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Screenshot: Hellraiser

Working with a modest budget, director Clive Barker created a bloody fairy tale complete with a wicked, if not quite evil, stepmother in the form of theater actress Clare Higgins. Playing the wife of ineffectual husband Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry), Higgins barely hides her contempt as the two move into a family house once inhabited by Robinson’s hard-living, now-missing brother, with whom Higgins once had an affair. Thanks to supernatural forces, Robinson’s brother returns, sort of, as a skinless pile of organs that entreats Higgins to kill for him in an effort to flesh out his half-formed body. Meanwhile, Robinson’s scream-prone daughter (Ashley Laurence) begins to suspect that matters might be amiss, a suspicion confirmed by the arrival of four pale demons fitted out in bondage gear. One of these, a bald demon with nails pounded into his skull, has become the most enduring image of Hellraiser and its sequels, and rightly so. A deeply unsettling, S&M-inspired creature whose blurring of the division between pleasure and pain extends to a blurring of the division between good and evil, it neatly and instantly sums up some of Barker’s themes. Pinhead barely appears in Hellraiser, a film that, with its intense and uncomfortable family drama, might have even worked without him. With him, however, it becomes one of the most innovative and memorable horror films of the ‘80s, a middle ground between mainstream fare and the work of David Cronenberg, in its most powerful moments conjuring up the latter’s ability to make viewers feel uncomfortable in their own bodies. [Keith Phipps]

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