31 Fright Nights: Halloween 2016, Night #10 – Hellraiser (1987)

Tagline: He’ll Tear Your Soul Apart

Director: Clive Barker

Writer(s): Clive Barker

Studio: Entertainment Film Distributors

Budget: $1m

Box Office: $14m

Release Date: 10th September, 1987

IMDb Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 63%

UK Blu Ray release? Yes


Ashley Lawrence – Kirsty Cotton

Clare Higgins – Julia Cotton

Sean Chapman – Frank Cotton

Andrew Robinson – Larry Cotton

Doug Bradley – Pinhead

Nicholas Vince – Chattering Cenobite

Simon Bamford – Butterball

Grace Kirby – Female Cenobite


Plot According to Google: Sexual deviant Frank inadvertently opens a portal to hell when he tinkers with a box he bought while abroad. The act unleashes gruesome beings called Cenobites, who tear Frank’s body apart. When Frank’s brother and his wife Julia move into Frank’s old house, they accidentally bring what is left of Frank back to life. Frank then convinces Julia, his one-time lover, to lure men back to the house so he can use their blood to reconstruct himself.

Inertia’s Insight: The debut film from horror/fantasy visionary Clive Barker is a gore-filled feature steeped in sexual suggestion, a blur between pleasure and pain that the leather-clad Cenobites offer. It’s a faithful adaptation of Barker’s own novella, The Hellbound Heart and for a film with a small budget, it achieves maximum effect.

A mysterious gold box – The Lament Configuration – is purchased by Frank Cotton, an explorer of pleasure and pain. Opening the box, he is drawn into the world of the ceonbites, disfigured beings of other worlds whose sole purpose is to bring torture and death to any that open the box. Frank is embedded with chains and his skin is torn from his body. From the opening segment, Barker does not hold back on the gore: Frank’s torn face is casually re-assembled by Pinhead, the lead Cenobite, as we see the full extent of what they have to offer.


A few months later, Frank’s brother Larry and his wife Julia move into Frank’s house, discovering the hovel that Frank was previously living in. Deciding to move in, they re-awaken Frank’s life after blood is spilled in the room where he died. In the lead up to this, it is revealed that Frank and Julia had an affair, with Frank’s deviant ways leading Julia into a new territory: a sexual awakening where sex isn’t making love but rather a physical, often violent experience. When Julia realises that blood has brought Frank to life and he pleads for more, she succumbs to his request. Luring men back to her home, she kills them as Frank consumes them, slowly making himself more human.

Meanwhile, Julia’s step-daughter and Frank’s niece Kirsty comes to stay. Already distrusting Julia and suffering from hallucinations and nightmares after discovering the box in the attic of Frank’s house, Kirsty discovers Julia’s indiscretions and whilst attempting to reveal them to her Father, she discovers the demons that can help her rid their world of Frank once and for all.


For a debut, Hellraiser is impressive. Sure, there are pitfalls that keep it in the three-star category: it lacks character development for Kirsty, the story itself needed to open up the relationship of Julia and Frank (though censorship from film boards did prevent this) and the Cenobites don’t quite get the screen time they deserve, the film delivers the suspense and horror you’d expect from the mind of Clive Barker. The film would go on to spawn a franchise with questionable entries: Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth continued to explore the world of the Cenobites and Lemarchand’s box, but further sequels tended to feature Pinhead in more of a Tales from the Crypt role of narrator and guider of the story as opposed to the central character. Still, as with many franchises, despite the capitalism of the idea, the original remains the best. Bloody and gory with impressive make-up and physical effects, Hellraiser delivers as a film with potential that crowned Barker as one of the many King’s of ’80’s horror.

Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * *


  • It took six hours to apply the proesthetic Cenobite make-up on Doug Bradley (Pinhead).
  • The film was originally meant to be called “The Hellbound Heart” after the novella, but studio executives said it sounded too much like a romantic comedy. Clive Barker suggested “Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave” and another crew member suggested “What a Woman Will Do for a Good Fuck.”
  • Hellraiser underwent several cuts as it was originally given an ‘X’ rating by the MPAA.


KIRSTY: Who are you?
PINHEAD: Explorers… in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, Angels to others.

FRANK COTTON: I thought I’d gone to the limits. I hadn’t. The Cenobites gave me an experience beyond limits… pain and pleasure, indivisible.

All images courtesy of Google

 Tomorrow: Night #11 – Saw (2004)


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