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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Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

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I keep expecting the “Hellraiser” series to get properly rubbish, but it never does. I know we’ve got rough times ahead with part 9, made on the cheap to keep the rights to the name, but the surprising thing is despite numerous flaws and obvious twists, the first seven movies have easily been the best of all the long-running horror franchises.

 

Why is this, I wonder? I think the best option I can think of is the main character and the story opportunities he provides. Looking at the other ones – “A Nightmare On Elm Street” (child murderer); “Halloween” (mute all-round psychopath); “Friday The 13th (same); and “Children Of The Corn” (er…some corn? Never seen them). Even the lesser franchises, with their killer puppets, killer dolls, killer Santas, killer fun-averse summer camp counsellors, and killer builders of very elaborate traps, have no central character anything like as interesting as Pinhead. He’s not evil, particularly, he just has a morality that exists outside our own (when he’s being written smart, that is), only comes when he’s called, and offers pleasure as well as pain. Okay, he tried to take over the Earth that one time, and takes more souls than is strictly necessary, but Doug Bradley has helped make the character a fascinating one. He represents something (our desire to “transgress”, to push our boundaries further) in a way that none of the others really do.

 

They’ve also been pretty good with their casting, mostly, and part 7 is no exception. Starring is Kari Wuhrer, best known to me as the later-seasons star of TV gem “Sliders” but a superstar in this low-budget world (at least until having three kids kept her busy, she does mostly voice work now). She’s too-cool-for-school newspaper reporter Amy Klein, working for “The London Underground” doing exposes like “how to be a crack whore”. One day, her editor brings her in and shows her a tape, of a woman shooting herself in the head and then being brought back to life by a chanting group and a stereotypical “libertine” guy – longish hair, billowy shirt, pale skin; the group call themselves the Deaders, and this took place in Romania, so she’s off there to find Marla, the person who sent her the tape in the first place.

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While she’s watching the tape, I kept getting distracted by the edits and multiple angles on display, like it was a professional documentary and not some grungy snuff film. Also, who used VHS tape in 2005? Also, what newspapers still do old-fashioned exposes nowadays? Apparently, the movie sat on a shelf for a few years, but that doesn’t really account for it. Talking of editing, after watching the video, Amy and her editor have a conversation about going to Romania, and it’s done as a total ripoff of the famous scene from “Don’t Look Now”,  where you see the thing that’s happening intercut with the thing that happens after it – for absolutely no reason other than presumably someone hoped no gorehounds would notice the lift. Anyway, off she pops, and bribing her way into Marla’s apartment, finds her dead on the toilet, having committed suicide, and takes another videotape…and a box, which the dead woman is clutching in her hand.

 

Yay! The Lament Configuration shows up at 20 minutes, so we at least know we weren’t tricked by the opening credits and are in a “Hellraiser” movie. She takes the box, and…well, it’s certainly getting easier to open these days. She presses a button and it starts playing music (the box must have gotten an upgrade?) then pops open on its own. It’s at this point you may well wonder if it’s going to have the same overarching idea as parts 5 and 6, but I can inform you now that it doesn’t. Amy meets Joey (Brit TV great Marc Warren), the leader of a non-stop party on a subway train – I wasn’t sure of the logistics of running your own train down there either – who warns her away from the Deaders and Winter, their mysterious leader, but this is a movie and people don’t take sensible advice in movies. The train scene is hilariously stupid, like someone lined up every stereotype of cool edginess and shoved it all into one room, and is therefore a perfect metaphor for a trashy Hellraiser sequel.

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After the box is opened, we get a few seconds of Pinhead and then reality starts bending the same way it did in 5 and 6 (not surprising, as 6, 7 and 8 share a director, Rick Bota). It even manages to up the ante in the final act, as Amy becomes a “Deader” herself, stabbed through the heart but still walking and talking – the scene where she tries to remove the knife from her back is pretty great. Marla comes back to lead her through the maze of the plot – something to do with the LeMarchand family from part 4, but I won’t spoil it any further, and then she’s got a final confrontation with Winter to go.

