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Theatrical release poster
Directed byClive Barker
Screenplay byClive Barker
Based onThe Hellbound Heart
by Clive Barker
Produced byChristopher Figg
CinematographyRobin Vidgeon[1]
Edited byRichard Marden
Music byChristopher Young[1]
Film Futures[1][2]
Distributed byEntertainment Film Distributors[1]
Release date
  • September 10, 1987 (1987-09-10) (London)
Running time
93 minutes[3]
CountryUnited Kingdom[1][2]
Budget$1 million[4]
Box office$14.6 million[4][5]

Hellraiser is a 1987 British supernatural horror film[6] written and directed by Clive Barker, and produced by Christopher Figg, based on Barker's 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart.[1] The film marked Barker's directorial debut.[7] Its plot involves a mystical puzzle box that summons the Cenobites, a group of extra-dimensional, sadomasochistic beings who cannot differentiate between pain and pleasure. The leader of the Cenobites is portrayed by Doug Bradley, and identified in the sequels as "Pinhead".

Hellraiser was filmed in late 1986. Barker originally wanted the electronic music group Coil to perform the music for the film, but on insistence from producers, the film was re-scored by Christopher Young. Some of Coil's themes were reworked by Young into the final score. Hellraiser had its first public showing at the Prince Charles Cinema on 10 September 1987. The film grossed $14.6 million.

Since its release, the film has divided critics but generally received praise. It was followed by nine sequels, the first seven of which featured Bradley reprising his role as Pinhead. A franchise reboot, also titled Hellraiser, was released in 2022.


In Morocco, Frank Cotton, a hedonist, buys a puzzle box said to open the door to a realm of otherworldly pleasure. At home in his bare attic, Frank solves the puzzle and hooked chains emerge, tearing him apart. A black-robed figure resets the puzzle and the room is restored back to normal.

Later, Frank's brother Larry moves into the same house. He intends to rebuild his relationship with his second wife, Julia. Larry is unaware that Julia had an affair with his brother Frank before her marriage to him. When Larry accidentally cuts his hand moving furniture, his blood drips on the attic floor and resurrects Frank in a ghoulish form. Julia later finds Frank; still obsessed with him, she agrees to help restore his body, so they can run away together. Julia picks up men in bars and brings them back to the attic, where she mortally wounds them. Frank then drains their life, which regenerates his body. Frank explains to Julia that, having exhausted all sensory experiences, he sought out the puzzle box, which was supposed to provide access to a realm of new carnal pleasures. When the puzzle was solved, the "Cenobites" came to subject him to extreme sadomasochism.

Kirsty, Larry's teenage daughter and Frank's niece, sees Julia bringing a man to the house and follows her to the attic, where she finds Frank. She evades Frank and escapes with the puzzle box, collapsing shortly after. Awakening in a hospital, Kirsty solves the box out of curiosity, and unknowingly summons the Cenobites and a monster called the Engineer, which she narrowly escapes from. The Cenobites' leader (referred to by fans as "Pinhead") explains that although they have been perceived as both angels and demons, they are simply "explorers" from another dimension seeking carnal experiences, and they can no longer differentiate between pain and pleasure. When they attempt to force Kirsty to return to their realm with them, she informs Pinhead that Frank has escaped them. The Cenobites agree to spare Kirsty and re-capture Frank instead, with the condition that Frank must confess to escaping them.

Kirsty returns home, where Frank has killed Larry and has taken on his identity by wearing his skin. Julia shows her what is purported to be Frank's flayed corpse in the attic. Kirsty then leaves the attic, locking the door behind her. The Cenobites appear and, not fooled by the deception, demand the man who "did this". Kirsty tries to escape, but is held by Julia and Frank. Frank reveals his true identity to Kirsty and, when his sexual advances are rejected, he decides to kill her to complete his rejuvenation. He accidentally stabs Julia instead and drains her without remorse. Frank chases Kirsty to the attic and, when he is about to kill her, the Cenobites appear after hearing him confess to killing her father. Now certain he is the one they are looking for, they ensnare him with chains with hooks and tear him to pieces. When the Cenobites double-cross Kirsty and attempt to take her, she grabs the puzzle box from Julia's dead hands and banishes them by reversing the motions needed to open the puzzle box. Kirsty's boyfriend Steve arrives and they both escape the collapsing house.

