Arrow Video has been on an absolute roll the past few years. A company with roots in the UK, Arrow has released several cult horror classics stateside over the past couple years. Several amazing releases of under-seen horror gems such as BRIDE OF REANIMATOR, SOCIETY, THE INITIATION, C.H.U.D., BLOOD RAGE,  and THE MUTILATOR has made Arrow one of the top companies for the horror collectors market.

Most recently, Arrow has taken on one of their most ambitious projects yet; bringing not only the original, and infamous, HELLRAISER to Blu-Ray, but to package it with the sequels HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II and HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH. Not only did they succeed, Arrow has created the ultimate HELLRAISER boxset, highlighting all the successes of the franchise (the original trilogy, the surreal cinematography, the terrifying creations of Clive Barker) and downplaying the failures (the rest of the franchise).

HELLRAISER:

Released in 1988, the original HELLRAISER was a shotgun blast to a horror market that was oversaturated with unimaginative slasher films. Larry Cotton (Andrew Robinson) thinks he can start anew with his new wife Julia (Claire Higgins) by moving into a new house. What seems like a new start quickly spirals into madness as Julia comes across Frank (Sean Chapman), her former lover, who is now the skinless, barely hanging to life after he narrowly escaped from the Cenobites, creatures of pain and pleasure from hell. Using her devotion to him, Frank convinces Julia to bring men back to him so that he may regenerate his body from their life force, while the Cenobites are hot on his tail. The film was an international success and spawned into a franchise that still churns out sequels today. The Characters of the Cenobites was something the world had never seen before. While demons had been portrayed as horned creatures with hooved feet, Barker created monsters born from sadomasochism;  demons who are masters of bodily modification and destruction, who wear their own twisted pleasures on their warped bodies.

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With Arrows new release, the film has never looked better; The film was given a new 2k scan, showing the beautifully twisted work of cinematographer Robin Vidgeon (as he overlooked the restoration, it’s no wonder). The new transfer gives a Blu-Ray quality to the twisted world of the Cenobites, as wooden pillars spin and shake, covered in stretched human flesh and bits of gore. The leader of the Cenobites, Pinhead, played by Doug Bradley, looks terrifying in this new release, as the Blu-Ray transfer shows the amazing FX work done by Bob Keen and his team.

Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) holds the Lament Configuration box in front of skinless Frank (Oliver Smith)

Not only does the film look pristine, but it sounds amazing, too. The upgrade to an uncompressed PCM Stereo 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks makes sure every encounter with the Cenobites or skinless Frank is heard crystal clear.  The score, composed by Christopher Young, is one of the best film scores ever written for a horror film and is presented perfectly in this restoration. Each note of Young’s operatic score come through beautifully, and give the film the gothic feel it deserves.

HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II

With HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, Barker decided to not return to the director’s chair, but, instead, it was filled by Tony Randel, a first time director. Even with the pressure of following up such a huge success as HELLRAISER, Randel created a strong follow-up film that continues to follow the adventures of Kristy (Ashley Laurence), the daughter of Larry Cotton, and the only one to survive the run in with the Cenobites. Locked up in an insane asylum after what she witnessed, Kristy soon discovers that the head surgeon, Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham), has been researching the Cenobites, and in doing so, releases a skinless Julia (reprised by Claire Higgins). Once again, Kristy finds herself pursued by the Cenobites, this time all the way to Hell itself.

The Labyrinth

Once again, Cinematographer Robin Vidgeon oversaw the new 2k restoration, and the sequel looks pristine. The budget was higher for HELLBOUND, and it shows in the effects, as Kristy finds herself lost in the labyrinth of hell. This new restoration shows the beauty of the matte paintings used to create this new vision of hell, as well as showing the disgustingly amazing transformation of Dr. Channard into a Cenobite himself. The new audio restoration complements the many cries and screams of the lunatic asylum, as well as shining a light on another amazing score composed by Christopher Young.

HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH

HELLRAISER III marked many firsts for the HELLRAISER franchise; It was the first film not produced by New World Pictures (finding its new home at Dimension Studios (for better or worse)), it was the first film not filmed in the UK (the production over to America), and it was the first film not to be shot by DP Robin Vidgeon (Gerry Lively took over DP duties). While HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND have stood the test of time quality wise, HELLRAISER III was the beginning of the decline of the series.

Directed by Anthony Hickox, the film follows investigative reporter Joanne Summerskill (Terry Farrell) as she tries to track down what could cause an ER patient to be ripped apart by chains floating in the air. In her investigations, she comes across a large statue, housing the soul and body of Pinhead. Before she can stop it, Pinhead is released into the world and attempts to create hell on earth, recruiting new Cenobites as he goes.

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This Hellraiser has always been an odd one. Marked by many as the last relatively good Hellraiser, the film completely abandons its gothic roots, becoming more of a “Hollywood” style horror film. Pinhead is no longer a restrained puppet master, but instead a screaming, howling lunatic who loves using puns just as much as his contemporary Freddy Krueger. Instead of the stable of grotesque partners Pinhead worked with previously, this film instead see’s Pinhead creating new Cenobites as he goes, using any object at hand as their theme (the less said about Piston head, Camera head, or the one who throws freaking CD’s, the better).

This film really highlights why Arrow Video is special to the collectors market. Arrow could have very easily packaged the first two superior films together and called it a day, but, as the third one does have its fans (admittedly, the church scene still holds up), Arrow gave it its day in the sun and gave the film a Blu-Ray release.