 

Again, I’ve not mentioned Pinhead very much in this, and it’s for the same reason as the last two movies. Dimension Films had a bunch of horror scripts they’d bought over the years, and decided to use three of them to extend the “Hellraiser” series. The third act was completely rewritten and works surprisingly well, as Amy has to confront the mysterious flashbacks to her childhood, Winter, and Pinhead. He’s really good in this, the best part he’s had for a couple of movies (not difficult, admittedly), with motivations that seem entirely believable based on what we know about him.

 

The cast is great (the ones who aren’t just Eastern European extras hired for nudity, that is), especially Georgina Rylance as Marla, a fantastic performance. Wuhrer is always fun to watch too, but the one issue I have with her is – people refer to her “fucked-up, self-destructive” streak, but it’s more that if they repeat it, we’ll believe it, despite no actual evidence. Okay, she feels compelled to take on the dirtiest, most messed-up stories and definitely has a dark past, but she’s a completely likeable, strong woman who just seems a little over-confident. But she’s great, and the part where she tries to cover up her rapidly leaking chest wound is an oddly light scene, and she pulls it off. They also mention how nice her ass is like three times, which feels like it was a clause her agent got put in her contract – I mean, I wasn’t paying attention to it, as she wears mostly baggy trousers, which is why it felt weird bringing it up.

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It’s certainly not perfect. No-one bothers to explain how Winter figured out he could bring people back from the dead, and the randomness of who can and can’t open the box is a bit irritating. It’s also part of a spree of filming in Romania from Dimension Films, to the point where I’m not sure if everyone realised what movie they were in – they shot Dracula 2 and 3, Prophecy 4 and 5, and Hellraiser 7 and 8, all at pretty much the same time, sharing lots of crew and some cast. It also features what I think is the first ever jump scare in “Hellraiser” history, which is a bit of a disappointment, and the whole thing of Amy being some sort of Lament Configuration chosen one feels a bit underwritten, too.

 

Now I’ve come to terms with Pinhead being an ancillary character in his own movies, I really rather enjoyed “Deader”. Unlike “Halloween”, which tried to become an anthology series and failed, “Hellraiser” is perfect for it – characters going through their own “hell”, drop the box in to their story, and away you go. Given that killing Pinhead seems close to impossible, the story of the Cenobites finished after part 4, and if there’s money to be made they’ll never stop churning them out, I’d rather we had something like this than Indestructible Killer X vs. yet another group of dumb teens.

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Rating: thumbs up

Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)

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“Hellraiser 6” is the second of three scripts that were nothing to do with our friend Pinhead, but were rewritten when the producers decided making money was more fun and significantly more easy than making good films. Although, strangely enough, when they’d picked this one, they got Clive Barker on board in a strictly unofficial capacity to do some rewrites to the third act (saying that, it’s not like Barker had many good ideas left in him by 2002). They even bothered writing and filming a scene to tie in the plot of this movie to the “mythology” of the first two…but then cut it!

 

It’s a welcome return for Ashley Laurence as Kirsty, who was in the first two and made a cameo via videotape in part 3. Although I never really bought that she was particularly important to the Cenobites, it’s nice to have her back, she’s a ray of classiness in a franchise which has occasionally been less than smart in its casting choices. But, part 6 gives us another excellent casting choice in Dean Winters, as Kirsty’s husband Trevor. He was in the middle of his run on “Oz” when he made this, and has gone on to be a surprisingly brilliant comic actor in “30 Rock” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – he’s really pretty good in this too, so no complaints on that score.

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Here’s where we wander into slightly spoiler-y territory, because if you’ve seen the film I’m going to make several references to, you’re going to understand a lot of this movie’s plot. Something happens at the beginning which is a direct lift from one of the great scary movies, a lock for my top 20 movies of all time, an absolute masterpiece in every possible way. That thing is, a car drives off a bridge into a river and only one passenger survives.

 

“Oh no,” I thought. “They’re going to rip off Carnival Of Souls, aren’t they?” While it’s not exactly the same, the big twist is identical, and there’s a lot of similarities along the way. So, if you’ve seen “Carnival” (and if you haven’t, shame on you, go and watch it immediately because it’s really really good) it’s more a matter of waiting for them to get to the point than it is enjoying the ride. Perhaps this affected my enjoyment?

