Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Examining The Hellraiser Sequels (Parts 4-8)

by: Chris Ward
   1987's 'Hellraiser' was a breath of fresh air for the horror genre. Confounding genre traditions and trappings, Clive Barker's vision of Hell as a domain where tortures are dished out by the Cenobites - 'demons to some, angels to others' and led by Pinhead (Doug Bradley) - and pleasure and pain blur into one was a stark contrast to the endless teenage stalk-and-slash movies that were dominating the market.'Hellbound: Hellraiser II' followed shortly after and bucked the trend of sequels by actually being pretty good. Less consistent than it's predecessor, it was nevertheless a decent stab at continuing the story and expanding on what had been established without compromising the original.

After some delays 'Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth' appeared in 1992, and this is where things started to change. Written by Peter Atkins and directed by Anthony Hickox, Barker's involvement was minimal, although he was consulted by Hickox behind the studio's back. When they saw what Barker had added they okayed it, but Pinhead was now a wisecracking, mass murderer in the same vein as Freddy Krueger. Exactly the opposite of what the appeal was in the first place.Now a watered-down villain for the MTV generation, Pinhead next appeared in 1996's 'Hellraiser: Bloodline'. An attempt to explain the origins of the puzzle box that summons Pinhead from his domain, '...Bloodline' is actually a bit of a mess. Initially directed by Kevin Yagher, the movie's producers wanted Pinhead to feature more. When Yagher refused to agree to the changes he disowned the movie. Joe Chapelle was then brought in to finish off and re-shoot some scenes, and then the movie had to be credited to Alan Smithee, a pseudonym used by filmmakers when a director has disowned his or her movie. To be honest, considering the troubled genesis of the movie, it isn't that bad.

It starts in the 22nd century (stay with me!) on board a space craft where a descendant of the original box maker is trying to close the gateway to Hell by the use of a new puzzle box. Telling his story to a soldier who has arrested him, we learn how the box was first made in the 18th century by a French toymaker called Lemarchand, who was commissioned by a noble aristocrat with an interest in the dark arts. The aristocrat creates a beautiful being called Angelique by sacrificing a peasant girl to the demon's in the box, who begins to wreak havoc by killing everyone she comes across. We then cut to the modern day, where the next unfortunate ancestor, John Merchant, doesn't just come face to face with Angelique but also Pinhead, who decides that more people should be killed. Then it's back to the 22nd century where Dr. Merchant must now close the gateway to Hell and banish Pinhead forever.
Due to the amount of edits and cuts, the movie is quite difficult to follow, and the acting is pretty poor. That said, the effects are good and it was certainly an improvement on part three, and it gave the story some sort of origin and closure. Usually when a franchise resorts to being set in space it means the ideas have run out, and had the series stopped there, any negatives could have been forgiven. But no; some bright spark at Dimension thought it would be a good idea to give the go ahead for a fifth installment.

Released in 2000, 'Hellraiser: Inferno' changed direction again and this time offered up a psychological thriller in the vein of a 1940's detective film noir. In fact, Pinhead doesn't come into it until the end, and when he does he serves no purpose other than to explain to the main character what has been happening. Briefly, the plot (or what there is of one) revolves around Joseph Thorne (Craig Sheffer), a corrupt detective who is investigating a series of murders apparently committed by somebody called The Engineer. Thorne discovers the Lament Configuration box and solves it, after which he starts seeing Cenobites. He captures The Engineer, who is a Cenobite, committing a murder on tape, but unfortunately nobody else can see it. During all this, Pinhead pops up and tells Thorne that he can still change his corrupt ways - a bit like Marley's ghost in 'A Christmas Carol'

Obviously this movie didn't start out as a 'Hellraiser' movie, and had it been left as a detective-learning-the-error-of-his-ways story it could have been okay. But shoving in Pinhead, some comedy lesbian cenobites (who seem strangely attractive?!!!) and the puzzle box doesn't make this credible in any way, shape or form. Clive Barker's influence is all but gone, Doug Bradley battles against rubbish make-up and a hammy script and comes across as desperate and, ironically, interest is lost when all the weird stuff starts happening. Overall, a half-decent detective thriller turns into a rubbish 'Hellraiser' movie and is best avoided.

