Review Date: September 18, 2000
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 9/19/2000
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes | Full Frame (optional)
Based on the novel The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, Hellraiser has finally made its way onto DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. Sure, there was a Hellraiser DVD release in the past but we all know that one didn't count (more on that later). Now Clive Barker, who is also writer and director of Hellraiser, has teamed up with Anchor Bay to give us what could very well be the definitive version of Hellraiser. Lets take a look at the DVD.
Frank (Sean Chapman), a young man always searching for trouble it seems, buys a small wooden puzzle box off of a Chinese man. He brings the box home and soon solves its puzzle. Unfortunately for him, the prize is being sucked into the world of the Cenobites, a group of mysterious demons that describe themselves as "explorers in the further regions of experience....demons to some, angels to others".
Frank's brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins), who happens to be Frank's former lover, are moving into the family home that Frank and Larry each own half of. Though Larry and Julia don't know it, it's the same home where Frank was sucked into the Cenobites world. Larry just assumes Frank is in jail somewhere. Larry calls his daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) to tell her the goods news about their new home and invite her over. While Frank is carrying a mattress upstairs he cut his hand on a nail that is protruding from a piece of wood. The cut turns out to be fairly deep and his hand begins to bleed quite badly. He rushes up to the attic where Julia is reminiscing of her affair with Frank, who she still seems to be obsessed with. It's in the attic where Frank's blood drips on the floor, which later resurrects Frank from his Cenobite imprisonment.
Frank is back, but he's different. He's a mass of flesh and bones...an incomplete body. He needs to suck the blood and flesh from other bodies in order to become whole. When Julia goes into to the attic to investigate some sounds, she discovers the hideous looking Frank. Her lust for Frank wins - she agrees to help him regain his body. She brings back numerous men who are slaughtered by Frank, and it's with each man that he gains more and more flesh. One day Kirsty sees Julia bringing a man into the house. She follows and discovers Frank, still mostly a mass of flesh and skeleton. She manages to escape and takes with her the puzzle box. Unfortunately, she also solves the puzzle of the box. The Cenobites come for her, but before they take her away she strikes a deal with them. She tells them of Frank's escape and they agree to let her go, providing they can get Frank to confess who he is. Now she must go back to the house and face Frank, getting him to admit who he is so that she can escape the hell of the Cenobites. Little does Kirsty know, Frank and Julia have their own surprise waiting for her.
I'm been a horror fan for over a dozen years now. Throughout those many years I've watched the numerous Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th films over and over again. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for slashers and their horrible sequels. Sorry, but I enjoyed Halloween: H20 - I'll admit it! For some reason the Hellraiser franchise never attracted me. I always saw the box at the video store, but never rented it. Seeing Pinhead on the cover just didn't do it for me. Why? I'm not sure, really. I was young and stupid I suppose, but the fact is that mentality for Hellraiser stuck with me. Numerous years later when I discovered the Internet and read so many good things about the first few Hellraiser's, but I still didn't give the movie a chance. Even when I bought my laserdisc player and went on a box set buying spree, I still didn't give Hellraiser a chance. And I should point out that there is a very nice, supplement filled box set for Hellraiser on LD (a bit more on that later). Still, I resisted and never bothered buying it. Finally the time came when I had to watch the film. Anchor Bay is putting out a spectacular DVD release for Hellraiser and it's my job to review it for this web site. Now the time has come and gone - I've watched the film for the first time. Now that I've watched it, what do I have to say about all my years of resistance? I'm an idiot....all these years I've missed out on a wonderful horror movie, because I 'judged a book by its cover', so to speak.
Hellraiser is such a unique horror movie and it has a wonderful style to it. It's very different from all the other slashers out there. Actually, it's not even a slasher movie. For some reason I've always thought that it would be. At the beginning of the movie they briefly show Pinhead (the leader it seems) and all the other Cenobites, and it isn't until an hour later that you see any of them again. The total time you see the Cenobites probably amounts to 5 minutes. The Cenobites are really a side story. It's Frank and his quest to regain a complete body that is the center story. It's cool, though, because you know the Cenobites are there, thanks to their appearance at the beginning. You know that Frank was in their world and that he managed to escape. And you know they're lurking in the background, just waiting for someone to summon them from the puzzle box. When Kirsty finally does that the real fun begins. When the Cenobites are on screen you get to see them in their full glory. No darkened, shadowy faces like so many other horror movies. Their presence is so strong that you end up wishing they were on screen longer.
I can't say Hellraiser is all that scary, but it's definitely graphic and disturbing with some good gore. I enjoyed the movie, the acting and the wonderful effects. All in all it's a fantastic horror movie and it saddens me that I've missed it all these years. I look forward to seeing and reviewing the second Hellraiser film. For anyone that hasn't seen it, definitely give this film a rental. You don't know what you're missing.
