Horror franchises which mess with their own rules have long been one of my least favourite things (movie category, there’s lots of other things I like less), but amazingly “Hellraiser 3” has done it in an interesting way. A franchise that goes from an English suburban house to a New York hair-metal club and doesn’t feel like it’s completely ignored what went before ought to be commended.
The really weird thing is, up to the last half hour, this was probably my favourite of the series so far. It had a plot I could understand, no substantial logic holes or weak characters, and was enjoyably trashy. Of course, as soon as Pinhead emerges at the top of the nightclub stairs, all bets are off, and your enjoyment may vary quite considerably. I mean, I thought it was pretty good fun, but it tends to divide fans.
At the end of part 2, Pinhead was left trapped in a sort of steel pillar, left deliberately vague, and part 3 used that vagueness. That pillar, now encrusted with all manner of screaming faces and body parts, and a cube that it definitely didn’t have before, is sat in the Pyramid Art Gallery, and is bought by super-sleazy club owner JP Monroe – from a tramp who I guess we’re supposed to think is the same tramp from the end of part 1? Now, if I’m in a high-end art place and a bloke who looks like he slept on a park bench is serving me, I’d smell a rat, but clearly JP is in love with the art. He installs it in his apartment above the club, and a bit of accidentally spilled blood is all it takes to bring Pinhead back, although for most of the movie he’s still trapped in the pillar, just with his head sticking out. Using his persuasive powers, and JP’s taste for new and darker experiences, he works a deal similar to those in parts 1 and 2 – bring me bodies, and I’ll give you what you really want.
Joey Summerskill’s a low-level TV reporter, wanting to do the bigger stories but constantly getting stuck with the fluff pieces. While at the hospital one evening, she sees a bloke covered in chains explode, and when she sees the young nervous Terri accompanying the now-corpse, tries to find out from her what’s going on. This leads the two women to become friends, and gets Joey on the investigating trail – she finds out about the cube (which Terri had stolen from the club and her abusive ex JP), about Kirsty from the last two movies, and about Pinhead’s history as Captain Elliot Spencer.
Since part 2, production company New World had gone bankrupt, and “Hellraiser” was bought by Miramax, who were about to hit the super-big time with “Reservoir Dogs”. This was the first movie made under their “Dimension Films” banner, the genre sub-division which would give the world stuff like the “Scream” series, and the later “Children Of The Corn” and “Halloween” instalments, and their involvement means it feels a little slicker. Direction was handled by Anthony Hickox, who’d made the two decent “Waxwork” movies and would go on to…not much, but he handles everything totally well. I mean, it’s got that early 90s sheen over everything, but that’s not the worst thing in the world (and reminds me of how “Manhunter” got a rough deal for looking like an episode of “Miami Vice” when it’s one of the best films of the 80s). Peter Atkins wrote parts 2, 3 and 4, and with him being Clive Barker’s friend from back in the 70s, it’s safe to say Barker at least had a slight say in what went on. He also wrote the first “Wishmaster”, which I guess we’ll review when all the other horror franchises are done.
The cast…Terry Farrell (best remembered by me from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) is Joey, and she’s a little too bland, but fine. Kevin Bernhardt as JP is perhaps a little too moustache-twirling to be believable, but also fine. It’s Paula Marshall as Terri that I really really liked, though. She’s a beautiful young woman who’s just been treated badly by everyone she comes into contact with, and it’s heartbreaking (as much as a cheesy early 90s mainstream horror movie can be heartbreaking) to see her emerge from her shell, only to get sucked back into JP’s world, with the last authority figure she listens to being Pinhead. I know it wouldn’t be much of a horror movie if everyone you liked survived, but her character was great and she sold the misery of it very well. MVP by miles.
So, I mentioned the rather poor ending. Pinhead’s dialogue seems weaker here, and it’s strictly heaven and hell stuff, with the idea of the Cenobites being beyond that sort of thing a long-distant memory. The idea that he’s so evil that Pinhead has now separated completely from his “soul” (which allows Captain Spencer to appear in Joey’s dreams and help her succeed) is an interesting idea, but it’s just a bummer when he appears in the club after fully escaping the pillar and starts turning the club-goers into faux-Cenobites (he makes a reference to how they’re not as good as his normal team). It’s just so stupid! Joey’s cameraman friend gets a camera inserted into his head (which can also fire rockets, because why not); the DJ has CDs implanted in his, and a CD dispenser in his chest for using as weapons; and the barman can serve up a Molotov cocktail along with being able to breathe fire (because I guess he lit a few cigarettes?) It’s at that moment, when the quips are raining down thick and fast, should you have been wondering “why does this completely decent movie have such a low rating?”, that you’ll understand exactly why.
It doesn’t help that Pinhead’s plan, to just turn the entire planet into sort-of-Cenobites (he’s going to destroy the cube so he can never be sent back to Hell) is a bit boring. The range of his imagination seems to have shrunk a bit? He’s still good in a lot of scenes, and this is definitely the most he’s ever been on screen in a “Hellraiser”. He’s not responsible for the best-delivered line, which goes to Joey, when a Priest tells her demons are just metaphors, and she goes “then what the fuck is that?” as Pinhead walks through the front door, with a perfect mix of fear and resignation.
While the credits roll and you wonder “just how did Joey afford that gigantic apartment in downtown New York on her salary?” or “how did the Lament Configuration cube physically change the architecture of that building?”, the realisation dawns it’s both the best and the worst of the series so far. Best – great opening, great characters, everything makes complete sense. Worst – the last half-hour. Definitely give it a go, but be ready to laugh at the movie, not with it.
Rating: thumbs up