Reprehensible to some, liberating to others
Blu-ray ReviewMystical Rubik's Cube, the Lament Configuration, falls into the depraved hands of the ultimate dirty-thrill-seeker, Sean Chapman's grubby Frank, and, once solved, it opens up the gateway to a dimension of pain and pleasure that has the sorry side-effect of tearing him - and his soul - apart. When his brother, Larry (Andy Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) move back into the family home, Frank's cesspool remains are somehow reactivated when his sibling's blood hits the spot upon which he was once shredded by the Cenobites, the terrifying custodians of the puzzle-box. Brought back to ghastly, fleshless life, he enlists the aid of his lover, the duplicitous Julia, to bring victims back to the house so that he can take their skin and assume his old roguish self again. But, with the intervention of Larry's teenage daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), and more puzzle-box tomfoolery, the Cenobites discover that they have been tricked and that Frank has escaped from Hell ... and that is hardly something that they can just sweep under the Devil's carpet. Thus, mixing elements of diabolism, stalk 'n' slash, mythology, S&M and soap-opera, Clive Barker creates a delightfully nauseating view of the modern family turned horrifically dysfunctional. He crams so many ideas and visual vignettes into the film's ninety-minutes that you tend to forget that it takes place almost entirely within the confines of London suburban house. As a revitalising shot in the arm for a genre that, at the time, was suffering from severe sequelitus and a woeful lack of originality - save for Sam Raimi, Wes Craven (whose A Nightmare On Elm Street was virtually the American equivalent of Hellraiser in many ways) and, in those days, anyway, Re-Animator's Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna - Hellraiser certainly raised hell.
Blu-ray Picture QualityAnchor Bay's 1080p incarnation of Hellraiser is certainly an appreciable notch or two above the SD disc, meaning that this is a visual presentation of the film that no fan should forego.
With its original 1.85:1 image transferred to hi-def via MPEG-4, Hellraiser retains its initial theatrical softness and largely eschews three-dimensional depth in favour of more detail, deeper blacks, stronger colours and a more robust overall appearance. With no DNR taking the edge off things, the film's grain structure looks intact and without any demonic edge enhancement, the picture looks smooth and pleasantly film-like. Colours have veered all over the show on previous versions, but this Blu-ray transfer presents a warmer, more saturated expression of primaries and a more arresting palette right across the board. Blood and gooey stuff is naturally overt and bold, with all manner of shades and hues blending together at times, such as when Frank is reborn from a puddle of icky sludge. Clothing is also stronger in terms of colour - just look at Steve's incredibly naff shirt towards the end and that melted-orange blouse that Julia wears during her victim-gathering spree. Conversely, there is a greater distinction to the spectral blues that provide both highlights and shade to the, otherwise, ghastly pale visages of Pinhead and the Female Cenobite. Also, it has to be said that the once-terribly artificial light-beads and laser-orbs of the Lament Configuration now possess a cleaner, brisker and much-less tacked-on appearance. Although still highly primitive optical effects, they do, ironically, look much better in 1080p than they ever did before. Certain shots look incredibly attractive - such as the vibrant and sharp image of Frank stood in the doorway during his flashback first meeting with Julia and some of the intensely whitened portrait-shots of Pinhead.
For the majority of the film blacks look just fine. They are deeper and fuller than previous home video versions have allowed them to be and they also cater for some once-overlooked details within the shadows to be seen. Granted, more detailed imagery of skirting-boards and slats, impaled rats and wood-grain may not sound all that appealing, but it does go to show you that the transfer has had some thought and attention paid to it. However, I did feel that the blacks, mostly substantial and stable, do lessen in their integrity towards the end of the film, almost as though the dust and that eerie silvery-light of the Cenobites has finally permeated them. Contrast is certainly very reasonable, with the light and shade dealt out with consistency and accuracy. For a film that depends on such visual juxtaposition as Pinhead's pale face hovering above his black fetishist gear, blood on white skin and supernatural light filtering through inky shadows, the transfer does very well to maintain the balance.
Detail in the image is very good for close-ups. Just look at the sliced rat, the tendrils of ripped flesh hanging off Frank's/Larry's face, the maggot sea oozing from a mangled mouth, the grubby fingernails on the box's potential buyers, the hideously wired maw on Chatterer and the patterns on the Lament Configuration, itself, to see better delineation, improved clarity and more convincing levels of texture and shade. It's not a spectacular difference, I hasten to add, but it is a very rewarding one. However, things don't fare so much better in the background, where the image can become a little cloudier and softer.
