Hellraiser: 20th Anniversary

Reviewed by Scott Weinberg
. C'mon. Don't tell me you haven't seen it. Furthermore, don't tell me you haven't seen it in the last few years. Just as Dracula, The Mummy, and The Bride of Frankenstein are true-blue classics of a certain horror era, so are Hellraiser, The Evil Dead, and Re-Animator. And if you're so young that the mid-'80s feel like "ancient history" to you, then I fear you're a big fan of The Fog (remake) and you're beyond help. Anyway, do yourself a favor and see Hellraiser already. And hey, since Anchor Bay has just released its latest (3rd?) edition of the flick, why not pick up the 20th Anniversary set for yourself? It's got a great flick, a surprisingly good transfer, and (yes) some new goodies.

But first, a plot synopsis.

The recently-wed Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia (Clare Higgins) move back to an old house belonging to his family. Unfortunately, Larry's dead brother Frank's corpse (Sean Chapman) has been rotting in the attic -- and all it takes is a steady flow of blood to regenerate his body. This wonderful skill is thanks to a cool little puzzle box which also acts as a portal to an evil dimension. This dimension is home of the Cenobites, and Pinhead is their boss. So through the magic of flashbacks, we learn that Julia and Frank had a lot of "naked time" together in the past. (And she's not even all that upset to see Frank again, despite that fact that he no longer has skin.) Anyway, Julia begins luring men up to the attic and killing them, since Frank needs the blood, you see....

Just this stuff would alone place Hellraiser in the upper plateau of modern horror movie concepts. But when the Cenobites show up looking for Frank and terrorizing Larry's daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), things really get fun. There's lots of gore and chains ripping flesh and nasty women ramming hammers into some horny guy's head, and that's some of the milder insanity. Hellraiser deserves a lot of praise for giving horror fans the goods without playing it cheap. Author / director Clive Barker instills some real dread here, and dread is a compliment when describing a horror movie. For example, there's an early scene when Larry is pulling a couch up a flight of stairs. We are shown a nail on the banister and its proximity to Larry's straining hand. It lingers...

Anyway see the movie. It's old-school Gothic and modern-era splatter-tastic at the same time. Smart, dark, spooky, and strangely sexy all at the same time. Plus the FX still hold up pretty damn well.

The film is presented in a dark-but-moody anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) format, with audio delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 (English only). Come to think of it, this might be the exact same transfer as on the previous Anchor Bay DVD. But it looks solid enough, all things considered. Extras-wise, we have a bunch of old stuff, and a little new...

Brand new to region 1 are a quartet of cast and crew interviews, which run about an hour all together: Mr. Cotton, I Presume: An Interview with Andrew Robinson, Actress from Hell: An Interview with Ashley Laurence, Hellcomposer: An Interview with Composer Christopher Young, and Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser. Fans will no doubt enjoy these new interview segments, but here's the question: Are they worth $15 all by themselves? Because that's all the "new stuff" you're being offered this time around.

Included from previous DVD releases are: a very solid audio commentary with Clive Barker, Ashley Laurence, and screenwriter Peter Atkins; a very fine 23-minute featurette called Hellraiser Resurrected; and various trailers, TV spots, and photo / poster galleries.

So the bottom line is this: Hellraiser deserves to be in your horror collection. If you don't already own the DVD, this 20th Anniversary Edition is an absolute no-brainer. If you have the older disc, the upgrade is your call. But I got a copy, and I like it!