Barker's visions aren't quite at 100% in this film, but it's an admirable first feature and I was surprised by how little screen time the Cenobites actually have, especially considering their enduring popularity. There are some truly inspired visuals, particularly the scenes leading into the Cenobites appearance, the lights traveling up the walls, the mist drifting in, it's all very atmospheric.
Remember, whatever you do, do not watch any sequels.
Not that I'm primed to call Clive Barker, the mastermind behind the ins-and-outs of the unpleasant "Hellraiser," disturbed per se - that'd be insulting to his quote unquote array of talents. What I'd prefer to call him is a faux horror maestro with a bad habit of believing that horror and gore are synonymous. He presents his images of bodily destruction and moral incineration not with a side dish of dread nor with a sprinkling of tension but with flat detachment. Like the more grotesque works to come out of David Cronenberg's oeuvre, with images of "Videodrome" and "Dead Ringers" coming to mind, we leave "Hellraiser" feeling uncomfortable, dirty. This is an ugly film, devoid of emotion and human decency.
Its special effects are magnificent, all convincing gobbledegook that make the right impressions. But aside from the proficiency of the art department, the film makes for a brutal experience, able to inspire depressed winces and blatant misery but not much else. How could it rouse anything else, anyway, if the movie follows an unhappily married woman's (Clare Higgins) sinful quest to complete the reincarnation of her undead lover (Sean Chapman) by killing innocents?
There is more to the story, I suppose. That said undead lover got himself killed in the first place by purchasing an exotic puzzle box able to transport him into the underworld (which eventually becomes a major plot device), and that said unhappily married woman is currently married to her deceased boyfriend's brother (Andrew Robinson). But I'd rather not get into the details of "Hellraiser" because it'd do nothing besides force me to relive the torment I experienced during viewing.
Unlike the thrill-seeking zeitgeist of most horror movies, the film flops around in a puddle of dejection and carnage, never to do anything besides arouse disgust. "Hellraiser" has ample opportunity to be something more than a dour mood piece - it could have fun with the introduction of its side antagonists, the Cenobites (a legendary bunch led by the instantaneously recognizable Pinhead), and it could use its gore as an exaggerative measure to complement the eccentric nightmarishness of its central conflict. But Barker seems to prefer static suffering to persuasive emotional manipulation, which might be fine for him and for the not-so faint of heart but not so much for anyone who craves pulse pounding fear in their horror movies.
Because this is a behemoth of evil targeting the gag reflex more than the mind and the heart, I'm more inclined to recommend staying clear of its callous ways. Its protagonists are thinly sketched, its antagonists one-note in their maleficence. But if flesh ripping and blood spewing and concepts of never-ending trauma is up your alley, "Hellraiser" is more than likely a movie worth seeing. That just doesn't mean I have to like it for everything it somehow manages to do right.