With everything taken into consideration, Hellraiser looks quite impressive on Blu-ray and I certainly can't imagine the fans feeling let down by it.
Blu-ray Sound QualityWell, now ... as many readers will already know, I have terrific prejudice against the bogus surround tracks that Blue Underground regularly adorn their releases with. But, of course, the past masters of such audio buffoonery were usually Anchor Bay. Despite some reasonable audio transfers for the likes of Dawn Of The Dead, Halloween and Suspiria, these people are responsible for the dire and utterly ridiculous surround packages for the likes of The Beast Must Die, The Hills Have Eyes and Dr. Terror's House Of Horrors. They have even attempted DTS and DD 5.1 makeovers for Hellraiser before now.
Anyway, let us concern ourselves with what this lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track has to offer. Whilst the film was only ever supposed to be heard in stereo, this revamped track actually doesn't do the film any harm at all. To be fair ... I quite enjoyed it. A mistake is not including the original audio track, of course, but this extended channel package won't cause much ill-feeling either, since it doesn't that mistake that Anchor Bay made so often in the past of sounding obviously artificial.
The bad points first.
Dialogue is betrayed by a considerably less than stellar placement within the mix. Voices often sound a little too dislocated from their speakers and they are definitely dropped lower in volume than they should be. Christopher Young's fabulous score is not given the best presentation, either, which is a huge shame. Considering the opportunity that the mixers of this re-jigged audio transfer had to spread his vast orchestral grandeur around the set-up, the music feels as though it has a lid on it all too often. The really big moments of symphonic exuberance have a noticeable lack of freedom and sound too, well, restrained. But there is no age-related damage or evidence of poor signal stretching or processing.
The lossless 5.1 track does, however, succeed in the quintessential horror staple of providing an atmosphere of tangible menace, unpredictability and outright shock value. Various stingers are presented with power and forceful directionality and I can confirm that I did, indeed, jump during a couple of the earliest “out-of-the-blue's”, despite knowing the film like the back of my hand and totally expecting their arrival. The sound of the trains is very well accomplished - the first (visually seen) rushes past us front left to right with vigour, the second (unseen, but heard) rumbles somewhere behind and below us, perfectly amplifying the on-screen situation. The strange creaks and groans as the Cenobites makes their entrances, as well as the various chain, hook and twirling torture-rack effects, all have definite presence and clarity and some effort has been made to deliver positioning within the soundfield and, although this is not always entirely successful, it still sounds good enough to me to set the hairs on the back of my neck bristling. In terms of the sub coming into play, there are some small amounts of deep bass, but the depth of the audio is effectively carried right across the front and certainly sounds strong enough to bolster the movie from time to time. Various effects - some horrible flesh-guzzling as Frank scoffs new viscera, the metallic scything of hooks and spikes, the snapping of the tunnel-scorpion and the birthing howl of new Frank, as well as assorted skin-puncturing - have a more specific and cleaner presentation than before, but I would have liked more impact from the hammer-blows and the final body-shredding explosion.
But that's just me.
As with the visual aspect of this release, Hellraiser's new lossless Truehd track enhances what was already there and provides a little more demonic presence for the rears to cope with, bringing forth an acoustic experience that, whilst not spectacular, is actually quite worthwhile.
A strong 7 out of 10.
Blu-ray ExtrasAnchor Bay kits out Hellraiser with a decent set of extras that may well be familiar to those of you who have collected earlier versions of the film on disc.
First up is the commentary from Clive Barker and Ashley Laurence and moderated by Barker's friend, fellow filmmaker, Pete Atkins who scribed Hellbound and Hell On Earth. Fairly comprehensive in terms of production genesis, taboo-breaking and visual extremes, this is certainly good stuff and offers plenty of background ad anecdote. Barker acknowledges the importance of this movie to his status and to the genre as a whole, but there is the impression that this is a story that he ultimately lost control and possession of throughout the franchise's run. Still good fun to listen to and full of casting and concept trivia, this is not as bitter or as passionate a listening experience as we know Barker can deliver.
This commentary is complimented by a BD exclusive pop-up Fast Film Facts track that offers many and highlights many of the points raised in the chat-track.
Mr. Cotton, I Presume? - An Interview With Andrew Robinson is exactly how it sounds. The frank and often cutting session with the character actor lasts for 16 mins and contains some relevant clips and stills from this film and also from Dirty Harry, which Robinson is justly proud to have on his CV. Forthright and strongly opinionated, he comes across well and offers some worthwhile insight.
