Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How I Would Have Done Hellraiser (SPOILERS!)

In my previous blog post on the film Hellraiser, I made some criticisms of the film and dropped some hints about things I would have done differently if I were writing the script. However, I couldn't go into a lot of detail for fear of spoilers, which I prefer to avoid putting in reviews.

So here's a separate blog post where I can discuss stuff that happened in the film without fear. Although Hellraiser is a creepy, very well-done film, even the best films (and yes, that includes the glory that was The Avengers) can stand to have some improvements. Here are some things I'd have done differently if I were writing the script:

*Kirsty's British boyfriend Steve does very little in the film and is written off in the opening minutes of Hellbound: Hellraiser II as having been let go by the police while Kirsty herself is institutionalized. And yet there's no indication he made any effort to try to get her out, even though he may have seen the Cenobites and definitely saw the vagrant reclaim the puzzle box from the fire and transform into a skeletal dragon. If my girlfriend got locked up for telling the truth, I'd be (pun intended) raising hell. It would have been better if Steve simply weren't in the film at all and the money used to pay the actor invested elsewhere. That would have been helpful given how the film only had a budget of $1 million.

If Kirsty needs to have something to do (other than Steve, hee-hee) to occupy her until she starts suspecting her stepmother Julia is having an affair, perhaps we could have her notice Julia's odd behavior earlier than her father and start her own investigation. The oblivious Larry thinks that maybe the two women are becoming friends, but Julia suspects that Kirsty knows too much. She might want the resurrected Frank Cotton to murder and feed off Kirsty, but Frank could refuse due to either familial loyalty or his wanting to have sex with Kirsty--he creeps on her on two different occasions in the film, once when he's got no skin and a second time wearing Larry's skin--once he's fully resurrected.

(This would have to come after Julia has killed people for Frank because a major part of her character arc is that it's initially very difficult for her to kill and she will not allow Frank to harm Larry, but she ultimately becomes more and more warped and murderous. Her wanting to kill her stepdaughter before she finally agrees to allow Frank to kill Larry would be doable, since it's clear from the beginning they don't get along.)

*On the matter of Julia's character arc from "bored wife" to "murderous betrayer," she could try to offer Frank her own blood in order to restore him before she resorts to the whole "lure men to the house and murder them" thing. A little bit of her blood is enough to restore some of him (much like a little bit of Larry's was enough to bring Frank back as a crawling skeleton), but since one can only safely give blood every few weeks, Frank demands she bring him men to feed on because he wants his body restored as soon as possible. Julia is depicted as totally dominated by Frank's overpowering sexuality (his flashback seduction of her comes off as very rape-y but yet she's soon willing to do "anything" for him--and this is before her marriage to Larry), so this would be a good beginning of her "damnation arc."

*At the climax of the film, the resurrected Frank murders Larry off-screen and wears his skin and mimics his voice in order to deceive his niece Kirsty, which actually works. I have no problem suspending my disbelief where puzzle boxes summoning leather freaks from beyond the grave works, but I really, really doubt this would deceive Kirsty for even a minute. He wouldn't look like Larry (Larry-Frank and Larry are played by the same actor), but some kind of Ed Gein monstrosity. Furthermore, we see Julia killing other men to allow Frank to regenerate his body by feeding on them, but we never see the confrontation between the two brothers even though that would have been excellent thematically.

I would have depicted their no doubt brief and horrible reunion intercut with Kirsty running to her father's house (cross-cutting builds suspense) and had Frank use his brother's blood to fully resurrect himself. If there's any additional body-part thievery to be done, he could scalp his brother and wear his hair as a wig, which might trick Kirsty if she sees him from the back (especially if it's dark) and he doesn't talk. Kirsty can run in looking for her father and Julia can bring her to "Larry," only for "Larry" to dramatically turn around and it's Frank wearing Larry's scalp. That'd be more horrific than what we got in the film because it doesn't wreck the suspension of disbelief the way "I'm wearing my brother's entire skin" does. Sometimes subtlety is a really good idea.

*Pinhead and the Cenobites, when they initially appear, are all set to drag a terrified Kirsty to Hell, but she's able to bargain with them by offering Frank in her place. However, when they come to reclaim Frank, Pinhead tells Kirsty that what they intend to do to him is "not for your eyes" and shoo her away. Within minutes if not seconds, however, the Cenobites renege on their deal and try to take Kirsty too--incredibly ineffectively. When Pinhead pops up behind her and does the whole "we have such sights to show you" speech (awesome line but yet seeing Frank dismember is not for her to see), he could have easily knocked the box out of her hands when she's solving it to send him back, but doesn't.