Afterward, Kirsty throws the puzzle box onto a burning pyre. A vagrant who has been stalking Kirsty walks into the fire and retrieves the box before transforming into a winged skeleton-like creature and flying away. The box ends up with the same merchant who sold it to Frank, where he offers it to another customer.



Cenobites are extra-dimensional beings who appear in the novella The Hellbound Heart, the sequels The Scarlet Gospels and Hellraiser: The Toll, and the eleven Hellraiser films. They are from a religious sect in Hell known as the Order of the Gash, describing themselves as "explorers in the further regions of experience", and granting sadomasochistic pleasures to those who call upon them. Author David McWilliam notes that the Cenobites are described in more explicitly sexual terms in the book compared with their depictions in the film adaptations.[8] Julia, played by Clare Higgins, was Barker's choice to carry the series as its main antagonist after Hellbound, reducing the Cenobites to a background role. However, fans rallied around Pinhead as the breakout character, and Higgins declined to return to the series.[9] In The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters, David McWilliam writes that the Cenobites "provide continuity across the series, as the stories become increasingly stand-alone in nature".[8]


Having been dismayed at prior cinematic adaptations of his work, Barker, who had experience from writing, directing and starring in plays and had made two short films,[10][11] decided to attempt to direct a film himself.[12] He asked Christopher Figg, who became his producer, how small the budget would have to be for someone being willing to hire him as a first time director. Figg said the budget had to be less than a million dollars, which could be done if the film was just about a house and some monsters, and if he used more or less unknown actors. Barker decided to adapt The Hellbound Heart, as the story fitted those parameters.[12] New World Pictures agreed to fund the film for $900,000.[12]

Hellraiser was filmed at the end of 1986 and was set to be made in seven weeks, but was extended over a nine- to ten-week period by New World.[13] The film was originally made under the working title of Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave.[13] Barker also wanted to call the film Hellbound but producer Christopher Figg suggested Hellraiser instead.[12] Barker spoke fondly in The Hellraiser Chronicles about the filming, stating that his memories of production were of "unalloyed fondness ... The cast treated my ineptitudes kindly, and the crew were no less forgiving". Barker admitted his own lack of knowledge on filmmaking, stating that he "didn't know the difference between a 10-millimetre lens and a 35-millimetre lens. If you'd shown me a plate of spaghetti and said that was a lens, I might have believed you".[13] After filming, New World convinced Barker to relocate the story to the United States which required overdubbing to remove some English accents.[12]

During production, Doug Bradley had trouble hitting his marks during his takes in make-up as he could not see through his black contact lenses and was afraid of tripping over Pinhead's skirts.[13] The special effects of the unnamed creature, known as "The Engineer" in the novels, proved challenging as the creature was difficult to manoeuvre.[14] Other issues included a rushed shoot of the Chinese restaurant scene with Kirsty and Larry, due to the lateness of the person responsible for letting the cast and crew into the establishment.[14] Numerous props of Lemarchand's box, constructed from wood and cut-out brass, were produced by special effects designer and maker Simon Sayce; due to the box's delicate construction, Sayce would lie on the floor under the Cenobites during some takes in case it was dropped, in order to save himself the eight hours it took to create another.[15]

About seven or eight weeks after principal photography had finished the executive producers saw the footage and liked the film enough to invest some more in it, and so a few scenes were redone with a higher budget, like the scene near the end where Frank's body is ripped apart.[16] To produce Frank's resurrection, effects like reverse motion was used to give his skeleton flesh and inner organs.[17]

The film had two editors: Richard Marden[12] and an uncredited Tony Randel.[14]


Clive Barker had to make some cuts on the film after the MPAA originally gave it an X rating.[12] Two and a half shots were excised from the first hammer murder, including a closeup of the hammer lodged in the victim's head. In the scene where Julia murders another man, the actor playing the victim felt that it made sense for him to do so naked. The nude murder scene was shot but, ultimately, replaced with a semi-clothed version. Close-ups of Kirsty sticking her hand into Frank's stomach, exposing his guts, a longer version of the scene where Frank is being torn into pieces, and the final shot where his head explodes were also cut.[18]

In an interview for Samhain magazine in July 1987, Barker mentioned some problems that censors had with more erotic scenes in the film:

Well, we did have a slight problem with the eroticism. I shot a much hotter flashback sequence than they would allow us to cut in.... Mine was more explicit and less violent. They wanted to substitute one kind of undertow for another. I had a much more explicit sexual encounter between Frank and Julia, but they said no, let's take out the sodomy and put in the flick knife.