Ashley Laurence gets similar treatment in her 11-minute interview in Actress From Hell. Once you get past her bogus airhead-actress shtick during the first couple of minutes, you will find, as the commentary track also revealed, that she is an articulate, thoughtful and considered person who is open and honest about her time with the Cenobites and in the company of Clive Barker. She talks of the shoot and how gruelling some sequences were, of being in England and how she was contractually obliged for sequels. Having possibly taken a cue from Barker, Laurence even paints her own wildly bizarre pictures and we get to see a couple of these towards the end of the featurette. Still very attractive and delightfully articulate.
Thankfully, score composer Christopher Young does not get forgotten. With his own 18-minute interview, entitled Hellcomposer, he gets to talk about how he became involved with Clive Barker and what ideas helped him conceive of such an unfashionably and unashamedly old school symphonic approach to the material. Enthusiastic and slightly prone to rambling, I could still listen to this guy all day. As a massive lover of film scores (which regular readers will already know) I particularly enjoy the way he describes the actual music, how it comes together and effect that he was striving for. Young also tells us how he became fascinated with movie scores at an early age, even going into detail about the famous Bernard Herrmann fantasy-score compilation that kick-started the whole thing. He even goes on to briefly discuss his score for Hellbound: Hellraiser II which I believe actually has the superior music, the main themes from the first film revisited and then evolved alongside some tremendous new material. An interesting featurette, folks, that takes a look at one of Hellraiser's most vital ingredients.
The little retrospective feature, entitled Hellraiser: Resurrection and running for 24 mins, is actually very good value. A lot of the usual suspects appear, usually sitting in front of Hellraiser-inspired décor and/or masks and props from the film, and we hear whiplash memories and anecdotes about their time involved in the making of the film. Barker and Laurence recall the early days, whilst Keen and Bradley discuss the design and impact of Pinhead. But what is worthwhile hearing are the humorous recollections from Bamford, Vince and Smith - Butterball, Chatterer and Monster-Frank, respectively - as they regale us with tales of being consumed by latex and prosthetic appliances for terrifying lengths of time.
Under The Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser gives the man beneath the make-up the opportunity to nail his most famous character for us. Lasting for 12 mins, this is good stuff but the kind of thing that the fans already know about all too well. He discusses the experience of the latex, the iconography and the stature of the character and the impact that he has had. Clearly proud of his creation, or his part in it, I should say, Bradley is a likeable guy and his recollections are certainly rewarding.
Then we have three Theatrical Trailers and four TV Spots for the film, as well as DVD-ROM files of the First Draft Screenplay and the Final Draft Screenplay to help us see how the story evolved. Well, I mention these Screenplay Files because they are listed on the package, but I have not come across them on the disc menu at all.
There is also a Stills Gallery section that is more immediately engrossing. We have four to look at - Behind The Scenes, Make-up and Effects, Posters and Advertising and Storyboards.
This disc is also BD-Live enabled, although I don't know what material is available on-line as yet.
This is a perfectly respectable selection of extras that covers most bases. There is little here that hasn't been seen before, but this is still a fairly comprehensive and enjoyable sojourn into the taboo-breaking limbo-land at the heart of the film's darkness.
Blu-ray VerdictRemarkably assured and, yet, understandably uneven in equal measure, Hellraiser is an open wound of a movie - raw, visceral and dangerous, but impossible to look away from. It's dangers hit home on many fronts - the familial, the emotional, the shockingly physical and the profoundly theological. In fact, there are so many wondrous and intimidating ideas abounding in Barker's fertile cinematic debut that the film runs the risk of becoming the high-brow equivalent of a slaughterhouse - its art-house methodology melding perfectly with its Grand Guignol passion to form something reprehensible to some, liberating to others. But there is more at work here than mere murder and mutilation and it is great to see that the film has stood the test of time in both its theme and visual artistry.
Finally summoned to Blu-ray, the film gets a respectable 1080p transfer and also does well with its new lossless audio quality. The extras are a familiar bunch, but no less welcome for it. One of Anchor Bay's most cherished possessions, alongside The Evil Dead, Hellraiser couldn't even come to hi-def in one definitive edition - there's also a Lament Configuration boxset that contains SD versions of both Hellraiser's 20th Anniversary Edition and Hellbound: Hellraiser II, as well. Just why Hellbound wasn't released on BD as well is beyond me - the two would have made a tremendous package. But, as it stands, this edition is well-intentioned and highly respectful of the source. One of the most influential horror movies since the seventies, Clive Barker's twisted love story is sensual, shocking and supremely original.
An upgrade worth making, folks, without having to sell your soul first.
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