DirectorClive Barker/Tony Randel/Anthony Hickox
Release Date(s)1987/1988/1992 (January 25, 2016)
Studio(s)New World Pictures (I & II)/Miramax Films/Paramount Pictures (III) (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: A-
- Overall Grade: A
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION B Blu-ray release.]
The original Hellraiser was released by New World Pictures in 1987. It 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 popularity with horror fans, several sequels were made... eight in actual fact, with possibly more sometime in the near future. The quality of the sequels has often been questionable, but most fans agree that the only two sequels that really matter to them are Hellbound: Hellraiser II from 1988 and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth from 1992.
Clive Barker wrote the original story “The Hellbound Heart” with the intention of turning it into a movie in the mid 80’s. Although he had made a couple of short films when he was much younger, he had never directed a 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 green-lit before the first film had even been released. It was a good call as the film did very well with horror fans, despite mixed to negative critical reception.
Picking up the directing reins on Hellbound was one of Barker’s editors from the first film Tony Randel, and taking over official writing duties was Peter Atkins. Barker (as well as Randel) were also involved in the creation of the story, and the resulting film was perhaps more popular than the original, with many fans feeling that it actually surpassed it. And due to Pinhead’s burgeoning popularity, he was given much more to do in the sequels, becoming the common thread throughout them.
After the collapse of New World Pictures in the early 90’s, Miramax Films picked up the rights to the Hellraiser series and proceeded to make sequel after sequel over the course of two decades. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth was the first out of the gate. Many felt that the original aesthetic behind the series had been sacrificed for something more mainstream in appearance and feel. It seemed to contain less satisfactory story elements and less iconic imagery, but it was still a movie that some fans embraced despite the changes. The sequels that followed III saw an even sharper decline in quality, with problems ranging from script issues to budget concerns to multiple directors behind single projects. Doug Bradley himself even bowed out for the (as of this writing) series’ final installment, and another actor was brought in to replace him, much to the dismay of fans.
By this time, Bradley had become a horror acting icon to fans and was synonymous with the character of Pinhead. He had become a familiar face in the horror community alongside popular horror movie monsters of the time, including Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Leatherface. Bradley was also now paying visits to horror and sci-fi conventions where fans lined up to meet him and potentially get autographs. And although Clive Barker had become more of a horror writer after disappointing working relationships with movie studios over the films Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions, his name is still held in high regard.
Personally, I feel that the first two Hellraiser entries are still quite striking. They contain some of the last truly unique and fresh ideas for horror films, 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 those movies ever came close to something like Hellraiser. I’ve never felt a strong attachment to these movies, per se, but I respect them enormously. And still today, they can manage to get under my skin, which doesn’t happen much to me anymore as I’ve been spoiled by the amount of movies that I’ve seen, as well as being privy to the process. But when looking back at horror films past, they hold up remarkably well.
One thing’s for sure though when it comes to this release: it’s not only stacked with extra material, but features the best-looking transfers of the first three movies that money can buy. For the first two films, the transfers were overseen by cinematographer Robin Vidgeon. The result is that they look better than ever, with very heavy but even grain levels (prevalent in a lot of movies made during this timeframe). Clarity and depth are through the roof, more than ever before. Colors are strong and pop quite well, especially skin tones. Black levels are mostly deep with excellent shadow detailing, and both contrast and brightness are perfect. Only minor film artifacts have been leftover, including insignificant speckling. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, by comparison, is a completely different viewing experience. It’s much slicker with more refined grain levels and not quite as strong clarity, but it’s still a worthy presentation. There’s also been no DNR or artificial sharpening applied to these presentations.
As for sound, the first two films carry two channels: English 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 LPCM. Personally, I found the 2.0 mixes more involving than the 5.1. The 5.1 track has a bit more bas to it, but it doesn’t offer an enormous upgrade in terms of dynamics and spatial activity. On both tracks, the dialogue is clean and clear with strong sound effects and, in particular, very strong score integration. The third film, which only comes with an English 2.0 LPCM track, tells much of the same story, but isn’t mixed as particularly well. They’re not the finest sound experiences, but work well with the presentations as a whole. All three movies also come with subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
HELLRAISER (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): A-/A/A-
HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): A-/A/A-
HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/A-/B+
For the extras selection, it’s nearly perfect. I say “nearly” because this is actually a reprinting of an earlier Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, which was The Scarlet Box: Limited Edition set, now, sadly, out of print. I’ll get to what wasn’t carried over in a bit. For now, let’s focus on what is included, which is a whole hell of a lot. For the Hellraiser disc, there are two audio commentaries, one with Clive Barker, and the other with Barker and actress Ashley Laurence; a segment of the full-length documentary Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser (carried over from disc to disc); Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser; Soundtrack Hell, an interview with Stephen Thrower of the band Coil on the abandoned score for the movie; 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; an Easter egg, which is a New World Video VHS promo; and a draft of the film’s screenplay, accessible via BD-ROM. For Hellbound: Hellraiser II, there are also two audio commentaries, one with director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins, and the other with Randel, Laurence, and Atkins; the Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II documentary segment; Being Frank: Sean Shapman on Hellbound; the Lost in the Labyrinth vintage featurette; Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound; a set of on-set interviews with the director and various cast and crew; the once-thought-lost infamous deleted “surgeon” scene (which is not quite as legendary as you might think); a set of behind the scenes footage; both the theatrical and red band trailers; 2 TV spots; a set of still galleries featuring storyboards, alternate ending storyboards, and stills & promotional material; an Easter egg, which is a vintage promo for the movie’s soundtrack; and a draft of the film’s screenplay, accessible via BD-ROM. For Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, you get both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film (the latter with spliced in sections from the Laserdisc release of the film due to a lack of film elements readily available); two audio commentaries, one with Atkins for the theatrical version, and the other with director Anthony Hickcox and actor Doug Bradley on the unrated version; The Story of Hellraiser III documentary; Time with Terri with Paula Marshall (interview); Raising Hell on Earth, an interview with Hickcox; Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser III; the film’s original EPK; a set of special effects dailies; the theatrical trailer; and a set of still galleries, including a “Hellraiser III” comic book adaptation and stills & promotional material.
Not included from the out-of-print Scarlet Box is the fourth disc in that set entitled The Clive Barker Legacy: Limited Edition Exclusive. Contained therein are the aforementioned two Clive Barker short films Salomé and The Forbidden, with optional introductions from Barker; the Hellraiser Evolutions documentary, which takes a look at the legacy of the franchise; Books of Blood & Beyond: The Literary Works of Clive Barker featurette; and The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith fan short. Also absent is the 200-page hardback book “Damnation Games”, which contained essays on both Hellraiser and the Clive Barker universe from Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes. So this boxed set doesn’t come with absolutely everything, but considering what it does include, it’s probably closer to definitive than not.
Unfortunately, the Hellraiser films haven’t received this kind of lavish treatment here in the states. It’s unsurprising since it’s a U.K.-born franchise, but it has just as much appeal with horror fans here in the U.S. Someday we’ll get releases of these films, but I doubt they’ll be treated with the same kind of reverence. There may be good transfers and decent extras, but probably nothing this exhaustive. If you’re a horror fan and you can access Region B material, I highly recommend that you import this set while it’s still available.
- Tim Salmons