Having been well familiar with The Exorcist, I didn’t think that demons and possession was a big enough horror sub-genre to devote a “theme” to for Summer of Horror. But when I saw The Omen, Hellraiser, and Rosemary’s Baby on my list of essentials, I knew I had to take a crack at The Devil.
“Demons to some, angels to others…”
You might argue that this movie doesn’t necessarily fit the category. And admittedly it does stick out next to the other two “high brow” horror movies in this category. But there’s really nowhere else to put it. Hellraiser is unique in that the most iconic character is not the protagonist or the villain, and isn’t even on screen that often. The lead Cenobite (dubbed “Pinhead” to the chagrin of Clive Barker) is instantly familiar to every horror fan, but I had never actually seen the movie itself and didn’t know what to expect.
The tone is… weird. A scintillating description, I know. Maybe “goth” is the appropriate word. Hellraiser is very, very goth. The plot revolves around a guy named Frank exploring the limits of human pleasure… and pain. In so doing he unleashes a group of BDSM demons who basically disassemble his entire body.
Frank is raised from the dead by some blood spilt in the attic of his old house, and he needs more blood to come fully back to life. There’s a lot more to the plot than that, of course, but if you’re interested, you can see it Netflix right now.
The character of Frank seems to speak exclusively in melodramatic proclamations, using an uncharacteristically theatrical voice. I couldn’t help but laugh at every line he delivered. I have a theory that since one actor played “human” Frank in flashbacks, and another played the “monster” Frank, they dubbed the monster actor’s voice over the human one for those scenes. It would explain why that voice doesn’t sound like it should be coming from that guy.
The acting is pretty roundly terrible, but the real star of Hellraiser is the special effects (discounting the final effects shots in the climax, which were literally created by the director and a buddy after they ran out of budget money – and it shows). The Cenobites’ individual looks are all outstanding – the chattering one with a face pretty much made of only teeth that looks like Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 was my favorite. And Frank’s resurrection scene is a sterling example of old school practical effects.
The Omen (1976)
So this is the film that kind of made a star out of the number 666, as a mark of the devil. Obviously it had its roots in religion but this movie kind of popularized it – leading Hollywood to obligatorily produce a remake for release on 6/6/06.
The original is pretty straightforward, well-paced horror/mystery film, and is peppered throughout by a few excellent death scenes, including the famous babysitter suicide and one of the first graphic decapitations seen on film. However, for whatever reason, I find that even though I watched it only about a week ago, I remember very little from the film. Might have had one too many gin and tonics.
What I do remember very clearly though is Gregory Peck’s old-school movie star face. He almost looks like a parody of the old strong-jawed Hollywood leading man. His eyebrows make him look like a G.I. Joe cartoon. I want this man to teach me how to change a tire or throw a baseball.
Rosemary’s Baby (1976)
Boy, people in the 70’s sure were afraid of the devil. The Exorcist, The Omen, and Rosemary’s Baby all within four years – and arguably the three most noteworthy demonic possession films ever made. Rosemary’s Baby is definitely the artsiest of all of them, if not entirely the scariest.
This was one of Roman Polanski’s first films, and Mia Farrow’s best-known acting role (she was far more famous as Frank Sinatra’s wife before that). Rosemary’s Baby is pretty much the template for a “slow burn” horror film. It takes its time building tension and developing characters, and very little “tangible” horror occurs – this is all about Rosemary’s mounting fear and paranoia. Despite the slow pace, I was very impressed by how engaging and modern the film was. The acting is naturalistic and excellent all around, and there’s very, very little 70’s awkwardness. It has aged very well. Unlike a lot of the films made prior to the 70’s, it both lets scenes breathe and makes efficient use of abrupt cuts, which helps it seem more modern.
One of the few actual scenes of tangible horror is the famous impregnation scene, which has a highly surreal and dream-like quality (the character was drugged, so of course it does). I thought it was superbly creepy and disturbing – a mood only minimally broken by the character actually saying aloud, “This is no dream! This is really happening!” That line of dialogue is actually the only part I remember about the whole film that dates it.
The ending is very unexpected. I won’t spoil it, because I believe any horror fan reading this owes it to themselves to see this movie. It’s one of those endings that leaves you now quite knowing how to feel – which was definitely the intent. You can’t help but think about it long after it’s over.
Summer of Horror Part 4 is in the can. All three of these films are currently available to stream on Netflix, but I think one or two of them are set to disappear September 1st.
Next up: Monster movies