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Film / Hellraiser

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"What is your pleasure?"

Hellraiser is a 1987 horror film directed by Clive Barker, based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. It is the first film in the Hellraiser series.

Somewhere in the orient, the hedonistic Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) acquires a puzzle box from a mysterious Chinese man. At his home in London he eventually figures out the configuration, before he is is dragged off by unseen forces. Some time later, his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Larry's second wife Julia (Clare Higgins) visit the house, and with Frank seemingly gone, decide to move in. By accident some of Larry's blood is spilled on the floor in the attic, and Frank rises from the dead as a skinless undead human. He tells Julia (with whom he had an affair in the past) that he has escaped from a dimension ruled by beings called Cenobites who merge the boundaries between pleasure and pain, and convinces her to keep it a secret from Larry and find men for him to feed off on. Meanwhile Larry's daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) discovers the puzzle box, and comes face to face with the Cenobites, who are interested in getting Frank back to their realm.

Hellraiser contains examples of:

  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: As detailed under Plot Armor below, unlike Frank, Kirsty isn't immediately torn apart by hooks upon opening the box. In the novel, the Cenobites consistently appeared before anyone who opens the box. Nobody was torn apart straight away. It could be explained that Frank actually wants his fate whilst Kirsty doesn't.
  • Adaptation Title Change: Hellraiser is based off the novella The Hellbound Heart.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Larry Cotton's name in the original book is Rory Cotton.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The Cenobites. When Frank solves the box in the book, they warn him that the otherworldly sensations they offer may not be what he's looking for and actually give him the chance to walk away. They still aren't nearly as villainous here as they are from Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth onward, displaying a lot of Dark Is Not Evil and Blue-and-Orange Morality.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Lament Configuration (the puzzle box) is the key to open a portal to the hellish realm of the Cenobites.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • In the book, Pinhead is present but is not the lead Cenobite. The female Cenobite, the Chatterer, and the Engineer all have more prominent roles, but the film adaptation prevented this. The Chatterer could not speak (and the actor could not see), the Engineer was demoted and completely remade to the point of being unrecognizable, and the female Cenobite—while capable of speaking—had makeup that severely limited the actress' head and facial movements. Though fixed by the sequel, these problems meant Pinhead took point. Now he's the face of the franchise.
    • Butterball had some lines in the original script but due to the makeup preventing the actor from speaking, his lines were either cut or given to the female Cenobite.
  • Big Bad: Frank Cotton, a sadist killing people to restore his body after escaping the Cenobites.
  • Big "NO!": Frank shouts this when Kirsty tosses the Lament Configuration out the window.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Cenobites have been defeated and Kirsty has escaped her father's home with her boyfriend. But her father is dead and the puzzle box still exists. Further soured by the sequel, in which Kirsty is still trying to escape the Cenobites.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Cenobites inhabit a dimension of pure pleasure... only their idea of "pleasure" is so far removed from what is "normal" that an ordinary human would consider it weirdly discomfiting at best, agonizing torture at worst. The Cenobites don't consider their victims to be victims at all: they're giving them what they think they want. Those who use the box with better understanding are people who are addicted to the extremes of sensation, both pain and pleasure, and often blurring the line between the two before ultimately erasing it completely. The Cenobites are effectively priests of an S&M religion.
  • Body Horror: Frank, remaking his body from blood and flesh of others. And, of course, the Cenobites.
  • Bondage Is Bad: A popular misconception of the Cenobites. Here they are portrayed as amoral, if extreme, Sense Freak types.
  • Book Ends: The film ends right where it started, with the Chinese man selling the retrieved Lament Configuration to another unwitting explorer of the boundary between pleasure and pain, just as he did with Frank. Right down to the "What's your pleasure, sir?" line.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The cenobites donít go actively hunting for people despite looking like bondage gear clad demons. Also, the cenobites can be reasoned with to help a human if the Lament Configuration was solved by accident or against the personís will.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The first half of the film focuses on Julia and her initial attempts to restore Frank's body are portrayed somewhat sympathetically. Partway through, Julia fully descends into evil and the focus shifts to Kirsty, the true protagonist.
  • Die Laughing: Frank cackles maniacally as the chains rip him apart in the climax.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The female Cenobite inserting her fingers into her own exposed trachea in the first film - among innumerable other examples likely to make you ill.
  • Dr. Jerk: After Kristy wakes up in the hospital from passing out on the sidewalk, the nurse doesnít answer her questions about how she came to the hospital, then she comes back with the doctor who orders Kristy to get back into despite her protest to call her father, with a tone of annoyance rather than sympathy or concern for his patient. It also doesnít help that they locked the door, so she canít leave until the police talk to her.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Frank is reclaimed by the Cenobites, who are promptly banished when they try to take Kirsty too. She tries to destroy the puzzle box that started this whole mess, but a winged demon takes it away and it's last seen being sold to another fool.