 

Trevor wakes up from a nightmare where he crashes his car, escapes from his side, desperately tries to get Kirsty out, but sees her drown. Turns out this actually happened, her body wasn’t found when they dredged the car up, and a couple of cops, who for some reason are never in the same room at the same time, are vaguely suspicious of him and his head-injury induced lack of memory about the incident. In a non-linear sort of trot through Trevor’s life, we discover he’s cheated on Kirsty with at least two women – a girl from down the hall and his boss at work; it seems that he’s either mad or someone is following him, killing those other women, which doesn’t help with the cop thing. Winters, for a guy who’s been given a fairly thankless acting task, is really pretty good throughout.

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We also learn, fairly slowly, about how he came to be in the possession of the box, the Lament Configuration. I feel like maybe I missed something as he just finds a card in his pocket, goes to a creepy disused factory, and finds Doug Bradley playing not Pinhead, but a weird salesman who gives him the box, refusing money and therefore indicating that the price to be paid is something different. As I’ve mentioned our friend, I suppose we ought to talk about him a bit – he’s in this even less than he’s in part 5, which renders the blazing arguments surrounding part 4 more pointless in retrospect. His character is less…whatever it was in the first four movies and more sort-of a guy who punishes evil people after they die, a virtually identical role to part 5. It leaves this one with no dramatic tension – at least in part 5 the main character was alive for the first half-hour of the movie, here the guy is dead before the movie starts. Everything about Pinhead and the other Cenobites is just window-dressing now, there’s no conflict between him and the cast at all.

 

We’re going to have to stray into spoiler territory from here on out, so if you’ve not seen it and want to be surprised, skip right to the bottom (or just go and watch “Carnival Of Souls”). It relates to the box, and possibly represents a badly papered-over crack between the original script and the Pinhead-ed final draft.

 

Why did Trevor go and buy the box? The justification is virtually non-existent – he finds that card reading simply “All Problems Solved” in his pocket and goes to visit the box-seller, but aside from a bit of mild kink with the boss, there’s no indication he’s as far off the reservation as Uncle Frank in part 1. He then takes the box home and angrily demands that Kirsty opens it – how did he know what it was? How did he know that she knew what it was? Why does she agree to open the box, knowing what would happen?

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It turns out, there’s a twist on top of the “he was dead the whole time” twist – Kirsty is immediately taken to Hell and it looks like Pinhead is finally going to get his gal. Only, she says “how about I bring you five souls in exchange for mine?” and Pinhead agrees. Wait, what? Here’s a quote from part 2:

 

Kirsty: Wait!

Pinhead: No more deals child, it is your flesh we want to experience, not your skill at bargaining.

 

Now, my memory is shot to hell, but if I can remember this stuff, then the people who made the damn movies ought to remember it. He said no more deals! Then made a deal with her! As if this wasn’t insulting enough, this deal involves Kirsty first killing the women he’d been sleeping with, then the guy who Trevor was conspiring with to kill Kirsty and steal her inheritance (that crappy old house from the first one, you mean?), and finally Trevor, shooting him as they were driving over a bridge. I’d have maybe picked a better spot to do it, but whatever. Pinhead has never given any indication of simply being a soul collector – and remember the time when he said that people needed to want (on some level) to open the box and join the Cenobites? Because the filmmakers sure don’t!

 

The ending is a real mess, I think. It’s piled high with stuff that doesn’t work in context of the series, the characters or just straight-up logic. We’re watching the post-death nightmare of a murdered adulterer, but the person who murders him and four other people gets away with it scot-free. Outside the last five minutes or so of the movie, not one scene is “real”, which is a hell of a crappy trick to pull when you think about it.

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But…the idea, on its own, is solid. Take a horror classic, give it a little twist, and away you go. I’d have loved to see this cast take on the material before it was rewritten to make it part of “Hellraiser”. The direction is fine, too, for what must have been a low budget. I’d give it a thumbs up for ideas, and a thumbs down for execution.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (workprint version) (1996)

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.

