Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996)
In a lot of ways Bloodline
feels like the conclusion of the Hellraiser series. Whereas the first three films all leave endings that hint the plot of the next sequel, every film after Bloodline is basically a stand alone entry that requires no knowledge of any
of the previous films. I guess that's to be expected as Bloodline is probably as "epic" as any Hellraiser
film can hope to be. It's a massive sprawling storyline that's set over
three time periods, from 18th century France to present day New York to
a futuristic space station. And though it's far from a good movie,
you've got to at least give the makers credit for thinking big... REALLY
The film begins in 2127 where Dr Merchant (Bruce Ramsey) is
working on a space station using remote control robots to open the puzzle box in order
to trap and destroy Pinhead once and for all. Before he can complete
his work he's stopped a group of marines who take over the station. They
question him about what he's doing and in order to try and get them on
his side Merchant explains about what the box is and how his whole
bloodline is connected to it. First, we flash back to Philip Lemarchard
(also Ramsey), an 18th century toymaker who was commissioned,
unknowingly, to make the original box for a twisted aristocrat. Then
later we get the tale of John Merchant (again, Ramsey), a 20th century
architect who tried to create a building which would trap Pinhead. All
of them failed and now it's up to Dr Merchant, the last of his
bloodline, to kill Pinhead for good.
Like I say I enjoyed the "scope" of this film. It kind of reminded me a little of Darren Aronofsky's vastly underrated The Fountain
which similarly spanned past, present and future with a Hugh Jackman
playing the protagonist in each segment. A more accurate comparison
though, given that this is quite a cheesy movie, would probably be one
of the time-hopping Highlander films. Given that the second and third Hellraiser
films had drifted more and more away from the
horror of the original, I was okay with seeing the franchise move into
cheesy sci-fi/fantasy territory. Make no mistake though none of this is
very scary. The space station scenes aren't anywhere near the creepy
terrors of Alien, it's more like Critters 4.
film is credited as being Alan Smithee (a notorious pseudonym that
directors have used for years when they don't want to be associated with
a film) but it was nominally directed by effects guru Kevin Yagher but
Dimension insisted on reshoots and Joe Chapelle (Halloween 6)
oversaw these bits. The film does show heavy signs of being tampered
with. There's a very disjointed atmosphere to the whole thing - you can
tell that some lines have obviously been redubbed, some scenes end
abruptly, and the story doesn't quite flow as it should. Without seeing
the original script or
workprint it's tough to tell how much of a hatchet job it was. Still
there's some pleasing bits and pieces along the way.
The idea of
using robots as a "safe" way to opening the box was a cool little idea
and (though it didn't need explaining) the creation of the puzzle box
was quite interesting. There's a very cool scene in the 18th century bit
where the evil French Aristocrat skins a prostitute and "fills" the
body with a demon he's summoned. It was one of the few times that the
film approached anything remotely creepy. The problem was that given its
an 80 minute run time, there's not enough time devoted to any of the
segments. I think the weakest bit was the John Merchant/present day
section because it didn't really add anything to the story apart from
explain what the Puzzle Box building (glimpsed at the end of Hellraiser III) was. Really the film should have been given a better budget and runtime to
realise the director's full vision. As it stands it feels very compromised.
acting wasn't great but I kind of enjoyed Ramsey's performance. You
couldn't call it good but he had just enough charisma to carry the film.
Valentina Vargas is pretty horrendous as Angelique, a rival Cenobite
and Doug Bradley was just about okay. I found it quite humourous to see
Adam Scott (Step Brothers, Party Down) in one of his first roles as a wealthy Frenchman - I guess everyone starts somewhere! Overall, Bloodline is such a bold crazy idea for a film I couldn't help but like it. I just wish it wasn't so dull and plodding.
Hellraiser V: Inferno (2000)
So Inferno was the first Hellraiser film that went direct to video and it came out without
much fanfare six years after the box office failure of Bloodline. The film was directed by Scott Derrickson who would go on to do (shock, horror, actual films at the cinema!) The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the big budget Keanu Reeves-starring remake of The Day the Earth Stopped. This film and the next few had no involvement from Clive Barker on a storyline or producing level. Inferno also marked the beginning of Dimension's practice of using existing scripts and having a writer tack on Hellraiser elements. As a result, many of them feel very disconnected from the first four films.
Inferno sees Craig Sheffer (who starred in Barker's 1990 film Nightbreed)
as Joseph Thorne, a corrupt police detective with a coke habit and
penchant for picking up prostitutes (despite the fact he's married with a
kid). The film begins with Thorne
investigating some bizarre ritualistic murders. At one of the crime
scene he finds the puzzle box lying near one of the victims and takes it
home. He quickly solves the puzzle and opens the box but unlike the
previous films Pinhead and the Cenobites don't appear. Thorne continues
to investigate the murders, trying to uncover who the killer, nicknamed
"The Engineer", is. His colleagues, informants and family all start to
get killed off by the unseen killer and he begins to have vivid waking
nightmares. What has happened to him and who is the killer?
Okay, I'm going to drop a ton of spoilers here because it's tough to talk about the Inferno's
flaws without talking it's ending. So the twist is that "The Engineer"
is really Pinhead and basically everything after Thorne opens the puzzle
box was him living through his own inescapable personal version of hell,
ostensibly for living such a cruel and sinful life. The thing with twist
endings is you really need to keep the audience as "in the dark" as
possible to pull them off successfully. Inferno
flags up very early on that what's happening to Thorne might not be
"reality". He thinks he sees Cenobites everywhere, his investigation
leads him to weird locations and bizarre conclusions. I don't know about
other viewers but for me, it was very obvious he was in some distorted
nightmare. And as such it was frustrating waiting a whole 90 minutes for
the lead character to cotton on.
