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Clive Barker's Hellraiser: Lament Configuration Box Set

Starz / Anchor Bay // R // April 21, 2009
List Price: $59.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Bill Gibron | posted April 9, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Product:
At one time, he was the heir to Stephen King's still massive mainstream throne. Even the genre god himself declared the brash UK upstart "the future". Now, some two decades later, Clive Barker has been basically MIA. Oh sure, he shows up now and again to produce some product (like last year's exceptional Midnight Meat Train) and you can almost always rely on him to take a seat and speak up on behalf of horror (either on a DVD, or another media setting). But when it comes to actual creeps, when it comes to delivering the kind of dread that made the man behind The Shining, It, and Salem's Lot sit back and say "whoa", Barker has basically been saddled behind the scenes. He does have a directorial project in the works right now (an adaptation of his novella for the Todd McFarlane toy line entitled Tortured Souls: Animae Damnatae), but its been 14 years since he last made a movie (Lords of Illusion) and almost 20 since Nightbreed bombed (and it was supposed to be the "Star Wars of horror"). Of course, when you hit the kind of homerun Barker did with his first film - 1987's Hellraiser - it's kind of hard to repeat such success - as this umpteen version of the digital version (complete with Lament Configuration packaging) proves unequivocally.

The Plot:
According to legend, there was never going to be a Hellraiser sequel, let alone an ongoing series. Barker's tale, The Hellbound Heart, was a nice little self-contained fable, and the author's own adaption did the material proud. Of course, cash breeds cinematic chaos, and success mandated a return. Turning things over to others, Barker has watched his idea blossom into one of the '90s definitive franchises, and the arrival of the Cenobites as one of terror's true post-modern monsters. Here's the plot lines for the two original films in the series, starting with:

Hellraiser (Standard and Blu-ray)
Hoping to rekindle his dying marriage, American Larry Cotton brings his frigid British wife Julia back to the UK. Along for the move is independent daughter Kirsty. They decide to take up residence in the old Cotton family abode, and it's clear from the evidence that black sheep brother Frank has been squatting there for several months. This saddens Larry...and enlivens Julia. She had an affair with the sleazy sibling years before, and the thought of his animalist presence brings out long hidden thoughts of sex and seduction. When Larry is injured, his blood inadvertently resurrects Frank from beyond the grave. Apparently, the pain loving playboy bought a strange puzzle box - the Lament Configuration - while abroad, and in solving it, he summoned the Cenobites, demons who feed on human suffering. Now, he wants Julia to help him come back to life by bringing potential victims to his lair. There, she will kill them and he will drink their blood. Ultimately, he plans on taking Larry out of the picture as well. Of course, once Kirsty discovers the plot, she will do anything to save her father - including making a deal with these erotic devils.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II It's the night of the awful events in the Cotton home. Kirsty survives, and is taken to a local insane asylum run by the ruthless Dr. Channard. There, the police try to question her about the death of her father and stepmother. All Kirsty can talk about however is the Lament Configuration, a blood-stained mattress, and the Cenobites. While his assistant Kyle thinks she's crazy, Channard believes Kirsty. He's been a student of the supernatural for years, and with the help of the gore-soaked bed and a crazy patient, the doctor taps into the puzzle box's power and resurrects Julia. Providing her victims to complete the transformation, Channard gets mute girl Tiffany to solve the Lament, opening the gates of Hell. There, our villain and his hospital victims come face to face with the horrible God of the Labyrinth, and all the evil it entails. As Kirsty enters to save her supposedly damned father, Channard learns the awful truth - he is being made into a Cenobite, a supreme example of the pleasure/pain demons who he will then challenge for ultimate rule over the underworld.

