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Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Blu-Ray Review

December 20, 2016 | Posted by Joseph Lee
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Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Blu-Ray Review  

*Doug Bradley as Pinhead/Lead Cenobite
*Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton
*Andrew Robinson as Larry
*Clare Higgins as Julia
*Sean Chapman as Frank
*Imogen Boorman as Tiffany
*Kenneth Cranham as Dr. Philip Channard
*Grace Kirby/Barbie Wilde as Female Cenobite
*Simon Bamford as Butterball Cenobite
*Nicholas Vince as Chatterer Cenobite
*Terry Farrell as Joey Summerskill
*Paula Marshall as Terri

Story: Three films about the Lament Configuration box, which opens a portal to Hell and brings forward the cenobites to claim the person responsible. They clash with Kirsty Cotton, who finds herself accidentally opening the box and then having to journey to Hell to save her father. In Hellraiser III, Pinhead escapes the shackles of servitude and aims to remake Earth into a new Hell.

What can you say that hasn’t already been said about Hellraiser? Horror was in a very different place when the film arrived in 1987, as there hadn’t quite been anything like it. It’s based on the novella The Hellbound Heart, which Barker wrote. If you’ve ever read the book then you’d know that except for a few cosmetic changes, Hellraiser is that novel brought to life. That’s what happens when the story’s author writes and directs the film.

Hellraiser is, more than anything else, is a twisted love story. Julia (Higgins) has an unhealthy obsession with Frank after they had an affair shortly before her wedding. So much so that when he’s resurrected after an encounter with Cenobites, she’s totally fine with killing random people so he can feed on them and bring his body back. This leads to Kirsty discovering everything and having her own encounter with the Cenobites, promising them Frank in exchange for her freedom.

During the 80s, there were a lot of films that had bits of humor in addition to the kills. Freddy turned into a clown, Friday the 13th had several comic relief characters and the horror films of the decade that are most-fondly remembered usually had some levity in them. Hellraiser was different. It was relentlessly dark, gory and violent. It threatened to tear your soul apart and that’s exactly what it did.

The film gave us Pinhead, a creature with a simple design but who carries his appearances with a regal attitude. He’s joined by other cenobites, who have more grotesque designs that serve as memorable nightmare fuel. The cenobites were different from any other monster that appeared on film before this. They’re the standouts in a film loaded to the brim with gore, including an impressively-designed skinless man.

The film is known for the tremendous makeup effects and design, as well as the cenobites. It’s also a well-acted film, with Claire Higgins managing to steal the show as Julia. Ashley Laurence is more associated with Hellraiser than Julia is since she appeared four times in the franchise, but Higgins has to play a villain and somehow keep her interesting enough to make the audience care about what happens to her. She’s the highlight in the acting department, which is impressive when Laurence, Andrew Robinson and Doug Bradley all show up to play their roles with gusto.

Hellraiser is a film where a tremendous amount of effort went into making it and that is all present on the screen. They did the best with what they had and while certain effects look dated (mostly that dragon at the end, but it was cheap to begin with), the makeup effects and the cenobites still look great.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II began filming around the time that Hellraiser hit theaters, so they were going all in on telling this weird story. In this film, Barker worked on the story and was the executive producer, but he wasn’t as hands on as he was with the first film. Peter Atkins wrote the script with Tony Randel taking over as director.

Hellbound works under the idea that bigger is better. The budget is bigger, or at least looks bigger, as we open up the world and the mythology of the story while also continuing elements from the first film. Kirsty Cotton is back and is sent a message from Hell by what she believes to be her father. Meanwhile, Dr. Channard (Cranham) has obtained the mattress Julia died on and gives it blood to resurrect her. These two stories eventually intertwine and also include our favorite Cenobites.

The story itself is great in juggling all the various plots. You have the Kirsty/Julia/Frank stuff from the first film, the Julia/Channard story, the addition of Tiffany as the puzzle solver and the Cenobites still have a place, sticking to the background as they did the last time around. It all sort of works together, with each story getting a conclusion.

