Clive Barker's Hellraiser burst onto cinema screens in September 1987, going on to become one of the most significant horror movies ever made. To date it has spawned nine sequels, with the latest instalment due in 2017.
The initial films in the series were gory, but had elements of black humour and a sprinkling of camp; a sort of outrageous, grown-up fairy tale for adults. But the dark core at the heart of the series is without doubt the Cenobites; a group of
mutilated and sadistic extradimensional beings that are summoned from another realm whenever an unfortunate individual solves a magical puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration. This combination of sadomasochistic elements and graphic
violence was clearly going to be an issue with film censors, and the first two films in the series in particular ruffled more than a few feathers at the MPAA and the BBFC. In this month's edition of Cutting Edge, we'll be taking a look at some of
the censorship issues surrounding the original Hellraiser and its sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, in both the US and the UK.
Hammered by the MPAA
The MPAA in the United States took issue with a handful of scenes in the film, citing not only certain instances of gory violence but also scenes of a sexual nature that they deemed pushed the film up from an R rating to an X.
Cut Scenes: Thrusting and spanking
For instance, a flashback scene which shows Julia and her former lover Frank making love had to be altered in order to appease the censors. The scene originally featured sight of the couple engaged in anal sex and Frank spanking Julia but the
MPAA ordered both of these incidents to be removed outright. The perpetual issue of thrusting was also a sticking point, as director Clive Barker recalls in the DVD audio commentary:
We did a version which had some spanking in it and the MPAA was not very appreciative of that... [They also] told me I was allowed two consecutive buttock thrusts from Frank but a third would be deemed obscene.
Cut Scenes: A cut cock
A later scene showing Julia's killing of a man was altered to remove sight of male genitalia. Leon Davis (the actor playing the part of the victim) felt that due to the fact his character was expecting sex from Julia, he should not be wearing
any underwear. Barker agreed and the scene was shot this way, although a second version was filmed later that showed Davis wearing underwear. It was later mandated that the preferred version of the scene was the latter, and the first version
remained on the cutting room floor.
Cut Scenes: Hammering
In terms of violence cuts, the murder of Julia's first victim was one such scene that was altered to appease the MPAA. Julia is seen to beat a man to death with a hammer in order to satisfy the bloodlust of her former lover Frank, who --
after partially reforming following the absorption of a few drops of blood -- spectacularly emerges from the floorboards in the attic. Arguably, the context of the violence in this sequence in comparison to the other fantasy-based scenes of
gore elsewhere in the film is more grounded in reality. It is more personalized and vicious, and it was such violence in this context that the MPAA took issue with.
Barker estimates that the MPAA made him take out two and a half shots in this sequence, including the sight of the hammerhead striking the victim's skull. The number of blows was also an issue, with the initial count of four being reduced to
three in the final version of the film. Quite often with the MPAA, there is a lot of back and forth between a director and the censors in the hope that compromises can be made. The MPAA later changed their mind about the cuts to the hammer
murder, offering Barker the chance to reinstate the offending material, but Barker declined. In his eyes he had the last laugh, stating in the DVD commentary that:
At one point I had the choice to put [the cut material] back in again [but] it was better and it was more violent the way they demanded that I do it [initially].
Cut Scenes: Gut wrenching
At least two more violence cuts were made by the MPAA to Hellraiser. The shot of Kirsty sticking her hand into Frank's belly was trimmed at the very front to remove the more explicit gore, although Barker maintains that this cut served the
film better and made the act more believable.
Cut Scenes: Ripping Frank
Barker does, however, lament the loss of some material in the film's final act when Frank is ripped apart by the Cenobite's chains. All the remains in the film now is an odd jump cut, but the initial X-rated version of the film was a lot more
violent, as Clive Barker explained:
It was a much longer shot, body pieces went every place. In another life I would have let [that] run slightly longer [as] it looks slightly truncated.
Surprisingly, the torturous and prolonged sight of Frank's suffering just before his demise was more or less acceptable to the MPAA, but Barker did have to make one odd change to this section of the film -- the repeated sight of Frank licking
his lips. The idea that he was getting pleasure from pain was what the MPAA objected to.
Once Clive Barker had made the necessary changes to satisfy the MPAA, Hellraiser was granted an R rating (receiving certificate number 28562), and this version of the film has since become the standard 'uncut' version of the film. To date, an
extended or unrated version has never surfaced, and Barker is on record as saying that the whereabouts of the censored footage is unknown.
The BBFC gets its hooks into the home video
This version of the film was submitted to the BBFC in the UK for a cinema rating, and it was passed uncut on June 19th 1987 with a well-deserved 18 rating. A brief point worth mentioning is the BBFC's initial concerns about a scene which showed
the skinning of a rat. The BBFC were going to cut the sequence for reasons of animal cruelty, but the filmmakers took it upon themselves to bring the fake rat prop to the Board in London as evidence that no real rats had been harmed in the making
of the film. The scene was thus left intact for British audiences.
