I first watched Hellraiser when I was 18. I watched it with a friend who was older than me and whom I still see occasionally. He insisted that we watch the movie at a very loud volume in a very small room which, as it turns out, is a very good way to watch the movie. I thought it was very good.
In the intervening years – so many intervening years – I have revisited Hellraiser on several occasions and every time I do so, I always come to the same conclusion, “This mostly holds up, at least as far as horror movies go.” Why I’m saying this out loud, I’ll never know, but there it is. My fandom has waned as I’ve gotten older and lost the stomach for human suffering necessary to enjoy horror, but upon discovering a podcast called the Faculty of Horror, I listened to its Hellraiser episode and it rekindled my love for the franchise. My like for the franchise. My toleration of the franchise. My acceptance of the franchise’s first movie and a bit of the sequel and none of the rest of them because holy god, it’s like these writers and directors were intentionally trying to ruin things.
Here’s a quick recap of Hellraiser that you didn’t ask for – there is a puzzle box* that, properly worked, opens a portal to a world occupied by Cenobites, which is just a fancy term for monster. The Cenobites are those who have previously solved the box, and although later films introduce all manner of impossibly stupid variations, the original four are Lead Cenobite (colloquially known as Pinhead), Chatterer, Butterball, and Female Cenobite. Those who attempt to open the box do so because they are promised unimaginable sexual ecstasy as their reward. Those who do open it are greeted by the Cenobites, former humans whose pursuit of pleasure lead them so deeply into sadomasochistic sex that they are now unable to differentiate suffering from pleasure.
So, now might be a good time to take a break and recap the previous paragraph thusly: Hellraiser is a lot about sex. Like, a lot. You can see that I’ve italicized –a lot- in an attempt to emphasize just how much about sex Hellraiser is. And that second time, I used those hyphen thingies that I sometimes see other writers using. So, anyway, it’s about sex. Remember that.
Please also remember that I knew that it was about sex. If you’d asked me, I would have gone on about the movie being Clive Barker‘s sneaky way of getting his own sadomasochism onto the big screen, and how that was something that I always appreciated about the movie, not because of any personal interest in sadomasochism, but because I happen to occasionally have a passing interest in subversive activity. We all have our hobbies.
Here now is my favorite scene from the movie:
Now, if you’d asked me three weeks ago – why would you have done that? – I would have told you that my favorite part about the movies was that those who messed around with the box got what they deserved. The odious Frank Cotton (the real bad guy from the first movie) acknowledges as much when he says he opened the box pursuing pleasures he could no longer find on Earth. That those pleasures were eventually his undoing (SPOILER ALERT!) is a nice bit of storytelling. There’s something appealing about those going asking for it getting what they deserve.
But, uh, there I was three weeks ago, listening to the Horror Faculty’s podcast. And I was thinking about my favorite scene from the movie as the podcast’s two academics spoke at length about the movie’s sexual undertones.
“The box. You opened it. We came.”
I’ve always focused on that middle portion. “Everything that’s about to happen?” they’re essentially saying. “That’s your fault.” But then there’s that last part, which I’d always heard as nothing more than, “…and that’s why we’re standing here. Physically. Us standing here physically. Just four best friends, standing here, now, because of you.”
But that’s not what they’re saying! That’s not what they’re saying at all! I first saw this movie sixteen years ago and it took me literally sixteen years to figure out that, at the barest of minimums, it is very, very easy to understand a second possible meaning of “We came.” In fact, it’s almost unreasonable to come (tee hee) away from the movie with the understanding that I had enjoyed for those sixteen years. It’s a movie about the pursuit of sexual ecstasy to the point of death and yet it never dawned on me that Pinhead’s “We came.” might have been meant not in the physical sense, but rather, in the sexual one. How is that possible? And more importantly, how often has this sort of braindead density occurred in my life?
Anyway, Happy Halloween.
*The Lemarchand’s Box**, if you must know, you dorkus.
**It is also known as the Lament Configuration, in case you weren’t enough of a dorkus malorkus*** already.
***That’s Latin for dorkus.