Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

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For a series which has made a virtue of not using its central character, this could be the least Pinhead-y Hellraiser yet. His appearance as a “real” character is maybe a minute, and then another minute or two more in a dream sequence – despite this being the first proper written-for-the-series script since part 4, one could remove our Cenobite friends from this with no problems.

 

What’s so annoying about this is that it could have been good, as it has a decent central idea. There’s a computer game called “Hellworld” which is based on the Hellraiser series! Although the previous movies are never mentioned, Pinhead is a pop-culture phenomenon and the game is apparently in-depth enough to get a group of college students absolutely obsessed with it. One of the gang, Adam, gets too deep into things and ends up dying, and the movie starts at his funeral.

 

For those of you with long memories, or who discovered it recently and laughed heartily at its stupidity, this whole concept may remind you of “Mazes and Monsters”, the early 80s Tom Hanks-starring pile of crap which attempted to tell the youth of America that playing Dungeons & Dragons was a direct line to Satan. And it gets worse! Two years after the funeral, our friends are still friends, and one of them has carried on playing “Hellworld”, to the extent he’s unlocked the box (yes, that box) on the last level and has won an invite to a special Hellworld party, conveniently within driving distance of wherever they are. The game has lines from the previous movies in it, delivered in a bored computer game monotone by Doug Bradley, which is sort of a nice touch. So the rest of them do it too, and off they are to a party at Leviathan House (part 2 reference!).

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This is a classic “Meet The Meat” section, with Chelsea, the Final Girl with the gender-neutral name, and all this is a thing “Hellraiser” never bothered with before now. Has it decided to turn into a slasher movie? Well, sort of.

 

I guess SPOILERS will be coming now. It’s sort of difficult to go on past them arriving at the house without getting into the endgame, and so much of whether you like this or not will be down to how much you can tolerate of the twist. So let’s journey together, dear reader.

 

The first section of the movie is slightly clever, as there aren’t tons of sequels that treat the previous instalments as fiction in their fictional world. “The Blair Witch Project 2” springs to mind, “New Nightmare”, “Human Centipede 2” as well (I’m sure there are others, and I’m not referring to some sneaky joke line like “this is just like the last movie!”). As well as Chelsea, and a couple who are basically cannon fodder, there’s an early appearance from future Superman Henry Cavill as the sleazy womanising member of the group, and TV regular Christopher Jacot as outsider Jake, who’s gone to the party to meet his online girlfriend. They mock the “gratuitous boob shot” of horror movies, and drink in the faux-decadent trappings of the party before meeting “The Host”, one Lance Henriksen (who was approached to play the part of Uncle Frank way back in part 1, but turned it down).

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Henriksen has drugged them all and the entire party is a dream. There you go. From about the half-hour mark, all five of them are buried in the back garden of the house with pipes to give them air, and The Host is apparently some godlike super-genius with hallucinogens because he’s able to get them to have an identical hallucination, interact with each other and then get tracked down by Pinhead and brutally murdered, slasher-style. Why has he done this? Because he’s Adam’s father and blames them for his son’s death, despite being an absentee parent who never gave a damn before.

 

So let’s break down what “The Host” had to do in order to make this revenge plot happen. It’s a little difficult to parse what’s “real” and what’s just part of the hallucination, but I think we can manage a decent list. First, he needs to hack the game in order to provide the invites to those five, and only those five. He also needs to rely on them turning up and not just going “nah, mate, I’d rather do literally anything else”. Then, he needs to rent the mansion, kit it out with hundreds of props and (at least) dozens of background partiers. Then he needs to find a hallucinogen that acts in a way completely unknown to science, and figure out a way to give it to those five people. Then he needs to bury them in his back garden, and hope that no-one else sees what’s going on.

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At the “party”, they’re all provided with phones and masks with numbers on, and told if they want to hook up with anyone, they can just call the number on the mask. But right from the beginning, the phones display real names on them, and Jake just grabs a phone at random and never takes a mask. The two items aren’t linked. Now, this can be explained away by The Host putting a phone in each coffin, so this is the real world showing through the hallucination, but why didn’t the cast notice this? At one point, Chelsea calls the police and they turn up, Chelsea can see them but they can’t see her (hallucination!), but…if this is a dream, how is the Host not controlling this aspect of it? Why doesn’t he just block them from making 911 calls? If they’re stuck in a coffin, how are they making calls anyway? And how do they know what the police officers look like?