 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)

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There are two names of interest in this, the fourth instalment of what is almost by default the best of the long-running horror franchises. First up is Adam Scott, comedy superstar, in what I think is his first movie role (he’d been in a few TV shows before this); and second is Alan Smithee. Smithee is the pseudonym adopted by directors who want their name taken off a particular film, usually to do with an extreme amount of interference from the studio or the producer, and is almost always a message to the savvy cinemagoer “this is going to suck”. It seems the principal issue with part 4 – the last in the series to have any input from Clive Barker, or to get a cinema release – was Pinhead. Audiences wanted more of him, and earlier (it is a bit weird how little he’s in the first movie, if we’re being honest), which wasn’t the way original director Kevin Yagher was going.

 

Although it was reviewed more favourably than part 3 at the time, the years have been unkind to part 4, perhaps because it’s partly set in space. Both “Friday The 13th” and “Leprechaun” have similar instalments, so it was a trend for a while there with the joke being that once you’ve run out of ideas for your fictional killer, send them to space! Or maybe the bad reputation’s because it’s no good? You’ll have to wait a few hundred words to find out (unless you’ve already seen it and are just reading this for a bit of entertainment, of course).

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In the year 2127, Dr Paul Merchant has hijacked the space station Minos, for reasons unknown. With a rather interesting remote control robot device, he’s trying to open the Lament Configuration – the fancy name for the puzzle box, apparently – and just as he does so, the front door is kicked in (metaphorically speaking) and in rush some marines. He’s captured, while screaming that he needs to be let free to complete what he started, and eventually is questioned by Rimmer (Christine Harnos), who he tells his family story to.

 

This story is, actually, pretty interesting. In late 18th century France, his ancestor Philippe L’Marchand (all the Merchant men are played by the same actor) has been commissioned to make a puzzle box for a wealthy aristocrat who has some rather unusual tastes. Scott plays Jacques, the aristo’s servant, and he’s the guy who procures a peasant girl for them to use in their experiments. The box is opened, the skin removed from the peasant girl gets filled up with the demon Angelique and the aristo very quickly breaks one of the rules of possessing a demon and is killed, leaving Jacques to control Angelique and enjoy the wonders of rough sex with a bag of demon-filled skin. Philip learns what the box is about quite quickly, and even creates a design for a “reverse box” which will close the gate to Hell forever, but he’s offed by our evil duo before he gets the chance to do much of anything about it.

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In the “original cut” of the movie, as much as this can be said to have one, there was a lot more of this storyline (and there’s a cut circulating online which puts a lot of these deleted scenes back in); but people wanted Pinhead, so we need to race ahead to 1996, where Angelique and Jacques are still having weird sex in France. This is where the movie quite cleverly dovetails with part 3, as we see the building that was “created” when the box was placed in the foundations of a building site. Well, it wasn’t just the power of the box, it was also John Merchant, direct male line descendant of Philip and architect, who was drawn to the box due to some dumb bloodline curse or something. He’s married to Bobbi, played by Kim Myers (“A Nightmare On Elm Street 2”, and a youthful crush of mine), and rather than just going “this is a pretty decent life, I’m an architect and I’m married to someone who looks like Kim Myers” he starts dreaming of Angelique, then she shows up at his office after Jacques rather foolishly got in Hell’s way, and tempts him with her alluring demonic ways…

 

Pinhead eventually shows up when the box is opened (by a tricked security guard), and he’s got kind of a funny office co-workers vibe going on with Angelique when they first meet. She’s old-school Hell, having been away for 200 years, he’s more new-school, but they both want to use the building, which has become a sort of ultimate cube, in order to…well, Pinhead wants to throw the gates of Hell wide open and let all his old mates out, but I’m stumped as to Angelique’s motivation. Perhaps the same? It’s not really important, anyway. I was surprised Pinhead wouldn’t have popped in to say hello to Angelique during one of his visits “topside”, but Earth’s a big place, I suppose. They have very different methods, she favouring seduction and corruption, him favouring lots of pain and misery, and if this idea had been developed any more than it was (ie. Not at all) then it would have been a cool thread running through the stories. Instead, they have a bit of a fight and Pinhead wins.

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As we get back to 2127 and the space station, the problem then becomes we know exactly what Merchant’s plan is and are merely waiting for him to press a button. What takes up 20 minutes of screen time could have been dealt with easily in five, but I guess we need some Pinhead pontificating and / or ripping people to pieces or the “fans” won’t be happy. The ending is pretty cool actually (I always like it when super-powerful beings are tricked by modern technology) but it’s a long walk for a relatively small reward.

