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Raising Hell – What’s your pleasure?

October 30, 2022

It all started with a novel. A fairly short one, consisting of 186 pages. Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart was released in 1986 by Dark Harvest; and later that year Barker himself started work on its film adaptation Hellraiser, which was released in cinemas in the autumn of 1987. Ten sequels later, a revamped Hellraiser is back, albeit on a streaming service. Synchrotones has had a listen to the various scores that blessed and cursed this franchise. Dare I ask… which ones nailed it?

Critical responses to the original Hellraiser were varied, with UK journalists generally being more generous with their praise than their US counterparts. The Brits praised its style and intelligence, whilst the Yanks lamented the poor acting and mediocre special effects. Nonetheless, the Cenobites raised enough intrigue to warrant the sequel Hellbound for which Barker wrote the story, though he passed the directing torch on to Tony Randel, one of the editors on the first movie. Randel, in turn, contributed to the story for Hell on Earth, though directing duties went to Anthony Hickox. After this, neither Barker nor Randel had anything to do with the slew of sequels, with Barker actively and publicly disassociating himself from the franchise. By the time Revelations came around Barker tweeter: “I have NOTHING to do with the fuckin’ thing. If they claim its from the mind of Clive Barker, it’s a lie. It’s not even from my butt-hole.”

I hope you don’t mind me assuming you all know what Hellraiser is about; or that you are familiar with its prime villain Pinhead at least. In a nutshell, there’s this puzzlebox and when you solve it, demons appears, shred you to bits and drag you back to hell. There’s more to it, of course. Pinhead, not his real name, is a priest from hell, Leviathan is their God, and those demons are actually called Cenobites. Originally, Barker infused the story with sado masochistic elements; and it’s all very much about lust… lust for adventure, lust for sex, lust for pleasure and anything that excites the senses. For the Cenobites, pain and pleasure are indivisible, which is rather unfortunate for those who seek the ultimate pleasure only to find suffering.

The hell priest became a horror icon overnight. Brilliantly brought to life by Doug Bradley, Pinhead is more than a one-dimensional monster. He is intelligent, he is eloquent, he is relentlessly brutal, yet, quite surprisingly, he is fair. Audiences wanted more and so the sequels kept on coming. And with each one, Pinhead’s character got flatter and shallower. He became a gimmick. And that’s how an original and brilliant premise by Clive Barker ended up getting ruined.

Until 2022. The reboot/remake/sequel Hellraiser has been a looong time coming. As far back as 2006 Clive Barker talked about writing a script for a new Hellraiser movie. The planned movie went through production hell (see what I did there?) with writers, directors and studios coming and going. Eventually, and allegedly spurred on by the success of the rebooted Halloween movies, Hellraiser gained serious traction in 2020 and was finally released on the Hulu streaming channel in October 2022. I’m not sure what Barker’s ultimate official involvement was with the reimagined Hellraiser as he’s not listed as a writer, though it is clear from interviews with him and director David Bruckner that the two of them had many discussion about the new film.

No less than nine (9!) movies separate Hellraiser from Hellraiser, most of which range from mildly entertaining to piss poor; and it’s been suggested that a couple of them were only made so that The Weinstein Company wouldn’t lose their rights to the franchise. Thankfully, the new Hellraiser has been met with plenty of praise.

So let’s talk music, shall we?

Hellraiser (1987, Coil, rejected) *
When Barker directed the first instalment, he chose British experimental band Coil to write the score. You can listen to their score on YouTube. Some of the music is terrible both in terms of ideas and execution, with lots of cheesy 80s synths and samples. That said, the idea of a distorted music box is already there, some cues sound suitably disturbing, whilst others show a surprising level of grandeur. It tries to do the right things, I’ll give it that, but the style and sound of Coil would have made Hellraiser sound and feel like a cheap, obscure, independent movie from the UK, and very much rooted in the 80s (most of which this movie is, to be fair); whereas Christopher Young’s bold orchestral score made it both timeless and placeless.

