As the Hellraiser series continued its seemingly endless parade of direct-to-video crimes against humanity with the release of Hellraiser: Revelations, I decided to revisit the latter half of the series. You know, the really, really bad ones that even most Hellraiser fans probably wish didnít exist. Most horror franchises degenerate into being shells of their former selves as budgets get smaller and scripts become lazier; however, Hellraiser experienced one of the swiftest, most unbelievable falls from grace. After the first two entries (which are beyond great), itís like someone opened the Lament Configuration for real, as audiences were soon treated to a hellish descent into bad, silly movies that completely betrayed the franchiseís roots. Painfully trudging through it all were both Doug Bradley (well, until he was replaced for the new one) and the hardcore fans. And if I learned anything in my latest trudge through these movies, itís that we should all feel very, very bad for Hellraiser fans. I can only hope the long-mooted remake (which once again boasts Clive Barker as a screenwriter--for now, anyway) proves to be the first genuinely good film in the series in over 25 years.
9. Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
Honestly, just about all of the DTV movies are interchangeable, if only because each suffers from the same problems. Most pressing are the scripts, which are terribly plotted and follow the same structure: we get stuck with a lame protagonist (who is usually a terrible human being) who has to wade through a bunch of weird shit. They donít know whatís going on, and the film doesnít really bother to illuminate things for the audience either, so itís akin to walking in the dark for 80 minutes until someone (usually Pinhead) turns on the lights to explain what youíve just watched. Deader is certainly like that, but at least it features Kari Wuhrer, who manages to be one of the few decent protagonists; unfortunately, sheís stuck in a terribly generic, boring movie that has something to do with cults bringing people back from the dead. Honestly, I just re-watched this movie a few days ago, and Iíve all but forgotten everything about it.
I was sure that the most recent film would land dead last on this list considering it was tossed together just so Dimension could hang onto the franchise rights. Plus, Doug Bradley couldnít even be convinced to come on board because he didnít believe in the quality of the script (something that had certainly never deterred him before!). But, against all odds, Hellraiser: Revelations is so absurd that I still remember its stupidity (Incest! Disappearing cars! That weird fake Pinhead! A hobo with a puzzle box!), which is more than I can say for Deader, which is locked away in a puzzle box in my brain, likely never to be reopened. Also, Revelations scores higher by simply being 75 minutes long.
This might raise a few eyebrows because it seems like most have deemed this one to be the worst. But, hey, I kind of liked that it was something a little bit different after the trio started with Inferno; this one sort of follows the same pattern as those, except this time, youíre stuck with several lame protagonists instead of just one. Theyíre all kids this time too, so this was the first time Hellraiser felt like a juvenile slasher flick; in case youíve forgotten, this is that weird one where Pinhead and company are apparently celebrities who can be summoned by playing a video game. The tagline (ďEvil Goes OnlineĒ) would lead you to believe that the franchise decided to cash in on the cyberspace craze about five years too late, but, really, the video game stuff isnít even relevant. Instead, these kids wander around a house party the whole time and get killed off in slasher fashion. The good news, though? The partyís being thrown by Lance Henriksen. The bad news, of course, is that Hellworld manages to be just as bad as 90% of the movies Henriksen has been stuck in for the past decade.
The main appeal for this sixth entry is the return of Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton; however, what most probably donít know is that the character was literally a last minute addition to the script. This explains why the movie makes the mistake of focusing on her characterís husband, who has to figure out how Kirsty disappeared after a car accident. His journey is perhaps the most annoying, as itís full of numerous false starts and stops, and the script consistently spins its wheels with a bunch of dream sequences that make you wonder whatís real and what isnít. Basically, itís like watching a bad episode of Freddyís Nightmares for 80 minutes. However, it lands ahead of the others on the list thanks to a genuinely interesting twist, which kind of tells us that everything we thought we knew for those 80 minutes was wrong, which is just as well considering how terribly they sucked anyway.
The first of the DTV sequels, Inferno is kind of interesting; see, as much crap as Iíve given these sequels, I do respect them for one thing: their attempt to get back to the psychological intimacy of the first film. As memorably macabre as Barkerís debut is, it also featured a genuinely disturbing portrait of temptation and karma. Inferno is a unique take on this, as itís a sort of dark noir, complete with a dubious police detective investigating a series of bizarre murders associated with the puzzle box. Had Inferno featured a tighter script, a budget, and a better lead actor, it might have made for genuinely fine reinvigoration for the series. As it stands, though, itís just the beginning of the end; incidentally, once Pinhead finally shows up at the end, he informs a character that his pain and suffering is only beginning, as his torment will be repeated for all eternity. If this was also an eerie prophecy foretelling the seriesí fate, we can only hope Revelations is the end.
Another minor upset perhaps, as part three ends up being the worst theatrical film in the series for me. While it is so much more watchable than what followed, this was the first time Hellraiser truly lost its way; the impetus behind it was certainly a few years late, but this one feels like an attempt to turn Hellraiser into a standard slasher movie, complete with a wise-cracking Pinhead that was likely inspired by Freddy Krueger. Despite this, though, Hell on Earth still manages to be quite a blast; this isnít a franchise that's known for fun movies (even the two genuinely good ones are morbid and despairing), so I can certainly see why hardcore fans hate this movie. But I think any lover of fine cinema has to appreciate the genius that is the CD-spitting Cenobite.
Iím certainly in the extreme minority of people who can appreciate the ambition behind Bloodline. Though the film got hacked up and reduced the plot to a mess (as only Dimension and Joe Chappelle could do it!), the multiple storylines stretched over three time periods makes for an interesting take on the Hellraiser mythos. It also features some slick gore and makeup gags, which comes as no surprise considering Kevin Yagher was at the helm (before he was unceremoniously dumped in post-production); I suppose the problem comes when all of the explicit gore overtakes the film. Just as part three missed the mark in terms of capturing the themes of the series, so too does part four--but at least itís trying to tell an epic story while doing so, which gives it the nod.
I part ways with most of the Hellraiser fan base when I donít consider the first sequel to be the best in the series. Donít worry--I still think itís great, and the chasm isnít that wide between the two. In fact, I love it for its ambition and imagination; itís a logical sequel in the sense that itís bigger in scope and explores the mysterious nature of the Cenobites. All of this sort of comes at the expense of Kirsty, who gets a bit lost in the loosely-scripted proceedings. However, she finds herself in an immaculately conceived labyrinthine hell thatís full of grotesque, nightmarish imagery. And while this is a natural extension of the gothic sensibilities laid down by the original, I think I do miss the intimacy of the first film.
That brings us to Barkerís original, which is a truly great horror film with one of the more masterful mixes of macabre violence and genuine mystery that youíll ever see. Everyone remembers Pinhead (and with good reasons--heís one of the great horror icons), but he and the Cenobites arenít what make Hellraiser work; instead, theyíre enigmas operating in the background. Instead, a twisted story of betrayal, infidelity, hedonism, and murder rests at the forefront with the Cottons. A fine, grotesque classic, Hellraiser is exceptionally disturbing and grim when Pinhead and his demonic cohorts are nowhere to be found. Barkerís vision is fierce and unrelenting--this isnít a film that shies away from gore, and it never seems gratuitous; in fact, itís an essential component of a morality tale about excess and temptation--so it follows that it goes out of its way to viciously tear your soul apart.
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