 

Let’s try and make some sense of the Hellraiser universe. It’s really quite good, starting from a small dingy bedroom on a nondescript London street and spreading all the way to outer space. Humanity tries and fails to close the door on the Cenobites, because they represent temptation and there’s always going to be temptation, and it takes a mad genius with cursed blood to finish them off – he has to build a massive space station to do it. It’s surprisingly logical in terms of overarching story, if you don’t sweat the little things, like how the box became a portal to Hell, or the gradual change of the Cenobites from creatures from outside our realm to demons who were once human. Although…given the hack Clive Barker turned into from the early 90s on, I’m sort of glad they simplified the story of the Cenobites from whatever it was to creatures of a dimension called Hell, but which was just a place where weird entities with a thing about skin hung out.

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There are little visual touches I enjoyed too, like the way Hell is shown as light through cracks in a building, the same as it was right at the beginning of the first movie. The ties to the previous movies are clever, and Pinhead remains one of the all-time great horror antagonists, even if he’s not the most logically written character – for example, he sort of betrays his own previous commitment to not mess with the innocent by kidnapping John’s son in the 1996 story.

 

The problem with the way it was weighted, with all three stories given roughly equal time, is that it feels a bit like “stories from the Hellraiser universe”, an anthology movie. Considering this was edited by professionals who are presumably told to make sure things make sense, there are a ton of dropped threads in this, ideas which show up and disappear again in short order, and it’s tough to shake the thought they really ought to have trimmed one of them down a bit.

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I was going to talk about the Alan Smithee credit, but I think I’ll leave that to a longer review of the workprint version, which I’ve managed to track down. But even in this hacked-about-with story, it’s a great deal better than many movies where the director was happy to leave his name attached. It’s got real ideas and wants to explore them, and while I’m not as down on studio interference as some (having no particular admiration for the vast majority of directors), it will be interesting to get a little closer to what the director was trying to do.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Hellraiser 3: Hell On Earth (1992)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rating: thumbs up

Hellraiser (1987)

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Because the ISCFC had started reviewing good movies occasionally, I felt it was time to get right down into another horror franchise. “Hellraiser” is sort of unique because at least the first two movies are quite well regarded – 63% on Rotten Tomatoes for part 1, 50% for part 2. But those of you who love my slow descent into madness as I get angry at part 4 of a long franchise will hopefully enjoy this review series – part 9, made on shoestring merely to keep the rights to the name, and so far the last movie, is lying in wait.

 

What’s also interesting about “Hellraiser” is how much it changed, from this movie to a much broader style of horror very quickly, there’s an instalment partly set in space…but we’ve got a long way to go before we get there. Let’s talk about Clive Barker. His earlier fiction is incredible, full of amazing ideas and genuine horror, and he’s justifiably one of the most famous names in the genre. But his time on top quality-wise was pretty brief, as such things go – his last decently regarded book was probably 1992’s “Imajica”, and after then it’s pretty slim pickings; but he’s responsible for the story which was turned into “Candyman”, one of my favourite horror movies ever, so I can never completely disregard him. He made a few short films as a student in the mid 70s, so he clearly had form in that area, but this is his first feature directing gig (he’d already had a few scripts made before this, including “Rawhead Rex”, and he hated their adaptation so much that he wanted to do it himself).

 

Frank is a somewhat sketchily drawn character, but I guess you could say he’s one of those fellows who’s always wanting to try new things, except his tastes are evidently a little darker than the average. He buys a puzzle box from an oriental bazaar and, after a bit of a fiddle with it, opens it up and is sucked into some nightmarish world filled with Cenobites (more on them in a second). Bye Frank, but hello Larry and Julia, who’ve moved from New York to…well, it was originally filmed and set in England, but the studio thought it’d sell better with an American location so a few actors were dubbed with different accents. Larry is Frank’s brother, a nice guy with an unspecified white-collar job, and Julia is his English wife. Turns out Julia and Frank had an extremely intense affair way back when, and despite Larry being a decent and attentive husband, Julia is obviously not fulfilled.