Anchor Bay presents Hellraiser in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. Also available is an open matte full frame presentation, which can be selected from the menu. As you know from earlier, I've never seen the film before this DVD. However, I've read numerous reports on Anchor Bay's original Hellraiser DVD release and the laserdisc box set. Sadly, the original DVD was reported to have numerous compression artifacts and poor colors, especially blacks. The laserdisc box set reportedly had lots of video noise. All of those problems are gone with this latest DVD release, which is THX certified. Colors are nice and solid, with strong blacks. The image is extremely sharp and detailed. Really the only problem is grain, which appears often but it's fairly light and it's not all that distracting. The film has such incredible lighting, especially when the Cenobites appear. You really appreciate the high level of detail on this DVD in such scenes. Overall a great transfer that sounds like it's significantly better than past release on DVD and laserdisc.
Hellraiser is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 re-mix. Rears and LFE don't have much usage overall. The film's soundtrack sounds spectacular, however. It's quite intense and fits the mood the film well. Overall a decent re-mix with no distortion at all.
Anchor Bay has included some nice extras on this special edition Hellraiser DVD. There is an audio commentary by writer/director Clive Barker and star Ashley Laurence, moderated by Pete Atkins. It's a great commentary that I enjoyed listening to. Clive pretty much led the commentary, giving lots of information about the filming of the movie, cast and crew, and more. Pete also does a fine job moderating, allowing Clive and Ashley to do their talking without interruption but knowing when to throw a question in when the conversation began to die out. There are a few short gaps but they're hardly worth mentioning as they don't last more than 5 or 10 seconds. Hellraiser fans will definitely enjoy this commentary, which was recorded specifically for this DVD. It is not the same commentary that Clive Barker recorded for the Limited Edition laserdisc box set released back in 1996.
Also included is a featurette titled "Resurrection". It runs about 24 minutes and includes interviews with Clive Barker (writer/director), Ashley Laurence (Kirsty), Doug Bradley (Pinhead), Simon Bamford ("Butterball" cenobite), Nicholas Vince ("Chattering" cenobite), Oliver Smith (Frank "the monster"), Steve Johnson (special effects), Bob Keen (special effects), Jane Wildgoose (cenobite costume designer), Bill Condon (writer/director for Gods and Monsters) and various performance artists that consider Hellraiser an influential film. It's a great featurette with lots of information on Hellraiser, including Clive's opinions on directing, various actors opinions on the film and how they obtained their parts in it, special effects details and more. This is a featurette all Hellraiser fans will love. Some of the information given in it was covered in the commentary, but most of it isn't, since it has interviews with so many people that weren't on the commentary track.
Also included is a theatrical trailer and a photo gallery containing over 60 stills. That covers the extras on the DVD. I'd also like to mention the special edition laserdisc and its extras. The laserdisc contains:
- A commentary track with director Clive Barker (a track different from the one on this DVD)
- A bound reproduction of Clive Barker's complete Hellraiser Screenplay signed By Clive Barker
- Featurette including interviews with Clive Barker, Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins and Ashley Laurence (a different featurette from the one on this DVD)
- Scenes from Clive Barker's original storyboards and other storyboard designs
- A complete early draft of the screenplay, including scenes never filmed
- Extensive still-frame archive of behind-the-scenes photos, promotional photos, special effects and make-up photos and more
- Artwork and promotional material
- Original domestic and international theatrical trailers and TV spots
- Annotated biography of Clive Barker
Sadly, it seems the supplements on the laserdisc couldn't be licensed for this DVD release. I'm not sure why, but it's a shame because it's obvious the laserdisc does have some unique supplements that couldn't be recreated for this DVD. Owners of the laserdisc box set will probably want to hang onto it, as well as add this new DVD to their collection, with it's unique extras and its high quality presentation.
Anchor Bay definitely came through for horror fans, recording a new commentary track that includes star Ashley Laurence as well as writer/director Clive Barker and a new featurette created by Barker himself. All are very enjoyable that Hellraiser fans will love.
Another great job by Anchor Bay. Not only have they given Hellraiser a high quality audio/video presentation, they've painstakingly created new extras for this DVD release. The movie itself is a modern classic that all horror fans should own.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B+
Supplements - A-
- Running Time - 1 hour 33 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- Closed Captioned for the Hearing Impaired
- Audio commentary with writer/director Clive Barker and star Ashley Laurence. Moderated by Writer Pete Atkins
- Featurette: Resurrection
- Theatrical trailer (available in the downloads section)
- Still gallery