Release Date(s)1987 (September 24, 2019)
Studio(s)New World Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
Hellraiser was released by New World Pictures in 1987, putting its creator Clive Barker on the map as one of horror cinema’s and horror literature’s major icons, particularly with the help of a quote from Stephen King: “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.” Due to the film’s popularity with fans, several sequels were made... eight in actual fact, with possibly more coming down the pike sometime in the future. Due to the character of Pinhead’s escalating popularity at the time of the film’s release, he was given much more to do in the sequels, quickly becoming the face of the franchise and the common thread running throughout it. However, most fans agree that the original Hellraiser is indeed the finest of the lot.
Clive Barker wrote the original story of The Hellbound Heart with the intention of turning it into a film in the mid 1980s. Although he had made a couple of short films when he was younger, he had never directed a full length feature. Scoring a deal with New World, he was able to both write and direct Hellraiser with no outside interference. During production, everything was going so well and the studio was so impressed with what they were seeing that a sequel was greenlit before the first film had even been released. It turned out to be a good call as Hellraiser was well-received by the horror community, despite the mixed to negative critical reception.
In the interim, Doug Bradley (Pinhead) became a luminary within the industry and is now forever synonymous with the character, not unlike Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. Although Clive Barker returned to writing after disappointing working relationships with movie studios over his subsequent two films Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions, his name is still held in high regard. Meanwhile, his original Hellraiser remains a striking piece of work, containing some of the last of horror cinema’s truly unique and fresh ideas, even to this day. A glut of self awareness and cynicism has invaded horror films in the last three decades, but none of them even come close to quality, the craftsmanship, and the sheer unsettling nature of Hellraiser.
Arrow Video previously released Hellraiser, along with its following two sequels, twice before on both sides of the Atlantic in two different boxed sets (as well as a Steelbook release of Hellraiser itself). This release is identical and is essentially a re-release, featuring the same terrific 2K restoration of the film, which was overseen by cinematographer Robin Vidgeon. Grain levels are heavy but even while clarity and depth are appropriately boosted. Colors are strong and pop quite well, especially skin tones. Blacks are mostly deep with excellent shadow detail, while brightness and contrast levels are virtually perfect. Minor film artifacts are all that remain, including minor speckling.
The audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. The stereo mix is the more engrossing of the two experiences. The surround track has a bit more bass to it, but doesn’t offer an enormous upgrade in terms of dynamics or spatial activity. On both tracks, dialogue is clean and clear with strong sound effects and, in particular, excellent score integration. They’re not the finest of aural experiences, but work well in tandem with the video presentation at hand.
The extras include the same material found on Arrow’s previous Blu-ray releases of the film, including two audio commentaries: one with Clive Barker himself, and the other with Barker and actress Ashley Laurence, moderated by writer Peter Atkins; an 88-minute segment of the full-length documentary Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser (of which the other two parts can be found on Arrow’s releases of the second and third films); Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser, a 27-minute interview with the actor; Soundtrack Hell, an 18-minute interview with author Stephen Thrower about the abandoned score for the film; the 25-minute vintage featurette Hellraiser: Resurrection; Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser, a 21-minute interview with the actor; the original electronic press kit; the film’s theatrical, red band, and international trailers; 4 TV spots; an image gallery containing 53 stills; an Easter egg found by pressing right when Original EPK is selected, which is a New World Video VHS intro and outro; and a draft of the film’s screenplay, accessible via BD-ROM.
There isn’t much else to say for the fourth outing of Hellraiser on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. Since it is identical to the previous releases, that means you’re getting quality product. If you somehow missed out on the now out-of-print releases of the first three films or the Steelbook release of this film, it’s a nice alternative – and it’s good just to have the disc back in print.
– Tim Salmons