Release Date(s)1987 (November 14, 2017)
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 and put its creator Clive Barker on the map as one of cinema’s and literature’s horror 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 Hellraiser’s recognition with horror fans, several sequels were made... eight in actual fact, with possibly more sometime in the near future. And because of the character of Pinhead’s burgeoning popularity, he was given much more to do in the sequels, becoming the common thread throughout them. However, most fans will agree that the original film is indeed the finest of the lot.
Clive Barker wrote the original story “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 much younger, he had never directed a full length feature before. Scoring a deal with New World Pictures, he was able to both write and direct Hellraiser with no real outside interference. During the making of the film, everything was going so well and the studio was so impressed by what they were seeing that a sequel was quickly greenlit before the first film had even been released. It turned out to be a good call as it was received well by horror fans, despite the mixed to negative critical reception.
On the flipside, Doug Bradley, who portrays Pinhead, became an icon within the horror industry and is now forever synonymous with the character, not unlike Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger. To this day, Bradley occasionally visits horror and sci-fi conventions and fans still line up to meet him. And although Clive Barker became more of a horror writer 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. 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. There has been a glut of self awareness and cynicism in horror films in the last three decades, but none of them ever came 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. However, the material on this disc remains the same. It’s not only stacked with extra material, but it features the best-looking transfer that money can buy, which was overseen by cinematographer Robin Vidgeon. The result is that it looks terrific, with heavy but even grain levels (prevalent in a lot of films during this timeframe). Clarity and depth are through the roof, more than ever before, while colors are strong and pop quite well, especially skin tones. Black levels are mostly deep with excellent shadow detail, and brightness and contrast levels are virtually perfect. Minor film artifacts are all that remain, including insignificant speckling. There’s also been no DNR or artificial sharpening applied. As for the audio, there are two channels to choose from: English 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 LPCM, as well as optional subtitles in English SDH. Personally, I found the 2.0 mix more engrossing than the 5.1. The 5.1 track has a bit more bass to it, but it doesn’t offer an enormous upgrade in terms of dynamics or spatial activity. On both tracks, the dialogue is clean and clear with strong sound effects and, in particular, excellent score integration. They’re not the finest sound experiences, but they work well with the presentation as a whole.
As I stated previously, the extras have been carried over from Arrow’s previous Blu-ray releases of the film. They include two audio commentaries, one with Clive Barker himself, and the other with Barker and actress Ashley Laurence; a segment of the full-length documentary Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser (of which two other parts can be found on Arrow Video’s releases of the second and third films in the Hellraiser boxed set); Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser; Soundtrack Hell, an interview with Stephen Thrower of the band Coil on the abandoned score for the film; Hellraiser: Resurrection, a vintage featurette; Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser; the film’s Original EPK; the theatrical, red band, and international trailers; 4 TV spots; an image gallery with 53 stills; an Easter egg, which is a New World Video intro and outro from the film’s VHS release (found by pressing right when Original EPK is selected); and a draft of the film’s screenplay, accessible via BD-ROM. All of it is housed in beautiful Steelbook packaging with a 2-sided fold-out poster fearing the original theatrical art on one side and a new rendering on the other.
Picking this up could mean a number of things from a consumer’s perspective: you don’t already own the film, you aren’t interested in the other two, you can’t afford buying the previous three film boxed set, or you’re simply a die-hard Steelbook fan. Whatever your reasons, this a lovely release of Hellraiser and it belongs on your shelf.
- Tim Salmons