Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Making Monsters #9: Hellraiser

When Hellraiser was made in 1987, writer/director Clive Barker and his cast and crew didn't anticipate Pinhead becoming such a popular character. The Cenobites were supporting characters in a a gothic, S&M-laced supernatural story; Pinhead didn't have a name in the script or end credits, and actor Doug Bradley, when given a choice between two roles by his friend Barker, almost went with a moving guy at the beginning because his face would be visible. A lot of credit for Pinhead's rapid rise to horror stardom and Hellraiser feeling like such a breath of fresh air for the genre when it was released can be given to makeup and special effects artist Bob Keen. Keen was responsible for the striking character design of Pinhead and the other Cenobites, as well as the skin-free Frank after his return from the grave and the many grotesque things the Lament Configuration does to those who solve it. At a point when horror was beginning to take a turn towards irony and self-referential humor, Clive Barker approached the genre with respect for its many fantastic and kinky possibilities; Keen was instrumental in bringing Barker's astonishing imagination nearly intact to the screen.

The most impressive effect in Hellraiser is the return of Frank (Oliver Smith) from the grave after his brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) spills a few drops of his blood on the floor of the attic where Frank was torn to pieces by the Cenobites. The sequence was largely brought to life by shooting in reverse, so that blood flows up through the floorboards before two skeletal (animatronic) arms burst through. To pull off the amazing images of Frank's brain, skeleton and organs re-form, Keen created wax models of Frank's insides and gradually melted them, pulling the skeleton apart one bone at a time, then reversing the image. It's a marvelously uncanny effect, backed by Christopher Young's excellent score; in fact, when Sam Raimi basically remade the scene with the Sandman's rebirth in Spider-Man 3, he had Young quote his earlier work. It's a great scene, imaginative and fueled by the simultaneous horror of and attraction to the monstrous that makes Barker's work so memorable.


Jess said...

I just watched Hellraiser yesterday and while I thought the film itself was pretty dull I loved the makeup. Dead Frank was amazingly well done and I think it's a real testament to practical effects. If it were made now he would probably be CG, and while CG can be great, I still have a huge soft spot for practical effects. I'm planning on watching the entire series, just for some October fun, so I hope the makeup stays at this level of greatness.

Andrew Bemis said...

The second movie is very good, but be forewarned, the series takes a sharp nosedive after that. If you're interested in more Clive Barker, Nightbreed and especially Candyman are well worth checking out.