Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box
Released by: Arrow Video
Released on: December 20th, 2016.
Director: Clive Barker, Tony Randel, Anthony Hickox
Cast: Doug Bradley, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Andrew Robinson, Sean Chapman
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When Clive Barker’s adaptation of his short story The Hellbound Heart appeared in cinemas in 1987 as Hellraiser, it was a marked departure from the slasher movie trend that dominated screens at the time. The film has gone on to become genuinely iconic, spawning countless sequels and a remake slated for next year. While the films have been a staple of DVD for years and the first two pictures had have domestic Blu-ray releases prior to this one, Arrow really has rolled out the red carpet for the first three movies in the series with Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box.
Directed in 1987 by Clive Barker, Hellraiser tells the story of Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson), an American married to his new British wife Julia (Claire Higgins). Along with Larry’s daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), the three take residence in an ornate but aging home. From the start, things are odd – Claire is spending a lot of time in one of the older rooms upstairs. Why? Because Larry’s brother Frank (Sean Chapman), who once had an affair with Julia, is there – albeit in less than human form.
See, when Frank was in Africa, Frank bought a box called The Lament Configuration. When he used this the wrong way, he summoned a trio of demons known as the Cenobites to take him off to Hell. Only it didn’t work, not completely at least. Frank is still alive, but to get his body back to what it once was, he’ll need fresh blood. Julia will get it for him, he holds a strange power over her… but if Larry is ignorant about all of this, Kirsty is not. As she and her friend Steve (Robert Hines) figure out what’s going on, she starts to realize that there’s something seriously wrong here.
In order to stop Frank from taking even more lives she may have to do the unthinkable – summon the Cenobites (Doug Bradley, Barbie Wilde, Simon Bamford and Nicholas Vince) to finish the job.
A remarkably unique slice of gothic S&M tinged horror, Hellraiser holds up well. Sure the optical effects are a product of their time and the Cenobites look less like demons than they do fetish ball attendees, but the story remains a twisted and engrossing tale of dark love and hellish vengeance. Given that most of the film takes place inside a dark old house this isn’t the most colorful picture you’ll ever see but the sets suit the mood of the story well and add to the atmosphere of dread that permeates the film so strongly.
Performances are great across the board. Andrew Robinson is charmingly naïve early in the film but, once things ‘change’ his nice guy persona actually becomes quite intimidating. Ashley Laurence does a fine job as Kirsty, portraying her character with intelligence but also convincing us during those scenes where she has to show genuine fear. Sean Chapman is great as Frank, just completely slimy and believably evil. It’s Claire Higgins who really steals the show, however. She’s got an unholy sex appeal to her that she uses very well in this picture. She’s convincingly conniving and wonderfully sinister in the part. As far as the Cenobites go, they have very little dialogue save for Bradley, but they certainly make an impression and Bradley’s strong voice is perfect for his role.
Barker’s direction is controlled and impressive. Say what you will about the guy but here, he had a vision and he did a fine job of getting it up there on the screen. The pacing is solid and the character development interesting. The movie also builds really nicely until we get to the last twenty minutes or so of the picture where things get pretty intense and frightening. Throw in some impressive makeup and practical effects and it’s easy to see why this particular film remains as enduringly popular as it does.
Hellbound - Hellraiser II:
The second film, which sees writer Peter Atkins and director Tony Randel take over for Barker (who did contribute to the story), picks up fairly close to where the original film left off. We catch up with Kirsty (Ashley Laurence again) after she’s been put away in a mental hospital. Not so surprisingly, nobody believes her when she says that her family was killed by Cenobites – the powers that be figure she should take a break, and hence, she’s institutionalized.
The man in charge of the hospital is a psychiatrist named Dr. Philip Channard (Kenneth Cranham). Unbeknownst to most who work alongside him, Channard has been toying with ways to enter alternate dimensions for some time now. When he learns of Kirsty’s story, he manages to find evidence of Julia’s death and, after making physical contact with a bloody mattress from the scene of her killing, he manages to do what she did with Frank – bring her back. Kirsty has only one confidant, Channard’s assistant Kyle MacRae (William Hope). He believes her story where others do not and proves to be a good friend to her.
As Channard becomes more obsessed with bringing Julia (Claire Higgins again) back, he kills patients to get her the blood she needs to become whole. In exchange, Julia agrees to help Channard learn what she already knows but soon enough, Kirsty is on to them and the Cenobites return.