The DVD:
Hellraiser (Standard and Blu-ray)
Having reviewed this film before for DVD Talk, there's no need to rehash my previous opinion. All that you need to know is located here. Otherwise, any differences between this edition and the version previously discussed will be outlined in the Audio/Video/Extras section.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II
The main difference between Hellraiser and Hellraiser II is the difference between a good horror film and a classic. While the original wallows in its own allegorical dread, positioning a cuckolded husband against his cruel and murderous wife, Part Two is only concerned with the mythos. There's no interpersonal subtext, no Exorcist like link to social or cultural issues. Instead, screenwriter Peter Atkins and director Tony Randel take Barker's original ideas and expand on them - for good and for bad. This means we get the birth of Pinhead, the how-to on creating Cenobites, the backstory on Dr. Channard's obsession with the occult, and lots and lots of sticky red stuff. In its unaltered, unrated form, Hellraiser II is a gore-laden geek fest. It's all rotting corpses, self-surgery, and bountiful arterial spray. In between are some excellent performances, some incompletely folklore, and perhaps the most perplexing vision of Hell ever.

Indeed, the entire premise here balances on our heroine, Kirsty, and the love she has for her dear departed daddy. Without that emotional base, everything that happens would be splatter showboating. Sadly, Andrew Robinson would not return for the sequel, so we are stuck seeing flashbacks and careening through the use of some rather unsuccessful bait and switch. Luckily, the introduction of Tiffany, and Kirsty's maturing maternal instincts, gives the missing patriarch a plausible substitute. Elsewhere, it's always great to see Claire Higgins chewing up the scenery. Her stand off with Ashley in a room full of decaying dead bodies is a camp kitsch classic. There is also a nifty moment when Julia gives Channard a big wet lickery kiss that's revolting in its grue-soaked sexuality. In fact, some of the best macabre material comes when our deranged doc gets his wish and becomes the ultimate figure of fear. Oddly enough, his rise comes at the expense of the original Cenobites, who get a rather unceremonious send-off during this version of events.

Again, the main thing missing from Hellbound is a sly social undercurrent, a reason outside the icky eye candy that can make us think and realign everything we've seen. Sure, lots of funky sluice is enough to keep most dread devotees happy, but when Barker was on board full steam, he turned the first film into the ultimate nightmare of infidelity. In Hellbound, all we get are blood and guts. Randel, making his first foray into feature filmmaking, indulges in some decidedly oddball touches. Tiffany trip along Hell's midway is mindboggling in its weirdness, and when Kyle witnesses the nauseating mutilation of a patient in service of Channard's twisted plan, his lack of action is equally brain busting. Unlike Hellraiser, Randel fails to give the individuals here sensible motives. Time and place are also fudged so that, somehow, a story that started in England ends in America, and Julia gets completed resurrected by about 13 victims in the span of a few hours. Huh? If Hellraiser is the series' bellwether, Hellbound is its well-intentioned step-brother. It's effective, but not necessarily as revolutionary as the real thing.

The Video:
Hellraiser (Standard):
Again, the original review onsite discusses the 20th Anniversary Edition of Hellraiser and all its tech spec particulars. Therefore, there is no need to rehash. Just click here for the information you are looking for.

Hellraiser (Blu-ray):
Imagine this critics surprise when the Lament Configuration Box Set announced a Blu-ray version of the original film. While capable of commenting on the quality of said offering, DVD Talk has strict standards regarding hardware and other home theater considerations. Viewed through his personal set-up, however, the newly minted 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks remarkable. There is a level of detail unseen in any previous Hellraiser release, and the slight grain and limited lighting issues come across in crisp, crystal clarity. The 1080p transfer brings the film to life in a wholly unique manner, and the gruesome effects from Bob Keen and his superlative make-up team look extra nasty here. If a Blu-ray take on a favored title is supposed to renew your appreciation of its cinematic qualities, this new look at Hellraiser does not disappoint.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II:
Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image, the visual element of Hellraiser II is a little less "refined" than Barker's original. The matte paintings appear obvious and the other effects tend to stand out. The colors are still sharp and the wonderful use of surreal lighting adds to the ambience. While probably not reference quality, it still looks very good (fans should be on the lookout for an added scene involving Kirsty and the "Hell" version of her old home. It's been reinserted here after being missing from the movie for many years).

