Written by: Peter Atkins
Directed by: Alan Smithee (Kevin Yagher)
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Do I look like someone who cares about what God thinks?"
Perhaps more than any other horror series, the Hellraiser series offers quite a variety for its viewers. The series began with two fairly intelligent, well-written horror films built on themes of sadism and morals, but soon began to descend into standard slasher fare with the third film's release. This is not to say that Hell on Earth wasn’t a fun, entertaining film (because it was), but the shift in tone was more than a bit noticeable. After Pinhead’s defeat in that film, inevitable fourth chapter in the series takes him where many horror franchise inevitably end up: space, which would prove not to be the final frontier for Pinhead, who would return four more times after the release of Bloodline.
This film begins aboard a space station in the 22nd century where a scientist named Dr. Merchant is using some sort of robot to open a very familiar looking box: the Lament Configuration. This act, of course, summons the equally familiar looking demon known as Pinhead. We’re treated to a muffled and cryptic conversation between Merchant and Pinhead that is interrupted by a group of soldiers that think Merchant has gone mad. He is then imprisoned and interrogated by a female soldier that must be convinced of the evil that has been unleashed aboard the station.
At this point, the plot of our film truly begins to unfold, as Merchant reveals that he is the descendant of the original creator of the Lamentation Configuration, and he has set out to destroy Pinhead and end the curse that has plagued his family for generations. The scene then shifts to 18th century France, where we meet the creator of the box: Phillip L’Merchant, a toymaker who has been commissioned to create the box to summon the demons of hell. The attempt is successful, as a female demon named Angelique is summoned, much to the horror of L’Merchant, who fails in his attempt to send her back to hell. His wife, however, is pregnant with a child who will be the first in a long line of Merchants who will attempt to end what Phillip began. Here, the scene again shifts to 1996, where we meet another descendant (John) who nearly unleashes an even bigger gateway to hell. Finally, the scene finally returns to the 22nd century for the final showdown between Dr. Merchant and Pinhead.
As you can see, there’s a lot more to Bloodline than “Pinhead goes to space,” as the plot is positively epic in scope. By spanning three generations, the film tries to do something a bit different from a narrative perspective, and I truly respect what the film was attempting to do in giving Pinhead a definitive end. However, the film doesn’t quite live up to its epic promise for a couple of reasons. For one, the acting and characterization aren’t as strong as they are in the first couple of Hellraiser films. Secondly, the film is unnecessarily short; for a film that strives to be as epic as this, it really should be longer than 85 minutes. Each of these problems can seemingly be tracked back to one source: Dimension, who edited the film without director Kevin Yagher’s consent (I know, Dimension messing with a horror film in post-production…who would have thought it?). Apparently, Joe Chappelle of Halloween 6 infamy (Dimension must have this guy on speed-dial whenever they want to wreck a film) came in to write and direct some new scenes, and the final product is far-removed from the original script. As a result, Yagher refused credit (hence the Alan Smithee director's credit).
Thus, the final product is a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, you can still see the film’s ambition in its story, but it’s handled in a fairly pedestrian way. It seems like the filmmakers set out to make the tone more in line with the first two films because the overarching theme of destiny and righting generational wrongs is very strong. However, there are some sequences where the film just sort of peters out and becomes a traditional horror movie in same way that part three did. This is most evident in some of the supporting characters that are really no more than caricatures that belong in a standard slasher film. All told, even these sequences manage to be entertaining because they basically give us what Dimension apparently thought audiences want to see: Pinhead dispensing of his opponents in gory ways. It is my understanding that Yagher’s original film wouldn’t have featured Pinhead until halfway through the film and I suppose the rest of that time would have been spent developing the plot and characters.
Of course, I can’t complain too much about getting a healthy dose of Pinhead because he is by far the most entertaining element of the film. The Angelique character, while interesting, just sort of rehashes some of the things we saw in earlier films. Doug Bradley’s performance is excellent, as always, and he actually gets most of the better lines in the film. The sequences of blood and grue are also spectacular, but that is to be expected with an effects wizard like Yagher at the helm (he is best known for perfecting the Freddy Krueger makeup in the Nightmare on Elm Street series). In this way, the film really satisfies the gorehound in me, but I can’t help but think the story was a bit compromised as a result. The performances by the main cast are decent enough to get the job done, but we don’t spend enough time with them so that they can be truly compelling. On a side note, Yagher is not the only Nightmare on Elm Street 2 alum here, as Kim Myers makes an appearance in a small role, which gives her the distinction of facing both Freddy and Pinhead.
Ultimately, I am always left to ask what could have become of Bloodline had Dimension given Yagher a chance to deliver the epic film he envisioned. As it stands, it’s an excellent idea that’s deeply flawed. It is a very entertaining film that isn’t on the level of the first two films, but it’s not too far removed from the third film. After this, Pinhead went to a destination more dreaded than outer space: direct-to-video, and the films that followed Bloodline have certainly been a mixed bag. There’s a remake on tap that’s due out sometime in 2009 if Dimension can get their act together (at least they’re sabotaging films before production begins these days). If you’re even a casual Hellraiser fan, you need to check this one out because it technically features the chronological end of the franchise because the other films are technically prequels to the frame story of Bloodline. The DVD that’s out there is certainly lacking, but you should expect nothing less of Dimension’s earliest DVD releases. It’s bare bones, and the transfer’s not even anamorphic, and there’s been no peep from Dimension about a re-release. Its only saving grace is that it’s cheap, but it's really only worth a rental anyway. Rent it!
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