Hellraiser Scarlet Box Blu-ray Review
Exhaustingly demonic slice of extreme entertainment
The Scarlet box ... you opened it. We cameAlthough the law of diminishing returns certainly applies to the series, the Hellraiser franchise remains an indelible signature on the rich tapestry of Horror Cinema. Creating such an icon in the eerily captivating vision of lead Cenobite, Pinhead, Clive Barker was savvy enough to embellish his rhapsodic demon with wit, diction and class, enabling this trans-dimensional explorer in the outer realms of experience to become an altogether more mature and intelligent sort of bogeyman than the ten-a-penny psycho riffs on Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees. Touching upon religion and sexual taboo, his initial Hellraiser was treated to the kind of critical praise that horror movies don’t usually aspire to. That it continues to enthral, to spellbind and to resonate is testament to the conviction with which it was made.Barker and his cast treat the subject of lust from beyond the grave with seriousness and passion, keeping momentum with an acute sense of utter dread and revulsion, brilliantly blending the traditional house of horrors with the tantalising possibility of worlds beyond, raw viscera with the esoteric nature of spiritual existence. Naturally, this modern gothic nightmare would inspire a sequel, and although Barker would not write or direct Hellbound: Hellraiser II his unique imagery and penchant for perversity would course through its veins with just as much integrity and intensity. Fans debate which is the better entry but, for me, the first film is an unparalleled classic whilst the second is a brave but flawed continuation on a winning theme. The third film stinks.
Picture QualityBotch these transfers again ... and your suffering will be legendary ... even in Hell!
The first two Hellraiser films have already surfaced on Blu-ray. I reviewed them both many moons ago ... and although I have not referred back to those discs with a view to comparing the transfers, I can quite categorically cite that these new 2K restorations blow the old ones away. The transfer for the first film was adequate from what I recall, but Hellbound was certainly appalling. I definitely remember that.
Well, that travesty has been well and truly rectified and the two classic first instalments now look tremendous, once one has accepted the grit, grain and softness as being part and parcel and not expected too much from 2K transfers of such low-budget material.
All three films appear 1.85:1 and have been encoded via AVC. For the record, they do not exhibit any artificial sharpening or noise reduction. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth can be viewed in both its theatrical and unrated cuts. If you elect the unrated version, the extended scenes have been culled from a 1.33:1 laserdisc edition because the 35mm elements could not be traced for the purpose of this restoration. The result is a considerable downturn in video quality for these scenes.
Hellraiser and Hellbound both carry the same visual aesthetic and boast transfers that are very similar in appearance. Grain is ever-present and, to my eyes, natural looking, organic and textured. Whilst you can’t really describe the pictures as being “clean”, they are robust, consistent and without damage or overt wear and tear. And, whilst you cannot use the word “crisp” to describe them either, both look intrinsically film-like and betray no sign of digital molestation, making them very fine and rich viewing experiences. The grain can look coarser in certain shots – most notably when Pinhead’s human incarnation first experiments with the Lament Configuration in Hellbound – but this is true to the source and only serves to promote an innately cinematic quality. Although I haven’t them splashed through a projector, I have watched them on both 50” and 65” screens, and can testify that the rawness and gritty veneer of their deliberately lurid and yet grotty visual splendour only draws you in all the more the bigger the viewing platform you see them on.
Though still ostensibly flat, the transfers enable the imagery to come alive in a way that has not been permitted before on any of the films’ many previous home video incarnations. Suddenly, things like Frank’s rebirth from floorboard sludge and the banging of the nails into Pinhead’s fresh noggin take on a degree of depth that has previously been denied them. Dimensionality has never been at a premium with these now vintage movies and yet there is a sense of vividness achieved here that can’t fail to impress. Views around the house in the first film and throughout the labyrinth in the second are appreciably enhanced this time around as a direct result.
The colours are proudly rendered throughout the often slightly hazy and always grain-stippled frame. Primaries look superb – fat, decadent and rich, though never over-saturated or gaudy. For films that are so dripping with viscera and possibly the moistest productions this side of hardcore porn, this is no mean feat. Skinless bodies shine and gleam, but they do so with a realistic subtlety instead of a garish Pixar boost. Skin-tones are a little more variable, but this is precisely how they have always been. Blood is beautifully observed throughout – dark and thick. Seen against the hospital wall in Hellbound it stands out with icky mastery.
