I saw Hellraiser for the first time this week. It had long been on my third-tier, "maybe-get-to-it-eventually" movie list, due to its apparent weirdness. But when I learned Andrew Robinson (Garak from DS9, and the killer in the first Dirty Harry) was in it: well, more urgency, naturally. Having seen it, I'm not going to prioritize its sequels much higher than that third tier, but maybe a little—another DS9 alum, Terry Farrell, is in one of them.
I don't think Hellraiser could have come into being without A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. Certainly, it outclasses its forebears in every respect: better acting, stronger mood, freakier freakiness, and one-liners that are both more memorable and more seamlessly integrated into the story. I am already saying "We have such things to show you" in everyday conversation, and "Don't look at me!" has such obvious utility that I've already been using it for years.
Robinson plays a schlubby husband of a creepy British woman who had a fittingly creepy fling with Robinson's weirdo brother Frank. What happened to Frank is…well, the whole point of the movie. Let's just say it involves horrors from beyond our realm of existence, accessed via a mysterious puzzle-box acquired in the opening scene. (It all made more sense when Sam Neill did the same thing in Event Horizon, but then, Hellraiser seems loath to provide extensive backstory and world-building. I both hope and fear that the sequels will go more into that stuff—e.g., explaining what a Cenobite is exactly.)
The other major cast member is Robinson's daughter, a prototypical '80s-horror scream-queen in most respects, though quite believable late in the film, once the hell starts a-raisin'. Too bad she and her boyfriend are attired so precisely like music video characters that I kept expecting the puzzle-box to trap them in the Monochromatic Plane of Pencil-Sketch Animation.
Hellraiser never gets tedious, though some short scenes are awkward and pointless. It's a well-constructed "scary house" flick, with a good build of dread and enough mystery to keep you at least somewhat curious about the finale. I'd score it higher if it wasn't so very icky—and I'm not talking about the gore. Plenty of gory movies don't leave you wanting a shower afterward.
Star Score: 2 out of 5