I think if the film wasn't marketed as a Hellraiser
film it might not have been so obvious but because it is you're primed -
waiting for Pinhead to show up and knowing bad guys get their
comeuppance in these films - so it quickly becomes very apparent what
fate has befallen Thorne.* Also, I kind of felt like the fact that
nothing is "real" in the film gave Scott Derrickson too much licence to
just play around with some sub-David Lynch weirdness that goes nowhere
rather than tell us a narrative. Some of the weird scenes were quite
good like when Thorne keeps trying to see his elderly mother in the
hospital but other times it was just lame like the kung fu cowboy
cenobites he encounters at one point!
Craig Sheffer does a decent job with the lead role and he pretty much
has to carry the whole film on his own. I've never rated him much as an
actor but he does good work here conveying Thorne's spiralling mania. He
does both shouty and angry really well. I don't know whether it was really
necessary for him to narrate the film though but I guess they were
looking to give it a hard boiled detective feel. The rest of the cast is
pretty forgettable with the noted exception of James Remar who does a
great cameo as Thorne's psychologist.
Script aside Derrickson does an... interesting job with the direction.
It's a dramatic change in colour palette for the series which has always
been rich and gothic. Here it's very high contrast and washed-out at
times resembling a 90s music video. I guess I kind of liked that they
tried something new with this film but overall it just didn't work for
me. Like I said earlier twist endings usually make or break a film and
in this case it broke it.
* Another thing that spoils the Engineer's identity for anyone who
has read Barker's original book 'The Hellbound Heart' - is that the lead
Cenobite was called The Engineer in that too!
Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker (2002)
Two years later Dimension released another DTV sequel which was the first of three Hellraiser
sequels directed Rick Bota. On the one hand I was quite interested in
watching this because it marked the return of Ashley's Lawrence's Kirsty
Cotton to the franchise and I thought getting her and Doug Bradley back
together might recapture some of greatness of the first film.
Unfortunately, it didn't and Lawrence's role is actually very, very
brief. I can't find the interview but somewhere Lawrence wrote that she
managed to buy a new refrigerator with the money she got for her 5
minutes of screen time in this film!
sees Kirsty and Trevor (Dean Winters), her new fiancee, driving through
the countryside when they swerve to avoid another car and crash into a
river. Though Trevor manages to escape, Kirsty gets stuck in the car and
presumably drowns. Trevor immediately calls the police and they dredge
the river but they find no sign of Kirsty's body anywhere. At the same
time Trevor begins getting huge holes in his memory and struggles to
remember anything of his relationship with Kirsty. The police, of
course, suspect Trevor of murdering Kirsty but without a body they are
forced to let him go. Meanwhile, Trevor starts to have creepy
hallucinations and weird things happen to him like throwing up a eel.
Before long Trevor remembers that at some point he purchased the puzzle
box but what exactly did he plan to do with it? And where has Kirsty
Spoiling time again, I'm afraid. Okay, so it was pretty frustrating that
the makers did a 'bait and switch' with Ashley Lawrence in this film
but I can live with that. She's not that
integral to the series. I'm even willing to go along with the ludicrous
character change they give her. What's really frustrating with Hellseeker is that it's got another lame twist ending and worst of all it's almost exactly the same as Inferno's.
Once again, everything that happened in the film wasn't "real", it was
all Trevor's dying thoughts! What actually happened was Kirsty
deliberately crashed the car and she was the one who survived not
Trevor. She did it on purpose because he was trying to bump her off to
claim her inheritance. He wanted to use the puzzle box to kill her but
Kirsty made a deal with Pinhead to spare her soul in return for Trevor's
soul and four other people who he was connected with (such as a
colleague he was cheating on her with).
Despite the fact I should hate this more than Inferno
I... didn't. I can't really explain it but I guess I was swayed by
Lawrence's brief reappearance (still looking hot) and the fact that Dean
Winters did a marginally better job than Sheffer in the lead. Once
again, the whole film really rests on the lead character's shoulders but
unlike Thorne, Trevor isn't a conflicted character - because he'd lost
his memory he couldn't remember doing evil things - which made him a
more interesting character to follow. Also there wasn't some empty 'red
herring' detective plot to get frustrated about. I guess I also
preferred this to the previous film because my expectations were at an
all time low.
Rick Bota's direction was okay. Certainly nothing spectacular. It was
far more subdued and less stylised than the previous film, which I
actually liked. That said Hellseeker's
look was pretty interchangeable from all the other horror films they
make on the cheap in Eastern Europe. The only thing that annoyed me was
some horribly cheap CGI in a couple of scenes. Doug Bradley gets some
better dialogue than the previous film and at least he didn't assume the
form of any human characters - which kind of annoyed me in the last
film. Once again though he's used for literally 5 minutes in
total which feels kind of stingy.
Overall, Hellseeker is very, very marginally better than Inferno
but lets face it both are pretty dire movies that will have you looking
at your watch every five seconds to see how much more "hell" you
have to experience. I think Dimension really missed the boat with this
one. They could have made a cool reunion movie by bringing back Kirsty
but they blew it by rolling out another 'hatchet job'. Surely this is
the lowest that the series can go?
NEXT TIME: Pinhead goes Meta and we reach the end of the line for this franchise.