Barker also said that the seduction scene between Julia and Frank was initially a lot more explicit: "We did a version of this scene which had some spanking in it and the MPAA was not very appreciative of that. Lord knows where the spanking footage is. Somebody has it somewhere ... The MPAA told me I was allowed two consecutive buttock thrusts from Frank but three is deemed obscene!"[18]


Film score by
Released1987 (1987)
LabelSilva Screen[19]

Barker originally wanted the electronic music group Coil to perform the music for the film, but that notion was rejected by New World.[14] Editor Tony Randel then suggested Christopher Young as a replacement for Coil for the film's score.[14] Young had previously composed scores for other horror films such as the 1985 slasher A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge and the 1986 Tobe Hooper film Invaders from Mars.[14]

The score for Hellraiser was released in 1987.[20] AllMusic stated that the score proved that Christopher Young "hadn't used up all of his ideas for the horror genre" and that Young had matched "Barker's stylish look with a gothic score that mixed in exciting synthesizer effects".[20] The music that Coil had recorded as a demo for their version of the score was later released as The Unreleased Themes for Hellraiser.


Hellraiser had its first public showing at the Prince Charles Cinema on 10 September 1987.[21] The film was released in the United States and Canada on 18 September.[22]

Hellraiser was initially banned in Ontario by the Ontario Film and Video Review Board.[23][24] By a 3-2 majority vote, the film was deemed "not approved in its entirety as it contravenes community standards". It was banned because of its "brutal, graphic violence with blood-letting throughout, horror, degradation and torture".[24] In August 1987, Hellraiser was passed by the Ontario Film Review Board, but only after several cuts were made to the film. New World Mutual Pictures of Canada cut about 40 seconds to get the film passed with an R rating. Thirty-five seconds of an extended torture scene featuring hooks pulling apart a body and face were removed, as well as a scene of squirming rats nailed to a wall.[25]

Home media[edit]

In North America, Hellraiser has been released by Anchor Bay Entertainment three times, all of which are the original 93-minute version of the film (this is the only version to ever be released on DVD). The original DVD release was a "barebones" release and is now out of print. It was reissued in 2000 with a new 5.1 mix mastered in THX. Finally, it was packaged along with Hellbound: Hellraiser II in a Limited Edition tin case which included a 48-page colour booklet and a reproduction theatrical poster for both films. Anchor Bay released the film on Blu-ray in 2009. This version retains all of the special features found on the 20th anniversary special edition DVD. In 2011, the film was re-released on Blu-ray by Image Entertainment under the "Midnight Madness" series label. This version contains no special features. However, various Blu-ray releases have since emerged with a highly variable selection of special features, although most of these are recycled from previous DVD releases.[26][27]

In October 2015, Arrow Films released the film on Blu-ray in the UK along with Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth in a Scarlet Box edition featuring new 2K restorations and extensive list of bonus features including feature-length documentaries on the first 2 films and a bonus disc containing additional content such as 2 short films by Clive Barker.[28] The Scarlet Box is now out of print in the UK and replaced by a 3-film edition of the set without the bonus disc.[29]

A US version of the Scarlet Box (with the same material) was released by Arrow on 20 December 2016.[30]

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the film, Clive Barker has adapted his early "Hell Priest" concept designs for the Lead Cenobite into an officially licensed mask for Composite Effects. Only a limited quantity of thirty of these masks were made and then released to the public on 24 March 2017.[31] As part of the Anniversary, Hellraiser was re-released via Blu-Ray in a Steelbook edition on 30 October. It additionally received a theatrical screening at the Prince Charles Cinema, where it made its world premiere in 1987. A remixed and remastered version of Christopher Young's score was also made available, debuting at the Anniversary screening.[32]


Hellraiser grossed $14,564,000 in the United States and Canada[4][5] and made £763,412 in the UK.[33]

Critical response[edit]

