Hellraiser (1987) – Soundtrack Review

Christopher Young’s now rather classic score for the original 1987 Hellraiser movie is a true gem amonst horror soundtracks, featuring a moodily gothic yet also rather ethereal strings and brass-heavy musical style and several exquisite themesincluding the spine-chilling main Hellraiser theme – which altogether make for one of the most engaging horror music experiences around.

There’s no denying that the scores for Hellraiser and indeed sequel Hellbound: Hellraiser II represent an absolute distinguished highlight, perhaps even the very best of Christopher Young’s film music career. The score for the first film that we’ll be looking into today for example simply shines even in its first few minutes, as evidenced by its opening and pretty standout cue “Hellraiser”. The track opens quietly and ominously, with some gently sinister yet also curiously romantic strings entering the fray at the ten second mark. Young, much like Danny Elfman in many ways, is one of the few composers that can really capture a moodily gothic, dramatic musical vibe in his music, and Hellraiser is absolutely chock full of that, particularly in this opening piece. As it continues, the main theme for the score, the Hellraiser Theme, is then introduced; it plays firstly on those aforementioned gothic strings, and then louder and dramatically bolder on crashing, moodily ominous brass. In just over ninety seconds, Young manages to not only boldly introduce one of the most frighteningly epic horror themes around (beaten perhaps by his theme for Hellraiser II, but we’ll get into that another time), but also expertly debut the dark, gothic horror-esque tone that will then drive this incredible score forward throughout its forty three minute runtime.

Second track “Resurrection” then introduces the second of Young’s themes for the score; the resurrection theme. It’s similar to the main Hellraiser theme in its hellish, pseudo-ethereal tone but builds to much grander scale in its two minute debut cue here, playing first on quietly unnerving piano notes before then moving up into grand, theatrical brass notes, loudly sinister strings and crashes of imposing percussion, and then coming to a thunderously orchestral, romantic yet also rather villainous crescendo at the finishing two and a half minute mark. It’s an incredible piece of music overall, and one that would have had the Standout Cue award if not for the main title theme just prior. The gently sinister strings from said track then return in “Hellbound Heart”, with the creepily charming main Hellraiser theme fading quietly through. As the music continues, the strings start to swell and become more hopeful, though hints toward the main theme also continue to lurk malevolently in the background for the remainder of the cue. Horror then truly descends in “The Lament Configuration” however, as high-pitched, frightening strings and lengthy, low-pitched brass notes build to a particularly ominous climax in the first half. In the second, creepy, distorted instrumentation then sets a very unnerving atmosphere, with notes from both the Hellraiser and resurrection themes fading enticingly through on echoing synthesizer notes.

A loud crash of drums opens “Reunion”, with additional percussion and emphatic brass driving this intensity home for much of the cue’s opening minute. From here on though the music then takes a much more sinister turn, with quiet, darkly moody strings taking point for the next minute or so before then quietly fading away as the track draws to a close. “A Quick Death” then hints toward action initially with fast-paced strings, before disaster strikes as loud, drawn-out brass notes hinting toward terrible deeds take over throughout the track’s remaining runtime. “Seduction And Pursuit” then introduces a recurring musical instrument to represent the demonic Cenobites themselves, a creepily out of tune, almost distorted-sounding music box that honestly couldn’t sound more unnerving if it tried. In the opening few seconds, the resurrection theme also plays on these music box notes before the aforementioned instrument then goes off on a particularly horror-like tangent as the Cenobites appear. Toward the end of the cue however action then kicks into gear, with some rather James Horner-esque brass stabs telling a frantic chase tale as the monstrous “Engineer” appears in the film. “In Love’s Name” then continues the dramatic action initially before descending back into horror as the main Hellraiser theme reprises, with low-pitched brass and worrisome strings hammering the horror home for much of the track’s three minute runtime.

The distorted music box returns in “The Cenobites”, with rising, aggressive brass notes and ominous ambient sounds also helping to drive the increasingly tense, frightening tone forward. A cold, uneasy ambience then settles for the cue’s back half, with the aforementioned sounds combined with what sounds like echoing drops of water (blood, presumably) hitting the ground, altogether making for a particularly creepy track, and one very fitting indeed for the titular demons. “The Rat Slice Quartet” then continues with the Cenobites’ music box motif initially before high-pitched, worrisome strings then take centre stage. As the music continues the strings then slowly build, becoming louder and more anxious until dramatically reaching fever pitch at the conclusive three minute mark. “Re-Resurrection” then unsurprisingly reprises the resurrection theme once again on sinister strings, playing quietly at first before then building in volume and intensity until a similarly dramatic crescendo to that of the original “Resurrection” cue is reached just as the track comes to an end.

Brassy bursts much akin to those in “Reunion” are then centre stage throughout “Uncle Frank”, with additional, moodier brass adding to the malevolently horror-like ambience until “Brought On By Night” then calms things back down with quieter brass and gentler strings. This uneasy solemnity doesn’t last for long however, as the strings start to slowly build over the course of several minutes until a loud, terrifying crescendo is reached just as the track closes out. As Hellraiser overall starts to draw to a close, the conclusive “Another Puzzle” then introduces itself with a ferocious, brass-heavy rendition of the resurrection theme followed closely by an even louder, grandiose playthrough of the main Hellraiser motif. As the near-deafeningly dramatic orchestra then fades away, the Hellraiser theme returns to quietly reprise on similarly moody, gothic strings as that of the album’s opening cue. This unsettling thematic atmosphere then continues for the rest of the cue’s four minute runtime, bringing the horror score full circle just before the album overall fades to a quietly sinister close.

Overall, Christopher Young’s original Hellraiser score here is quite simply a gem amongst horror soundtracks. Everything, from the moodily gothic, heavily strings and brass-based compositional style to the numerous meticulously crafted and rather memorable main themes, is standout here, and the way the composer expertly weaves all these exquisite musical ingredients together throughout the score’s forty three minute runtime is worth the listen just on its own. The absolute standout ingredient of the album for me though is of course the main Hellraiser theme, with its quietly malevolent and also rather ethereal musical mix giving it a particularly unique edge amongst horror themes, and the way Young quietly (…at first) introduces the motif to us in the near perfect opening cue “Hellraiser” is just sublime. In short then, if you’re a horror music fan, dig moodily gothic orchestral music and also love a well-crafted, memorable main theme, then Hellraiser is absolutely the film score for you. With the Hellraiser reboot on the horizon as well, it’ll be very interesting to see just how much thematically and stylistically may reprise from Young’s iconic original work here.

Just wait until you listen to Young’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II though. That score is just… something else. Coming soon to a review website near you!

Score: 8.5/10

Standout Cue: 1. Hellraiser


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2 thoughts on “Hellraiser (1987) – Soundtrack Review

  1. In a horror mood, are we? Bar Hellraiser, do you have any other review plans? Kinda hoping for some John Carpenter Halloween soundtrack reviews, I love his music so much.


    1. Hellraiser’s the review plan for the time being, admittedly (both sequel & probably reboot as well!), then perhaps Michael Giacchino’s Werewolf By Night. Halloween’s a good shout though! I’ve never heard those scores before personally, but I do like me some John Carpenter.


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