Review: Hellraiser – Scarlet Box


There are many films referred to as ‘genre defining’ or ‘classic’, although not every example is perhaps as deserving as the 1988 fantasy gore-fest ‘Hellraiser’.

I’ve seen it so many times it doesn’t pay to try to recall, but trust me when I say that until you see the Arrow video Blu-ray version you haven’t seen Barker’s nightmare visions anything close to their full potential. Before I start going on about anything else it is necessary to say that the transfer on the ‘Scarlett box’ release is astonishingly vibrant, with just the right contrast and colour saturation to see the gore in all its shocking glory; and shocking it really is even 25 odd years later!

The plot of the movie revolves around desire and torture in both content and context. Beginning with the ill-fated Frank we see his final moments as he explores the very limits of desire at the hands of the now infamous puzzle box. Once open the box summons the nightmarish Cenobytes, a race of beings obsessed with straddling the line between pleasure and pain – that said, it does seem more of a one sided pain based arrangement, essentially trapping you in a perpetual state of grisly torture. Meanwhile, a short time later Frank’s brother and his high maintenance wife move into the same house where the aforementioned enjoyed his last moment in our reality. That said, you can’t keep a good man down; one drop of blood later and Frank is summoned back to the house as a gruesome post-mortem shadow of his former self and requires more lives to resurrect fully.  

There are many other elements to the plot than I have made an effort to outline in my synopsis, however I believe these are best enjoyed first hand if you haven’t seen the film yet, so I won’t ruin them for you. For what my opinion is worth (I mean really, this films reputation says it all really!), I truely believe that this film is a master-class in horror film making on a budget. Filmed predominantly in one house the constant change to the lighting, set dressings and cinematography makes the movie feels like it genuinely transcends dimensions! Rest assured, once you’ve sat through it part of you will be altered also! The acting is passible from the main characters, the contrast between those good and evil is stark to say the least. The whole feel of the movie is grimy and awkward with very few ‘light’ moments throughout the 90 minute run time – again, a shameless plug, but this transfer maintains a perfect level of grain which adds to the ambience. In terms of characters, however, the real stars of the show are the now famous ‘Cenobyte’ demons! Grotesque in every possible way and with Doug Bradley getting all the best lines and carving himself a legacy as franchise frontman – Pinhead, these are characters that instil dread in me even as an adult. I still remember the horrible chatter-teeth sound, made worse by my child self owning a pair of those cheap plastic chatty teeth toys – they went in the bin soon after I can tell you now!

Rounding the package off, and again, upholding the movies reputation, are the gore effects. Gory is a gross understatement in this movies context. This film is as impressive as it is revolting. There are more gross-out effects in single scenes of this movie than there are in other equally revered films entire run time! The Cenobytes offer frequent reminder as to their skill at pushing the limits of what they can do to flesh, and like an advert for their services, this movie showcases some of their best moments! Hooks tear at flesh, the pre-embodied Frank oozes blood and gru from every joint, heads are torn apart, bodies explode and the list goes on and on. Whilst granted, many of the effects flirt with the unrealistic, there are some scenes where the prosthetic effects are awe-inspiring in their quality – those skinless body suits which make frequent appearances through this movie and the sequels look almost too realistic! Again, the blu-ray picture shows these off to the max! I truly believe this, and perhaps the direct sequel are amongst the most gory I have ever seen, and if there is ever a film to prove that CGI-gore is unwarranted this has got to be it.

Overall, a classic film gets a worthy release. This is definitive, and with the Scarlett box being a limited deal you really need to get over to Arrow HQ and order yourself one immediately. Now where are my fake chattering teeth, I’ve got a son to scare shitless!

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