For contemporary reviews in the United Kingdom, Time Out London referred to the film as "Barker's dazzling debut" that "creates such an atmosphere of dread that the astonishing set-pieces simply detonate in a chain reaction of cumulative intensity" and concluded that the film was "a serious, intelligent and disturbing horror film".[34][35] The Daily Telegraph stated that "Barker has achieved a fine degree of menace".[34] Melody Maker described it as "the best horror film ever to be made in Britain".[34] Kim Newman writing for the Monthly Film Bulletin noted that the most immediately striking aspect of the movie is its seriousness of tone in an era when horror films (the Nightmare on Elm Street or Evil Dead films in particular) tend to be broadly comic".[1] Newman stated that the film "suffers from a few minor compromises: notably a decision made fairly late in shooting to change the specifically English setting for an ambiguous (and unbelievable) mid-Atlantic one".[1] Newman also noted that the Cenobites were "well used suggestive figures" but "their monster companion is a more blunderingly obvious concession to the gross-out tastes of the teenage drive-in audience".[1] Newman concluded that the film was "a return to the cutting edge of horror cinema" and that in more gruesome moments the film "is a reminder of the grand guignol intensity that has recently tended to disintegrate into lazy splatter".[1] Q stated that "Hellraiser does have its share of problems: the re-dubbing of peripheral character with a mid-Atlantic twang, the relocation of the film in a geographical limbo [...] The film, however, cannot be faulted for the ambitiousness of its themes [...] Sadly the moral and emotional complexity that is the film's greatest strength is likely to be deemed its greatest weakness by an audience weaned on the misplaced jocularity of House or Fright Night".[34]

In the United States, The New York Times stated that Barker cast "singularly uninteresting actors" while "the special effects aren't bad - only damp".[36] The Washington Post referred to the film as a "dark, frequently disturbing and occasionally terrifying film" but also argued that "Barker's vision hasn't quite made the conversion from paper to celluloid [...] There are some weaknesses, particularly the framing of close-ups and the generic score, but there are some moments of genuinely inventive gore [...] the film falls apart at its climax, degenerating to a surprisingly lame ending full of special effects and triumphant good".[37] Roger Ebert gave the film one-half of a star out of four and deemed it "as dreary a piece of goods as has masqueraded as horror in many a long, cold night. This is one of those movies you sit through with mounting dread, as the fear grows inside of you that it will indeed turn out to be feature length" and that "this is a movie without wit, style or reason, and the true horror is that actors were made to portray, and technicians to realize, its bankruptcy of imagination".[38] Variety stated that Hellraiser is "well made, well acted, and the visual effects are generally handled with skill".[2]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 70% of 53 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.5/10. The website's consensus reads: "Elevated by writer-director Clive Barker's fiendishly unique vision, Hellraiser offers a disquieting - and sadistically smart - alternative to mindless gore."[39] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 56 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[40]

In the early 2010s, Time Out conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films.[41] Hellraiser placed at number 80 on their top 100 list.[42]

Sequels and remake[edit]

Concept art by Gary Tunnicliffe for Pinhead from Patrick Lussier's defunct Hellraiser reboot. Several ideas and concepts were developed for the project, with William Fichtner at one point considered for the role of the Hell Priest.[43][44]

Hellraiser was followed by nine sequels, the first seven of which featured Doug Bradley reprising his role as Pinhead. Clive Barker has stated that he signed away the story and character rights to the production company prior to the release of the first film, not realizing the critical and financial success it would be.[45]

Plans for a Hellraiser remake were publicized in October 2007, when Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury were reported to be directing, with Barker producing and Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton writing the script.[46] After Maury and Bustillo left the project, Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier were attached, with production slated for an early 2012 release. However, following the release of Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) to secure continuing rights, Farmer and Lussier were no longer involved.[47][43] By 2018, after the critical and commercial success of Halloween, Miramax Films had confirmed plans for new Hellraiser installments.[48] The film was green-lit in early 2019, with David Bruckner directing from a script written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski.[49][50] It was released on Hulu in October 2022. A Hellraiser television series is in development at HBO.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Later identified as "Pinhead" in the credits for the sequels beginning with Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988), "The Hell Priest" in The Scarlet Gospels (2015), and "The Cold Man" in Hellraiser: The Toll (2018).



