"The way to a woman's heart is the path of torment." Clive Barker’s virtuosic De Sadean satire, which, along with Cronenberg’s venereal frissons, cracked Eighties horror open for new horizons. The pivot is a Rubik’s Cube that once triggered summons forth fishhook-toting, leather-bound demons (or saviors, perhaps); the grotesqueries hinge on witticisms such as the paterfamilias who’s squeamish about blood, and the frigid wife roused by transgressive appetites. Foremost, there’s the reprobate (Sean Chapman) who meets his match in the cenobites, pierced S&M pitchmen from another dimension with a swirling atelier of body parts. His former mistress (Clare Higgins), now married to his brother (Andrew Robinson), moves into his dilapidated home, crammed with profane bric-a-brac (maggots and roaches next to an erotic figurine) but still "better than Brooklyn." The escalating cutting between Higgins’ ecstasy at recalling her ravishment and Robinson’s accidentally slicing his hand on a nail shows nothing less than a novelist becoming a filmmaker, and Barker is just getting started. Blood drips in the attic, the floorboard absorbs it, rattles and foams, and the brother is reconstructed to gory sinew but sans skin. The wife, still lusting after him, promises to help complete the process and, like the schnook in Little Shop of Horrors, brings in men for their blood -- later on, she looks at a brutal boxing bout on TV and simply shrugs ("I’ve seen worse"). There are flashes of Russell and Roeg, and the Pasolini of Teorema and Salò; among the effects (which also include an insect-crunching hobo) is Robinson’s inspired gleam of Dirty Harry looniness as his character uses the camera as a mirror to adjust a pouch of skin under his eyes while ignoring the mass of viscera oozing from under his scalp. Positioned between the iciness and the depravity around her, the daughter (Ashley Laurence) remains Barker’s inquisitive heroine, even if the sequels chose wisecracking Pinhead (Doug Bradley) as their poster boogeyman. With Oliver Smith, and Robert Hines.
--- Fernando F. Croce