Sweet Suffering Pt 1 (Hellraiser, 1987)

Hellraiser_PosterClive 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.

Hooked (Candyman, 1992)

candyman_posterBased on a short story by Clive Barker called the Forbidden, Candyman is a film about urban legends.  Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) is a grad student who is doing a thesis on urban legends.  She discovers a legend within the tenements of Cabrini-Green of the Candyman.  Borrowing from the famous Bloody Mary, the belief is that if you look in a mirror and say his name five times, Candyman appears behind you and guts you with his hook.

As Helen becomes more obsessed with delving into the heart of the Candyman myth, she starts to miss signs that other parts of her life are falling apart…especially her marriage.  Her husband has an ongoing affair with one of his students.  Candyman seems drawn to Helen, and commits murders to frame her.

Candyman is a pretty unique film, as it focuses on black urban communities (as did Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs a year earlier).  The short story was set in England, but director Bernard Rose (Immortal Beloved) felt setting it in America would be a better and more appropriate choice.    And the setting of Cabrini-Green was a masterful choice.

The film is highly effective.  The backstory of the Candyman makes him and effective and tragic monster.  The son of a slave, the Candyman had grown to prominence as an artist.  He was renowned for his portraits.  He fell in love with and had a child with a white woman.  A mob chased him down, severed his hand, covering him in honey and replacing his hand with a hook.  As he is dying, he is covered in bees…ultimately dying from the stings.  This creates a powerful visual, as the Candyman is often covered in bees.

Much of what makes this film work is Tony Todd.  Todd plays the character as charmingly regal, yet very menacing.  Eddie Murphy had been considered for the role, but thankfully he was out of the price range.  Because Tony Todd makes the character work in a way few actors could have.  The film is definitely a gorefest, so the squeamish may wish to avoid the film.

Candyman adds to the pantheon of great monsters and is a solid fright film.

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