A Cinefessions Series Review is a periodic column that sees one more writers watching and reviewing an entire film series. Cinefessions considers any film franchise that has two or more films a series, and thus available for review in this column. This is anway to get a quick look at an entire collection of films in one column. Today, Ashe cuddles up with Clive Barker and Pinhead in the Hellraiser series.
Hellraiser (1987, dir. Clive Barker)
Hellraiser hasn’t aged well at all. Some scenes work amazingly well, while others are cringe inducing. Some of that may be directorial choices, or budget constraints. The moments that should work well as real world moments don’t, but for the most part, the bits with the Cenobites just click and work fantastically. But that’s not where the crux of the film lies, and they’re really the minor threat – at least until the very end. Frank’s transformation is still as gross as ever, and the effects work to make him look like a man without flesh is still amazing. If the other scenes were a little better, or the bedroom scene wasn’t so laughably bad, I might have scored this a bit higher as I did love this when it first came out.
Doug Bradley, who plays Pinhead, does a great job with the little he’s given, and he exudes this quiet menace that you know isn’t going to end well for whoever summons him in the future. He does have great lines, and that part of it works really well. There’s a mystique to all the Cenobites that they may have been something else once, but now this is just what they do and they are very good at it.
The practical effects are great but they opted for some really odd visual effects that don’t reflect the tone of the rest of the film at all. I blame the ’80s.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988, dir. Tony Randel)
This sequel to Hellraiser has definitely got a higher budget, but with that it loses some of the grime the first film has for slightly cleaner horror, and more of it. There are parts of Hellbound I like more than the first – getting to see a bit of Pinhead before he was Pinhead and a few other gruesome moments – but the problem with this one is that we get a lot of the Cenobites, and then, at the same time, they completely neuter them in favor of this new Doctor character which comes across as a caricature and isn’t ever as menacing as the Cenobites were. Yes he’s mean, and has the capability, but more in a run away vibe instead of a ‘we’re screwed even if I get out of this vibe’ that you got from the Pinhead crew in the first outing.
The last part of the film falls apart after setting up this great stage in the first two acts, even with the neat twist with the Julia character in the first film. Watching this, it feels a bit like a mess they didn’t know where to go with after the first film, but knew they needed to make a sequel, so this is what we got. Thankfully a lot of what worked from the first one and from this one shows up in the third one, which is my favorite of the four I’d seen when I was younger.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992, dir. Anthony Hickox)
While often considered the commercial downfall of the series, and the film that marked a turn from the previous two installments, Hellraiser III also has some of my favorite moments from Pinhead, and some great moments leading up to his eventual release. The Cenobites in this film, apart from Pinhead, aren’t nearly as interesting, and are trying way too hard to deliver one-liners while Pinhead is giving his usual eloquent speeches on pain and dismemberment. He even goes so far as to call his own creations out on being far lamer than his previous buddies, apologizing to Joey and the audience at the same time while pointing out he didn’t have much to work with. Terry Farrell is quite good in this though and she and Doug Bradley carry the film quite well in spite of its shortcomings, and make it one of my favorite entries into the series.
This is just the right blend of what they were going for in the first two films, coupled with some of what made other horror films of the time work, much like how Nightmare on Elm Street 3 managed to really nail what really worked within the whole series. After that, though, it may be all downhill. What I remember of Hellraiser IV isn’t that great, but for me, Hellraiser III found what really worked with the Pinhead character, giving him that rather potent sting and ominous feeling again. His long talks with Terry Farrell’s character still give me chills.
Hellraiser: Bloodline (1995, dir. Alan Smithee)
While this one pales a bit in comparison to the three that come before it, Bloodline offers up a unique look at the box – the design of it, and the history of it – and a cursed family line tied forever to that box. While Pinhead certainly figures into this one, they introduce a new demon in the mix: Angelique. Angelique, who is portrayed wonderfully in the film, actually saves it from being terrible. The actor playing the toymaker cursed for eternity does a pretty decent job, but like the second film, the last act feels very flat. Set up in the future, the cursed toymaker descendent is telling the story of the box, so we get two major, extended flashbacks to when the box is first created and Angelique is unleashed, then again in our modern time where Pinhead enters the fray and basically attempts to subjugate everyone involved and make another new crew of Cenobites. Apparently they didn’t care for the last batch when they made this film either.
What I don’t understand is that Pinhead refers to Angelique as a Princess of Hell, and defers to her through most of their meeting, then seems to decide to do his own thing, and then later she’s very ok with just being Pinhead’s lackey, which is where Bloodline falls flat. They could have done something with that, but instead we rush headlong into a predictable third act set on a futuristic space station with a low budget. The flashback sequences are actually more what saves the film for me, and while they do introduce some neat ideas in the mix, this one has a problem bringing it all to a decent conclusion, which is a shame.
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000, dir. Scott Derrickson)
While this one decides to follow the storytelling mantra of the first film and put the real life story ahead of the Cenobites and Pinhead, it develops a bit strangely and throws in a few nonsense clues as to what’s going on, while focusing on a brilliant-yet-broken detective. His story isn’t as engaging as it could be, but his breakdown is very believable and the filmmakers manage to keep things moving in a plot that could very well drag. They do try to expand on what a person’s individual hell could be like, and how they might actually torture you there, though.