The production value is also increased as we get a lot of nightmarish visuals, usually of the different takes on Hell. In this version, everyone has their own personal Hell with different elements depending on the person. For Frank, he has to live in a world where women promise sex but disappear before he can have it. Meanwhile, Tiffany runs through a Hell that looks like a nightmare circus. It’s all led by Leviathan, a huge Lament Configuration that floats in the center of this place. It all looks fantastic, opening things up from what was essentially a one-location story in the last film.

Hellbound only falters in its pacing, in that the story rushes and is edited in a way that it can fall apart apart if you think too hard about it. Removed and never-filmed sequences mean that Chatterer gains eyes for no reason. The Cenobites in general get a raw deal once Channard is created, going out easily in their “fight.” So Hellbound isn’t perfect as there are little problems like that here and there. A different cut with added material would have helped it a great deal.

Even with those issues, it’s still a very worthy follow-up and a great horror film in its own right. It’s the second chapter in a story that should have continued with similar themes and plots. Unfortunately, studio meddling meant it wouldn’t go down that way.

The downfall of New World Pictures and Miramax acquiring the property eventually gave us Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth a few years later. You can tell from watching it that this is a different kind of movie. Pinhead is more of an ego-maniacal villain (although this is explained) and the look in general is different from the last two films. There’s also a different crew, with only Atkins and Doug Bradley coming back. Barker eventually returned to executive produce and Ashley Laurence had a cameo, but their involvement was minimal.

Hellraiser III is still a direct sequel, however, in that it does pick up on story elements started in the first film. When Pinhead was given his memories back by Kirsty and killed, his soul was split into Pinhead and his human persona, Capt. Elliot Spencer. So Pinhead manages to work his way back to life (using the blood method established in the last two films) to make a new Hell on Earth and only a reporter, aided by Spencer, can stop him.

As you can tell, Hell on Earth is in different territory. Pinhead officially takes the center stage after being a supporting character before. It capitalizes on the popularity of the character and, for better or worse, makes it about him. He’s now the top villain and he has very evil plans. There are some who think this direction hurt the franchise and there are others who enjoy it because they like Bradley’s performance. I’m a little of both, as I appreciate Bradley’s performance but preferred the character as being bound by rules and only there to do a job.

Hellraiser III also continues the trend of being bigger than Hellbound, as we get a full battle between brand new cenobites and police in the center of a city. Another sequence has Pinhead slaughtering a night club full of people. There are a lot more visual effects in addition to the makeup effects. It’s a bigger movie, although whether it’s better depends on your world view.

It’s hurt by the story and some of the throwaway characters only created to become cenobites. The cenobites themselves are more gimmicky this time around, with a CD-Head and a Camerahead, as well as a woman who loves to smoke becoming a cenobite that smokes. It’s silly instead of grotesque. We’re also following a lead that, while competently portrayed by Terry Farrell, isn’t written as well as Kirsty had been. Hellraiser III attempts to be bigger and definitely captured the franchise at the height of its popularity, but it’s an example of diminishing returns.

When combined in one set, the first three Hellraiser films are a great watch. Hellraiser is a classic for a reason. Hellbound is a worthy followup with a lot of interesting ideas and visual flair. Hellraiser III, while the lesser of the ‘trilogy’, is still a lot of fun with Doug Bradley clearly enjoying himself as Pinhead. The series is more or less known today for the straight-to-video sequels that tarnished the name, but these films remind us all why Hellraiser used to be a great source for something different from the Freddys and Jasons.

Films: 9.0

This set features uncompressed PCM Stereo 2.0 and Lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound for Hellraiser and Hellbound, wit lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 sound for Hell on Earth. The sound, to be blunt, is amazing. You especially notice this during scenes without anything other than Christopher Young’s hauntingly-beautiful scores, particularly Hellbound. We can also hear all the gross sound effects, every line of dialogue, and every music cue with crystal clarity. Arrow Video knew they were releasing a huge fan favorite here so they put in the work (as they normally do) to make it sound tremendous.

Audio: 9.5

It’s easy to say that this set is the best the films have ever looked, but it’s true. The previously blu-ray discs were decent but didn’t look nearly as good as this does. You get AVC-encoded 1080p transfers of all three films, each in their original aspect ratios of 1.85:1. The color is there, even in dark films and the transfers appear to have shaved at least ten years off of them. They look fantastic, as good as they sound. The pictures is so good, for example, that you can see where the makeup was applied on the cenobites and where it stops. So in that regard, perhaps it looks a little too good.