What I would have done is have her flee the house, with one last look behind her so we can get the "Jesus wept" line from Frank, and then once outside, she sees flashing lights in the upper room as the Cenobites return to Hell. Then the house collapses. She can then try to destroy the puzzle-box only to have the vagrant snatch it away and then we have the ending where he's later selling it to some other degenerate pleasure-seeker. TVTropes even states that the Cenobites are actually Kirsty's allies for most of the film and having two humans be the real villains while the monstrous leather-freaks really are not is a nice subversion.

*When Larry and Julia are getting it on and Frank comes out of the closet with a knife to kill Larry (only for Julia to stop him, which Larry thinks is Julia telling him she doesn't want to have sex right now), he cuts up an extremely fake-looking rat for some reason. That was kind of gratuitous--not only is a skinless man coming to murder his brother horrible enough, but it's a special effects failure that didn't need to happen.

*On the matter of rats, given how desperate Frank is to restore himself and get out of the house where he was taken lest the Cenobites go looking there first, it would have been a good thing to see him at least try to feed on rats to restore his body. It would be a suitably gross way to show rather than tell how desperate Frank is, but either it doesn't work (he'd need human blood) or it starts causing his appearance to become rat-like (more body hair?) and he's so vain he'd rather kill other humans to restore his original appearance. Given how Frank initially doesn't want Julia to look at him, vanity could easily be another one of his many sins.

*When Kirsty faints in the streets after escaping Frank the first time, she's taken to the hospital and treated like an injured criminal in need of questioning, to the point she's locked in the room by the pushy, obnoxious doctor until the police can arrive. That would make more sense in the second film, given how the Powers That Be seem to think she's an insane murder suspect, but she's not suspected of any crime. It seems like they just needed her to have no choice but to solve the box and summon the Cenobites. It would've been better if she'd retreated to her rented room and solved the box out of curiosity there. That would also eliminate the need for the doctor and nurse actors, saving even more money.

*And speaking of curiosity, when she first solves the box and opens a doorway to Hell, she doesn't seem remotely afraid and just wanders in. I would have expected a lot more hesitation and fear. This approaches "stupid horror movie character" territory and I would have expected better from someone as talented as Clive Barker. I would have had her get as far away from the open door as she can in a locked room and then, after it seems nothing is coming out, she gets up to look inside--and then runs right into Pinhead. No need for the tunnel monster, which would save money.

*In the second film, Julia escapes from Hell via the mattress she allegedly died on in this movie. However, Frank accidentally stabbed her on the stairs and then drained her life ("nothing personal, babe"). Yet we see her body on the bed in another room a few minutes later clutching the puzzle box. Assuming she still had some life in her even after the stab wound and Frank feeding on her, I could imagine her crawling away, but retrieving the box, crawling into another room, and then getting into bed is something else. Maybe she dies on a carpet and that's what they use in the second film?

*Finally, when Kirsty first encounters Frank and he attacks her, he becomes very concerned when she picks up the puzzle box and it's not clear why. It would have been better if it he were obviously concerned she might accidentally summon the Cenobites (making a similar speech to the one he made to Julia earlier in the film), either to protect himself or protect her (either out of family loyalty or because he wants her alive so he can have sex with her later). Or maybe she just picks up the box, sees his unspoken fear, and then either throws it at him (and out the window so he can pick it up off the street) or brandish it at him so she can escape. All the scene really needs to accomplish is to make her aware that Frank is alive (sort of), that the box had something to do with it, and that she escapes him with the box to summon the Cenobites.

Let me repeat that all these things I'd have done differently if I were writing the script in no way make Hellraiser a bad film. It's a very creepy, atmospheric, well-done film all the more impressive due to its low budget and I recommend it.


  1. One explanation of why Julia did not give Frank any of her blood is perhaps because he can only drain males.

    After all, it was his brother's blood that brought him back in the first place. It should be noted that Frank was brought back as a pile of bones and slime because there was too little blood and the human body needs more than that.

    Additionally, we see that Frank is not eating his victims or drinking their blood, but actually drains them through his hands. This implies some kind of complicated body-mass transfer and/or a life-draining mechanism.

    Who knows, it might even be demonic magic that Frank somehow learned during his stay in Hell.

  2. Yes, but he does make some pretty nasty chewing noises when he claims his first few victims and he specifically tells Julia not to watch.

    Furthermore, even if it wouldn't have worked, Julia could have at least tried before going straight to "I'm going to kill people." She's a bored wife who had a fling with her fiancee's charismatic brother before her wedding--she's not a murderer at first.

  3. Are these chewing noises though? We don't see what's happening. It could be chewing, it could be something else.

    Maybe he tells her not to watch because she *shouldn't* watch, perhaps knowledge of such actions would be damning to her and he wishes to spare her such a fate.

    However, I agree that at least a throwaway line about using her blood could have been used.