In the end it feels less like a Hellraiser film and more like a twisted Tales From The Crypt or Twilight Zone episode that was expanded to include the Hellraiser mythos at the edges of it. It’s not necessarily terrible, just very sanitized from the previous installments, and rewatching it here I realized I’d watched this a few years ago and had completely forgotten it was a Hellraiser film. That right there says everything you need to know about Hellraiser: Inferno.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002, dir. Rick Bota)
I ended up liking this one just for the final 15-20 minutes of it really. Up until that point it feels like a generic suspense/horror film where the guy’s guilt is driving him insane. I hadn’t actually realized who the lead’s wife was until that point. Not that you’ll be surprised, unless you don’t read casts lists, but the main protagonist from the first two Hellraiser’s returns here, and what I’m actually disappointed with was that this movie didn’t focus on her. While watching the lead devolve into a bit of insanity over guilt and trying to remember what really happened to him, it feels very much like a generic horror flick that would have been interesting without the Hellraiser name tagged to it. Like the last one, they seem to have forgotten what makes a Hellraiser film work as a Hellraiser film, and in that few minutes towards the end of this one they suddenly remembered.
I actually think this one is a bit better than the previous entry, but is a far cry from the others as a Hellraiser flick. Hellseeker works well enough as a psychological horror descent flick, though, so there is that.
Hellraiser: Deader (2005, dir. Rick Bota)
While Deader still doesn’t quite feel like a Hellraiser flick, there are far more elements here that keep it in that area, and I actually like the lead for a change of pace, so that helped. I did notice they basically abandon the theme song to the original four films as well, and use some fairly generic music, which probably isn’t helping set this film apart. You can really tell Dimension took over after the fourth film as they have the same feel as the late ’90s Dimension horror, along with the Halloween films they were putting out at the time. These are slightly better than those Halloween films and the From Dusk ’til Dawn sequels they were pumping out, but Deader doesn’t come close to capturing me the way the first few Hellraisers did. Pinhead is there, but he’s just this generic bad guy. You could literally replace him with a random demon type person at this point and it’d still work. He hasn’t had anything truly poignant or threatening to say or do, and has lost all his bite.
Some decent ideas and a great lead actress save Hellrasier: Deader from being completely mediocre, but it’ll be awhile before I revisit it, if ever.
Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005, dir. Rick Bota)
Hellraiser: Hellworld is probably the weakest of the sequels I’ve watched so far, and even Lance Henriksen can’t save this perfectly good revenge horror flick from going bad. And don’t be mistaken: this is a revenge horror flick in its entirety, and is severely lacking in the whole Hellraiser thing even more so than the other post-New World Pictures sequels. They took a perfectly good idea of using the Hellraiser mythos in the real world, and then wove it through a revenge flick that was only decently constructed, as they decided to hand wave anything that could be a plot hole as “Pinhead magic”, and it just comes across as a lame attempt to cash-in on the name. You could honestly re-shoot this entire film, changing a few names, wiping the Hellraiser references out entirely, and release it as a new flick. It might even do better. The Dimension releases as a whole basically tossed the rules and structure and everything that really made Hellraiser work out, and just put in the puzzle box and Pinhead here and there in an attempt to make their films feel more legit. Instead, it makes them feel like mediocre and sanitized Hellraiser films.
Hellraiser: Revelations (2011, dir. Víctor García)
Hellraiser: Revelations is the last of the Dimension Hellraiser releases, and is also the one with the most actual Hellraiser DNA to it. It’s like after four films of making Hellraiser movies but trying not to, they finally decide to go all out and make a legitimate Hellraiser film, but then recast their golden goose after tossing him away for four films. While the new Pinhead actor, Stephan Smith Collins, is competent, he’s a poor, soulless (get it?) replacement for the original, and has absolutely zero menace to him when he’s actually in his element. Some of the ideas had been visited before, but actually work really well within the context of Relevations, but overall it’s a bit contrived and still feels far too sanitized, lacking the charm the first four films had. While leaps above Hellworld as far as being a Hellraiser film, they went with too low of a budget with this, and it shows in the acting, pacing and overall set up.
The CSR Awards
(The Cinefessions’ Series Review Awards)
Best Picture: Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth
Worst Picture: Hellraiser: Hellworld
Favorite Scene/Moment in Series: Pinhead Confronting Joey Over the Box at the Night Club (Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth)
Pinhead: “Unbearable, isn’t it? The suffering of strangers, the agony of friends. There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.”
Joey: “I don’t believe you!”
Pinhead: “Oh come, you can hear its faint echo right now. I’m here to turn up the volume. To press the stinking face of humanity into the dark blood of its own secret heart.”
Best Actor: Doug Bradley (Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth)
This award could have been given to Doug Bradley for any of the first four Hellraiser films, but he particularly stands out in Hellraiser III.
Best Actress: Terry Farrell (Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth)
The average film rating for the Hellraiser film series is 2.50 stars.