The feature-film debut of multi-talented filmmaker Clive Barker, this grim and surreal project is based on the writer/director's own novella The Hell-Bound Heart. The film opens with a chilling prologue in which globe-trotting pervert Frank (Sean Chapman) -- a connoisseur of sexual depravity seeking the ultimate sensual experience -- purchases a small, intricate puzzle box from an unseen dealer in an unspecified country. Upon solving the puzzle, Frank opens the door to a hellish alternate universe and is promptly torn to ribbons by a network of hooks and chains; his strewn body parts are subsequently collected by the Cenobites -- grotesque, S & M-clad denizens of hell.
The story continues several years later, when Frank's brother, Larry (Andrew Robinson), moves into Frank's abandoned house with his daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), and his new wife, Julia (Clare Higgins). An accident causes some of Larry's blood to spill on the attic floor, which somehow triggers Frank's hideous resurrection. His body only half-composed, Frank seeks the tacit assistance of Julia -- with whom he had once had a torrid sexual liaison -- in restoring him to human form. Still secretly in love with Frank, Julia assists him by seducing men from the town and bringing them back to the house so her undead lover can drain their bodies of blood. Her increasingly furtive behavior arouses the suspicions of Kirsty, who had already moved to an apartment to get away from her despised stepmother. After following Julia and her next potential victim home, Kirsty comes face to face with the still-incomplete Frank, narrowly escaping with her life...and with the puzzle box.
After losing consciousness, Kirsty awakens in the hospital, where she manages to solve the box's intricate mechanism and summon a trio of Cenobites -- including their apparent leader (played by Doug Bradley and dubbed "Pinhead" on subsequent sequels) -- who are prepared to claim her. In desperation, Kirsty offers them a bargain in which they agree to spare her soul if she leads them to Frank. Kirsty soon returns home to find Julia with her father...whose behavior has become disturbingly unnatural. Realizing that her father has become Frank's latest victim -- and that her uncle is now walking around in his brother's skin -- Kirsty hands Frank over to the Cenobites, who have particularly evil plans for their old friend.