Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hellraiser the Morality Tale

Doesn't it seem like horror movies turned away from the fantastic? Recent horror movies that went the fantasy route were Jeepers Creepers (2001) and Drag Me to Hell (2009). Most horror is now gross out porn horror, but still as if it is real, normal humans doing awful things, or the psychological, supernatural possession style horror (Blair Witch-Paranormal Activity-The Others). The 1980s was chock full of fantasy horror movies and franchises. Nightmare on Elm St + the Friday the 13th series were standard bearers to the fantasy horror genre with ridiculous murders, the supernatural, and completely fantastic settings or endings. A smaller success in the genre was the Hellraiser series. There's something about the first Hellraiser that I never paid attention to as a kid (WTF was I doing watching this at 8?). The entire movie is centered on Julia’s unrestrained sexual feelings.

The movie is based on the Clive Barker novella, The Hellbound Heart, and the book has more back story on Frank (brother trying to come back from hell). Frank was a hedonist who became a nihilist forever chasing after bigger and bigger sensual pleasures. He is trapped by the puzzlebox into the weird goth S&M world of the Cenobites. The movie has to move quickly through that, as well as establish that he banged out his brother's new wife, Julia, before she got married. They actually have sex on her wedding dress. His brother is a standard Joe husband with shirt and tie. Frank is the aloof, dangerous alpha that bangs chicks out and uses a switchblade. The bride cannot resist him, even bangs him while lying on her wedding gown, she offers him 'anything' for him to stay. She marries the nice guy, but feelings don't die, they just get repressed.

Awakening the demon, the good guy brother hurts his hand as the wife remembers getting banged hard by the alpha brother. Nice cross cutting sequence to really hit you in the head with a 2x4. The husband runs up to the attic space, bleeds onto the floor, and the blood acts as sacrifice to awaken the brother trapped by the cenobites. The half dead-half reformed brother coerces his old flame into killing things as a sacrifice to bring him back. She doesn't even hesitate, and starts bringing suckers for him. How does she do it? By seducing men in bars and murdering them with a hammer when they think they're going to have sex. Her lust for Frank causes her to kill, and she ropes in her victims using lust as the bait. She will do everything to reconnect with her alpha fling rather than build a home with the good guy. When her husband attempts intercourse with her, she cries out stop no stop, which could be directed at the approaching half formed Frank or might be her denying her husband because her true love is there. She must remain untouched not to spoil herself for her ghoulish flame. She eventually sacrifices her husband for the old flame.

An interesting approach would have been to exclude all other characters from contact with the Cenobites, Frank and the skin sequence. The director could have played the entire thing as if it was her repressed sexual desire for a true alpha which forced her to kill men whom she had seduced, banged, and killed. Isn’t it an odd coincidence that the blood sacrifice that raised Frank back from hell happened right after that intense, emotional memory of Julia’s sex with Frank. The memory might have jumpstarted the spirit. The film still could have had the chaste, virgin daughter of the husband's first marriage be the one to solve the murders, but the mystery would be if the frank ghoul + cenobites were real or just in Julia’s head? The director did not, and my approach is shaped by love of old timey horror films as well as the current environment of psychological thrillers and examinations of the human condition. If I remade Hellraiser, I'd try to get away with that.

The movie has the evil, older woman consumed by lust kill others, including her good guy husband, to raise a dead romance. The crisis is solved by a young, chaste woman who wears white often solving the puzzlebox and offering up the hedonistic bad uncle to save herself and out of love for her father. I actually didn't like the forced good girl saves the day and solves the puzzle ending. It tracks the book closely, but where's the mystery? Focusing more on the daughter in the second half of the movie also took energy away from the Hellraiser: Julia. Julia is the Hellraiser. She's sacrificing humans to raise a man up from hell. The movie is about her ordeal. It is her sexual lust that cannot be controlled. At any point, she could have forced her husband to move out of the dumpy house. At any point, she could have said no or sacrificed her life to end the nightmare. She would not. This is an old morality tale with some 80s special effects and an 80s synth soundtrack.

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