... aka: Hellbound Heart, The
... aka: Sadomasochists from Beyond the Grave
Highly dissatisfied with the previous adaptations of his work; the dreary subway-set mutant saga TRANSMUTATIONS (1985; originally titled Underworld) and the gory monster movie RAWHEAD REX (1986), which I somewhat enjoy but not always from the right reasons, Barker decided to finally take the helm himself and bring his novel "The Hellbound Heart" to the big screen. The end product was a more mature, serious horror film that became a hit (grossing over 14 million in the U.S. alone on a 1 million dollar budget). Critics and audiences both responded well to the grim, bloody, creative and unpredictable story and the film helped boost Barker's reputation as a darker, edgier figure to contrast the more mainstream appeal of the massively popular Stephen King. The film also introduced audiences to a brand new genre icon: Pinhead. Doug Bradley's mannered, S&M-clad, well-spoken, nail-faced centerpiece to the eventual long-running series (dubbed simply "Lead Cenobite" in this first film) represented a much more intellectual evil to contrast personality-free slasher maniacs like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, and juvenile one-liner-spouting fiends like Chucky and Freddy Krueger.
Unhappily married couple Larry (Andrew Robinson) and Julia (Clare Higgins) Cotton, along with their teenage daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), move into a new house in the UK that had previously been occupied by Larry's estranged (and criminal) brother Frank (Sean Chapman) whom Julia had a brief yet exciting and passionate affair with years earlier. Little does anyone know, but Frank's remains are actually underneath the floorboards in the attic. Larry cuts himself while moving furniture, bleeds onto the floor and manages to somehow revive the brother in the process. The problem Frank now faces is that he's in some sort of bloody skeletal state and needs more blood to gain back his entire body. After some coercion, Julia - who's still in love with her brother-in-law all these years later - starts seducing and then murdering men to provide the needed blood. Not too happy about losing a hell-bound soul are a group of fetishistic demons from hell who can be summoned using an ancient puzzle box.
After the film proved highly profitable, Barker was given several more opportunities to direct; though neither of his efforts would match the success of his first. NIGHTBREED (1990), based on Barker's novel Cabal, was a flawed, intricate production that involved both a masked serial killing psychiatrist (played by soft-spoken Canadian director David Cronenberg) and a bunch of mythical, individually unique, once-human mutant outcasts living in their own isolated world underneath a cemetery. The film was somewhat neutered by producers after they re-edited the film and removed many of the scenes. Barker's final stint in the director's chair to date - Lord of Illusions (1995) - fared even worse, financially and otherwise. The Bernard Rose-directed Candyman (1992), based on Barker's The Forbidden, was actually the big Barker hit of the decade.
Hellraiser's success also meant that mass sequelization was the order of the day. Bradley and the Pinhead character were the only real constants though Barker was himself directly involved with the series for awhile, producing the first three sequels before bowing out. HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1989), directed by Tony Randel, was an oppressive, murky follow-up set in a mental asylum with Higgins, Laurence and Bradley all reprising their roles. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992), directed by Anthony Hickox and featuring a Laurence cameo, went a more mainstream horror sequel route complete with one-liners and more gimmicky Cenobites (including one that shoots CDs out of its mouth). Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), an ambitious, muddled, troubled production, had three distinct settings (past - present - future), including scenes aboard a spaceship. It turned out so well that its director - special effects master Kevin Yagher, opted to hide behind the notorious "Alan Smithee" pseudonym.
After Bloodline was slated by critics and sorely under-performed at the box office, the series then went direct-to-video, where it prospered. Scott Derrickson's Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) was the first of these releases. Rick Bota directed the next three entries: Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002), which brought Laurence back again as Kirsty, Hellraiser: Deader (2005), which wasn't even conceived as a Hellraiser film until some slight alterations were made last minute, and Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005), which again had little to do with Barker's original vision. The 9th and so far final entry was the Bradley-free Hellraiser: Revelations (2011), which was so terrible that it's been denounced by not only fans, but also by Barker and Bradley themselves.