  • Evil Feels Good: Frank's motivation. Julia eventually comes to this conclusion as well.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Frank Cotton releases four demons with the magical cube, which looks quite like some toy. They don't exactly reward him, although it's technically neither a reward nor a punishment. The Cenobites' job is to bring the summoner to the heights of "pain and pleasure". The summoners don't really understand what they're getting into.
  • Evil Uncle: Frank is Kirsty's. Obviously sucking the life out of people to restore yourself is pretty damn evil. He tries to rape Kirsty herself (after having a lengthy affair with her stepmother) before going after her with a knife.
  • Exact Words: Technically the cenobites didnít betray Kirsty after taking Frank. Pinhead said maybe theyíll let her go.
  • Eye Scream: The Butterball Cenobite has his eyes sewn shut; Chatterer, meanwhile, usually has skewers through his.
  • A Family Affair: Frank Cotton is revealed in flashbacks to have seduced his brother Larry's second wife Julia while he was away from home. Her lingering affection for him is the primary reason why she tries to help him complete his resurrection after his escape from the Cenobites.
  • Fan Disservice: Julia having wild, passionate sex with Frank while he's wearing the skin of her husband.
  • Final Girl: Kirsty.
  • For Want Of A Nail: A rather literal example. While moving furniture, Larry cuts his hand on a protruding nail and bleeds all over the floor. It's this blood that Frank first uses to reconstruct his body and return to the world of the living. If not for that stupid nail, Larry, Julia, and Kirsty might have just gone on living in the house, and Frank might have stayed in Hell.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Though much more iconic, the Cenobites aren't as prominent as antagonists as their escaped "disciple" Frank, and don't really do anything outright villainous until they decide to break their deal with Kirsty at the end of the film.
    • To be fair, Pinhead never agreed to anything. He simply said that they maybe will take Frank instead of Kirsty.
  • Groin Attack: Kirsty escapes from Frank the first time by kneeing him in the balls.
  • Hate Sink: Frank Cotton, who is completely lacking in any redeeming traits and is even more monstrous and vile than the cenobites who are chasing after him.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: Modern viewers who watch the movie for the first time might be surprised to find that Pinhead, despite appearing on the poster, isn't the main villain. He only appears briefly, with Frank acting as the main villain. In fact, even Julia does for more evil things in this movie than the Cenobites do. (In fact, Pinhead could even be considered an unintentional Anti-Hero in this movie, as his actions are what ends Frank's sadistic career.)
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Cenobites are treated as such.
  • Incest-ant Admirer: Frank, who's very fixated on his niece Kirsty. He even tried to rape her. Frank in general was portrayed as a savage hedonist who wanted to cross any boundary he could, including sleeping with his brother's wife, murdering people to replenish himself, and of course, seeking out the Cenobites in the first place.
  • Incoming Ham: "The box. You opened it. We came."
  • It Gets Easier: Julia starts off reluctantly killing a man to restore Frank's body. The subsequent ones are easier, but for a while she still pleads for her husband's life. By the end, she is completely calm and at ease when Frank kills Larry and steals his skin.
  • Jump Scare: Two occur when Kirsty is hiding in a storage room from Frank. The first happens when she opens a cupboard to try to hide, only for a large statue of Jesus to fall out and startle her. A short while later, the mutilated corpse of one of Frank and Julia's victims falls onto her and drops maggots all over her.
    • An earlier example occurs when Frank first makes his presence known to Julia by grabbing her ankle.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Julia is horrified after she first kills for Frank, but she eventually starts to revel in the murders she commits.
  • Kick the Dog: Frank deciding to rape his own niece, and Julia helping imprison her for him.
  • Love Makes You Evil: It isn't entirely clear if Julia feels genuine love or merely a deep lust for Frank, but her feelings towards him are what drive her to villainy.
  • Louis Cypher: The Chinese merchant at the beginning and the locust-eating hobo are both faces of what is implied to be the devil, or at least, a devil.
  • Magical Homeless Person: The hobo eating bugs in front of Kirsty turns out to be a servant and close associate of the Cenobites. Just before the end of the movie, he appears out of nowhere to pick up the Lament Configuration and turns into a skeletal winged demon to take the box elsewhere and start the cycle all over again.
  • May It Never Happen Again: After getting rid of Pinhead and his fellow Cenobites, they throw the Lament Configuration into some burning rubble so that no one will ever experience its horrors. Unfortunately, the same hobo that greeted Kirsty earlier in the movie reveals his true demonic form and retrieves the box before flying away.
  • Offering Another in Your Stead: Kirsty Cotton opens the Lament Configuration and finds herself facing Pinhead and his entourage. Knowing that her wicked uncle Frank has escaped them, she offers to bring them to Frank. Pinhead lets her go for the moment, promising that he may reconsider taking her as well. After she leads them to Frank, the Cenobites decide they want her too.
  • Oh, Crap!: Kirsty gets this reaction upon hearing her "father" say, "Come to Daddy" and realizing who it really is, and again when Pinhead appears right behind her after he's taken Frank back.