Video: 9.5

Special Features

Hellraiser Audio Commentary with Clive Barker and Ashley Laurence: If I remember right, both of these commentary tracks were originally available on the 20th anniversary DVD from Anchor Bay in 2007. At this particular time in his life Barker was sick of Pinhead, but considering he was attached to a remake at one point and wrote The Scarlet Gospels, he probably got over it.

Hellraiser Audio Commentary with Clive Barker: Barker is running solo for this one. It covers a lot of the same ground as the other commentary, but without Peter Atkins to play off of.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II Audio Commentary with Peter Atkins and Tony Randel: Atkins and Randel are the writer and director of the film, respectively. These two take a bit to get going but they’re soon providing a lot of trivia and joking off one another. You can tell they’re friends so it shows while this plays.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II Audio Commentary with Peter Atkins, Tony Randel and Ashley Laurence: This was featured on Anchor Bay’s 20th anniversary release in 2008. It’s more of the same as the other commentary track, only with the addition of Ashley Laurence giving her thoughts. Some of the information is repeated but some of it is new. That’s the risk you run with repeat commentaries with the same people.

Hellraiser III Audio Commentary with Peter Atkins (Theatrical Version Only): These commentary tracks appear to be new, as this one is moderated by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher and I don’t recall a commentary track on the DVDs before this. As with the Hellbound commentary, Atkins is great to listen to, as he provides a lot of insight into previous versions of Hell on Earth while offering up a lot of jokes.

Hellraiser III Audio Commentary with Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley (Unrated Version Only): This is a decent commentary too, managing to cover some different ground from the Atkins’ one. I could be wrong, but I think this the only commentary on a Hellraiser movie with Bradley. I don’t recall him appearing on the straight-to-video DVDs.

Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II: This is a three and a half hour documentary over the first two films split in half into two feature-length documentaries on Hellraiser and Hellbound. It’s actually edited down from a nine-hour(!) documentary that’s available from Dead Mouse Productions on it’s own. What’s there is very good and I can only imagine how extensive the actual documentary is. There’s interviews with nearly everyone involved and a lot of behind-the-scenes stories. Barker was not involved due to health issues and Ashley Laurence isn’t part of it either. However, both are featured through archive footage and appear on other features in this set. While the remastered Hellraiser films are more than enough to justify a purchase, this is a huge selling point.

Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser: A two-part feature on the Hellraiser and Hellbound discs with Sean Chapman talking about playing Frank. He talks a bit about his overall career and the small but important role he had in the Hellraiser films.

Soundtrack Hell: Stephen Thrower of Coil talks about the unused themes the band created for Hellraiser, which were eventually scrapped in favor of Christopher Young’s score. It came pretty close to having a completely different sound, with an industrial vibe to the music. They actually match up the main theme to the opening titles to give you an idea of what may have been.

Hellraiser: Resurrection: This was also on the Anchor Bay set. It’s basically a prototype for Leviathan, only it features comments from Barker. Like the earlier commentary, he was at a time in his life where he was sick of Hellraiser. It’s still a good watch though, especially to get more of his thoughts.

Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser: A three-part interview that spans over the first three discs, each focused on the individual films. It may also be from the Anchor Bay set, although the third part would have to be new since Paramount’s DVD had no interview with Bradley. Either way, it’s a lot of the same dialogue from the other sets, with a bit more of Bradley’s take on playing Pinhead.

Original Hellraiser EPK: The original electronic press kit for Hellraiser and a brief behind-the-scenes look.

Lost in the Labyrinth: This comes from Anchor Bay’s 20th anniversary DVD of Hellbound. Once again, it’s a shorter making-of feature on the film, only includes comments from Barker and Laurence. It’s interesting to get Barker’s take since he was only minimally involved with the sequel.

On-Set Interviews: Similar to Hellraiser‘s EPK, this is a short vintage featurette that goes behind-the-scenes of Hellbound. You get one with thoughts from Barker and another with thoughts from the cast and crew.

