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There are a lot of famous horror franchises featuring such terrible creatures as Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. Just below this triad of terror lies the second tier monsters arguably lead by Pinhead from the Hellraiser series of flicks. Now if you had to go through eternity with grid marks and pins stuck all over your face and had to wear a skin tight faux leather outfit you will want to torture people too. The 1987 flagship flick of this horror series is being re-released to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Yes, as hard as it may be to believe this franchise has reached the two decade mark with some 9 films in the series. Born from the strange yet talented mind of Clive Barker old Pinhead and his Rubik’s cube of death are back on DVD in a special Anchor bay Collection edition. This is notably the best of the whole Hellraiser series and is considered to be a groundbreaking film for its genre. It took horror into a definitive new direction where the dark world of sadomasochism is central to the shock. The film actually holds together. It is well written, directed to perfection and has much better acting than most of the current horror field. This film is not for the faint of heart; it is correctly targeted towards the hard core horror fan.

The film opens it what appears to be a Asian market. Two men sit at a table; one dropping sugar into a green liquid, the other with dirty fingernails pushes a large stack of money over. He takes an ornate, cubical box with him as he gets up to leave. The man takes the box home. There, in the middle of a square of candles the man, Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) begins to work on opening the mysterious box. Frank pushes one of the symbols and the box starts to reconfigure itself. As he continues to work on opening the box a strange bluish light starts to stream into the room. When the box finally opens metallic hooks fly open and dig deep into Frank’s flesh ripping him into small pieces. A strange man appears; the Lead Cenobite (Doug Bradley), better know to the audience as Pinhead, bends over the remains piecing the face back together. It turns out that there are four Cenobites, demonic creatures that thrive on the pain of humans. Pinhead closes the box and the once bloodied room is now bare.

A short time later Frank’s brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into Frank’s house. With Larry is his second wife, Julia (Clare Higgins) who it just happens had an affair with Frank sometime in the past. They assume that Frank is on one of his notorious escapades and think little of his not being there. Larry also has a teenaged daughter, Kristy (Ashley Laurence) who can’t stand her step mother and choose to go out to live on her own.

Since Frank was not exactly the greatest housekeeper there is a lot of work for Larry and Julia. While moving a mattress Larry cuts his hand. For some reason he goes up into the attic where, unknown to Larry, killed. Some of Larry’s blood drips onto the floor and is absorbed into the wooden planks. The remains of Frank’s soul is still there and is able to feed on the blood. It uses the energy received to partially restore Frank’s body. Later, the reincarnated Frank convinces Julia to help him become fully restored. In order to completely regenerate Frank requires greater quantities of fresh human blood. The plan seems simple enough. Julia picks up the stray guy, brings him back home, seduces him and then Frank can feast on their blood. Frank also explains to Julia about the puzzle box. By regenerating his body he will break the covenant he has with the Cenobites and they are not the type to take such matters lightly. Frank hopes that he can fully restore himself and leave with Julia before they can find them. One night while Julia is in the process of bringing the next victim to the house Kristy happens by and sees her. While Kristy looks on the man stubbles out of the attic followed by a skinless Frank. Before Frank can seize her she sees the box, grabs it and throws it out of the window. As she flees Kristy grabs the box. While playing with the box Kristy inadvertently solves it and it opens. Pinhead appears and explains to the terrified girl that since she summoned the Cenobites they must now take her to their world of pain and pleasure. She strikes up a deal with the demon; she will lead them to Frank in exchange for her freedom.

What sets this film apart from other horror flicks is nature of the monster. While the Cenobites are awesome in their horror they real villains are the humans. The Cenobites are just acting like any self respecting demon would, evil. The real monster here is the dark side of human nature. Julia is more than willing to lure random men to a painful death just to help her partially resurrected former lover. It doesn’t matter that she is married to his brother; she is willing to commit a string of murders to help him. The theme of the dark side of human nature is continued with the visual references to sadomasochistic practices. The line between pain and pleasure is blurred; one leading to the other. Pinhead is the ultimate in the piecing lifestyle. With his leather outfit he would fit right in to many clubs in lower Manhattan. The piecing motif is extended to an extreme height with the scene were the hooks penetrate Frank’s flesh pulling him apart.

The cast here is strong and able. Clare Higgins does well as a woman torn between her husband and lover. She is able to sell her part and convince the audience that she is someone that is pulled to the darkest corners of the human condition. Contrasting the character of Julia is Kristy. Ashley Laurence plays her as more of a victim. She did not intend to open the box like her uncle Frank. She has to literally make a deal with the devil to save her own life. She can justify turning Frank over since he is in this mess of his own accord. Most people identify Doug Bradley’s Pinhead with this film the fact of the matter is he only has a few minutes of screen time but in that short time he makes quite an impression. His impression here was so strong that Pinhead has become his only movie role.

Anchor Bay has been releasing select films as special anniversary edition for awhile now. Even if you have the old release these, including this one, are well worth the purchase. Several new extras are included to help the fan get even more from the film. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is well mastered. The colors are bright and solid. The Dolby 5.1 audio fills the room and even the sub woofer gets a workout. There is commentary in a round table format. Writer-director Clive Barker chimes in with Ashley Laurence while screenwriter Peter Atkins acts as the moderator. There is an interview with Andrew Robinson about the production and impact the film has had. There is also an interview with Ashley Laurence on life as a teenage scream queen. The musical score is considered in the featurette ‘Hellcomposer’ in the form of an interview with Christopher Young. Doug Bradley tells us all about the makeup effects of the film. There are also still, galleries, TV spots and trailers to make sure you get something really special. For those into extreme horror flicks this is a must have.

Posted 10/05/07

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