Spoiler warning – but seriously, why are you reading a review of the workprint version of a movie you’ve not seen? If you want to read our thoughts on the officially released version of “Hellraiser 4”, then please click on these words right here.
Watching both versions of this movie in two days has been really interesting, and surprising too – that it held my interest just as much the second time around. The credited director on this version was Kevin Yagher, who’s much better known as a makeup effects guy (check out his credits list, he’s done Freddy Krueger and the Crypt Keeper) and this represents his only movie directing job, having done a few episodes of “Tales From The Crypt” in the early 90s. So, in that sense, I understand him being given a short leash by the studio, having never been a guy who fetishizes the artistic vision of the director or whatever – unless you’re one of a tiny handful of greats, you’d better be listening to what other people say.
The people at Miramax were big believers in focus groups and pre-release testing, and one of the primary concerns of fans of the first three movies was that Pinhead didn’t show up early enough. I think, if I’d been Clive Barker, writer Peter Atkins or anyone who actually wanted to make a good movie, I’d have been thoroughly disappointed by this whole process, knowing that everything was secondary to their (admittedly, awesome) villain. In Yagher’s original version, our favourite Cenobite didn’t show up til 40 minutes in, and that’s just too long I guess?
ASIDE: long-term readers may remember me complaining about zombie movies where they don’t show up til at least that late (*cough* Dead Snow *cough*), but we really shouldn’t be comparing bargain-basement zombie movies to the first four Hellraisers, which have ambition. Okay, the first instalment could have used a bit more of the Cenobites and a bit less of Julia picking up random middle-aged businessmen to feed them to Frank, but any problems with parts 2-4 is definitely not to do with the amount of time they spend on screen.
So, Yagher left, or was fired, and Joe Chappelle was brought in to replace him. Chappelle was one of those guys who did cheap sequels to horror movies for a while there (as well as this, he did one of the Halloweens and “The Skulls 2”) before becoming a very successful TV director and producer (“The Wire”, “Fringe”, several of the CSIs). He was told “film as little as possible” so he and script doctor Rand Ravich (who wrote one of the “Candyman” sequels, Clive Barker link-fans) hastily rewrote some sequences, filmed a linking segment and then brought in a new editor to fashion what the studio wanted. And that is the version we saw yesterday, the official cut, which hopefully you’re familiar with.
For years, a “workprint” has been circulating on VHS – which is one of Yagher’s initial cuts, coming in at 96 minutes, compared to the official version’s 85. It’s full of missing effects, so you’ll see Pinhead and then on screen in big letters “PINHEAD FLIES TO CEILING”, and so on; but it’s mostly complete. What some enterprising soul has done is, for every shot which is the same as the finished version, use footage from the official blu-ray, only editing in material from the VHS when it was absolutely necessary to do so, which has turned it from a murky misery to watch into something which can be legitimately compared with the final release. There is yet another version floating around out there where, and I can’t quite believe this is actually a thing, someone has used computer game “The Sims” to bring part of the script that was never filmed to life.
Right from the beginning, it makes a huge amount more sense. Gone is the first appearance of Space Station Minos in 2127, and we start in 1796, but while that’s certainly a better choice, the thing that works so much better is the ordering of the scenes. Angelique is summoned without the box, just by good old fashioned black magic; the box (referred to as the Lament Configuration for, I think, the first time on screen in the workprint) is used the same way it’s used in 1996, to try and open the door to Hell more widely. L’Marchand doesn’t deliver the box til after she shows up, and the design comes from her rather than the Duc D’Lisle. The reason L’Marchand is so horrified is because Angelique uses the box to turn a group of gambler / libertine friends of the Duc’s into faux-Cenobites, and it’s this that inspires him to try and build a box to close the gate.
What I’m most surprised by is why they ordered this segment differently in the first place. It’s not appreciably longer than the final cut and, with additional mirroring to events in 1996 and 2127, leaves it feeling thematically stronger. How relatively few edits can leave you with a completely different impression is pretty fascinating, too.
So, onto 1996. While less is obviously different here, with most of the changes being lengthening scenes rather than completely new ones, it ties in to the first segment much better, with 1796 being seen as a dream within a dream, maybe. I still don’t get why there’s a curse on the Merchant bloodline – Angelique just tells him there is, which for a guy who merely made a clockwork box for a weird French aristocrat, seems pretty harsh – but the attempts by the three men in three different times to close Hell forever feed off each other cleverly, going from the small box in 1796, to the building in 1996, to the space station in 2127.
The first alteration is the end of Adam Scott’s character, just given a better justification and a little more room to breathe (fun fact: he auditioned for part 5, several years later, hoping no-one would recognise him as he needed work, but it seems they did). Quite a bit is added to the relationship between Pinhead and Angelique too, giving flesh to their disagreement and the fundamental differences in their philoshophies. The bit where Pinhead uses one of his fingernail hooks, cutting Angelique open and taking a bit too much pleasure from licking it clean, is a splendidly creepy bit of business.
The final segment aboard the space station is also quite different. Primarily – he doesn’t escape at the end, staying inside the box to make sure Pinhead is finished off for ever, but it also eliminates some of the overarching flashback structure where Rimmer is interrogating him. There are some oddities in the dialogue, where they refer to things in 1796 that this version changed, but given it’s a fan-created edit, I’ll give them some leeway. They could have trimmed more of the flashbacks, for me, but never mind.
I guess this isn’t a criticism of this version more than it is most of parts 3 and 4, but the Cenobites had to be, it would seem, partly willing. Like, you summon us, we’ll take you to our weird dimension and torture the hell out of you for a couple of decades, then, when you’re fully on board with our way of doing things, we’ll sort you out with a fancy outfit and gimmick and send you when the next person opens a box. The doorway has been opened so there’s absolutely zero reason that Pinhead’s friends can’t come through from the other side – but he has to create a new Cenobite from the unwilling security guards.
All in all, this is much superior to the original version. Everything makes more sense and the scope of what they were trying to achieve is apparent. The mirroring in the three segments is really well done, and even though it suffers from some of the same flaws, it’s much more enjoyable and consistent. If only the two main actors hadn’t been so ordinary.
Rating: thumbs up