Disc Reviews

Hellraiser Quartet of Torment Blu-ray Review

Arrow Video just can’t seem to stay away from the Hellraiser franchise.  Initially they gave us the very impressive 4-disc Scarlet boxset that covered the first 3 films.  After this the films were released individually.  A second boxset of the three films came along (minus the 4th disc) and now they are back again with Hellraiser Quartet of Torment.

Befitting this title, we now have the added addition of the fourth film from the series, but also a focus on the more fetish aspects of the series within the new extras package that has come together.

First of all, let’s have a look at the four films briefly before we examine the bonus material.

The basic premise follows Frank Cotton – A man torn apart (literally) by his own hedonistic temptations when he crosses paths with the Cenobites (agents of hell). Frank gets a chance to return to the mortal coil when the blood of a relative reanimates his body (well, a very fleshy version of his body). Luckily for Frank, he has an accomplice in Julia (his brother’s wife) and together they set about finding the best way to get Frank’s fully functional body back. Also thrown into the mix is Frank’s niece, Kirsty – the one person who may get in his and Julia’s way.

Hellraiser is one of the few franchises that began in the 80s that, despite its low budget, seems to have aged better than most of its peers.  Why?  Well Clive Barker’s writing for a start, the subject matter (perhaps for a more select audience back then) stands up well in today’s market, the performances are good, the effects work still makes a deep impression, the beautiful and melodic music used was largely orchestral thanks to composer Christopher Young, and the list goes on. The series may have faltered down the line, but looking back on these works it is amazing to see what really holds up over time and has a firmer grasp on what an audience might want to even see in a horror film today.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II astounds today as there is a fight between the fanbase as to which film is better.  The happy dilemma here is that we can have both.  Hellbound stretches the story from the first film out by utilising the same core cast, but this time placing each character under different circumstance.  Kirsty is no longer the bystander. Julia now has to live as Frank did in the first film. The exploration of the mythology and expanding it with some of the series most wonderful visuals is truly astounding. Hell is visited giving the filmmakers a chance to explore some great visual ideas (Think dark version of an Escher painting) you can only but wonder what they might dream up for films down the line (sadly that didn’t really seem to happen).

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is a favourite for some but a low point for others as this is where the series’ poster child took front and centre and became the latest killer in horror.  What’s odd about that is the fact that the Cenobite character of “Pinhead” was never envisioned this way. His place was never to became a cackling clown offing people for the sake of it.  The Hell Priest had a function and in this film that function is twisted. But this is also the beginning of the 90s where companies wanted their product and there was a demand for it. Doug Bradley elevates his performance of Pinhead to iconic status here, and the film has to be given due credit for that.

New to Arrow now is Hellraiser Bloodline, the fourth and potential closing chapter for the series.  Hellraiser III planted the seed for the fourth film’s narrative.  Bloodline is divided into three main time segments. Past, present and future are explored starting with the making of the famous lament configuration. The box if created by a French toymaker – Each segment of the film features a character from the same dynasty. Pinhead is brought back in modern day and then in the future the descendant of the toymaker seeks to finally destroy him. Yes the joke has already been made “Pinhead in Space”.  It isn’t nearly half as bad as some of the other horror is space excursions were, but it was certainly risky going there.

Bloodline has had a rocky road as a film. First of all, the production itself had producer interference causing the director to walk and be replaced late in the game. It wasn’t met with much in the way of critical approval and even went straight to video in the UK.  More recently however the film has been given a reappraisal from fans and critics alike.  It may not be on the same level as the first couple of films but it tries very hard in places and there is enough of the good ideas that seep through in the visuals and effects work that make the film still work. Performances are slightly muddled, and there is definitely an editing job that is at war with itself. Bloodline does mark a good end point for the series should this be all you wish for; so, it works as a boxset.

Hellraiser Bonus Material

There are 3 audio commentaries. Two featuring Clive Barker. There is also a New commentary by UK journalist and author Kim Newman and Hellraiser publicist Stephen Jones.  All three tracks are where you get the most filmmaking value on this set.

There are a few new featurettes featuring a lot of people with no direct association with the fiulm.

Power of Imagination – Two scholars from Manchester Met sit and talk to each other about Clive Barker’s work as a writer and filmmaker.

Unboxing Hellraiser – A video essay on the Lament Configuration. A sort of poetic exploration of the idea and ideology of the box.

The pursuit of possibilities – More authors: This time focussing on the queer aspect of the work. This one sadly is a zoom call between two people. Never a visually comfortable viewing session when someone has half their bed poking into the frame behind them.  The content itself is fairly straight forward by today’s standards of subtext, and especially homoerotic and queer/gay content. It’s fine.