But - and there is a but - even this movie seemed interesting next to the abomination that came next. 'Hellraiser: Hellseeker' came out in 2002 and wowed audiences with it's clever, twisting plot, state-of-the-art special effects and top-notch acting, earning the movie a place in many top ten charts around the world...okay, it didn't really. Directed by cinematographer Rick Bota, the obvious selling point of the movie was that Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence), the heroine from parts one and two, was returning to do battle with Pinhead once again. Sounds good on paper, doesn't it? What really happens is Kirsty and her husband Trevor crash their car into a river. Trevor gets out but Kirsty is nowhere to be found. Seemingly indifferent to his wife's fate, Trevor starts to have visions and everyone around him starts dying. Eventually, he runs into Pinhead and told he's a naughty boy. Kirsty then appears and has a chat with Pinhead. They agree that Trevor's a naughty boy and then we flash back to the beginning where the two are in the car, and a different scenario unfolds.

There is one redeeming feature; due to Bota's previous experience, there is some nice photography and his use of lighting is good, but that's about it. Like the previous movie, you have to question why somebody thought inserting Pinhead in just so you can market it as a 'Hellraiser' picture was a good idea. And what's the obsession with dream sequences and flashbacks? By now, there's a familiar structure in place. We have a villainous main character who has visions of Cenobites and people dying, and several flashbacks later comes face to face with Pinhead and is told 'This is what you could have won!'. Complete drivel and the worst of the series.

'Hellraiser: Deader' appeared three years later, and although still awful, was a bit of an improvement due to it's story being an interesting concept. Reporter Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer) is dispatched to Romania to investigate a cult who call themselves Deaders. Their leader, Winter (Paul Rhys) makes the wannabe disciples kill themselves and then brings them back to life through mouth to mouth contact. Amy gets her hands on the Lament Configuration box by taking it from the hands of the corpse of Marla and seems to get pulled into it, where she first sees Pinhead. After a series of events, Amy finds herself being influenced by Winter and in the position of being very close to death. The Cenobites then appear and kill Winter, but before they can claim Amy she kills herself.

It's an interesting concept, and in the hands of a more experienced genre director it could have been great. As it is, Rick Bota has once again given us a good-looking but ultimately bland movie that probably would have worked better as a short film. Again, it doesn't seem to have been a 'Hellraiser' movie from the very beginning and there are some ideas that could have been explored more - Winter alludes to the fact that he is part of Lemarchand's bloodline, but this is never followed up ---overall, a wasted opportunity to garner a bit more credibility to an ailing franchise. Although, once again this didn't stop the decision makers at Dimension
releasing another…Filmed back-to-back with '...Deader',

'Hellraiser: Hellworld' is a fairly contrived attempt to cash-in on the 'Scream'-style self-awareness of recent horror movies. A group of teenagers have been playing a 'Hellraiser' based game called Hellworld on the internet and have managed to solve an online version of the Lament Configuration box. In doing so they have won invites to a 'Hellraiser' themed party at a creepy mansion. The host of the party, played by cult favourite Lance Henriksen, informs them that the house they are in was a convent built by Lemarchand, and then proceeds to give them mobile phones to communicate with each other. As the party goes on, the group find themselves separated in different parts of the house and falling prey to Pinhead or the host. I shan't spoil the ever-so-clever twist (!) but needless to say, there are scene shifts, visions, etc. Oh stuff it, I will spoil it.

It all turns out it was all a drug-induced hallucination, provided by the host, as he is the father of one of the group's friends who died after getting addicted to Hellworld. For some reason, he thought that giving his son's friends drug, burying them in coffins and feeding them suggestions would be some sort of revenge. Anyway, Pinhead does his usual five minute appearance, there's some gratuitous nudity and the final scene when the host eventually meets Pinhead is classic 'Hellraiser'. Very much a teen horror movie, the original flair and intelligence of the first two movies was long gone, and although Lance Henriksen gives his usual intense performance, it's not enough to save this once-great franchise from disappearing up its own self-inflicted asshole.

With a remake of the original in the pipeline, with Clive Barker back on board (cue applause), 'Hellraiser' may rise once again to terrify audiences. Going back to Barker's original book - 'The Hellbound Heart' - there is plenty of scope to retell the original story in a different way, and there's the possibility to take it off in all sorts of directions. Unfortunately, vision often gets pushed aside in favour of dollars, and to do so in this case would be the ultimate betrayal of probably the most original idea in horror movies for the last twenty five years. So this goes out to whoever is in charge - for the sake of the fans, please don't muck it up this time.


Edgar said...

I pretty much only watched the 1st Hellraiser great post though... covered a lot thanks for posting.

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