In the fall of 1987 Clive Barker reshaped the erotic horror genre with his sadomasochistic Hellraiser. Unlike the previous decades Hammer Films, Barker used eroticism to flesh out the duality between pleasure and pain. Although each scene built upon the character’s sexuality, they were overshadowed by the painful depictions of gore and torture. Although Clive Barker uses a lot of religious symbolism, much of the story as well as editing focuses on the dichotomy between pleasure and pain. Furthermore, as the story progresses, the iconic Hellraiser puzzle box becomes synonymous with Pandora’s box, the box which contains all the evils and forbidden desires of the world. The tragic personification of this is embodied by Clare Higgin’s character Julia. We learn Julia had fallen in love with the seductive evil brother in law Frank. Some time later, she is confronted again by Frank, explaining to her, she must help him in order to save his life. Keep in mind she is being told this by a Frank who is now little more than a sticky body consisting of little more than bloody tendons and bone, and saving him involves her seducing men and killing them so Frank may feast on their body. Consequently, we watch Julia’s state of mind slip into a constant state of anxiety and fear. In addition, we see her personality go from being timid towards blood and violence to deriving pleasure from them. As she becomes more of a succubus, Julia pulls further away from her own sense of humanity and autonomy. Meanwhile, the story also follows Kirsty, whose sexuality and adulthood is being awakened. This is depicted by her finally moving out of her father’s house, drinking alcohol, and making love to a boy before she confronts her stepmother. Kirsty’s Elektra complex leads to her stealing the puzzle box and being told by her doctor to open it. As she playfully opens the box, we see a curious cliché montage of flowers blooming. This symbolism suggests Kirsty has bloomed into adulthood and literally only hell follows. Although the underworld of Hellraiser and Kirsty will be explored more in the future installments, Julia’s tragic path was perhaps the most focused and seductive aspects of the original. Barker’s Hellraiser use of symbolism, extreme violence, sensuality, helped illustrate a fresh take on a female’s path towards the Original Sin. This combined with Christopher Young’s score and the production created a timeless erotic horror.
Hellraiser (1987) Review