Flesh is a trap – An appreciation of the ways art, books and movies of Clive Barker embrace bodily existence. This is probably the oddest reading of them all. It becomes clear these new extras are about performance as much as they are about appreciated of Barker’s imagination.

Archive extras include:

Being frank: Sean chapman on Hellraiser

Under the skin: Doug Bradley on hellraiser

Soundtrack hell: the story of the abandoned coil, score

Various behind the scenes EPKs (Electronic Press kit)

These last extras are where you do get some insight into the film making – particularly by the actors. These were largely created for the Scarlet Boxset.

Hellraiser 2 Bonus Material

3 commentaries again.  The director and writer appear on two and the newly commissioned commentary is by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones.  All three are good and worth a listen if you care to hear about the ins and outs of the making of the film.

Hell Was What They Wanted – Two authors discuss Hellbound for almost 90 minutes.

That Rat Sliced Sound – An appreciation of Christopher Young’s scores for the first two films.

Having Chris young would have been drastically better, but at least there is a focus on the music.  This one comes curtesy of Guy Adams, the same chap from the first disc’s Flesh is a Trap extra. In total it is almost 12 minutes of half documenting fact and half pondering through poetry. It’s either darkly beautiful or really quite annoying depending on what you are expecting from his extras; So, best approach these types of extras with the aesthetic of the films in mind and an open heart to it.

Archival special features taken from the previous release include:

Under the Skin – with Doug Bradley

Being Frank – with Sean Chapman

Archival interviews with cast and crew

Trailers, tv spots, image galleries

The Bradley and Chapman extras are well worth a visit as both actors delve into the making of the second film and their experiences. The rest is largely older EPK material).

Hellraiser 3 Bonus Material

3 Commentaries again. One from the director and star Doug Bradley, a second from writer Peter Atkins, and a new commentary again from Kim Newman and Stephen Jones.  All, again, are a fascinating listen.

There are no new additional new extras beyond the extra commentary this time. But there is plenty of archival including Bradley in a third Under the Skin featurette, director Anthony Hickox in Raising Hell on Earth, and supporting actress Paula Marshall also speaks on the film. 

The most notable feature on this disc is the unrated cut of the film that is available along with the theatrical cut.

Hellraiser 4 Bonus Material

Sadly, Bloodline comes with just one Commentary.  Kim Newman and Stephen Jones return and this time interview writer Peter Atkins.

There is a workprint version of the film which gives an inkling as to how the film was coming together before producers got their hands on it and altered the plan.

There is also a featurette The Beauty of Suffering which looks at the BDSM and Gothic culture relations to the film.

Previously released material includes

Hellraiser Evolutions which was from the extras disc of The Scarlet Boxset.  Interesting to see this feature return.  While it’s closing close to an hour run time – it also feels that it skims details on the sequels, despite having writing and directorial talent appear in it as talking heads.

Also carried over is Books of Blood and Beyond which charts Barker’s written work.

For anyone new to the series this is all a very impressive stuff, and there is also the 4K versions of this boxset available which cranks up the appeal even more.

To tackle the elephant in the room for anyone familiar with previous editions then people need to be aware of what is here, and most notably what is not here.  Previous Arrow versions did include for the first three films a very impressive and detailed documentary series called Leviathan which focussed on the first two films of the series. Each part of this is feature length and weas produced by Nuclear films.  They also produced a slightly shorter doc on the third film called Hell on Earth: The Making of Hellraiser 3.  That is also sadly absent here.  The interesting thing is that there are some archival extras from Nucleus films that do appear on these discs, just not the main making of documentaries.  Why this is; surely a rights issue perhaps? But if you chose to purchase this new set – Which is highly recommended, you can in fact still obtain a previous Arrow boxset that does feature the making of material at a much cheaper price, so is worth the double dip if you like bonus features and

With this incomplete look to it all there could well be room in the future for an even more indepth coverage of the films – especially if access to the further sequels can be made and placed into a nice big fat box set. That or an epic length documentary about the series film by film. If Freddy and Jason and Meyers can get that then so can Pinhead.

Finally, we have to mention that the box-art itself is disgustingly beautiful and there is more than one version out there.  Chatterer Cenobite fans will be happy to know they can get their own demonic creature on the from cover should they wish it.  There is also a 200 page fully illustrated hardback book with various writings inside.

It is very exciting to see the series get continued attention. It makes collectors out of us all.

Steven Hurst

Share this!