Hellbound is one of those rare sequels that rivals its predecessor. This second film has a larger scale in some ways, what with its bizarre but effective depictions of the underworld, while still remaining grounded by concentrating on a small cast of characters. As it is in the first film, the Cenobites aren’t needed to be front and center at all times, they’re more focused on in the later third of the picture, but that doesn’t make them any less effective or memorable when they do appear.
Laurence and Higgins are both great reprising their roles here while Doug Bradley is given a bit more to do this time around and manages to make the most of it. The art direction is impressively bizarre and macabre, the effects and gore scenes just as strong as they were in the first movie, and the score ominous and at times, massive sounding. The pacing and editing is also very tight here, letting us spend enough time with Channard to understand his motives while still developing Kirsty, Julia and even bringing Frank back for a second go round.
Hellraiser III – Hell On Earth:
When Hellbound ended, Pinhead and the Lament Configuration were trapped in a macabre art piece called The Pillar of Souls. This piece winds up in the possession of a man named J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt), the womanizing owner of a night club called The Boiler Room.
Meanwhile a television reporter named Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) is trying to uncover the true story behind the Cenobites and the device that can be used to summon them after learning of a teenager who suffered injuries relating to all of this. It turns out that the box was stolen by a young woman named Terri (Paula Marshall) who swiped it from The Boiler Room. Joey and Terri team up and discover Kirsty’s back story which in turn clues them in to the box’s ability to send the Cenobites back to Hell – which comes in handy when Pinhead manages to begin freeing himself from The Pillar Of Souls and slaughter one of Monroe’s recent sexual conquests, a girl named Brittany Virtue (Sharon Percival), whose soul is sucked into the pillar. As Monroe becomes a slave to Pinhead’s desires, he starts bringing clubgoers to kill so that their blood can help him to escape. Once he manages this, he goes on a killing spree in the bar, creates a few new Cenobites and goes on a rampage across Los Angeles in hopes of destroying the Lament Configuration so that he’ll never be sent back to Hell.
This third film was definitely the beginning of the end for the series. While it has its moments, including a rather well done scene where Pinhead holds a black mass of sorts in a church before blowing out all its windows, this third film can’t hold a candle to the first two. It’s interesting in that it serves to give us Pinhead’s origin story, which allows Bradly to play a double role – Pinhead and his earlier human self, a World War I soldier named Elliott spencer – but sometimes less is more in that regard and it essentially explains too much. The newly created Cenobites aren’t frightening so much as they are just weird (one of them shoots CDs at people to kill them!) and the eerie gothic atmosphere is tossed aside in favor of turning the series into a novel franchise to exploit complete with one liners and really dated imagery.
Where the first two films had great soundtracks, this one makes use of some original music and early nineties pop tracks as well. While it’s kind of cool to hear Motorhead appear in the movie, you also have to make do with contributions from The Soup Dragons, KMFDM, The Electric Love Hogs and a very out of place Armored Saint.
The performances are okay but the characters are pretty much all clichés – the sleazy club owner, the nosy reporter, the spunky street kid who wants to help. We’ve seen these types before plenty of times in the past and done better than they are here at that. Some of the visuals are interesting and there’s definitely some decent carnage and gore. The script earns a few points for throwing in an unexpected and interesting twist at the end – but it’s hard to take any of this seriously, even if it is entertaining enough in its own goofy way.
Note that Arrow has provided both the original theatrical version of the film, running approximately ninety-three minutes, as well as the ninety-seven minute alternate unrated version of the movie. The unrated version extends the topless dance in The Boiler Room night club, adds a scene in The Boiler Room where Terri witnesses a drug deal and some other activity and adds another scene where we see Elliott buying the Lament Configuration.
All three movies in this set are presented in ‘brand new 2K restorations’ in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Hellraiser and Hellraiser II look very similar to each other in terms of their look and their aesthetic so expect them both to be reasonably grainy and dimly lit with wonderfully drab color schemes! These are not bright or particularly colorful films but heavy on blacks and shadowy interiors. Having said that, the transfers replicate the intended look of these two movies very well. The images are grainy but not to the point of distraction, and the picture quality here is nice and film-like. Flesh tones look good, detail is quite strong and there are no problems with compression artifacts, edge enchantment or noise reduction.
Hellraiser III is a different animal. While it too is free of any digital filtering or nose reduction, it is a much more colorful film. At the same time, it also looks somewhat flat compared to the first two movies. The lighting and style employed in this third entry is very different from the first two and for that reason we have a very different looking movie. There are no issues with the quality of the image, however. Colors are well handled and the picture is clean and nicely detailed.
