming from inside the house!”) This strain of the genre was arguably started by Wes Craven and came to fruition in stellar 80s horror classics like The Stepfather, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and even the campy Mommie Dearest Craven’s early films about families in peril  turning to murderous revenge  (The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes) crystallized in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, in which the children are tormented by a malevolent father figure (Freddy Kruger) as their own parents remain uncommunicative and secretive.  Total family discord was finally, firmly underway.  Along with the above-mentioned films, there were other weaker but nonetheless telling examples  (check out the suck-ass Amityville sequels) to confirm this. The list of suburban family horror goes on and on, for what can be scarier than an inability to trust one’s own flesh and blood?  Then came Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, wherein a father and his daughter Kirsty are torn apart by a treacherous, soon-to-be-demonic stepmother and dad’s brother, Uncle Frank.  Throw in an an evil puzzle box and necromancing, inter-dimentional demons to make matters worse for Kirsty, the inevitable hero of the tale (and note the somewhat boyish name, a common devise in the subtle gender-bending of 80s horror), and even worse for her father.

Clare Higgins as Julia

Clare Higgins as The Wicked Stepmother Julia

Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), her gentle father and his new bride Julia (the wickedest of stepmothers) move into a house to start their life together.  Alas, it is not long before Kirsty’s uncle Frank shows up as a decomposed corpse – reanimated from under the floorboards by a little bit of blood – to rekindle his already-sordid affair with Julia. (Let’s pause to make out first and most important leap of faith right here: that the detritus of a body’s remains can be coaxed back together with fresh blood.) Julia proves her love by bringing Frank fresh bodies so he may rebuild his strength, unaware that he is a fugitive on the run from the above-mentioned Cenobites lead by the growling, imperious, always impeccably-dressed Pinhead, who remains the most iconic of the film’s imagery. (Incidentally, nowhere in the film is he actually referred to as Pinhead, just like no mention of the name Leatherface is made in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. The we impose comical, somewhat insulting names upon terrifying horror villains might be the subject of another essay.) Initially, Mr. Pinhead was written as a peripheral character but the silly tatooed, body-piercing fanboys and girls wanted more of him, so the sequels abound (Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 being the only one of the lot worth its salt, in many ways rivaling the original, and a special shout-out to the dark, epic the score by Christopher Young).
Gore ensues in ways that surpassed anything that had been seen before: the blood is a true blood-red (not the children’s red tempera paint of Romero’s zombie films), bodies are skinned with graphic realism and, in the ultimate familial/Freudian-Electra nightmare, a glistening red, 90% resurrected Uncle Frank uses Daddy’s skin to deceive his niece/daughter while re-consummating his affair with Julia, with the added hope of getting a little action from his niece.
Andrew Robinson - before losing his skin to Brother Frank.

Andrew Robinson in his best performances since his debut as the killer Scorpio in Dirty Harry.

The film has a unique, undeniably pervasive dread running throughout: the brooding score; muted colors;  nervous, evil smiles; Kirsty’s  fear and confusion played out upon her features; the claustrophobia of the (large)  house and the threat of skin-tearing violence lurking around every corner.  It should go without saying that Hellraiser is not for everyone.
Pinhead and his merry band of Cenobites.

From left to right: Emilio Estevez, James Spader, Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy.


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