HELLRAISER III was also given a 2k transfer, but lacking the cinematography of Robin Vidgeon, the film doesn’t have the same gothic flair as the original two. The transfer still looks great, but the seams of the film are much clearer for it, such as the wonky early 90’s CGI effects. Unlike the other two films, HELLRAISER III was only given a uncompressed PCM audio upgrade, but it still sounds great as all the explosions at the end of the film have the dramatic pop they need.

BONUS FEATURES:

What’s a specialedition without its bonus features? On this front, Arrow has exceeded expectations, giving each of the three films the attention they deserve. Each disc is jam-packed with extra content for the Hellraiser fan.

The HELLRAISER disc comes accompanied with the hour and a half long documentary “Leviathan-The Story of Hellraiser.” Previously only available on a specific DVD release, the documentary is an extensive look at the production of HELLRAISER, from its inception to the productions and up to its reception by fans and critics. Along with that, there is a new interview with actor Sean Chapman about his role as Frank, about his role as Frank and the experience of having his lines dubbed over. Another feature is an awesome interview with former Coil member Stephen Thrower about the abandoned Coil soundtrack for HELLRAISER (even cooler is the use of scenes from HELLRAISER overlaid with the original Coil soundtrack).

Also included on the disc are older extras included from other releases of the film. 2 different film commentaries are included, one with Clive Barker and the other with Barker, screenwriter Peter Atkins and actress Ashley Lawrence. An interview with Doug Bradley about his role as Pinhead in the first HELLRAISER is included. Rounding out the special features is an older making-of piece, the original EPK, 3 trailers, 3 television spots and an image gallery.

The HELLBOUND disc continues the Leviathan documentary, this time chronicling the production of HELLRAISER II (this one at an amazing 2 hour run length). Just like the first part, this documentary is extensive and exhaustive, completely following the production of the film from start to finish. Another new interview is included with Sean Chapman about his return to the role of Frank, as well as the infamous, and long thought lost, “Surgeon Scene”. First only known about because of production stills, Arrow Video were able to dig up the never before seen original scene. While the scene is confusing and clearly wouldn’t have worked at all in the final cut of the film, it is still awesome that Arrow was able to find this long lost piece of horror history.

The Surgeon Scene

Also included with the HELLBOUND release are two commentaries, one with Director Tony Randel and Writer Peter Atkins, the other with the former two being joined by actress Ashley Lawrence. While the Leviathan documentary is well made, there is also  an older making-of piece entitled “Lost in the Labyrinth” included as well. Like the HELLRAISER disc, there’s an interview with Doug Bradley about his role in this film and what it was like coming back as Pinhead. Rounding out the features are  vintage on-set interviews with cast and crew, a behind the scenes featurette focusing on the makeup effects, two trailers, two TV spots and three galleries.

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HELLRAISER III comes with both a theatrical and an uncut version of the film.  The uncut material in the unrated cut is a pan and scan of the laserdisc release intercut into the remastered theatrical and dips in quality slightly over the 2k restoration. While the quality might not match up, Arrow was working with what is available and was still able to provide this treat for fans of the series. Two commentaries are included on the disc, including a new commentary with writers Peter Atkins and Michael Felsher, as well as a commentary for the uncut version of the film with director Anthony Hickox and actor Doug Bradley.

The same company that did the Leviathan documentaries for both HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND made a documentary chronicling HELLRAISER III. While not as extensive as the Leviathan documentaries, it still gives a deeper look at the Americanized sequel. A new interview with Actress Paula Marshal is included, as well as an interview with director Anthony Hickox and another interview with Doug Bradley about his role in this film. Also included is the original EPK, FX dailies, the films trailer, and two galleries (one of which is a comic adaption of the film).

Disc 4 of the Scarlet box set, entitled “The Clive Barker Legacy,” focuses on the works of Barker as a whole. Included are two of Barker’s short films,  “The Forbidden” and “Salome”, as well as the documentary “Books of Blood and Beyond”, which features author David Gatward talking about the work and impact of Clive Barker. “Hellraiser: Evolutions” is a documentary focusing on the evolution of the series and of the character of Pinhead, with interviews with many of Barker’s contemporaries. The last thing on the disc is one of the most interesting, the short film “The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith”. Directed by RN Milward, the film was created to test the waters of bringing the Hellraiser world to television. Given the era which is was produced (2005, before gore was as accepted on television), it never got off the ground, but is still an interesting piece for fans.

Rounding out the absolutely amazing boxset is the limited edition 200-page book entitled “Damnation Games”. Written by Phil and Sarah Stokes, the book is an extensive look at Clive Barker and his creations. The book goes from his short films and plays up to the production of the first HELLRAISER, as well as the production of the first 3 films (including several on-set photos). The book also goes into the evolution and popularity of the Cenobite characters. Also included are the original press kits for the three films, and an extensive look at the restoration of the films.

Even after giving fans an extensive special edition, Arrow Video still wanted to be sure it looked good on their bookcases. The blurays are packaged in a beautifully designed pack, which then fits into another intricately designed box, which should fit in perfectly with the rest of their collection.

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Arrow Video took on one of their most ambitious titles yet with HELLRAISER. Not only is it one of the biggest licenses that they have released, they also packaged it with both HELLBOUND and HELLRAISER III, making it one of their biggest releases of the year. Arrow absolutely stuck the landing, releasing a box set that every fan of the series, or any fan of the genre, needs to have. With an amazing release like this, the skies the limit for Arrow Video in 2017.

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