Surgeon Scene: Remember the old VHS copy of Hellraiser II that had a photo still of Pinhead and the Female Cenobite wearing surgeon garb? Remember how confused you were when that scene wasn’t anywhere in the movie? Arrow Video finally tracked down what was shot of that infamous scene and added the video here. It’s nothing stellar (the effects shots were never completed) but it’s great to have it after all these years.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage: On the Hellbound disc, another very brief bit of footage from the set.

Hell on Earth: The Story of Hellraiser III: A half-hour documentary on the third film with thoughts from writer Peter Atkins, make-up effects artist Bob Keen and actor Ken Carpenter (Doc/Camerahead). It’s a shame that they couldn’t get Terry Farrell for any of these features. Either way, it’s not as extensive as the “Leviathan” features but it still covers everything you can think of. This was put together by Dead Mouse, who also did Leviathan.

Paula Marshall Interview: It’s pretty self-explanatory. Paula Marshall talks about her time on the film. It’s a nice fifteen minute interview and she seems to look back on the film fondly. That’s probably because it was first movie.

Anthony Hickox Interview: Hickox talks about coming on to work on a mythology he had no initial involvement with. He sounds proud of the film and his motives seem to be for the right reasons. He even made sure to get Peter Atkins to make sure he kept continuity as much as possible. It should be noted that everyone involved with the film states that Hell on Earth‘s cenobites are not actual cenobites, which explains why they’re so gimmicky.

Original Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth EPK: Same deal as the one for Hellraiser, just for a different movie. A brief behind-the-scenes look at the film.

FX Dailies: This is what it says it is. 23 minutes of dailies of all the makeup effect shots in the film. There isn’t any sound, but it’s still cool to see the effects as works in progress that they have to perfect to get the shots.

Hellraiser III Comic Adaptation: That’s right, you get a bonus comic book! This is located in the “Galleries” section of the disc.

Clive Barker’s Salome & The Forbidden: These are two short films Barker did in the 70s. They were packaged together as a home video release but this is their first appearance on blu-ray. They’re very experimental and arthouse, but it’s interesting to see what Clive was doing before he started writing/directing films properly. The art style is definitely his, there’s no mistaking it. Both shorts can be watched with or without introductions.

Books of Blood & Beyond: A visual essay of sorts through Clive Barker’s bibliography. It’s not very long at only twenty minutes (Barker has a lot of books) but it gets the job done. It’s basically a primer for those who may only know Clive for his Hellraiser and Nightbreed work.

Hellraiser: Evolutions: Hey, you want more Hellraiser documentaries? Here’s one covering the entire franchise that runs at a little under an hour. That means it eventually discusses the films beyond Hell on Earth, although the first three still get the bulk of the focus. It also explores the themes of the series and original novella. There are comments from Scott Derrickson (director of Hellraiser: Inferno), Kari Wuhrer (star of Hellraiser: Deader) and more.

The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith: This is a short film from R.N. Millward from 2005, originally designed to be a sizzle reel of sorts for a possible Hellraiser TV show. It’s fine, although very low-budget. The feature also includes a commentary option. I wasn’t even aware this existed, so it’s another great find by the Arrow Video crew.

The Hellraiser disc also includes four TV spots, three trailers (including an international trailer with original audio from Oliver Smith as Skinless Frank and the “Satan’s Done Waitin'” tagline) and an image gallery. The Hellbound disc includes two trailers, two TV spots and three photo galleries, which include storyboards for an alternate ending of the movie. The Hell on Earth disc includes the theatrical and unrated versions of the film, along with the theatrical trailer and a photo gallery.

There’s just so much content overall on this set. I can’t imagine anything else that could be included. In addition to all of the disc features, you also get a poster, artwork and a book about the films. It’s an amazing set, content-wise, one that Hellraiser fans have been waiting for.

Special Features: 10.0

The final score: review Virtually Perfect
The 411
It's an easy decision to give this set a 10. Arrow Video really outdid themselves here, providing amazing transfers of all three films. On top of that, they give you hours and hours of extras, and that's not even counting the feature-length documentaries. It's an absolutely great set that Hellraiser fans and horror fans alike should go out and purchase immediately. It'll tear your soul apart.