The Audio:
Hellraiser (Standard):
Again, the original review onsite discusses the 20th Anniversary Edition of Hellraiser and all its tech spec particulars. Therefore, there is no need to rehash. Just click here for the information you are looking for.

Hellraiser (Blu-ray):
One of the facets to fully benefit from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix offered (the only one, sadly), is the amazing music of Christopher Young. Even before the opening credits are completed, this insanely melodramatic and effective orchestral score is simmering out of the speakers in full blown aural authority. The rest of the sonic situation is equally impressive - lots of nice ambient noises and "creature" sounds all throughout, with the dialogue up front and easily understandable. English and Spanish subtitles are offered.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II:
On the sound side of things, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix is good, if not great. We get the standard supernatural atmosphere and Christopher Young's music again complements everything quite well. Dialogue is easily discernible and the back channels see a lot of directional drive. Overall, this is a very polished and professional sonic situation.

The Extras:
As noted by the title of this review, all three discs come inserted inside a plastic replica of the famed Lament Configuration Puzzle Box from the film. The package is rather sturdy, but some will balk when they discover that the discs are wedged into hard plastic grooves inside the cube. This makes taking them in and out a little tough, which could result in damage to the DVD via fingerprints and scuffs, so be careful. As for the actual bonus features presented, here is a brief rundown on each disc.

Hellraiser (Standard)
Again, the original review onsite discusses the 20th Anniversary Edition of Hellraiser and all its tech spec particulars. Therefore, there is no need to rehash. Just click here for the information you are looking for.

Hellraiser (Blu-ray):
As part of the new added content offered here, Anchor Bay and Starz have outfitted the Blu-ray with a couple of new bonus features. The most noticeable is the "Fun Facts" pop-up presentation, which allows tiny text trivia blurbs to show-up throughout the film. We learn facts about character names, Cenobite inspirations, and why Barker avoided directing the sequel. While it can be intrusive (the graphics do cover aspects of the frame), the information is entertaining. There is also a Blu-Live option, as well as a "My Downloads" screen that provides a place for you to access material you collect from Anchor Bay's site. After that, it's all the same as before. The commentary from the 20th Anniversary set. The same collection of featurettes. The same galleries, trailers, and other extras. In essence, the only real upgrade in the pop-up. Everything else is carried over from the 2007 package (and it's not presented in HD, by the way).

Hellbound: Hellraiser II:
Want to know what added content Anchor Bay offers as part of this version of Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Well click on over to fellow DVD Talk reviewer Ian Jane's assessment of the 20th Anniversary Edition of that title and enjoy. He does a wonderful job discussing the different elements, making any repetition of the information pointless. As for this critic, he really did enjoy the dry commentary, and the various Q&A are instructional and insightful. While it's a shame the company didn't spring for new extras, what's here is excellent.

Final Thoughts:
By now, you probably have it all figured out. All the Lament Configuration Box Set really contains is a copy of the 20th Anniversary DVD version of Hellraiser, the same for Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and a wonderful Blu-ray copy of the first film (with just a few new added elements). If that (and the fairly cool case) is enough to get you to do the dreaded double dip, then by all means, march right up to your favorite home video retailer and indulge. Remember, the only real "special" feature in the upgraded version of the original masterpiece, and if you don't have a Blu-ray player, this collection is almost pointless. Still, because both movies are so good, because the technological tweaks offered look so good, because you can own what are arguably the two best titles in the franchise with a single purchase, the Lament Configuration Box Set will earn a Highly Recommended rating. But you have been forewarned. Again, there is literally nothing new here except a Blu-ray. While this all does Barker's legacy a world of digital good, here's hoping he comes up with something new pretty soon. This constant revisiting of his initial success is growing tired for fans and the famed fantasist alike.

Want more Gibron Goodness? Come to Bill's TINSEL TORN REBORN Blog (Updated Frequently) and Enjoy! Click Here

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