Friday, September 11, 2020

Hellraiser (1987)

In romance fiction, there is very little that could be considered conflict. Therefore, S&M is sometimes used as seasoning for an otherwise bland dish. Take out everything but the seasoning and you have Hellraiser.

This is one of those movies I watched in my college apartment before I realized the value of headphones. If you had passed my door late one night, you might have heard a mix of screams, rattling chains, and raspy moaning. A neighbor complained of me playing World of Warcraft. (A less lascivious assumption than could have been made.)


In American cinema, there is the unfortunate conceit that Hollywood will not go “too far”. This unwritten rule of self-censorship undermines the artistic integrity of what would otherwise be a true S&M thriller. And yet, there are still people in this country, such as my mother, who look at hooks pulling at someone’s face and loudly exclaim disapproval. Hellraiser is an R, not an X. Seriously, grow a pair.

By the time Hellraiser was produced, writer/director Clive Barker just wanted to tell his story any way he could. Hollywood is like a fickle child who can’t decide between two pieces of candy. Which is sweeter? Which is more economical? The child inevitably just throws all the candy in the trough and binges anyways, so why debate the issue? Only grown-ups like Barker understand that maybe there’s something to this whole “filmmaking” thing, and that maybe Rawhead Rex would have been better off in more capable hands.

Though Hellraiser is a competent film, Barker compromised somewhat to get it made. Firstly, the film is rated R rather than X. Also, the novel was called The Hellbound Heart, which more accurately represents the story than the biker-metal title the film ended up with. It’s sort of like how the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise sells itself on the giant robot battles, despite not being about giant robots.

Hellraiser is not an action movie. There were clear efforts to gain mass-market appeal with the film, and that’s not necessarily always a bad thing. The more people who are exposed to it, the better. However, one tends to wonder what could have been if the story had been brought to the screen more true to the original vision.

Mainstream X-rated entertainment does not go that far in America. Mainstream R-rated entertainment less so. There could have been graphic, painful, demon orgies with blood everywhere. But no, the artist never gets his way. Money makes mainstream movies, and money from mainstream movies goes into the continuation of their franchises. Hellraiser offers only a little taste of what could be.

The film is British, but Hollywood is American. Perhaps the Anglo world’s moral panic is the cause of the censorship. I, for one, believe that we can be mild-mannered and functional members of society for the most part, while entertainment should be uninhibited.