Damnation Games

book Excerpts from The DELUXE scarlet box blu ray release of the first three hellraiser films (2015)


Andrew Robinson’s casting was something of a coup for the Hellraiser team, with the actor still high in the public consciousness as the psychotic killer, Scorpio, from the first Dirty Harry movie.  In fact, his close association with the character had left Andrew struggling to land roles and he was only too happy to take part in this low budget horror movie – something a long way outside his experience but where he was the consummate professional in listening to what his director asked of him.

“Clive Barker is the reason I did Hellraiser,” he remarked during filming.  “When I initially read the script I thought it was interesting, but it could have gone in any direction depending on who was going to direct it. But the moment I met Clive, I realised that with his enthusiasm and intelligence I could see where he wanted to go with it. I also saw that he was leaving it open so that he could make whatever statement he wanted to make as a director.  If Steven Spielberg had directed this movie he'd never have cast me. I'm off-centre for the role. But Clive does not cast by formula, and every element in the film was like that - it was totally original, fresh in vision and design.”

“Andy has a marvellous reputation as a legitimate actor," Clive notes, "in addition to the fact I knew from much of his screen work, that he could do credibly menacing roles. So it was the combination of those two reasons that we chose him.”

“The horror really comes out of this marriage that is failing,” Andrew observes. “I don't want to get all fancy about this, but it is a metaphor for a certain kind of family that is detached from the traditional values.  The relationship is based around material values. This is an affluent couple, and you can see it is probably a marriage of convenience.  None of the problems they have are really ever addressed and then, as always seems to happen, the past comes back to haunt them, literally."

Clare Higgins as his wife was perhaps the key piece of casting for Chris and Clive.  Julia Cotton had to be both sympathetic and murderous – audiences needed to understand and empathise with her motivations in order to embrace the dark love story at the heart of Clive’s screenplay.  Clare brought an additional legitimacy to the film drawn from her theatrical and television drama roles.  The combination of Clare and Andrew as lead actors resulted in Hellraiser being reviewed by critics on its release as the work of a serious film-maker rather than a lower standard exploitation movie made solely to shock.

"I've always written sexual fiction,” observes Clive.  “There is a strong theme of rampant passion and uncontrollable desire going through my written work, and the challenge was to see if I could make that work in a movie. When sex raises its interesting head in most low-budget horror movies it's strictly as exploitation. The girl goes into the shower, the man with the ski-mask follows with a machete.  The only other place it’s used is that there is a sort of ‘consequence of lust’ subtext as shown in the Friday the 13th stories.  You know that when the guys and gals are gathered round Camp Crystal Lake, as soon as they start to take their clothes off, something terrible is going to happen to them.  And the virgin always survives.

“I like to focus on the prime sources of evil, and I like to resolve the problems – all these stalk-and-slash pictures don’t have motivation.  Also, I look for high-quality actors who make it all believable, for I want a story to have characterisation – and I like to incorporate women in my screenplays, not only as villains, but also as intelligent, responsible heroines.”

"What I wanted to do with Hellraiser was to give the audience some real adult character motivations – the desire of Sean Chapman's character, Frank, to have an experience he's never had before and the desire of Clare Higgins's character, Julia, to have back a lover who once gave her an afternoon of extraordinary delight. Most horror movie characters have motivations that are very two-dimensional and they tend not to develop as a result of that. It's not like that here. Julia is a very complicated character: lost, lonely, pissed-off with her husband. She's much more interesting than your average horror movie heroine.

"We planned meticulously the way that she looked and the way she changed. Her make-up changes, her costume changes and her hair changes. The more blood she spills, the more glamorous she gets. Clare gives a very legitimate performance without guying or mocking the material. She has immense courage and a great darkness inside her. She enjoyed doing it and had the skill to carry off the material with dignity. There's a wonderful sense of style about what she does. It's not a very English style of acting. But what she gives to Hellraiser is sharper and stranger. You have to go back to Barbara Steele and Barbara Shelley to find her equivalent - the starchy, prim lady who is transformed into a sexy, bloodlusting vamp."

Sean Chapman had taken a small role in Underworld, as a gangster, but here was required to carry the romantic lead as the dangerous Frank Cotton.

“One of the things that drew me to the script,” he says, “is that this is simply not a horror movie; I like films to work on as many different levels as possible, and Hellraiser works psychologically – it's not just a series of horrific images.”