  • Noble Demon: Played With regarding Pinhead. He is certainly more reasonable and intelligent than other 80's movie villains. He has a clear moral code and notably makes several deals with people that allow them to avoid pain and suffering. However in this particular movie he uses Exact Words and warns Kirsty not to try to cheat them, the latter of which she inadvertently does when she refuses to let them take her father, when she doesn't realize he is really a disguised Frank. In the former case Pinhead never agrees to spare Kirsty, simply telling her 'maybe' they will let her go after taking Frank with her assistance.
  • Parental Incest: The lurking phantom of parental incest is all over the first two films. "Come to daddy" and all that. There's no evidence that it actually happened, but the idea is pretty firmly put into viewer's heads, particularly when Frank - already established as not above sleeping with his sister-in-law - attempts to rape Kirsty - his niece - while wearing her father's skin. Incidentally, that was a line taken directly from the novella where Kirsty is twenty-six and a friend rather than the daughter. Doesn't make it any less creepy though.
  • Peek-a-Boo Corpse: Played about as straight as possible.
  • Pet the Dog: Right before the Cenobites kill Frank, Pinhead warns Kirsty to look away from the gruesome sight, telling her "This isn't for your eyes."
  • Plot Armor: Kirsty. When Frank opens the box, it immediately spits out the Cenobites' signature hooked chains, promptly skewering him and tearing him apart. Kirsty, on the other hand, just gets a weird Dark World effect going on in her hospital room, a sudden door in the wall with a monster inside that doesn't catch her, and the Cenobites arriving rather dramatically. She wouldn't have even had a chance to offer a trade if it'd worked the same for her as it had for Frank.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "We'll tear your soul...APAAAAAAHHHHT."
  • Related in the Adaptation: In the book, Kirsty is a friend of Rory Cotton who has a crush on him. In the film, Larry Cotton is her father.
  • Same Language Dub: Sean Chapman (Frank), ironically a prolific voice actor in his own right, was redubbed by another, unknown actor with an American accent at the insistence of the studio New World Pictures, as were Oliver Smith (who played Skinless Frank) and several other supporting actors. Chapman's real voice can be heard in the trailer, as well as the recap segment at the beginning of the sequel.
    • Anthony Allen's (Julia's first victim) real voice briefly slips through during his death scene, a few of his lines aren't dubbed.
  • Satellite Love Interest: Steve, Kirsty's boyfriend, who could win an award for the most flat and boring designated love interest in an 80s horror flick. He does absolutely nothing besides flirt with Kirsty and show up in the last few minutes of the film, where he proves to be a Damsel in Distress that Kirsty actually ends up having to save. He could have had his role deleted entirely from the film without changing a single thing about the plot.
  • Self-Constructed Being: The plot, as far as Frank Cotton is concerned.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Frank's reaction to Kirsty.
  • Shout-Out: One of the film's taglines, "He'll tear your soul apart" on the original poster may be a reference to the 1975 film adaptation of Tommy, which features the same poster tagline in exactly the same font.
  • Sinister Shades: The Butterball Cenobite, who wears shades because his eyes are sewn shut.
  • Slasher Smile: The Chatterer. Not that he can really make any other expression...
  • The Sociopath: Frank Cotton, a depraved occultist who willingly summons demons to experience the height of pleasure and pain, and kills people to get his body back when he gets sick of it. He shows nothing but contempt for his brother, and lust for his niece, but can pretend to love his brother's wife to make her help him. That said, he has nothing but a sadistic joke when he mistakenly kills her.
  • Supernatural-Proof Father: Larry isn't aware of what Julia is doing until Frank kills and then skins him.
  • Tap on the Head: Half the horror comes from averting this trope. Murders are by smashing someone on the head with a small hammer, and the first blow NEVER works.
  • Tear Off Your Face: During the climax, the skin of Julia's face is torn off by chains offscreen. Kirsty discovers the partially flayed corpse clutching the puzzle box.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Larry pays so little attention to his house and to his wife's strange behavior that it gets him killed.
  • Touched by Vorlons: Whatever the hell the Cenobites did to Frank, it left him both more and... less than human. It's implied that the Cenobites empower their "victims" enough to be able to survive their ministrations for all eternity.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: How does Frank reward Julia for bringing him victims to regenerate his body? He stabs her in the stomach and leaves her for the Cenobites. This eventually bites him in the ass, both at the end of this movie, and in the second film.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Kirsty's boyfriend Steve has a relatively muted reaction to both the sight of a Cenobite and a homeless man walking into fire, transforming into a skeletal dragon, and flying off with the puzzle box in its talons. You'd think he'd at least ask Kirsty what the hell is going on.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Larry refers to the city they've moved to as Julia's "turf" yet the residents have an odd mixture of both American and English accents. One person is seen wearing a New York Yankees ballcap, and at least one London landmark can be seen during the film as well. Gets more confusing in the first sequel, where Kirsty has been moved to a (presumably nearby) mental hospital, but now everyone is American except for Dr. Channard and Julia. Clive Barker mentions in the DVD commentary that the movie was initially overtly set in London, but the studio offered an increased budget if the film was changed to have more American accents to capitalize on the stronger horror market in the US, resulting in the confusion in the location of the first film, which is presumably still meant to be London, while other sequels are much more obviously set in America.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Julia. She even says so herself in the sequel.