Horror Week 2011: Hellraiser

Hellraiser (1987)
(This review spoils the WHOLE movie!)

When people talk about classic horror movies, they’re almost always referring to the eighties which contained Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing, and Child’s Play to name a few. Hellraiser, released in 1987, is no exception. While the movie lacks a lot of the high-tech special effects we’ve grown used to in contemporary cinema, the make-up in Hellraiser is impressively chilling. Although I’d seen the film several times prior (including all its sequels), I still found myself cringing and gagging as Frank emerged from the floorboards as little more than a slimy substance with bones.

As a horror film, Hellrasier is top-notch, as you find yourself wondering what’s going to happen next, worrying endlessly about the characters and freaking out all at once. So, it was definitely interesting to watch the film again but with a new perspective versus simply for pleasure.
When I first set out to write this review, I had been hoping to fixate mostly on Kirsty (played by Ashley Laurence) since she stuck out most in my mind. But having re-watched the film, I realized that Kirsty’s step-mother Julia (played by Clare Higgins) was actually more of a main character than Kirsty was.
Hellraiser introduces us to the Cotton family as Larry, the father, (played by Andrew Robinson) investigates the abandoned home of his brother Frank (played by Sean Chapman). We aren’t given much background information except that they’re probably in New York, since Brooklyn didn’t work out for various, unknown reasons.
As they’re wandering through the house, Julia finds herself in Frank’s old room which has little more than a mattress and some personal effects. She’s flipping through his pictures, which feature him with numerous (and faceless) women in various positions pertaining to S&M. When she eventually finds a clear photograph of him, she steals it. This is the first thing we see in regards to her obsession, and past affair, with Frank.
It seems that Julia prefers the days gone by, as we see in the next scene where she’s completely removed from those around her. There’s a dinner party featuring friends of the family and Kirsty, and Julia seems bored beyond belief. She excuses herself from the table, giving each person a kiss before she leaves except for her husband Larry.
Their lack of sexual chemistry in the film is blatant. They rarely touch each other, hug or kiss one another. There’s an aloofness to their marriage and it’s possible that it’s been years since the two have had sex. In a scene during a storm, Julia attempts to seduce Larry to keep him from investigating a noise from upstairs (Frank).
As they end to their bedroom, and Larry is kissing all over her, Frank emerges from closet with a knife, as if to kill his brother. As Julia is screaming, “No! I couldn’t bear it!” Larry is kissing away as Frank draws closer, who eventually leans over the railing to slice open a dead rat.
While Julia, distraught and frightened, is crying over this, Larry demands to know what her problem is, saying that he doesn’t understand her, before leaving the room.
But Julia’s troubled relationships with men don’t end there. Once Julia has agreed to help Frank (“Like love, only real.” – Frank) she has to pick men up so that Frank can eat them.
Her first victim is a balding, British man at the bar who is less than great. Her nervousness is palatable as they stand in the hall, and Guy A acts overly aggressive. When Julia seems hesitant to kiss him, he demands:

“What’s the matter? It’s what you brought me here for, isn’t it?”
“I suppose so, yes.”
“So what’s your problem? Let’s get on with it.”  And as Julia’s reluctance seems to grow, he growls, “You aren’t going to change your fucking mind, are ya?”  

Naturally, I wasn’t feeling a whole lot of sympathy for him when Frank ate him. And like most newbie serial killers, Julia simply becomes more confident over time. The next guy she brings is somewhat cocky, like the first one, and asks if they’re not going to be disturbed because “he likes to be careful”. This hints that he’s done this sort of thing before, but he doesn’t stand much chance.
This second murder is the most important because right after she kills him, she’s casually wiping the blood from her fingers, whereas before she nearly has a psychotic break. And in the very next scene we see Julia sitting with a glass of wine, in a white blouse, with an intense look on her face. As the camera slowly dollies in, a smirk creeps onto her face – she’s enjoying this.
In her final murder we have this nerdy guy with gigantic glasses. Julia has reached the height of confidence as she leads him upstairs casually. The soon to be victim tells her, “I get lonely sometimes.” Unlike the other two, he has almost no confidence and we all see watch as he pleads with his life, desperate not to die – whereas the other men died fairly quickly.
These interactions are insanely important because the confidence of the men is in contrast with Julia’s confidence. As Julia becomes more secure in herself, her victims became increasingly insecure, and fearful – almost mimicking her earlier state of mind.
The climax of the streak comes when she casually feeds Larry to Frank, doing little more than show him upstairs. I was curious as to know she attempted to use sex to lure him away, but not to bring him to Frank. I suppose one could argue that she has sex with people she doesn’t really know, or people who don’t care about her. This is equally interesting because Julia technically eventually has sex with Larry, but only once Frank has taken his skin for himself.
In the end, Frank accidentally stabs Julia in an attempt to kill Kirsty, but instead of mourning her death, he simply sucks the life out of her. Despite all his sweet nothings, promising her that he’ll always love her and that they’re meant to be together, in the end, he cared so little for her.
Julia is an interesting character because unlike Kirsty – who experienced a mutual loving relationship between both her father and Steven (her love interest) – Julia had no such thing. Instead, Julia experienced rejection from Frank, her main obsession/love interest and killed off all the men who showed any interest in her (Larry and her victims). 

Tatiana Christian is a blogger at Parisian Feline, who writes about sexuality, gender and basically her thoughts on social justice and life. She previously contributed a review of Slumdog Millionaire to Bitch Flicks.