By Ray Schwetz
Like most other horror series, the "Hellraiser" series diminished in quality with each installment. I have yet to see the straight to video entry "Inferno," so I can't comment on whether or not this trend will reverse itself. Hopefully, it will. However, based on Clive Barker's comments during the excellent short featurette "Resurrection," the future of the "Hellraiser" series looks pretty darn bleak. His comments give the impression that the series no longer belongs to him (actually, he specifically states this) and he jokingly refers to "Hellraiser" as "that sonofabitchin' movie").
Focusing on the positive, "Hellraiser" 1 and 2 are horror films with an art film feel. The original is especially well directed, an impressive feat considering this is Barker's first feature film. Also, Anthony Hickok's "Hellraiser 3," while lacking in originality, is a fun sequel with it's share of highlights. Personally, my favorite Barker project is the grossly underrated "Nightbreed." Anyway, getting back on track, Anchor Bay's tin edition of "Hellraiser" includes an exclusive DVD edition of "Hellbound: Hellraiser 2." This is the first tin edition I personally feel is well worth the investment of the suggested $39.95 retail. You get 2 films with all the deluxe edition trimmings Anchor Bay usually provides.
The original "Hellraiser," based on Clive Barker's novelette "The Hellbound Heart," effectively sets up the "Hellraiser" mythos. Frank (Sean Chapman) buys a mysterious puzzle box in an underground Asian market. He unlocks the box and is destroyed by the box's residents, the Cenobites, led by Pinhead (Doug Bradley). Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry) and Clare Higgins play a couple who inherit and move into the house where Frank died. Julia (Higgins) is manipulated by dead brother-in-law Frank, with whom she's had an affair, to lure men into the house. They kill the men and use their flesh and blood to resurrect Frank.
Meanwhile Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) discovers the box and unknowingly brings the Cenobites back from Hell. In "Hellbound," after the trauma she underwent in the first film, Kirsty is resting in the Chenard Institute. The closet sadist Dr.Chenard believes Kirsty wild stories of the Cenobites. Mirroring Julia's choices in the first film, Dr. Chenard resurrects Julia and feeds her victims. Through an unfortunate chain of events the Cenobites pull the doctor, Julia, Kirsty, and a mute girl patient into their world.
Barker passes the director's chair to the able Tony Randel, who grasps the mythic quality of the Cenobites quite well. The wild, labyrinthine visuals of "Hellbound" rival the first film. The sequel is much more ambitious in scope, as well.
As expected, Anchor Bay's tin edition of "Hellraiser" is stellar. The video presentation is light years ahead of the excellent Image laserdisc box set. The image is sharp and there are no compression artifacts. Black levels are perfect. Colors may seem a bit muted (expect for the crimson in bloody scenes), but I believe this is the look Barker was trying to achieve. The film is matted at a 1.85:1 ratio, which appears accurate. In what I feel should be the norm for any release, the sound is presented in a new 5.1 mix as well as its original Pro-Logic. The 5.1 mix is superb. Bass level is very satisfying and surround channels are quite active. This brings us to the extras.
Both films have trailers, the THX optimode test, commentaries (with Barker, Laurence, and sequel writer Peter Atkins), and an exhausting amount of stills. "Hellraiser" also includes the previously mentioned featurette "Resurrection" and a similarly themed featurette for "Hellbound." The tin edition includes 2 postcards with chapter listings and a booklet with some terrific stills and quotes from cast and crew. The animated menus are also quite impressive. Well, you can already tell by the tone of this review that I'm recommending this tin edition. So, what are you waiting for? Time to play.