HELLRAISER's Ashley Laurence: The CFQ Interview, Ep. 104

Ashley Laurence in the clutches of a Cenobite in HELLRAISER.
Ashley Laurence in the clutches of a Cenobite in HELLRAISER.

It’s not easy playing the ingénue in the psycho-sexual farrago that is Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER — one has to maintain one’s humanity while being pursued by your demonic, hell-bent-for-incest uncle (masquerading as your father!) and courted by the sadomasochistic nightmares that are the Cenobites. Ashley Laurence pulled it off, and established herself as a supreme scream queen, following up with appearances in the HELLRAISER sequels as well a numerous genre and non-genre productions.
We were able to speak with Ashley on the occasion of the release of make-up effects artist Robert Hall’s semi-autobiographical drama, LIGHTNING BUG, in which Ms. Laurence plays the damaged mother of the film’s teen protagonist, a boy who dreams only of escaping life in his dead-end Southern town to make monsters in Hollywood. Click on the player to hear the show.


Barker Disowns 'Hellraiser: Revelations'—Trailer

On his Twitter feed author Clive Barker let his feelings about Dimension Extreme’s HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS be known.  And he wasn’t pulling any punches.

It seems REVELATIONS was made to keep the film rights intact, and from possibly reverting to Barker, who signed away the rights to the characters and storyline from his story The Hell-Bound Heart when he made the deal to direct the first HELLRAISER film.
This is the first HELLRAISER to have an actor other than Doug Bradley play the daemonic Pinhead character.  His replacement, Stephan Smith Collins,  doesn’t seem particularly impressive in the role,  jugding from the equally underwhelming trailer. Apprently there’s also a “Psuedo-Pinhead” in the film, a new recruit to the Cenobites.
Perhaps the finished product will be more to fans of the original’s tastes. Or not.
HELLRAISER: REVELATIOS is set to be released direct-to-video October 18th, directed by Victor Garcia from a script by Gary Tunnicliffe.

Laserblast: X-Men Trilogy on Blu-ray, plus Caprica, Sin City & Hellraiser

EDITOR’S NOTE: The thing about home video is it’s like some kind of all-powerful voodoo spell that continually resurrects old titles, bringing them back from the grave with all the inevitability of Amando de Ossorio’s Knights Templar saddling up for another night-time ride in pursuit of sacrificial victims. In this case the fateful event prompting the return is the upcoming release of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE on May 1, which has prompted 20th Century Fox to re-issue the existing X-MEN trilogy on Blu-ray. Eagerly awaiting the arrival of his own Blu-ray box set, the Blood-Spattered Scribe himself – Andrew Fitzpatrick – takes a look back on the X-MEN series so far….
Although many credit Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man or Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins as the beginning of the modern era of comic-based films, it was, for the record, Bryan Singer who first picked up the mantle last carried by Richard Donner more than 2 decades earlier and brought comic book films into the real world. By working with screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz to help craft a storyline that dared to take itself seriously, Donner’s Superman famously brought verisimilitude to a genre that had been abandoned in camp territory along with the feature version of the Batman television show in the ’60s. In spite of some outdated special effects, Superman still stands today as the high watermark for comic book adaptations, easily shaming Tim Burton’s stiff, overly gothic Batman films of the ’80s. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until 1998’s Blade that someone figured out how to translate the style and energy of modern comic books into film; unfortunately, it was at the service of a character that wasn’t particularly deep (or well known). It would be 2 years later when director Bryan Singer (a hot property after The Usual Suspects) would tackle one of the most beloved comic properties of all time – a daunting task considering that The X-Men universe is one of the largest in the format’s history, with dozens of characters, hundreds of plot threads (some going back decades) and even alternate universes to contend with.

