Clive Barker pulled off quite a feat as an author…his first directing gig was also a movie adapting his own short story. It opens with Frank Coffin, who is in search of the ultimate pleasures. He is given a strange box (known as the Lament Configuration) with he brings to his family home. It is a puzzle box, but when he opens it, he is taken to a place of torment and pain. The film jumps ahead and introduces us to Kirsty, her father (and Frank’s Brother) Larry and her step mother Julia, who are moving into the house where we last saw Frank. Larry is a decent sort of guy, but Julia is shown as cold towards he and Kirsty. It is revealed her real passion was with Frank, with whom she had a sordid affair.
The house is full of rotting food, and Larry suspects it was Frank that left the house in disarray. When Larry gets a cut and spills blood on the floor of their attic, it starts a chain reaction. The result is that Frank returns from wherever he was…it is a process, and he needs blood to fully restore his body. Julia discovers Frank hiding in the attic and proceeds to help him.
Kirsty also finds Frank and this sets off the finale in which she accidentally calls forth the Cenobites, lead by Pinhead. In a bargain to save herself, she tells them about Frank.
What is interesting here is that this is really not about the Cenobites. They are minions of hell, simply doing their job. The true villains are Frank and Julia. Pinhead, with his leather gown and chalk white skin, a head covered in spikes is a memorable visual. His fellow Cenobites are quite creepy. The film is not particularly interested in setting forth any detailed mythology. Who are the Cenobites? Well, beyond their job, we don’t really know. How does it work? Well, you open the Box…where does it come from? The film is not concerned with this things. And that is fine in this film. It is a bit slow moving and a heavy focus on expository dialog delving deep into answering the mysteries would likely just bog it down more.
Doug Bradley gives Pinhead a regal presence. He is proper, even in his hellish role as a torturer (his primary mode of operation is chains with hooks on the end). While the film is slow at points, it is quite gory when it gets to the horror (though the most squeamish moment is probably when Frank, disguised as her father puts the moves on Kirsty).
Hellraiser is a decent film debut for Barker and Pinhead is a hard to forget addition to the pantheon of horror icons.