After writing a number of screenplays, which were turned into objectively mediocre movies, Clive Barker successfully campaigned to make his directorial debut with 1987's Hellraiser. Horror fans can be grateful that he did; the movie is easily one of the most intelligent, provocative, and disturbing horror films of the 1980s. That it came from a first-time director is sort of astonishing, but Barker was a true visionary (before the word was the chew toy of movie marketing).
What's most interesting, and ultimately successful about the first Hellraiser is that the iconic villain ("Pinhead") and his horrific minions (the "Cenobites") don't factor into the plot all that much. They interrupt the plot (about a cheating wife, a clueless husband, his affable teenage daughter, and her sleazy jerk of an uncle) only a few times, making their presence all the more ominous. Uncle Frank is more than villain enough for one movie, and Lemarchand's box is freaky enough. Hellraiser is a great combination of old-school Gothic chills combined with a thoroughly 1980s approach to sex and (graphic) violence, and easily one of the finest horror films of the whole decade.
Less than 14 months later, Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988) hit theaters, and as a teenage horror nerd who watched a lot of sequels, I found this one to be an unexpectedly gruesome treat. Not only is there some actual plot, cast, and thematic continuity between the first two Hellraiser movies, but director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins do an impressive job of making some very creative divergences. This time poor Kirsty is locked up in an asylum, and her only escape seems to be a trip straight through the Cenobite version of Hell. Fairly ambitious stuff for what could have been a basic "Part 2" repeat. Most horror fans dig this movie, and even if you don't you'll still have to give it credit for not being a simplistic "copycat" sequel. Plus man is it twisted.
Behind-the-scenes issues led to a four-year delay, but Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992) still manages to deliver a half-decent chapter in the Cenobite saga. By this point Clive Barker was only tangentially involved with the franchise, and director Tony Randel was replaced at the last minute, so it's kind of a surprise that Hellraiser 3, about a cocky nightclub owner who unknowingly makes a deal with the demons, turned out to be even half-decent. I remember being slightly disappointed by the "horrors" of this movie when it first came out -- one scene features a Cenobite that spits CDs -- but man does that seem quaint and naive now.