August 18, 2008

Seen Between Fingers -- Chris Kelly Is Man Enough For Hellraiser

For this new regular feature, wimp and noted horror non-enthusiast Chris Kelly will be reporting back with his first-impressions of memorable scary movies. We're talking about a guy who kept his eyes covered during much of Pan's Labyrinth (leaving just enough room between his fingers to see the subtitles) so if there are films you'd like to see inflicted on this tender soul, please leave them in the comments. Click below to read:

I am not the target audience for horror films. A gentle soul at heart, I prefer for stories to end happily and for others to experience as little discomfort as possible. I am afraid of needles, intolerant of pain, and squeamish at the sight of blood. Paper-cuts incapacitate me; scary movies are likely to cause permanent emotional scarring.

It was thus with some confusion that I ended my viewing of Hellraiser with little discernable distress. I’ll give credit where credit is due: that opening is no picnic. Eschewing all pretense of plot and character, our film-making team went straight for hooks and dismemberment, offering twisted death to a hirsute stranger. Hands were quickly clasped over eyes.

When my fingers parted, however, I was greeted not with a horrifying movie, but a horrible one. The plot, doubling back to explain the doom dealt to he of the buff torso and Kenny Loggins beard (Sean Chapman), quickly collapses on itself. Our lead actress Clare Higgins, who is sharper and colder than fan-favorite Pinhead by a country mile, is unconvincingly portrayed as an irresistible seductress. Almost all of the human men in this film strive to have sex with her, despite her frigid cragginess. There’s also the mysterious puzzle box, which is the plot’s keystone and its central problem. Its powers are numerous and frequently relied on, but never fully explained. Then again, this tool’s function is apparently so obvious that a teenager on the verge of a nervous breakdown can wield it masterfully without instruction, so maybe I’m the dumb one here.

In the end, the parts of the movie that scared me the most were given short shrift. The Cenobites, which exist as Hellraiser’s most memorable legacy, prove to be its least effective offerings. Their initial visual presence certainly earns a visceral reaction, but their actions seldom back the costume. Beyond a vacant description of their desire to explore the limits of pleasure and pain, they seem to do little more than linger in moody lighting and occasionally throw hooks at people (a trick that was creepier out of context in the beginning than at the movie’s climax). I was more frightened by the concept of an undead refugee from beyond willing to murder his own brother or niece for the love of his icepick of a sister-in-law, but this psychological awfulness took a backseat to showier, less compelling setpieces.

I recognize that I’m coming at this movie twenty years too late. The Cenobites have been referenced too often to shock with their appearance any longer, and their torture techniques have been rendered tame by a new generation of Saw ripoffs. 1987’s styles and production values make it difficult to take anything in the film too seriously; it’s tough to watch our anti-heroine murder her victim with a hammer without feeling that her choice of eyeshadow is still the more serious crime.

Clive Barker, it seems, understands that two decades have taken the teeth out of his most revered screen work. Reports indicate that he and a new production team would like a second chance to scare the pants off of me in 2009, when a remake is scheduled to be released. If this column proves to have lasting appeal, I’m sure I’ll be shipped off to a local theater in a pair of absorbent undergarments, forced to see the story’s potential fully realized. There’s a foul nightmare hidden just below the surface of the original, and while I don’t expect the remake to be applauded by either fans or critics, I do expect it to deprive me of a weekend’s worth of sleep.


Tom said...

I just saw these films for the first time this year. While I grant that Clare Higgins' charms are... elusive in the first one. I assure you she really proves to be quite the firecracker in the sequel!

(As you'll see for yourself soon...)

vida said...

downright hilarious! i wish i could have seen it with you.

scrivener said...

Your dude seems a little smug. I think you should show him Takashi Miike's Audition.

Nathan Rosen said...

Don't worry, Chris. I was once like you. You'll find that desensitization comes on quickly.

Storyteller said...

I think you should watch Midnight Meat Train next. Brooke Shields is awesome!

Tom said...

I have been DYING to see MMT, but it's not playing anywhere near NYC!

At this point a few of us are considering a car trip to Jersey. Or I could just wait a goddam month and watch it on dvd, I guess...