Hellraiser (1987, Christopher Young) ****1/2
Is there anything I can say about Christopher Young’s Hellraiser and Hellbound scores that hasn’t already been said by everyone else? Probably not, but I can whole-hellbound-heartedly agree with all the praise it has ever received. They are two monumental scores that not merely enhanced these films, but catapulted them into being genre classics. In Hellraiser, glissando strings give the score an erotic edge, big brass gives it grandeur, and tolling bells and metallic sound effects herald the Cenobites. And then there’s that resurrection scene with Young’s danse macabre, an ingenious waltz that’s as lush as it is scary. The score oozes danger and evil, but it’s elegant and sensual… everything that Barker wanted the Cenobites to be. Young couldn’t have nailed it any better.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988, Christopher Young) *****
The only way to top Hellraiser would be to add a big choir… and that’s what Young did in Hellbound. The opening cue blows Hell’s bloody doors right off their hinges, and throughout the score Young dials up the bombast to ten and beyond. In fairness, the film itself is a bit over-the-top so why should Young hold back? Yet, there’s still plenty of room for quieter, reflective moments for woodwinds. Elsewhere, Young plays with electronic and aleatoric effects; and for the scenes in Hell, he employs what I guess to be Alpen horns to create ‘braaams’ long before they became a staple of Hollywood film scoring. Allegedly, the pattern of this horn blasts spells out ‘God’ in morse code. It might as well spell out ‘Young’, because as far as I’m concerned, Chris Young is the God of Hellraiser. What he’s brought to these two movies (and indirectly to some sequels) is every bit as critical as Barker’s story, its characters and Doug Bradley’s performance as Pinhead.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992, Randy Miller) ****
While Miller follows Young closely in terms of themes and orchestrations, his score sounds more typically ‘Hollywood’. A quick dive into Miller’s background reveals he’s worked on several projects with Robert Folk prior to Hell on Earth. At times HoE sounds like ‘what if Goldsmith scored Hellraiser’…and I like it a lot. Now, on the one hand HoE loses some of that Young ‘magic’, that truly Gothic style he employed, in favour of more straightforward action scoring; but Young’s themes and some of his mannerisms are never far away. And the Goldsmithesque action-writing, listen to the syncopated rhythms, also gives the music that little extra interest. Like Hellbound the film itself is a bit eccentric, which allows the composer to go all out. HoE is a great, fun ride, but Miller also knows when to dial it back down and offers some interesting variations on Young’s material, for example when we learn about Elliot Spencer’s story. Miller delivered a fantastic score that honours and reprises Young’s work yet firmly stands on its own two feet.

The first three Hellraiser scores received a wonderful re-release on Silva Screen Records back in, oh, 2015 or thereabouts. I had forgotten I reviewed it! You can read my article about Hellraiser: The Chronicles here; and it’s probably a much better article than my ramblings here.

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996, Daniel Licht) ***1/2
Daniel Licht is a former classmate of Chris Young’s and it’s allegedly at Young’s invitation that Licht embarked on a Hollywood career in the early 90s. So it makes some sense that Licht took on Bloodline. The “Main Title” reveals great intentions; it is bold and big and stylistically very close to Young’s Hellraiser. For a long time, it seems unable to literally quote Hellraiser, skirting around its melodic edges as closely as copyright rules will allow. It’s clever and annoying in equal measures. It’s teasing us with similar harmonies and orchestrations, without quite giving us what we really crave. Then all of a sudden, about two-thirds of the way in, Young’s Hellbound theme bursts out in all its glory and is allowed to stay and play for the last few cues. Like Miller’s score for Hell On Earth, it’s great that Licht was able/allowed to stay close to and even quote Young’s material and that he was given the resources to record with a good size orchestra and choir. That said, the most exciting parts are those where Hellbound is quoted, in which case you might as well just listen to that score.

Hellraiser: Inferno (2000, Walter Werzowa) *
A long time ago when I was in my early teens I very much enjoyed the cheeky dance music of an Austrian band called Edelweiss. They had a knack for nicking and remixing catchy tunes with cool basslines, a plethora of samples, rap, yodelling and whatever crazy idea that came to their mind (even sampling Alexander Courage’s Star Trek theme). One of the band members went on to create the famous Intel ‘bong’ sound. So what’s any of this got to do with Inferno? Well, Walter Werzowa is the man behind all of that; and now I can’t believe I’m listening to a Hellraiser score composed by Edelweiss! Knowing Werzowa’s background explains both the sampled/experimental and fragmented nature of the score. There are plenty of strings, as well as all kinds of beats, random chanting, and some jazz influences. It’s bonkers, almost laughable in places. It’s not remotely scary and there’s nothing Hellraiserish about it. I mean… thanks for Edelweiss, but not for Inferno.

Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002, Stephen Edwards) *1/2
Stephen Edwards’ “Main Title” for Hellseeker sounds like something you’d hear in one of those 90s dramatised forensic shows on television. There’s a simple eight-note motif for electric guitar with sleazy percussion and some sampled orchestral effects. At least there’s a hint of music box in there. What follows is vaguely suspenseful at best, but mostly uneventful, understated, minimal and just not very good. It’s more coherent and sounds more like a score than Inferno, but it’s faint praise really.

Hellraiser: Deader (2005, Henning Lohner) *1/2
Next up is Zimmer/Badelt-protegee Henning Lohner who’s gone very quiet over the last decade or so, though has credits such as The Ring Two to his name. In a German interview he explains, and I paraphrase, that horror music is mostly formulaic and thus not all that hard. For Deader he combines strings with subtle electronic percussion. It’s inoffensive, but it’s also not scary. When Pinhead appears, Lohner offers a theme that resembles Young’s, but doesn’t quite get there, perhaps due to copyright restrictions. During the finale Lohner ventures more obviously into Remote Control area (with choir and brass, presumably sampled) and it really doesn’t do the score any favours. Maybe writing good horror music is harder than you think, Henning.

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005, Lars Anderson) *1/2
According to IMDB, Hellworld is only one of only nine scores by Lars Anderson. The sampled “Main Title” uses strings and choir to create a liturgical atmosphere. I’m not blown away by it, but it shows some ambition. What follows is a droning, string-heavy score that tries to be suspenseful and imposing, but fails to be either. It’s too slow, too cliche and too monotonous. And then it all ends with a cheesy guitar song. Leviathan, take me now!!

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011, Frederik Wiedmann) **
Frederik Wiedmann’s scorer for Revelations is quite stylish, suspenseful and mostly rather understated. Lots of strings, ambient synths, the occasional female vocal, even a duduk and bells. The sound of the bell and rare occurrences of a music box are the only things that vaguely link the music to the original Hellraiser. Wiedmann’s main theme is a 3-4 note motif, which sound very typical for the genre. The score as a whole, while expertly done, is a bit dull. It’s all a bit by-the-numbers.

Hellraiser: Judgement (2018, Deron Johnson) *
Sadly or perhaps thankfully (either way, pain and pleasure are indivisible in the Hellraiser world) I have not heard Deron Johnson’s full work for Judgement. Looking at his IMDB profile reveals that Deron has done a small number of movies (none that I’ve heard of) and a fair few podcasts (none that I know of). Eventually I found his main theme on YouTube, and I’m using those words ‘main theme’ very, very loosely. It’s more a collection of beats and dubstep noises. That’s all I’ve heard and that’s all I need to hear to not want to hear any more of it.

Hellraiser (2022, Ben Lovett) ****
And so, on to Ben Lovett’s score for the 2022 re-imagination. Lovett benefits from at least two things: he has Young’s scores (and several more) to draw inspiration from; and he has access to a real orchestra as well as superior technology in terms of synths and samplers. As a result, first and foremost, Lovett’s Hellraiser sounds great. Composition aside, the sound of the score is mostly fantastic! There’s some really clever and appropriate manipulation of sounds and vocals, there’s a successful blend of orchestra and electronics and there are some brilliant scare moments. Lovett takes the over-familiar “braaams” and practically turns them into screams. In terms of thematic material, he created original themes for the characters of Riley and Voight, but otherwise quotes Christopher Young’s themes surprisingly often and with great reverence. For me, this one is right up there with Miller’s and Licht’s, whilst being quite different, and on a good day I prefer it to those. And though I will stop short of calling Lovett’s score outstanding, it is certainly really very good, entertaining and very effective.

So, the conclusion is that Chris Young wrote two masterpieces; Randy Miller and Daniel Licht each wrote great sequels in Young’s style; Ben Lovett wrote a great sequel quoting Young but otherwise completely reinvented the sound; Frederik Wiedmann at least delivered a stylish score though it could’ve been for any thriller; and the others are all rubbish. Happy Halloween!

Article by Pete Simons (c) 2022 Synchrotones

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