A bit more in regards to Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, the inserts in the unrated version are taken from a cropped 4x3 source and are of inferior quality – and when you watch the unrated version, the aspect ratio will switch from 1.85.1 to 1.33.1, which is kind of odd. A laserdisc was evidently the best option available as far as elements go, so keep that in mind. Otherwise the transfer here looks great. As to the framing, it’s been pointed out on various forums that there’s a fair bit more info on the left side of the screen on this transfer than has been noticeable before. Sometimes this isn’t a problem at all, but in certain shots it does change the compositions and even occasionally reveal things we’re not supposed to see, such as wooden boards holding up the pillar in the scene where the blonde woman is pulled towards it. Arrow has addressed the issue here and is standing by their framing choices on this particular film.
Audio chores are handled by uncompressed LPCM Stereo 2.0 and Lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound for Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II and DTS-HD MA 2.0 for Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. The 2.0 tracks sound more authentic for the first two movies but the 5.1 mix opens things up nicely with the score and some of the effects while still keeping most of the dialogue up front. Regardless of which option you opt for with any of the three features, the audio quality is quite strong. Dialogue stays clean and clear and is free of any obvious hiss or distortion while the levels remain properly balanced throughout. English closed captioning is provided for each of the three features.
Extras are spread across the four discs in the set as follows:
DISC ONE – HELLRAISER:
Carried over from previous special editions releases of the movie are the audio commentary with writer/director Clive Barker and the audio commentary with Barker and leading lady Ashley Laurence. Both of these tracks are worth listening to if you haven’t heard them before. The track with Barker and Laurence does a great job of recounting memories from the shoot, talking about the different cast members that appeared in the film and dissecting the different characters. Barker’s solo track is a bit more focused on the background, the story that inspired the film, his thoughts on the final product and some of the themes and ideas that the picture deals with.
New to Arrow’s release is Leviathan: The Story Of Hellraiser, a massive documentary that covers the making of Hellraiser, featuring interviews with key cast and crew members. This thing runs ninety minutes and it’s made up of interviews with actors Doug Bradley, Barbie Wilde, Nicholas Vince, Clare Higgins, Simon Bamford, Ashley Laurence, Geoff Portass, Oliver Parke, Bob Keen, Kenneth Cranham, Andy Robinson, Hellbound writer Peter Atkins, director of photography Robin Vidgeon, producer Christopher Figg and camera operator David Worley. No new participation from Barker here, or anywhere in the set really, but this piece, narrated by Oliver Smith, takes an in-depth look at the making of the film, what set it apart from other horror pictures of its time, the picture’s production history and it’s lasting influence.
Also worth checking out is the twenty-six minute featurette Being Frank: Sean Chapman On Hellraiser in which the actor talks about being cast as Frank Chapman in the original film. Here he shares some interesting stories about his experiences on set during the shoot, his thoughts on Barker, his take on Frank’s character, what it was like working alongside some of the other cast members and more. Very interesting, particularly to film score junkies, is Soundtrack Hell: The Story Of The Abandoned Coil Score in which Coil member Stephen Thrower talks about how and why his band was brought on board to create music for the film. Of course, their work didn’t end up being used in the picture and he explains in quite a bit of detail how and why that came to be. There are also some very interesting clips in this eighteen minute piece that set footage from the film against Coil’s compositions for the film so you can get a feel for how it would have turned out had the producers not changed their minds.
Some older featurettes are also found here, starting with the twenty-four minute long Hellraiser: Resurrection piece that is made up of interviews with Clive Barker, Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, special make-up effects artist Bob Keen and quite a few others. By this point most of what’s covered here has been covered in the other featurettes but there’s no harm in including more supplemental material! Also familiar to fans will be Under The Skin: Doug Bradley On Hellraiser wherein the actor spends twelve minutes sharing stories about how he got to know Barker, his casting in the film, the makeup required to turn him into Pinhead and more.
Outside of that, we get a six minute long vintage EPK featuring on-set interviews with cast and crew, drafts of the screenplay in PDF format (for the BD-Rom enabled), a trio of trailers, four TV spots, a still gallery, animated menus and chapter selection.
DISC TWO – HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II:
Again, Arrow carries over the audio commentary tracks from previous releases, the first with director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins and the second with Randel, Atkins and actress Ashley Laurence. The first track is heavier towards the technical side of things and on the origins of the story – following up Barker’s novella with this treatment, what they wanted to do different this second time around and that type of thing. The second track is a bit more geared towards who did what on set, the experiences of the cast and crew, the effects, the locations and more. Both are worth checking out if you haven’t listened to them before as they’re very informative.