 

The Host’s plan goes perfectly, and he gets away scot-free. The people who die inside the hallucination are dead for real, with the only two people who survive – Jake and Chelsea – falling in love; it seems the ghost of Adam called the police and warned them where they were buried? In a twist on top of the twist, Adam built a fully working Lament Configuration and The Host opens it at the end, allowing Pinhead and his crew to come through, shred him to pieces and then be on their way. Hurrah for morally simplistic endings!

 

Everything in “Hellworld” is a lie, and that’s just irritating to the viewer. It’s full of plot holes which I’m sure weren’t deliberate, just people with no interest in good movie-making churning yet another horror sequel out; but if confronted with it, everyone involved would just go “it’s a hallucination!” Take, for instance, Leviathan House, apparently built by the original LeMarchand from part 4. “His second greatest creation”, says The Host, his first being the box of course. But…LeMarchand was a toymaker and died very soon after building that box, and lived in France. The Host might be thinking of the second Mr Marchand, from 1996, but he didn’t design the box, and no-one would be terribly impressed by a ten-year-old mansion. No-one seems sure if Hellraiser is literally real or just a computer game, either.

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Pinhead gets a mini-speech at the end, as per usual, but his last line is a Slasher-iffic “how’s that for a wake-up call?” I imagine Doug Bradley must have been thoroughly disgusted at having to deliver such nonsense, and is one of the reasons he turned down part 9 and refused the upcoming part 10 (he asked to see the script beforehand, and refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Woody Allen can get his stars to sign them, but not whoever’s making Hellraiser 10).

 

It feels like it was written by old men who’d never played computer games, or seen any previous Hellraisers. They were given a list of Hellraiser factoids and told “computer games are bad, okay?” In every other installment, the majority of Pinhead’s victims did something to end up in his grasp – either be evil scumbags, or push too far outside the realms of human morality. The people who die in this did nothing – Adame’s death wasn’t their fault. Their only failing was not detecting the latent mental illness in their friend; they all seem to be extremely sad he died and absolutely don’t deserve their fate. It’s a traditional slasher movie plot, where everyone dies but the Final Girl and the non-threatening non-love interest.

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It’s dumb, vaguely insulting to fans of the franchise and makes not a lick of sense.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Man of Steel (2013)

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Man Of Steel was originally conceived to be the direct sequel to 2006s Superman Returns but Bryan Singer’s appalling love letter to the character did nothing to warrant an audience let alone a follow up so the project was shelved. It wasn’t until Christopher Nolan hit box-office uber-bankability with his Batman series that Warner dug up the Red and Blue corpse and gave him free rein over the reboot.

Superhero go-to-guy David S. Goyer was drafted in to plot the story and write the screenplay but alarm bells weren’t just ringing, they were clanging ferociously when it was announced Zack Snyder was given directorial duties. For those not familiar with his style, this is just it; he’s all style and no substance. He’s unapologetically a teenage wank. When he’s not making cold and emotionless adaptations of good comic books that are really so far above him it’s an insult he’s even read them (Watchmen, 300) he’s making self indulgent fan-boy fantasies like the nut-crushingly excruciating Sucker Punch.

We open on Krypton, complete with funny looking space creatures and tentacle like space tech, and discover that Jor-El (Russel Crowe) and his wife Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) have just had the first Kryptonian natural birth for years (Children Of Men anyone?) but no sooner has Kal-El popped out than a rampaging General Zod (played with menacing aplomb by Michael Shannon) attacks the leaders of their race in a military coup.

Then ensues one of the worst opening sequences you’ll see in a cinema this year but it really shouldn’t be as Crowe gets his own mini film in about 15 minutes here. He has a kid, devises a solution to save his planet, evades capture, falls off a building onto his flying dog, downloads his soul onto a stick, sends his kid off in a rocket ship, has a big fist fight with the main baddie (incidentally this is the best fight in the film) then gets shanked and dies. Sounds fun right? Well it would be if Snyder hadn’t killed it with inept direction that focuses too much on spectacle and not enough on character.

Not only does Snyder suck the fun out of the film, we have Chris Nolan producing which amps up the joyless, self-absorbed, pompous style. Nolan has always been one to concentrate on the broader strokes while ignoring the finer detail and Man Of Steel is no different, in fact he even manages to coax the worst out of Snyder by encouraging him to follow suit by giving us two and a half wasted hours of big explosions, lens flare, colour filters, fighting, boom-boom, bang-bang, more fighting and more explosions.