New World Pictures later submitted the film for a video rating in early 1988 but the BBFC decreed that four seconds of cuts were required to Julia's first hammer murder in order to receive an 18 on video.
Cut Scenes: First hammer murder
The BBFC demanded cuts as follows:
Reduce hammer attack by woman, with particular emphasis on blood, viciousness of attack, and her satisfaction afterwards, as follows:
After second blow with hammer, cut away as stunned man turns into shot before extreme bloodiness of head and face are revealed;
After woman walks forward with hammer, remove sight of man's pleading, blood-streaked face before she enters shot to mask him, and cut away as his bloody face is revealed right as her arm rises past it, resuming on
frontal shot of her swinging hammer;
After he falls into close-up on floor, reduce sight of his blood-streaked face and shot of her panting in satisfaction, resuming just before she drops hammer."
Incidentally, these same cuts were also made to a special feature entitled "Julia and Frank's Victims" on the earlier DVD releases from VCI, which was classified in June 1998 after six seconds of cuts.
The cut version of Hellraiser would go on to be the only version available in the UK until Anchor Bay released the film on DVD. They submitted the original theatrical version for classification and the BBFC waived their previous video cuts. As a
result, Hellraiser was passed uncut on July 8th 2004 with an 18 rating.
In comparison to the first film (which had comparatively little censorship troubles), Hellraiser II was positively mutilated in the United States before its release in December 1988. Slapped with an X rating right out of the gate, the filmmakers
took the film to the MPAA Appeals Board and argued the case for an R rating. Unsurprisingly, the filmmakers lost their appeal and were forced to make extensive cuts totalling over five minutes before the MPAA would grant them an R. It is worth
noting that the uncut version of the film contains some non-contentious shots and scene extensions that do not feature in the R-rated version, which were likely removed due to pacing. In the following discussions, we won't be touching upon these
Cut Scenes: Recap
The first scene affected in the film is at the very start. A slightly extended recap of Frank's demise (which reinstates a few frames of the material cut by the MPAA from the end of Hellraiser) was replaced with non-contentious footage of an
alternate take of Pinhead from Hellraiser.
X and then R rated recap
Cut Scenes: The Genesis of Pinhead
A few minutes later, the genesis of Pinhead was the next scene to receive cuts. The R-rated version removes around 10 seconds of footage showing nails being hammered into Spencer's head, slices with a scalpel and Spencer grimacing in pain.
Cut Scenes: Flashback
The next change occurs around 20 minutes into the film, where a brief cut removes the sight of blood and gore on the ground during a flashback to the events of Hellraiser. A cut a couple of minutes later also removes a medium close-up of
hooks tearing into Frank's back.
Cut Scenes: Resurrection through mutilation
The most heavily cut scene in the film (and without doubt the most disturbing) is the scene where the evil Dr. Channard allows one of his patients to mutilate himself with a cutthroat razor in an effort to resurrect Julia from the Cenobite
realm. The R-rated version loses a lot of material, including:
Multiple shots of the patient slashing at his own torso and screaming in agony
The resurrected Julia struggling with the patient on the extensively-bloodied mattress
The patient trying to crawl away from Julia and her fingers penetrating his neck
Julia sucking the life-force out of the patient and rolling around in blood
Cut Scenes: Scalpel slicing
The Another cut occurs around an hour into the film where we see a young Channard cutting into flesh with a scalpel. Like the previously-mentioned shot of gore lying on the floor, it's another blink-and-you-miss-it shot.
Cut Scenes: Channard transforming
Almost immediately afterwards, the transformation of Channard also received cuts, which removed much of the tubes, spikes and protuberances being driven into Channard's body and mouth.
Cut Scenes: Bloody bodies
A shot a few minutes later showing bloody bodies writhing underneath white sheets is also missing from the R-rated version. It's not clear if this was removed because of pacing or whether the MPAA objected to it because the cumulative amount
of blood in the film was so great, but we've mentioned it here for argument's sake.
Cut Scenes: Frank Skinning
A couple of minutes later, a scene of Frank tearing off his own skin was subject to cuts, removing around 10 seconds of footage. This is later followed by another cut when Julia plunges her hand into Frank's body to rip out his heart, with
the R-rated version losing all sight of Julia's arm being thrust into Frank's back.
Cut Scenes: Lobotomising
Around 73 minutes into the film, Channard's killing of one of his other patients was also cut, removing blades being thrust into the patient's head and the sight of his hand falling onto the ground and twitching
Cut Scenes: Cenobite deaths
A few minutes later, the deaths of the Female Cenobite and Pinhead were also reduced by the MPAA. The former's death is now merely implied, losing all sight of her being stabbed in the neck with blood spraying, whilst Pinhead's throat being
slashed is reduced more or less to establishment only. This sequence is perhaps one of the most obviously tampered-with scenes in the film.
Cut Scenes: Finale
The final cut for violence occurs as Channard is killed. The R-rated version loses much of the somewhat phallic imagery and explicit bloodletting as his head is torn in half.