New to the Arrow release is Leviathan: The Story Of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, which is a two hour documentary that is similar to the Leviathan piece found on the first disc. Following the same format, this time around we get new interviews with Peter Atkins, Christopher Figg, Tony Randall, Bob Keen, Geoff Portass, William Hope, Robin Vidgeon and Doug Bradley. Again, this is an insanely comprehensive piece that covers what was involved in following up Barker’s original picture, where they wanted to take the characters, the set design, the effects, the casting of the picture and loads more.
In Being Frank: Sean Chapman On Hellbound we once again get Sean Chapman talking about reprising the role of Frank Cotton in the first Hellraiser sequel in this twelve minute piece. He talks about his experiences on set, his thoughts on this sequel (he’s not as found of it as he is the first picture) and his character.
Probably the most interesting extra for Hellbound is the inclusion of the infamous Surgeon Scene, which has never appeared on any home video release prior to Arrow’s. Although this is sourced from a rough quality VHS work print, it’s great to finally see this five minute sequence that would wind up being cut from the finished version of the movie. Without going into spoiler territory, here Kristy and Tiffany wander the hospital before encountering the Cenobites dressed as surgeons. It’s clear this was never properly finished as there are effects missing and cards indicating where other footage should be placed but again, the fact that it has even been found is a bit of a minor miracle.
Arrow have also assembled a host of vintage featurettes starting with Lost In The Labyrinth which is a seventeen minute featurette made up of interviews with Barker, Randel, Keen, Atkins and a few others. Most will have seen this before but it’s definitely worth including here. The ten minute Under The Skin: Doug Bradley On Hellbound: Hellraiser II lets the man who plays Pinhead shares his stories from the trenches. We also get a three minute on-set interview with Clive Barker, five minutes of on-set interviews with cast and crew and two minutes of behind-the-scenes footage that shows off some of the makeup effects being dealt with. Interesting stuff.
Rounding out the extras on the Hellbound disc are a selection of never before seen storyboards, a draft of the screenplay (in PDF format requiring BD-Rom access), two trailers, two TV spots, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection.
DISC THREE – HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH:
New to this release is an audio commentary with writer Peter Atkins. Moderated by Michael Felsher and available only over the theatrical cut of the movie, Atkins talks about what it was like working with director Anthony Hickox, what they tried to do differently with this third installment, where some of the ideas for what we see in the finished cut of the movie came from and more. Carried over from previous release is an audio commentary with director Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley that plays over the unrated version of the movie. Taken from the old Anchor Bay UK DVD release, this is a really interesting track that finds the two men having a good time reminiscing about making the film even as they detail what was occasionally a tough shoot.
Again, we get an installment of the Hell On Earth documentary series, this time telling ‘The Story Of Hellraiser III.” In this half hour installment we find interviews with Ken Carpenter, Doug Bradley, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Jones, Christopher Figg, Tony Randel, Christopher Young and Peter Atkins. Although this isn’t as lengthy as the third two installments it’s still quite interesting and very worth watching for fans as it talks about the franchising and Americanization of the Hellraiser series in addition to covering what it was like behind the scenes, the genesis of the script, Hickox’s direction and quite a bit more.
In the new fifteen minute Terri’s Tales interview we get actress Paula Marshall talking about her role in the picture, what happens to her character and why, some of the makeup she had to undergo and her thoughts on the picture.
A few archival segments, also from the ABUK disc, are found that are worth noting starting with Raising Hell On Earth, a fourteen minute sit down talk with Anthony Hickox who shares his thoughts on the film, talks about how he wound up directing the picture, his thoughts on Atkins’ script, casting the film and more. In Under The Skin: Doug Bradley On Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth get another interview with the famed actor who spends fourteen minutes talking about some of the issues that the film ran into during production, some of the cast and crew he worked with and his thoughts on the film. There’s also a five minute vintage EPK featurette included here that shows off the set and includes some quick interview clips with Barker.
We also get twenty-four minutes of never before released dailies from the shoot showing off the effects work as it was being tweaked and worked on. There’s no sound here but it’s neat to see it included.
Last but not least, get a theatrical trailer, a still gallery, a Hellraiser III comic book adaptation accessible via BD-Rom, menus and chapter selection.
