[Fresh on Blu-ray] ‘HELLRAISER’ films and ‘VAMPIRES’ return from the depths on collector’s editions

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

We’re nearly a month away from Halloween, but home distribution companies are shelling out the horror movies in hopes of making your days leading up to trick-or-treat time spookier. They may not be the cream of the genre crop, but these titles will surely wet horror fans’ whistles.

HELLRAISER (1987)

Rated R, 93 minutes.
Director: Clive Barker
Cast: Andrew RobinsonClare HigginsAshley Laurence, Sean Chapman, Oliver Smith, Doug Bradley, Nicholas Vince and Simon Bamford

Hellraiser might be my least favorite horror franchise. Every time I watch it, I give it a fair shake to wow me at a different time in my life. Sometimes cinema works that way. What you may loathe today, you may love down the road. It may come with age, intellectual growth, or our tastes in movie broadening. God knows I spend most of my time watching horror movies, so it wouldn’t be supernatural if I like a movie I never thought I would.

Clive Barker’s 1987 original Hellraiser lacks the excitement of other popular franchises such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween. To some, I may be comparing apples to oranges. Barker, a horror author-turned-director, is a deep-thinking filmmaker. His films have very complex themes, while you could argue the movies that involve Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers are a little more on the simpler side. I like it simple. Hellraiser has simple concepts, but the way Barker layers it is a tad on the exhausting. Sometimes it’s fun to watch villains terrorize idiot kids. In Hellraiser, you might have to do more historical digging to connect all the dots.

To be fair, I am not saying that a movie needs to make complete sense for me to like it. Some of my all-time favorites are features that urge me to do research, like The Shining or Get Out. It’s fun to come up with theories. However, there’s a different energy to Hellraiser in comparison to the work of Stanley Kubrick or Jordan Peele. Hey, different strokes for different folks.

All right. Rant over. What does give Hellraiser some credit are the disturbing gore effects. The film may be this puzzling mix of Fifty Shades of Grey and The Mummy, but it sure gets under your skin to watch a man reconstruct himself by way of feeding on people to an attic. There’s a reason why people study the images in this film; they are commendable if your stomach can handle it. And they shine even more in Arrow Video’s brand new 2K restoration. There’s the occasional grain, especially in the darker moments, but overall, it’s a super solid upgrade.

Grade: C+

Extras: The best part about the Arrow Video collector’s edition (available to purchase here) is the cover art. It’s reversible with the classic box art of Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx, also of Pinhead (but in a hand-drawn form).

What was the most appealing part of the release (the new version of the documentary on the making of the film, titled Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser) was incredibly lackluster. The information is there, but it’s a struggle to get through. It’s a rough assembly, and it flows like listening to a college professor giving a lecture in a monotone voice.

The individual interviews, however, pick up some steam. There is a candid conversation with actor Sean Chapman in which he talks about shaping his character Frank Cotton. He has some engaging stories about working with Barker and what the film means to him today, including the process of doing the gore scenes. Additionally, there are chats with ex-Coil member Stephen Thrower on the Hellraiser score that almost was, Doug Bradley on his involvement as Pinhead, and a slew of vintage interviews with various talents.

Original EPK interview sets, audio commentaries, original trailers and TV spots, and an image gallery complete the release.

HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988)

Rated R, 99 minutes.
Director: Tony Randel
Cast: Doug BradleyAshley LaurenceClare Higgins, Imogen Boorman, Sean Chapman, William Hope, Barbie Wilde, Simon Bamford, Nicholas Vince and Oliver Smith

Surprisingly (and against the grain), I found more excitement in the 1988 Hellraiser sequel, Hellbound. Clive Barker is no longer in the director’s chair (now it’s Tony Randel) and some of the original cast are replaced with new actors. It was a quick turnaround. So creatively speaking, it’s probably difficult to come up with something quality in that time, and the original players likely recognized that. It also shows that they filmed this too fast. The story trips over its own shoelaces, principally in the last act.

What improves in this sequel are the stakes. The scope is much bigger. While so much of it is expected with a horror sequel (the same old thing of taking place in a hospital for a stretch of time, character trauma and lots of flashbacks to the original), but Hellbound adjusts the dials just enough to make it feel like a new film entirely. The gore effects are taken to the next level, some of which are significantly more disturbing than the original.

Grade: B

Extras: Also being released on a collector’s edition by Arrow Video (available to purchase here), the film has a consistent look to go along with the first film. That’s what I greatly care about, if I can speak so frankly as an extremely nerdy film collector. It looks great on the shelf with the spine text and cover art design.

The special features are not much different than the first film. Many of my complaints and praises are the same as its predecessor. The same people developed the making-of documentary, and it doesn’t get better. That said, there are a few more features on the lineup, such as more on-set interviews and focus on the surgeon scene. Everything else carries over from the original’s release.

VAMPIRES (1998)

Rated R, 108 minutes.
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: James WoodsDaniel BaldwinSheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Mark Boone Junior and Gregory Sierra

Leave it to Scream Factory to give a so-so movie some extra spices and make it more appetizing. This collector’s edition of John Carpenter’s 1998 film is a stunner. Not only does it have the newly commissioned cover art and cardboard slipcover to give it more value, but it has many extras to sink your teeth into.

As brutally honest as composer-director John Carpenter is in his new interviews, I am most shocked by actor James Wood’s words. I did not expect to find him on the disc at all. More often than not, these restored releases merely feature interviews with the cinematographer, producers and the lesser-known talent, all of whom are on the roster. But to get Woods, who is known for being a difficult person to work with, is impressive.

In Woods’ section, he dishes about his improvisational skills and advice he learned from John Travolta that he brought to Vampires’ experience. In Carpenter’s interview, he said Woods isn’t as complicated as his reputation states. He actually has a relatively smooth working relationship with the actor.

Wrapping up the bonus material are a few more interviews (including special effects artist Greg Nicotero), a vintage making-of featurette, an isolated score, a filmmaker’s commentary, a theatrical trailer and TV spots, and a still gallery.

So, if you are a fan of this apocalyptic vampire movie with Western undertones, Scream Factory’s release (available to purchases here) supplies you with plenty to shout about.

Grade: B

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.