After heavy cuts had been implemented, Hellbound: Hellraiser II was passed with an R rating by the MPAA, receiving certificate number 29101, and went on to become the standard version that was initially distributed throughout the world. Speaking
to SPIN magazine in late 1988, Clive Barker commented on the changes made to Hellraiser II by the MPAA:
I'm the kind of guy that likes to see stuff. My kind of movie is where you see the stuff up front -- the Cronenberg attitude, if you like. I go to movies for the weird... knowing I'm in the hands of someone who knows the weird inside out, and is
going to continue to show me the weird. I don't think the MPAA feels the same.
Variety's take on the film was a little different, referring to it as:
...a maggoty carnival of mayhem, mutation, and dismemberment, awash in blood and recommended only for those who thrive on such junk.
Hellraiser II was later released on video in its R-rated form, but unrated versions quickly followed on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD. These editions restored all of the MPAA cuts and some additional narrative extensions, including a dream sequence
showing Kirsty walking around a room before the photos within it begin to bleed. The unrated quickly became the standard version available in the US, with the R-rated version having long since faded into obscurity.
Flayed by the BBFC for home video
In the UK, the R-rated version (perhaps wisely) was submitted to the BBFC for a theatrical certificate. It was passed uncut with an 18 rating on January 3 rd 1989.
It was submitted for a video classification many months later, again in its R-rated form, but the BBFC decreed that four cuts were needed for an 18 on video.
Cut Scenes: Self slashing
To begin with, two cuts were made to the scene where the patient slashes his own body with the razor blade. For the UK video version, the BBFC sent the following to the distributors:
When doctor gives razor to mental patient who slashes own skin and is then devoured by flayed creature from blood-soaked mattress, reduce emphasis on blood by:
(1) removing pause as patient lies back on bloody mattress while doctor watches, resuming as hands suddenly emerge from mattress to grab him; and
(2) cutting away again after face appears clearly twice in mattress next to patient's head to reduce blood and gore and full length sight of bodies grappling in it, resuming as they roll off mattress onto floor.
Cut Scenes: Chained and naked
The last cuts made to the film occur around 10 mins later, as Julia walks towards a naked chained woman. For the UK video version, the BBFC demanded:
When bandaged woman attacks chained female mental patient, remove all sight of victim's bare breasts by:
(1) cutting (vision only) after panning shot of bandaged woman to remove bare-breasted shot of victim, resuming on bandaged arm;
(2) returning to synch on medium close shot of victim, removing early frames to reduce sight of breasts during zoom in to her face as mouth opens for scream.
After seven seconds of cuts, Hellraiser II was passed with an 18 rating on May 14th 1990. This cut version was also submitted for a video certificate in 1995 and passed without further cuts on November 23rd . VCI later resubmitted the R-rated
version for a DVD classification, but the BBFC demanded the same video cuts from 1990 before passing the film with an 18 certificate on February 5th 1999. However, the BBFC's files list this 1999 submission as having 67 seconds of cuts; a full
minute more than the original VHS classification in 1990. The BBFC note that:
The visuals for this work were cut by 3 seconds and there was also 1m 4s of audio substitution. This version is therefore marginally different to the previously passed version.
The BBFC do not state what these audio substitutions consist of, and it could well be that the distributors made some non-contentious changes to the musical score which would count as "cuts" that differentiate the DVD submission from
previous versions of the work. Whatever the reasons, the official BBFC cuts demanded for the 1999 DVD match those issued for the VHS release from 1990, although they were implemented slightly differently in the DVD version. One visual difference
between the VHS release and the DVD release is how VCI made cuts to the nudity. Rather than cutting the visuals and resyncing the sound, the company elected to zoom in on the picture to crop the offending nudity from the bottom of the frame, so
as to avoid losing any footage outright.
Anchor Bay later submitted Hellraiser II for a special edition DVD release in 2004, only this time it was the unrated version that had been available in the US for many years. BBFC policy and guidelines had changed vastly since the late 1990s,
and the unrated version was passed completely uncut on July 30th 2004, which restored all of the previous BBFC cuts. This release would be the first time that British fans had access to a completely uncensored version of the film.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth trailer
One final bit of information concerns the UK theatrical trailer for Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth . The original submission ran for two minutes and 10 seconds, and was passed with an 18 rating on November 16th 1992. However, the film
company wanted a 15-rated version to play before a wider selection of films, and so they resubmitted the trailer with a request for a 15 rating.
Cut Scenes: Hellraiser III trailer
The BBFC offered category cuts:
Remove sight of flayed bloody body disappearing into statue.
Remove sight of naked couple making love on bed.
After 10 seconds of cuts, the company got their 15 rating a month later on December 17th 1992. It would appear that the uncut version of the trailer was passed 18 on video, running for two minutes and three seconds in PAL, on February 1st 1999.
The uncut trailer can be found on Anchor Bay's special edition DVD release of Hellraiser III, which features an exclusive DTS Digital Surround 5.1 track that is missing from other versions of the disc.
To summarize, both Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II are available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK without any form of BBFC cuts, and American fans can also pick up the films on disc in their most complete versions as well.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Two, Episode 40: Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.