DISC FOUR – THE CLIVE BARKER LEGACY:
There are all sorts of interesting extras included on the fourth disc in the set, starting with Clive Barker’s early short films Salomé and The Forbidden. Let’s go over to Chris Workman’s reviews of these shorts that originally appeared here:
“Salome (18 min.): Biblical vixen Salome (Anne Taylor), clad in a long, white dress, takes a lit candle from a young man and walks through a shadowy, castle-like interior. She comes upon a second young man seated on the floor. This one rises to his feet, kisses her, and then squeezes her throat. She escapes the attack by scratching his face bloody and fleeing to another room, where she immediately calms down and sits in quiet contemplation. A devilish-looking King Herod (Doug Bradley) appears, inspiring her to dance seductively for several minutes. When she finishes, a nude woman shows up, holding a flaming torch while standing next to a ladder. An equally nude man descends the ladder and, holding a sword, does a seductive dance of his own. He then mounts Salome as she flaps her arms angelically. When the two are finished, an angry King Herod seals her up in a coffin with a peephole through which he flails an arm wildly.
The Forbidden (35 min.): German folktale perennial Dr. Faust (Peter Atkins) works alchemic equations in his study under the evil auspices of an unseen Mephistopheles (Clive Barker). The scholar quickly revs himself into a state of hallucinogenic exhaustion (conveyed vividly by Barker's decision to film the proceedings almost entirely in negative). A series of visions culminates in a physical manifestation of Mephistopheles, dressed like a Kabuki performer. He strips himself naked and garrotes Faust from behind. The unconscious Faust dreams that he's making love to a woman, then awakens to a real naked woman undressing and tattooing him. When the woman finishes her task, Mephistopheles reappears, still nude and now sporting a raging boner. He dances frantically for several minutes, and when he finishes, Faust finds that he's now the naked one, flat on his back on a table. Angel hands, armed with scalpels, slowly and graphically peel the skin from his body. The tale ends with a display of the final result, a shot of him walking slowly through a landscape as visually minimalist as he himself has become.
Clive Barker's student films Salome and The Forbidden don't have much to offer in the narrative department, but they're most definitely an eyeful. The Forbidden, in particular, is proof that the unique vision Barker shared with the mainstream in Hellraiser (1987) was fully formed a decade or so before he shared it. (Also uniting the two is the presence of Doug Bradley, who today occupies the pop-monster pantheon as Pinhead.)
It does need to be stressed that nothing else about these two offerings is remotely as conventional as Hellraiser, Nightbreed (1990), or Lord of Illusions (1995). The short works on offer here are exercises in style, period, and, frankly, something only hardcore Barker fans would be interested in—provided, of course, that one isn't put off by the adult content on display along with the cinematic ingenuity.
A little love should also be sent out to Adrian Carson, who composed the ambient scores for both films. Not surprisingly, he's since found success in British television, contributing soundtrack music for such programmes (they're British, so yes, it's "programmes") as Hale and Pace, London's Burning, Caught on Camera, and—one that even the Yanks have heard of—Survivor.”
Also on the fourth disc is a twenty minute piece called Books Of Blood & Beyond: The Literary Works Of Clive Barker in which horror author David Gatward explores Barker’s novels and short stories starting with the first Books Of Blood through to works like Weaveworld and even more recent tomes such as The Scarlet Gospels. Along the way we learn what makes Barker’s writing unique and what sets him apart from the pack in the world of horror and fantasy literature.
The fourth disc also includes a new featurette called Hellraiser: Evolutions which is a forty-eight minute documentary that explores the legacy of the Hellraiser franchise by way of exclusive interviews with Scott Derrickson (who directed Hellraiser: Inferno), Rick Bota (director of sequels Hellseeker , Deader and Hellworld), filmmakers Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna along with Paula Marshall, Tony Atkins, Doug Bradley, Tony Randel, David Saunders, Gary Tunnicliffe and Neal Marshall Stevens. Here the participants talk about what makes Pinhead so popular, how they films have changed over the years and why they remain as popular as they are in fandom.
Finally, there’s the thirty-two minute short film The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith directed by R. N. Milward in 2005. Shot on video this was meant to be a possible pilot for a proposed television series, the story follows a priest who moves into a home to find that it’s inhabited by a Cenobite who was once himself a man of the cloth. Production values are a little rough but there’s an interesting story here and fans of the series should appreciate what Milward was going for. To get into Milward’s head a little bit, we also get an optional commentary from him that plays over the features and explains the projects origins and history.
This review is based off of test discs but finished product is also meant to include some deluxe packaging and a two hundred page full color book along with the four Blu-ray discs.
The Final Word:
Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box is one damn impressive package! The video presentation is excellent, the audio quality just as good, and the extras…. We have such sights to show you! There’s an insane amount of material here, Hellraiser fans should consider this essential.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
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- DVD And Blu-ray Reviews G-M