* * * * *

Day 50 of shooting, on 5 December 1986, was followed by a celebration at which Doug Bradley noted, “I remember going to the Hellraiser wrap party and going up to speak to guys from the crew and they were walking right past me.  And I’m thinking, ‘Oh.  I thought we got on quite well, but obviously you don’t like me very much.’  And it took me a while to realise it was simply that they had never seen me without the make-up on.  They had no idea who I was…”

The extra £24,000 approved by New World in November led to Bob Keen’s team reassembling between Monday 5 and Friday 9 January 1987 for ‘Week 11’ – noted on the schedule as ‘SPFX Shoot – Including Birth of Frank and Inserts.’  The reshoot of Frank’s resurrection from the floorboards was required because everyone had been unhappy with the first sequence filmed in which a model of an emaciated Frank simply fell model out of the torture room wall.

Clive maintained his determination that these sequences deserved dedication and persistence to achieve realism: “There were a few times when special effects would ooze on stage and the crew would cringe.  But the kind of material we put in the picture is not generally photographed as elegantly or as well lit as we did it.  We were trying to combine this very strange, dark, forbidden imagery with really nice pictures.  What we tried to do was make the picture more beautiful as the images became more unpleasant.”

In part this was to satisfy his basic belief that he is on the side of the monsters.  "We all have an affinity for monsters, to some extent,” he asserts, picking out glimpses of cinematic transcendence.  “The moment when Karloff smokes a cigar and listens to the blind man play the violin in Bride of Frankenstein, or the look of tenderness that crosses King Kong's face when he realizes that Fay Wray is too precious to kill.  Too often, those moments aren't allowed to be talked about by the monster, who is either mute or grunts.  I want to give monsters the freedom to talk about themselves.  I like hugely the clarity of debate, where Frank can say to Julia, 'We belong to each other now for better or worse — like love, only for real.'  That's a monster's viewpoint, a monster's idea, of what love is. It's purer than if they'd gone up the aisle together.   One of the things I tried to do in this picture is to lose any real sense of who constitutes the really good and the bad. It's not as simple as monsters representing all the bad stuff in our lives.  We have very ambivalent responses to them.  They can be very attractive.  We may even envy them.  Think of the powers of classical monsters: powers of flight, transformation, infinite sexual allure, the ability to evade death.  These powers are not negligible, nor are they all negative.  I’d pay a little for a few of those."

In addition, the score by Christopher Young added extraordinary weight to the images, eschewing the vogue of the time for electronic scoring and employing instead lush orchestrations.

“I got this job through the assistance of Tony Randel,” he explains.  “Clive had – not contractually, but morally – committed himself to using an English avant garde group called Coil.  Tony and I had worked together on a handful of New World pickup movies, films they had bought from a company going out of business.  The films had scores on them and I was asked to come in and replace them.  Tony was familiar with my music, so he went to England with Clive to meet Coil and felt that even though they were a talented and imaginative group, because of their lack of experience in scoring movies, he was concerned that they wouldn't have the technical knowledge to make it work.  So Tony then proceeded to pitch me to Clive. Clive decided to go with Tony's recommendation, even though I hadn't meet Clive.

Marrying together Christopher’s outstanding score with Mike Buchanan’s innovative production design, the intensity and surprise of the Cenobite costume design and make up from Jane Wildgoose, Bob Keen and Geoff Portass, Richard Marden’s editing, Robin Vidgeon’s lighting, Simon Sayce’s box designs, the depth of performances from his talented cast, Christopher Figg’s production, Selwyn Roberts’s day-to-day production control, the marketing activities and all the other elements which contribute so strongly, looking back today at the movie that launched him to global attention, Clive’s memory is of the joy of collaborative effort towards something that offered originality without compromise to its audience.

“Hellraiser was so much fun because there was no need to conform,” Clive reflects, thinking of the limited production budget.  “If it bombed, nobody was going to lose any 'real' money in Hollywood. It was less of a risk, so it was mine to do with what I wanted. That possessiveness was the real pleasure of making the movie.”

Doug Bradley as Pinhead in Hellraiser (1987)

Doug Bradley as Pinhead in Hellraiser (1987)

The Making of Hellraiser, a lavishly illustrated account of the origins and production of the first Hellraiser movie, will be published by The Clive Barker Archive in 2018.