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They’re moving back into his parents’ house, which has been empty for some years except for Frank squatting there, doing his weird box-experiments in the attic. One day, Larry cuts his hand open, the blood seeps through the floorboards and brings a heart hidden there back to life. It’s Frank! He decided he didn’t like it with the Cenobites any more, and managed to escape. Julia, overwhelmed with old memories, agrees to pick up random guys, bring them back to the house and murder them, so Frank can put more flesh on his bones. Larry is oblivious to all this, perhaps because he’s trying to encourage his daughter Kirsty to move back in with them?

 

This is, admittedly, a pretty thin premise for a horror film. What has kept this series going for 9 movies and 24 years is the Cenobites, and mainly their main man Pinhead (referred to simply as “Lead Cenobite” in the credits). They’re sort of S&M demons designed by someone on the worst LSD trip of their life, and I’m sure everyone reading this will have seen at least a picture of them. Pinhead is up there with Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers as one of the great icons of modern horror cinema, for sure, but the rest of his friends are pretty impressive creations too – they describe themselves as similar to Frank, questers for ultimate knowledge and experience, merely ones whose quest has taken them to some very odd dimensions and given them some impressive powers. I’m sure, because ambiguity is death for horror franchises, at least one of the upcoming series will be a Cenobite origin story and it’ll be every bit as dull as every other origin story for a horror villain.

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I like how almost all this takes place in a normal family home – filmed in leafy suburban North London, apparently; and how you can read Julia’s murders as a reaction against moving from New York to there (wherever “there” is, in the movie). There’s also an interesting view of religion. Frank and Larry’s parents filled the home with religious icons, and Julia’s first reaction on seeing one is to recoil in disgust; later, when Kirsty is visiting the house for the first time and sees a pile of statues outside the house, waiting for the bin men, she gives a sort of bemused smile – although, given one of the last lines is a Bible quote, I admit this might be me reading something into it which isn’t there. There are some very good images in it, and not just the Cenobites, like Frank, still minus skin, sat in a blood-soaked suit just smoking a cigarette (apparently inspired by the actor playing “Frank the Monster” liking a cigarette in between takes).

 

The ending is a bit stupid, if truth be told – Kirsty finds the box, fights the half-reformed Uncle Frank and then releases the Cenobites herself, only getting out of whatever they’re offering by promising to lead them to their one ever escapee. While the effects are surprisingly excellent and the atmosphere quite well done, there’s too much of people behaving like dumbasses in order to keep the plot chugging along at the end, and…there’s a fairly standard “Final Girl” ending, but I don’t feel there was enough about her character to warrant it. The star of the film is Julia, if it’s anyone, and she’s a pretty unsympathetic character who sticks with her husband because he’s got a decent job, when her tastes obviously run in a very different direction. I do like the story of, when the studio rejected the original title “The Hellbound Heart”, one of the female crew members suggested the alternate title “What A Woman Will Do For A Good Fuck”.

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I’d suggest the biggest flaw is why does anyone seek the Cenobites out? I get the ultimate pain bit, but I’m not seeing a lot of the ultimate pleasure. Pinhead says to Kirsty “we have such wonders to show you”, but the only wonder seems to be getting chained to a big rotating block and having bits of your body eaten. I like the rejection of traditional forms of pleasure, and subtext is all well and good, but it could’ve done with being a tiny bit more fleshed-out, as it were. And I really didn’t get what the tramp character was all about, now I think about it.

 

I have perhaps been harsh on the flaws of “Hellraiser”, which is because I’m judging it against a higher quality of movie – it has a lot of Cronenberg’s body-horror imagery in it, and real fully visualised sexual horror is an extreme rarity. If you’re comparing it against the other 80s horror series that we’ve covered on here, then it’s head and shoulders the best of the lot, a classic of the era.

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It’s good that the story is so compelling, because the acting’s a bit all over the place. Ashley Laurence is Kirsty, and she does basically nothing but flirt with a boring-looking guy before being a standard Final Girl; Sean Chapman is Frank, who looks like George Michael grown even more bored of life; Julia is Clare Higgins, who struggles to get over that this entire thing is down to her awakening at the hands of her old lover; and Larry is Andrew Robinson (the villain from “Dirty Harry”), who does the best with his fairly wet character.

 

It’s still a fantastic achievement for a first-time director, probably the creepiest movie of the era, and still original-feeling today.
Rating: thumbs up