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X-Men (2000)
After going through a full decade of drafts and directors, Bryan Singer was finally given the nod to direct the film in spite of the fact that he had never actually read the comics. While Singer went to work immersing himself in X-Men lore, 20th Century Fox began doing all they could to subvert the project; the original budget was slashed, resulting in the removal of several characters (all of whom would appear in the subsequent films) and pushing the opening date up from Christmas to June. Compounding this was the last-minute loss of Wolverine actor Dougray Scott due to the scheduling change. Casting a then unknown Hugh Jackson was just one of several dozen things that Singer and company did right from that point on, producing an amazing piece of work on what had to be considered a threadbare budget for a proposed summer blockbuster with complex effects. Not burdened with the decades of intertwining storylines, Singer was free to root the film in the loneliness and self-imposed isolation of the mutants, whose abilities make them outcast and unwelcome – a minority group with potentially deadly superpowers. His other masterstroke was in setting up the leaders of the two mutant camps to reflect the beliefs of two real world counterparts in the struggle for the rights of minorities: the patient, conciliatory Dr. Xavier (Patrick Stewart being handed the second sci-fi franchise that he never expected) is the Martin Luther King counterpart; Xavier’s former ally Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen who had just worked with Singer in the sadly overlooked Apt Pupil), who sees violence as the only path to mutant acceptance, is – you guessed it – patterned on Malcolm X. These are weighty concepts to burden a comic book adaptation with, but thanks to Singer and the superb performances, the show stands up under even heavy metaphorical assault. One of the film’s weaker links is Halle Berry’s performance as Storm, displaying little of the character’s strength and independence, but it also falters in its depiction of the evil mutants; we love the self-satisfied smirk worn by Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique, and her unwavering loyalty to Magneto is clearly more than simple obedience, but with so many fantastic characters to choose from, why lead the pack with farm-league baddie Toad and a dull-witted Sabertooth (who does have an interesting history with arch-nemesis Wolverine that is simply ignored here)? Read a full review of the film here.
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X2: X-Men United (2003)
Rocketing to the top of one of the world’s shortest lists – sequels that are better than the original – X-Men 2 is one of the 2 or 3 great comic book films ever made. A realistic budget and shooting schedule allowed Singer to flesh out the characters carried over from the first film; Stewart gets to play some new sides of Xavier (loved his flash of impatience at Pyro) and McKellen has a grand time twirling Magneto’s figurative mustache. Both also get to share screen time with fellow British theater vet Brian Cox as the mutant-hating Col. Stryker – moments which elevate the material tremendously. Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman gets more to do this time around, thanks to a romance with Anna Paquin’s Rogue and the introduction of future nemesis Pyro (a suitably jerky Aaron Stanford). Several new mutants are introduced as well, with fan favorite Nightcrawler (a terrific performance from Alan Cumming) making a strong impression. Singer has always known to get out of his actors’ way and give them the room to play with their roles, and with many players back for a second time, the vast majority seem to own their roles securely, allowing them to continue to turn in terrific performances even without Singer in the director’s chair (which would never, ever happen.) Individual set pieces are also emphasized here to much greater effect; Nightcrawler’s opening scene assault on the White House set to Dies Irae from Mozart’s Requiem is a stunning sequence (and an utterly believable application of mutant powers in a real-world setting), Mystique’s (and the screenwriters) legitimately ingenious plan to break Magneto out of his plastic prison, and the geeky thrill of finally seeing Wolverine fighting in berserker-mode (“Oh, look – I guess they didn’t know he was home” we excitedly whispered while seeing it in the theater). Read a full review of the film here.
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X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Not quite the catastrophe that its harshest critics made it out to be, but in announcing the hiring of Brett Ratner (after Singer departed for Superman Returns) was, as it always has been, tantamount to saying “just shoot it as quickly and cheaply as possible and leave your auteur bag in the car.” The third installment is saved from being a total mess by the groundwork laid in the first two films by Singer, allowing Ratner to once again stand on the shoulders of giants (his Red Dragon is notable as being based both on a book and a film). The plot, about the mutant’s reaction to a serum that can reverse and “cure” their condition, was inspired by Joss Whedon’s “Gifted” storyline in the Astonishing X-Men comic book series and offers much in the way of ponderable material. Some mutants – like Rogue, whose abilities prevent her from coming into physical contact with others, feels that the “cure” offers a chance at a normal life. But most feel that the serum, created by pharmaceutical giant Warren Worthington II and the distraught father of a son born with feathered wings and the ability to fly (Angel, played by Ben Foster). While Magneto, believing that the government will make the drug compulsory rather than voluntary, marshals his evil Brotherhood to assault the manufacturing facility – reluctantly protected by Xavier’s team. Some of you might notice that we’re skipping over a large chunk of plot there, a chunk that would be impossible to discuss without giving away some twists, and as the film isn’t the embarrassment of riches that constituted the earlier films, it needs all the tricks that it can muster. Ratner simply doesn’t bring anything new or personal to the material; the themes of alienation were obviously important to Singer, and while Ratner certainly should know what it feels like to be an outcast and alone, he doesn’t have the wit to translate it to the screen. There are some good moments, like Angel’s last minute refusal to take his father’s cure (in an interesting side note, Worthington the elder is played my Michael Murphy, who also costarred in 1970’s Brewster McCloud, Robert Altman’s bizarre tale of a young man who fashions a pair of gigantic wings in the hopes of flying) but they’re far outnumbered by the cringer ones (“I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!”) Read a full review of the film here.
All three X-MEN films are being released on Blu-Ray in a box set and individually (a thoughtful move since Fox had already released the last film as part of their initial wave of Blu-Ray titles). Each film comes as a whopping 3-disc package – one for the feature, one for supplements, and a third SD-DVD containing a digital copy of the film. All extras from the previous versions appear to be included (though we’re not sure about seamless branching to include scenes deleted from the feature).
Cashing in just a little bit more, Fox also offers a “Blu-ray Comic Book Hero Bundle,” which includes X-MEN, the director’s cut of DAREDEVIL, and THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.
Also out this week:

  • Caprica – the prequel to Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Gallactica arrives on DVD. Reviewed here.
  • Sin City – the ground-breaking collaboration between Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller gets the Blu-ray treatment. Reviewed here.
  • Clive Barker’s Hellraiser gets a Blu-ray release. Also, there is a $50 3-disc Hellraiser boxed set that includes all three films plus three hours of bonus material. The packaging is worth the price alone: it is in the shape of the Lamont Configuration, which slides open like a puzzle box to reveal the discs within.
  • The Arrival – writer-director David Twohy’s minor but mildly interesting alien invasion conspiracy movie that got blown out of the water in 1996 by ID4 – arrives on Blu-ray. Read CFQ’s review of the film here.