Clive Barker has an amazingly depraved imagination. You only need to read some of his more well known literary works, such as Cabal, or The Books of Blood to realise this. And from this incredibly fertile and deviate mind sprang forth one of horror cinemas most terrifying, erotic, deviant, and brutal franchises: Hellraiser. And Arrow Video has decided to celebrate the best of the franchise with this excellent box set featuring “Hellraiser”, “Hellbound: Hellraiser II”, and Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth” (this set is a cost reduced version of the luxurious “Scarlet Box” edition which featured art cards and a book alongside the films).
So, lets try to do this in some semblance of order…
Hellraiser is the story of Kirsty, a young woman who moves into a dilapidated old house with her mother and father, unaware that her uncle was killed by mysterious forces after messing about with the Lament Configuration. The Lament Configuration is a puzzle box that opens up a gateway to hell, where all the most depraved pleasures may be found for those who wish them. It also calls forth the Cenobites, Hells warders. Kirsty must summon forth the Cenobites herself to have them return her resurrected uncle and her mother to hell after they murder her father and a number of others.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II:
After the events of the first film, Kirsty finds herself contained in the Channard Institute, a hospital that specialises in the mentally disturbed. Sadly for her, the Hospitals chief Doctor is aware of the Lament Configuration and means to use her to reopen it for himself. Again, Kirsty must face the Cenobites, only this time she must enter Hell itself and face Leviathan, their leader, itself. Only then can she be free of the Cenobites and their attentions.
Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth:
At the end of the previous film, the Cenobites were trapped in a pillar of torment, seemingly forever. The pillar ends up in the hands of seedy nightclub owner JP Monroe, who is manipulated into freeing the Cenobites from their imprisonment so that they may claim the Earth as their own. Only investigative Journalist Joey Summerskill is aware of what is happening, and must find a way to return the Cenobites to hell once and for all.
Now, those brief descriptions above describe the films plots in the most basic way possible. To delve any deeper would be too spoilery by far, and for those who have never seen them, I don’t want to spoil any surprises. Suffice to say, these films have enough meat on their bones to keep you hooked (pardon the pun).
Now, the Hellraiser films birthed one of the most iconic figures in horror cinema, that being lead the Cenobite known as Pinhead. As these 3 films progress, his role in the films becomes ever more prominent, as audiences latched onto him ever more strongly. (Incidentally, I had the opportunity to meet the wonderful Doug Bradley a few years ago at a comic book fair in Manchester. He couldn’t be more removed from Pinhead if he tried. Such a nice man) The focus of the films initially was supposed to be the Lament Configuration, and how it linked the ultimate in pleasures of the flesh with pain (a recurrent theme in Barkers work). Anyway, by the time we get to Hellraiser III, Pinhead is truly the star of the show, and gets to spread his wings and be truly “evil” for the sake of being “evil”, whilst still being both terrifying and both human and inhuman at the same time.
Now, Arrow have done a spectacular job with this box set, so lets start with the technical stuff: All 3 films have been fully restored in brand new 2k transfers. Now, while each film is stylishly shot, and has stunning production design, the 2k resolution does show up the clearly low budget nature of the first 2 installments. Both films suffer from grain, although not to a distracting level. But they look by far the best they have ever looked in their lives. Compared to the VHS transfers I saw as a youth, it is night and day. Interestingly, audio wise, only the first 2 films have 5.1 audio tracks, with part 3 being limited to a 2.0 stereo track only.
Now, the extras… whew, where to begin…
Each film has a bunch of “archive” material including the original EPKs, and some vintage featurettes and interviews. The centrepiece however is a fresh cut of the mammoth documentary on parts 1 & 2, “Leviathan”. This is truly epic, featuring all new interviews from many of the lead contributors to the films, with the glaring exception of Clive Barker himself. Although you don’t necessarily miss his insight as many of the people who worked on the films knew/know him personally so they have a pretty good handle on his thoughts on the films both at the time and now. I personally would rank “Leviathan” right up there with “Crystal Lake Memories” as one of the truly definitive making of documentaries. Part 3 has its own 30 minute documentary entitled “Hell on Earth”, which seems to be made up of material relating to the 3rd film shot during the interviews for Leviathan. Each film also features commentary tracks (2 for each film), as well as trailers, image galleries, and the scripts as BD Rom content. Hellraiser III also features an alternate cut of the film, which runs some 4 minutes longer than the regular cut and is referred to as the “Unrated cut”. The discs also feature Arrows now traditional reversible artwork sleeves, with you able to choose between the original artwork, or the newly commissioned art by Gilles Vranckx. The slipcase is also stunning and surprisingly sturdy.
All told, this is an epic and expansive box set, and if you are insanely lucky (as I was), you can pick it up for under £25 in Fopp/HMV. I truly consider this to be an essential purchase for all horror fans, even more so if you are an aficionado of Barkers works.
5/5 Fiends. Essential.
Gallery (click to enlarge)