This is one of my all-time favourite films so this will not be a very neutral review.What Clive Barker writes is so graphic and full of beautiful inhuman monsters. This film is that imagination made flesh and, as dated as some of the effects may be, there is no denying the power of the ideas and the imagery in this film
There is a puzzle box, the lament configuration created by an 18th century toy-maker Lemarchand which can open doorways to a world of experiences beyond pleasure and pain and acts beyond good and evil, under ministrations of the Cenobites of the Gash. Frank Cotton buys the box because he has become jaded with what the normal world has to offer. Frank prepares an attic room in his family home and sits down with the box. When he solves the box it tears a hole through to hell and the Cenobites come. These four Cenobites have been each been hideously mutilated and deformed, wearing their bleeding scars as a demonstration of their devotion to physical sensation. The head Cenobite has been nicknamed Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and he may be all that is known about this film by people who haven’t watched it. His name comes from the grid scarred into his shaven scalp with pins hammered into each intersection of scars. He and the other cenobites wield cutting tools and use hooked chains to tear into Franks flesh to provide him with the new experiences he thought he craved, eventually tearing him apart and torturing the pieces.
Some time later Frank’s brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into the house with his wife Julia (Claire Higgins). Larry is much more normal than his brother and is trying to hold on to his marriage to Julia even though she seems to have grown cold on him. Julia looks round the house and finds signs that Frank was staying there and we find out that she had an affair with Frank when he came home to attend Larry and Julia’s wedding. Frank quickly grew bored and left but Julia can’t stop thinking about him.
Julia is drawn to the attic room where Frank died and where memories of her passionate affair with Frank are much stronger. Larry is downstairs trying get their new bed up the stairs into the bedroom and he rips his hand open on a nail. He runs up the stairs to Julia, nearly passing out at the sight of his own blood and needing her help to know what to do. His blood drips on to the floorboards and is sucked away unnoticed. Julia says they need to go to a hospital for stitches. Fortunately Larry’s daughter Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) has just arrived and she drives them to hospital.
Meanwhile Frank’s remains in the attic have absorbed Larry’s blood and given him a way to escape from hell. Other effects in the film have dated but this scene is so well done and so disgustingly awful that its still very effective. CGI just doesn’t ooze realistically or evoke the visceral response you get from real fake goo and gore. Frank oozes out of the floor boards slowly and comes together as a half-dead revenant still more dead than alive.
That night after retuning from the hospital Larry is having a party drinking, chatting and joking with his friends and his daughter Kirsty. Julia slinks off upstairs early claiming to have a headache and she goes up to the attic room. There she discovers the barely-formed Frank and is horrified until Frank tells her who he is. Frank begs for her help, telling Julia that blood brought him back and more blood is needed to restore him. Later that night Julia returns to the attic and tells she agrees to help.
Next day Julia goes to a bar and picks up a guy. She takes him back to her house with the promise of sex and takes him up to the attic room. There she smashes his head in with a hammer. Frank crawls out of the shadows and hungrily devours the man’s blood while Julia leaves to clean herself up. Afterwards Frank is a bit more meaty but he still needs more blood meaning Julia has to find more victims. As she keeps going she stops being disgusted by what Frank makes her do and starts to enjoy it
Larry gets worried about Julia. He thinks that she never leaves the house and her mood is always off. He asks Kirsty to drop in on Julia, thinking that she might be feeling lonely. When Kirsty does drop by she sees Julia going into the house with a strange man. She watches a while longer then she hears the man’s screams from the attic room and rushes up the stairs. There she is greeted by shocking sight of the man partially drained and begging for help. Frank grabs the man back into the room and greets Kirsty lecherously. She does not recognise the skinless monster until he introduces himself as Uncle Frank. Frank approaches her menacingly but backs off as she clutches the puzzle box. Seeing the panic in Frank’s eyes she seizes her chance, throws the box out of the window and runs down the stairs and out of the house, then picks up the box keeps going. She keeps walking until shock hits her and she passes out in the street.
When Kirsty comes to she’s in a hospital bed.The doctor gives her the box, saying she was found clutching it outside and he leaves it with her. Kirsty examines the box then starts moving the parts causing it to play music. The walls of her room rip open to reveal a long dark corridor. Kirsty tentatively explores the corridor , until she find the way blocked by a creature with huge teeth and large tail and a long lethal stinger which chases Kirsty back into her room. Four Cenobites appear to take Kirsty to hell for opening the box. Kirsty pleads ignorance but the Cenobites are not interested and have no mercy. It is only when she mentions Frank escaping them that they take an interest. She offers them a deal, if she can lead them to Frank they might let her go free.
Kirsty gets out of the hospital and goe back to house worried about what Frank and Julia might do to Larry. Unfortunately Julia and Frank have already killed Larry and Frank is now wearing Larry’s skin. They convince Kirsty that the body is Frank’s and that Larry had to kill him. The Cenobites appear in the attic and tell Kirsty that they want the murderer, which she thinks means her father Larry. Kirsty goes to warn ‘Larry’ and Julia that they must all leave then she realises that Larry is actually Frank. Frank stabs Julia and comes after Kirsty who has run up to attic where Larry’s body is. Frank gloats about what he’s done but Frank’s confession is what the Cenobites are waiting for. They capture him with hooks on chains and they rip him apart once again.
Kirsty flees but the Cenobites still want her too. Fortunately she still has the puzzle box. Each part of the puzzle that she solves banishes one of Cenobites to hell until she has it solved, while the house falls to pieces around her.
As I said above this is one my favourites films. I think that the story is just brilliant and is so original that I really cannot think of any films that similar to it. If you know any please let me know because I’d love to see them. I still get excited when I put this on to watch and that is not at all typical of me. I think this really demonstrates the ability of young inexperienced film-makers determined to get their ideas onto film with little concern for how things should be done or how things had been done in the past. It is a tribute the fantastic job the make-up people did to create the look of the Cenobites in this film that even though they are hardly in the film for more than few minutes it is the image of the Cenobites that lasts long after the film is over.
The main cast is all pretty good but Claire Higgins really did a great job with Julia as her character develops from frustrated housewife to serial killer and lover of a monster. Frank was played by three different actors. The pre-hell Frank was Sean Chapman and he’s okay. Much better was monster Frank played by Oliver Smith, a really creepy performance. Then when Franks puts on Larry’s skin he’s played by Andrew Robinson who plays Larry, and is even better and creepier.
Now bring on the sequels prequels and remakes