Unbelievably, the crude visual FX of the supernatural lights that issue forth from the box also look better. They are brighter, sharper and, best of all, better integrated into the film. Or, at least, that is how they appear to me. Where once they were devoutly comic-book and utterly unrealistic, they now give a better impression of fluidity and have much more of a tangible presence.
Detail is given a rewarding push too. Skewered rats and wire-sliced faces. Gloopy body-stew and raw, skinless visages. Aye, the nasty stuff is now more keenly rendered and benefits from increased resolution. But then the more mundane things like the diagrams and writing in journals, the hair, eyelashes and makeup (particularly on the man-baiting Julia), and, best of all, the puzzle-box, itself, are revealed with greater precision. Naturally, there are many softer shots and background definition is never too grand, but, both movies now yield so much more for scrutiny. Especially Hellbound, of course, because its previous BD was so wretched. The opticals can still look ropey, but no amount of restorative work is going to change that.
While black levels provide ample shadow definition and a firm depiction of depth to many of the more nightmarish set-pieces, they can still be compromised, now and again, by faded elements. Contrast, too, can fluctuate. But I only found this to be noticeable in the second film, though never to distraction. The spectral blue/white lighting that signifies the arrival of the Cenobites look terrific, as do the intense reverse negative shots in Hellbound.
All things considered, these two movies look spectacular.
All have been treated with the utmost respect ... and look fantastic.
Now, by contrast to the aforementioned classic first couplet, Hell on Earth, for my money, is the least visually appealing offering here.
With a different DOP, it has an altogether more generic 80’s appearance that separates it from its predecessors. It is lurid and colourful, yes, but this element is compromised by much flatter photography, a more cluttered frame and generally less-involving visual direction. The transfer, itself, makes no errors, but the film just doesn’t look anywhere near as exciting or immersive. Shot like a TV movie, there is no real flair to be found in the aesthetic. So, whilst the transfer is strong and consistent, except for those alternate unrated sequences, it can only do so much with imagery that is considerably less striking and art direction that is bland and soulless.
Grain is present and, again, very natural and finely resolved. Digital tomfoolery does not rear its ugly head. Black levels are generally pleasing, with a good amount of information retained in the shadows, but I didn’t find them to be as tested as they are in the first two films. This is just a brighter, more spangly production.
Detail is very good, but this comes with a caveat. For instance we can now easily see inconsistencies in Pinhead’s makeup. Not the nails, but the skin-colour and texture. And his head sticking out of the pillar, which is just too comical to take seriously, looks even sillier in hi-def! Close-ups definitely have finer detail to promote and we can also see much of the background revellers and artefacts in the club with more clarity and distinction. Fans of the film will certainly appreciate the work that has gone into this entry.
Kudos to Arrow for another terrific set of transfers. These are testing films – low budget 80s horror pictures don’t usually fare too well in the video stakes. But whilst Hell on Earth conforms to the typical American gloss of the period, the first two are redolent, shadow-drenched and artfully shot. All, however, have been treated with the utmost respect ... and look fantastic.
Sound QualityIt’s just a Blu-ray boxset!
No. It is a means to summon us.
Perhaps the least impressive elements for the three movies are to be found in the audio department.
All three feature lossless presentations of their original stereo soundtracks, while the first two also receive DTS-HD MA 5.1 remixes as well. While the first and third films suffer from some obvious sync issues resulting from the amount of ADR they feature, all three stereo tracks sound as good as you could hope for, disgorging the sonorous tone of Pinhead's voice perfectly, not to mention Christopher Young's unforgettably operatic scores for the first two films.
Although I stuck with the two 5.1 remixes, I found them to be largely underwhelming experiences, which may come across as damning but, in the context of immersive surround design, you would be pretty foolish to anticipate whip-around sonic thrills. There really isn’t much to speak of, occasional noises filter around the environment, but nothing in this design will creep behind you and startle the hairs on the back of your neck. However, there are still exciting and bombastic tracks that take the stereo source and provide it with an extra kick. What you get are punchy effects, two amazing musical scores given width and power and a fairly wide and deep frontal assault. Which can’t be bad, can it?