To really compound Snyder’s insistence on remaining a teenage boy the fighting between the Kryptonians becomes a video game. The female could be mistaken for Albert Wesker from Resident Evil 5 (she even fights people in the back of a cargo plane) and the fight between Zod and Superman is lifted straight from the latest Mortal Kombat, going as far as having a ‘breaker’ special move complete with an uppercut through a building.

Henry Cavill looks the part and does the best with what he’s given and Amy Adams brings humanity to her role but the shallow script doesn’t allow for spark or emotion between them and when they do finally kiss it feels shoehorned in just to complete the Superman mythology checklist. It was good to see Kevin Costner in a big release and he gets a good death ‘un, in fact he basically steals the film and is involved in the best scenes but Larry Fishburne does nothing with nothing and Shannon chews the scenery at every available turn.

DC can’t catch a break with their films, while Marvel are constantly producing every year and admitting and resolving mistakes as soon as they’re made, DC seem to brood and drag their heels always making the wrong choices and never learning from previous ones. Darren Aronofsky was turned down in favour of Snyder for example and that is unforgivable, it’s like hiring Michael Bay over Kubrick.

Man Of Steel echoes the fundamental flaws of its director and producer in taking itself far too seriously while buildings and spaceships blow-up behind over-staged video game punch-ups between flying aliens in tights and these big flashy scenes are flimsily strung together by a thin thread of limp dialogue. It’s obvious the main task was to fit in as much colourful action as possible and connecting it all together was the after thought. This is cheap, tacky and obnoxious filmmaking.

– Greg Foster

Man of Steel on IMDB
Buy Man of Steel [DVD + UV Copy]

Immortals (2011)

I knew nothing about this film before sitting down to watch it, and within a minute I went “either this is Tarsem Singh or his non-Union Mexican equivalent”. Lo and behold, it was (don’t start patting me on the back, it wasn’t that difficult). Singh also directed “The Cell”, the Jennifer Lopez-infiltrates-a-murderer’s-dream film, where despite the amazing in-dream visuals, the actual case itself was solved purely by good old police work. A man brave enough to have over half of his film be entirely irrelevant to the plot is a man whose films I want to watch.

 

When I was a young lad, Tony Robinson (off of Time Time and Blackadder) did a kid’s TV show where he went to Greece and did dramatic readings of the famous Greek myths – that, and the films of the great Ray Harryhausen, has instilled  in me a love of those old stories that has carried on to this day. So even films like this rather dream-like retelling of the myth of Theseus will capture my interest, and we start off with a brief retelling of those old myths – there was a war in heaven, and the people we now call the Gods beat the people we now call the Titans, and imprisoned them for ever. The only thing that can free the Titans is a special bow, and wouldn’t you know…it gets lost somewhere on Earth! King Hyperion (played with scenery-chewing magnificence by Mickey Rourke) is looking for it, because he’s upset with the Gods, for some reason.

We then meet John Hurt, apparently just an old man, giving peasant boy Theseus all sorts of education and sword-training, so he grows up into a super-fighter who loves his Mum. Hurt is, of course, Zeus, king of the gods, played when he’s in all his finery by XXXXXXX, who also pops up in “The Raven”, which is going to be my next review. The final major piece of this film are the Oracles, four women who dance about and have visions (well, one of them does, but the other three are cover for her, pals, confidantes, a bit like an extremely sexy Golden Girls). Oh, the main one, who has all the visions, gets her power from being a virgin. This may become relevant later on, just like the sun may rise tomorrow.

The main reason for this film’s existence is the look, and that’s one thing Tarsem does really well. I keep wanting to badmouth the story, but there’s only so far you can mess up a story as good as this one. He tries, I’ll give him that – goddammit Theseus, keep better hold of your possessions! – but there are some clever bits in there. The way he shows how reality becomes legend is clever and subtle, I think, and I like Stephen Dorff (how the mighty have fallen, eh? Third banana in a film like this) as the thief who gradually develops morals.

But, it’s not that good. For every minotaur (a really clever and well-done idea) there’s a gods sub-plot. The gods have imprisoned all the titans, because they’re basically impossible to kill, or something…only when we see them get down to the big scrap at the end, it seems they’re really really easy to kill. I mean, they’ve been imprisoned for eternity, so they might be a bit rusty, but…

I couldn’t give this any more than 2 and a half out of 5. But, you know, it’s worth watching, which is where this rating system falls down a bit. It entertains! It’s bloody lovely in HD!

Immortals on IMDB
Buy Immortals [DVD][2011]