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Newman, Kim (September 1987). "Hellraiser". Monthly Film Bulletin (644). British Film Institute: 276–277. ISSN 0027-0407.
  2. ^ a b c "Review: 'Hellraiser'". Variety. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  3. ^ "HELLRAISER (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 June 1987. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Hellraiser, Box Office Information. The Numbers. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Hellraiser". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  6. ^ Binion, Cavett. "Hellraiser (1987)". www.allmovie.com. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  7. ^ Collis, Clark. "Clive Barker is Back from the Dead". Archived from the original on 14 July 2018. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  8. ^ a b McWilliam 2016, p. 74.
  9. ^ Kane 2015, p. 59.
  10. ^ Interview: 'Hellraiser' star Doug Bradley
  11. ^ Blu-ray Review: Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box on Arrow Video
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Hoad, Phil (30 October 2017). "How we made Hellraiser". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
  13. ^ a b c d Kane 2015, p. 23.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Kane 2015, p. 24.
  15. ^ "The 100 Greatest Props in Movie History, and the Stories Behind Them". thrillist.com. Thrillist. 10 July 2017. Archived from the original on 11 July 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  16. ^ Practical-ly Perfect: Celebrating the Special Effects of HELLRAISER
  17. ^ How They Did the “Birth of Frank” Sequence in ‘Hellraiser’
  18. ^ a b "All the Weirdest Secrets You Never Knew About Clive Barker's Hellraiser". Gizmodo. 24 October 2014.
  19. ^ Hellraiser (Media notes). Christopher Young. Silva Screen. 1987. FILM 021.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  20. ^ a b Ruhlmann, William. "Hellraiser [Original Soundtrack]". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  21. ^ "Hellraiser - 20th Anniversary". The Official Clive Barker website. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  22. ^ Binion, Cavett. "Hellraiser". AllMovie. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  23. ^ Schwartzberg, Shlomo (17 July 1987). "Censors burn Hellraiser; Paramount chops Eddie's Cop". Toronto Star. Toronto. p. E10. ISSN 0319-0781.
  24. ^ a b "Censors uphold ban on Hellraiser". Toronto Star. Toronto. 30 July 1987. p. H5. ISSN 0319-0781.
  25. ^ Schwartzberg, Shlomo (21 August 1987). "Hellraiser passed: no hooks, rats". Toronto Star. Toronto. p. E14. ISSN 0319-0781.
  26. ^ Rewind @ www.dvdcompare.net – Hellraiser AKA Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987)
  27. ^ The Hellbound Web | Collectibles | Video Recordings Archived 16 January 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ [1][dead link]
  29. ^ "Hellraiser Trilogy". Amazon UK.
  30. ^ "Hellraiser: The Scarlet Box Trilogy Region A". Amazon. 20 December 2016.
  31. ^ "Clive Barker Helped Design New Pinhead Mask Based on Original Sketches". 21 March 2017.
  32. ^ "HELLRAISER Soundtrack, Poster, Steelbook & London Screening". Archived from the original on 1 September 2017. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
  33. ^ "Back to the Future: The Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s - An Information Briefing" (PDF). British Film Institute. 2005. p. 23.
  34. ^ a b c d Kane 2015, p. 51.
  35. ^ "Hellraiser". Time Out London. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  36. ^ "Film: A Horror Tale, Barker's 'Hellraiser'". The New York Times. 20 September 1987. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  37. ^ Harrington, Richard (19 September 1987). "The Horros of Hellraiser". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  38. ^ Ebert, Roger (18 September 1987). "Hellraiser". Retrieved 3 October 2015.
  39. ^ "Hellraiser". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 1 October 2023. Edit this at Wikidata
  40. ^ "Hellraiser". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved 2 October 2023.
  41. ^ "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  42. ^ NF. "The 100 best horror films: the list". Time Out. Archived from the original on 24 April 2014. Retrieved 13 April 2014.
  43. ^ a b "Abandoned Hellraiser Remake Cenobite Concepts". MovieWeb.
  44. ^ "Patrick Lussier's 'Hellraiser' Would Have Been a Prequel!". Bloody-Disgusting. 31 May 2017.
  45. ^ Loveline, May 15, 1997
  46. ^ "French duo to remake 'Hellraiser'". Variety. 16 October 2007. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  47. ^ Fischer, Russ (31 August 2010). "Hellraiser Remake Still Stalled; New Direct To DVD Film Keeps Franchise 'Alive'". /Film. Retrieved 6 August 2023.
  48. ^ "Blumhouse Is Considering New Scream And Hellraiser Movies". CINEMABLEND. 18 February 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  49. ^ "'Hellraiser' Reboot in the Works With David S. Goyer to Write". The Hollywood Reporter. 6 May 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
  50. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (7 October 2021). "'Hellraiser': Jamie Clayton To Play Pinhead As Spyglass-Hulu Movie Sets Cast, Clive Barker To Produce". Deadline. Retrieved 7 October 2021.
  51. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (30 October 2020). "Just In Time For Halloween: Clive Barker's Back To Raise Hell, Joining HBO Series 'Hellraiser' Adaptation With David Gordon Green Directing Early Eps". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 6 November 2021.


External links[edit]