This is still the best that I have heard them sound
Both films are heavy with Christopher Young’s music and, thankfully, his orchestra really shines. The depth of the bass and percussion is terrific, and the brass surges smoothly and with vigour. The strings are allowed to soar and maintain clarity and distinction. The piano notes are keenly presented, and the eerie chimes are pinpointed nicely within the soundscape. And, obviously, the great sonorous wallops of infernal Cenobite arrival ram the system with jarring devilry. Thus, musically, these tracks are really up to the challenge.
Dialogue is clean and clear throughout the three, although the ADR is quite evident in the first and third films. Bass levels are decent and add a small degree of heft to the house destruction in the first instalment and the frequent hellish clanging that abounds in both that and the second. Skin-slicing and flesh ripping is agreeably squelchy. The rattling of chains is also nicely observed with subtlety and nuance within the effect.
All of this pretty much applies to the third film, as well. However, we do not have quite the same level of majesty or intensity in the musical score from Randy Miller. He bravely attempts to interpret the immense themes that Young crafted and to put his own stamp on things. It is a good score, but it doesn’t hit those mighty highs and attain such a thunderous cacophony.
The third film does boast some audio pyrotechnics though. We have gunfire, explosions and helicopters. These effects are certainly handled well enough though, overall, I felt this experience to be flatter and more restrained.
You must remember that these are now old sound-mixes and, despite the bombastic orchestral scores that ably dominate the proceedings, their designs were never particularly inventive. This is still the best that I have heard them sound.
All round, the set gets a 7 out of 10 for its audio delivery.
ExtrasWe have such sights to show you ...
This is just excellent stuff from Arrow. All the goodies you know and love from previous editions, with juicy additions. There is a marked absence of Clive Barker in the documentaries, but this is a Cenobite’s dream of a package, overall.
The commentaries are great, and the features are often frank, candid and revealing, as well as downright entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the little feature on the unused score from the band Coil. Although I have always adored Christopher Young’s music (I have practically all of his scores in my collection), I have to say that Coil’s offerings are also tremendously good and would possibly have suited the film with the same level of eeriness and dark edginess, albeit sans the wild operatic grandeur.
The “legendary” Surgeon Scene from Hellbound is, to be honest, a huge letdown. Don’t go expecting anything revelatory or gory. It was justifiably jettisoned.
It is also nice to hear to some honest opinions about Hell on Earth from the people involved in its production, and those who were, ahem, left out of the deal.
DISC 1 – HELLRAISER
- Brand new 2K restoration approved by director of photography Robin Vidgeon
- Audio commentary with writer/director Clive Barker
- Audio commentary with Barker and actress Ashley Laurence
- Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser – brand new version of the definitive documentary on the making of Hellraiser, featuring interviews with key cast and crew members.
- Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser – actor Sean Chapman talks candidly about playing the character of Frank Cotton in Barker’s original
- Soundtrack Hell: The Story of the Abandoned Coil Score – Coil member Stephen Thrower on the Hellraiser score that almost was
- Hellraiser: Resurrection – vintage featurette including interviews with Clive Barker, actors Doug Bradley and Ashley Laurence, special make-up effects artist Bob Keen and others
- Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser
- Original EPK featuring on-set interviews with cast and crew
- Draft Screenplays [BD-ROM content]
- Trailers and TV Spots
- Image Gallery
- Brand new 2K restoration approved by director of photography Robin Vidgeon
- Audio Commentary with director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins
- Audio Commentary with Randel, Atkins and actress Ashley Laurence
- Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II – brand new version of the definitive documentary on the making of Hellbound, featuring interviews with key cast and crew members
- Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound – actor Sean Chapman talks about reprising the role of Frank Cotton in the first Hellraiser sequel
- Surgeon Scene – the home video world premiere of this legendary, never before-seen excised sequence from Hellbound, sourced from a VHS workprint
- Lost in the Labyrinth – vintage featurette including interviews with Barker, Randel, Keen, Atkins and others
- Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound: Hellraiser II
- On-set interview with Clive Barker
- On-set interviews with cast and crew
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage
- Rare and unseen storyboards
- Draft Screenplay [BD-ROM content]
- Trailers and TV Spots
- Image Gallery
- Brand new 2K restoration of the Original Theatrical Version [93 mins]
- Alternate Unrated Version [97 mins]
- Brand new audio commentary with writer Peter Atkins
- Audio commentary with director Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley
- Hell on Earth: The Story of Hellraiser III – making-of documentary featuring interviews with Atkins, Keen and actor Ken Carpenter
- Terri’s Tales – brand new interview with actress Paula Marshall
- Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
- Raising Hell on Earth – archival interview with Hickox
- On-set interviews with Barker and Bradley
- Never-before-seen Hellraiser III SFX dailies
- Theatrical Trailer
- Image Gallery
- Hellraiser III comic book adaptation [Disc gallery]
Plus ... Damnation Games, a 200-page hardback book written by Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes, a poster of Pinhead and a set of 5 art cards.
