It’s been a long time coming—and this feels like I’m announcing someone’s promotion at work—but please join me in congratulating the film that will be my response when someone asks “What’s you favorite horror film?” without mention of subgenre, etc., an honor long held by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
Why the “no subgenre, etc.” distinction? Cos if you asked “Favorite supernatural horror” or “Favorite zombie horror,” there’d likely be a different response. But as the all-encompassing favorite across genres, the death match winner.
A long time coming, because I fell in love with this film when I saw it opening night. A love affair that continued when I saw it again the following night. I think I might have been falling in love with it for a while before thanks to Fangoria, the one and only source for my horror news pre-Internet. And just beginning the courtship with Clive Barker. I was 16.
I’d seen sex in films before; how many Friday the 13ths had there been by ’87? 6. The last of which, Jason Lives, I didn’t even see in the theatre. Freddy had just peaked with The Dream Warriors. I was restless for something… more. Just like Frank. I’d started to slip away from Stephen King’s relatively wholesome horror, turning to slightly more subversive (but still fairly tame) offerings when I could find them—which was very rarely. I don’t know if I’d been able to get the Books of Blood before seeing Hellraiser, but it was right in that same time. Same with Clive’s narration for an audiobook of “The Hellbound Heart.”
Hellraiser was my Lamarchand’s Box.
My writing had started to get more… serious. Sex was making its way into the prose, like it was making its way into my life. I was obsessed. With sex and horror. I’d opened myself up to something darker. I was primed for possession. Knock, Knock.
So other than the obvious (all that sex), what was (and is) it about Hellraiser that attracted me (and made it numero uno)? It’s simple, really. Hellraiser was different. In how many ways and in what ways, I didn’t realize back then. If I had, things might be a lot different now.
The Cenobites. The box. The mythology. All of that stuff didn’t fully absorb back then, at least being a superficial, aesthetic appreciation. I felt like I was spying on my parents doing naughty things, watching Julia and Frank fuck (her fiancé’s brother! On her wedding dress no less!). It wasn’t two teens giddily boning, this was adult sex. With emotion and passion and lust and anguish. It was beautiful.
I didn’t know the story of Faust nor would I have appreciated fully if I had. In fact, they could’ve gone that simple for the reboot and everything would’ve been right in the world.
You take all that sex and violence and wrap a story I felt on a gut level more than a recognizable, intellectual one—flesh over thought—around it. You lift it with the knowledge of the man (god) behind it. You garnish it with effects, atmosphere (I didn’t understand what Gothic was then but felt that I liked it, especially stripped of old-timey language, maybe the corsets remain, but the ruffles have been replaced with latex and bondage gear) and the best fucking score… My hormone-enraged, formalist self didn’t know what hit him.
So why now? Why didn’t I always say Hellraiser was my favorite? Why pick The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? I think I thought it was a response people would accept. A lot of regular people don’t know what Hellraiser is. They might know Pinhead (at least recognize he’s a horror film villain like Freddy or Jason), but likely haven’t seen the film or know the story (or the glory). So, easy answer is one they also may not have seen, but assume they know what it’s about from the title. A lot easier than claiming my favorite is a gothic love story drenched in blood and black latex.