Blu-ray VerdictLavishly lurid, this is the set that Hellraiser fans have been begging for. Forget any of the dross that followed in the wake of the third film – all you need is right here in this gloriously grotesque collection of rampant imagination, deadly desire and obsessively taboo-breaking dark fantasy.
The first and second films are modern classics of Horror Cinema. Clive Barker’s creativity was at its most insane peak and the birth of Pinhead ushered a brand new terror titan for the genre. Their stories were dark love letters to perversity. They were adult, intelligent and literate. Okay, they never appeared to know precisely what country they in were – London suddenly had American cops – but they offered up such splendidly rich and fervent imagery that pop culture found and embraced new icons of puzzle boxes and nailed noggins. And alongside such neo-Gothic grandeur, they invaded the mind and the soul with wicked notions of sadomasochism and debauched sexual exploration.
Hellraiser remains the best and the most satisfying experience. A demented tale of lust from beyond the grave, it successfully bridged the best and most audacious aesthetic of Hammer with the raw and dripping splatter that the 80’s so slavishly suckled on. With great performances and some brilliantly theatrical dialogue, as well as enough thrills, chills and spills to keep even the most die-hard genre-fan satiated, it remains an exhaustingly demonic slice of extreme entertainment.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II cannot quite sustain the same level of both primal and carnal momentum, and it struggles with having so many ideas and images colliding, helter-skelter throughout. But this kaleidoscope of carnage still impresses with its sheer verve. Pinhead’s character is expanded-upon just enough to keep him fascinating, and his dialogue is certainly rich and eloquent enough to compensate for that of his Cenobite nemesis of Dr. Channard, which is often just daft punchlines. The fact that we go to Hell is profound and brilliant, even if the actual depiction of the Labyrinth and Leviathan does somewhat fall beneath our own lofty expectations. The gore, once more, is supreme and the giddy tone of depravity spiked with seedy delight.
The soaring operatic scores from Christopher Young bestow a stature of sheer class, marvellously elevating the visuals and the stories and cunningly sweeping you over any narrative flaws you might happen upon.
And then there is the third movie. Intelligence drops and unbridled emotions are swapped for knee-jerk caricatures. Although the film attempts to bring many of the elements that made the first two altogether more mature offerings, Hell on Earth dumbs everything down and takes on a comic-book feel that derails tension and atmosphere. The biggest blunder, of course, is making Pinhead the main focus of the story. It was the obvious thing to do in what had become a franchise, but here he is reduced to a quip-heavy, bargain-bin bogeyman. The classiest of demons is now utterly unscary, stripped of all mystery and, in truth, just bloody irritating. The new Cenobites are a worthless assortment of throwaway gimmicks and the promise of them unleashing hell on Earth is totally squandered. The extended Pinhead routines are ludicrous and lame. But compared to the films that followed, Anthony Hickox’s entry is actually quite fun in a low-rent sort of way. It is Hellraiser for the masses. For the MTV kids, as it were. It may aim for blasphemy but it all ends up as a rather tame affair, indeed.
I have seen the future of gorgeous Blu-ray packages ... and its name is Arrow Video.
Still, in the context of this collection, it is great to have the third film if only to enjoy the supplements that describe its conception and development, adding a note of wry irony in the gulf between those who like it and those who ... well, don’t. And, with this in mind, if you hadn’t already guessed, this Scarlet Box is simply exemplary in its exploration of the whole Hellraiser phenomenon. Not only do the films get superb new transfers, but they are literally stuffed-to-the-gills with quality extras, making this set, pretty much the final word on all things Cenobite.
Aye, the pre-orders for this limited edition sold out. But this release is still worth hunting down, by fair means or by foul. And, I am pretty certain that the three films will receive separate releases at some point in the future, anyway. As it stands, this is a magnificent boxset from a company that is continually wowing with their lavish treatment of cult and classic genre material.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
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