The Hellraiser Saga
I did this to myself. Only I am to blame.
This review started off simply enough. While researching for my review of the original Hellraiser a few weeks ago, I noticed something: there were more sequels than I knew about. While I’d seen Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth once upon a time, and while I was vaguely aware of the fourth film in the franchise, Hellraiser: Bloodline, IMDB told me there were more. Nine movies all told.
And I watched them.
I didn’t enjoy watching them. I loudly complained to anyone who would listen about how bad they were. My wife told me more than once to stop watching them. Yet I kept going, like a character in a Hellraiser movie who voluntarily opens the Box and is ripped apart by chains.
Apt metaphor, that.
This review was initially going to be in two parts. Part 1 would feature the Hellraiser sequels that didn’t suck, while Part II would be all about the sequels that did suck. Unfortunately, the ratio of good sequels to bad sequels isn’t that equal. So I decided to combine them into the mother-of-all Way Too Late Reviews. While I usually write these reviews with a persuasive intent in mind, to get people to watch good older movies, sometimes the opposite is also true: I write reviews about bad movies to keep people away. For the most part, this is one of those reviews. You may have never thought about watching a Hellraiser sequel, and that’s a good thing. You shouldn’t. Because for the most part, they are awful. How awful? Read on…
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
The plot: Kirsty gets sent to a psych ward after the death of her father and stepmother, which makes sense given how they died. The head of the psych ward takes a special interest in the Box, resurrecting Julia and the Cenobites. Once she’s transported to Hell, Kirsty finds out that the Cenobites aren’t done with her yet.
Actors who got suckered into making it: Most of the original cast, including Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, and Sean Chapman.
The good: The only Hellraiser sequel worth watching, thanks to its in-movie logic continuity and interesting depictions of Hell.
The bad: The creation of the Doctor Cenobite sets a dangerous precedent for the rest of the sequels to follow. And while she doesn’t have that many lines, I’m a little disappointed they recast the Female Cenobite.
The sad: 8 sequels and only 1 of them is any good? That’s horrible odds, even for a horror franchise.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
The plot: Trapped inside a giant statue at the end of Hellhound, Pinhead coerces J.P. Monroe into freeing him from his prison. Once freed, Pinhead makes new Cenobites, bringing Hell to Earth. Only intrepid reporter Joey Summerskill stands in his way.
Actors who got suckered into making it: Pre-Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Terry Farrell.
The good: At this point I’m only watching the movies for Doug Bradley, whose Pinhead manages to be terrifying even while immobile. Terry Farrell also does her best with what she’s given (a recurring theme among the sequels). Her Joey is the last protagonist in the franchise I will feel any connection to.
The bad: This film is very 90s. Like way 90s. One of the new Cenobites kills people by flinging deadly CDs at them. That’s how 90s this movie is.
The sad: Pinhead’s abilities start to get a little muddled as the writers abandon previous continuity in favor of upping the gore. While the end of Hellbound seemed to show all the Cenobites getting trapped in the statue, only Pinhead comes back to life here. This means no Female Cenobite, no Chatterbox, and no Butterball. In a movie rife with issues it’s a small thing, but the new Cenobites are one-off sad echoes of Pinhead’s former allies.
The plot: It’s a Hellraiser anthology, as the writers try to shoehorn three stories into one movie, loosely centered around Le Marchand, creator of the Box. Le Marchand deals with devil worshippers in Revolution-era France, his ancestor battles Pinhead in present-day, and in the future story It’s Pinhead in Space. (I’m pretty sure the future scenes were the inspiration for both Machete Kills Again In Space and Jason X.)
Actors who got suckered into making it: Boy Meets World and Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott. Also, Doug Bradley should have jumped ship after Hell on Earth. His continued involvement with the series only gave credibility to crap.
The good: Pinhead has one good speech. One.
The bad: Pinhead’s one good speech isn’t until an hour into the movie. Also notice the lack of a number in the title, a somewhat reliable sign the franchise is starting to lose sight of its original purpose.
The sad: That 90s space CGI is just awful. I also feel bad for the director, who took his name off the project over creative differences with the studio. (The film is credited to Alan Smithee.)
The plot: Joseph Thorne is a shady cop the likes of which only Hollywood could imagine. When he finds the Box, all hell breaks loose.
Actors who got suckered into making it: Journeyman actor James Remar. To his credit, Inferno was one of Remar’s 6 acting credits from 2000.
The good: Doug Bradley makes the most of his limited screen time, which was about 6 minutes all told.
The bad: This movie has no redeeming qualities. None. The acting is laughable, the plot has nothing to do with either previous Hellraiser movies or the Cenobites themselves, and there’s literally 10 more characters than there needs to be. This movie could have starred 3 people and a) I would have cared about the characters more and b) Craft Services could have saved tons of money on catering.
There’s a creative team changing of the guard between Bloodline and Inferno, and it’s not good for the franchise. Inferno is the first of three sequels where production is run by Neo Art & Logic, who took existing horror scripts, shoehorned in Pinhead, added a final scene of a guy getting ripped apart by chains and called it a Hellraiser movie. This slapdash approach to existing franchises seems to be Neo Art & Logic’s stock in trade (check out their IMDB page for a list of direct-to-video sequels that have little to do with the original movies) and the films suffer for it.
The sad: This is the Halloween III: Season of the Witch of Hellraiser movies: only tangentially related to the source material. It also makes my own personal list of one of the worst movies ever, coming in at number 9 and replacing my previous number 9, Star Wars Episode II. As shitty as the Hellraiser sequels have been, I’m surprised it took me this long to list one.
The plot: After the death of his wife from a car crash, Trevor starts having strange hallucinations. What’s more, the police can’t find his wife’s body, and Trevor is implicated in her murder.
Actors who got suckered into making it: Ashley Laurence, reprising her role from the first three films at Kirsty Cotton. Trevor is played by Dean Winters, who I can’t see as anyone other than 30 Rock’s Dennis Duffy anymore.
The good: Laurence makes the most of her screen time, which unfortunately is about five minutes.
The bad: The script is a jumbled mess, and the Machinist-style of telling the story out of order doesn’t help the audience.
The sad: This could have been a good film. Of all the sequels, Hellseeker comes the closest to Barker’s original vision. This is because Neo Art & Logic brought Barker in for some uncredited consulting work to the third act. Any redeeming qualities the film has is because of Barker’s and Laurence’s involvement.
Except the scriptwriters chose the wrong protagonist. The story should have been about Kirsty, only its not. It’s about her philandering husband. Guess what? I don’t care about her philandering husband. From Bloodline onward the writers have given me sleazy protagonist after sleazy protagonist, none of whom I gave two shits about. Even Hell on Earth was more about sleazy club owner J.P. Monroe than the scrappy heroine Joey Summerskill. Hellraiser worked because it gave me a strong heroine to root for, who was fighting both the sleazy protagonist and the Cenobites. If Hellseeker had told the story from Kirsty’s point of view, rather than Trevor’s, it could have invigorated the franchise. As it is, Ashley Laurence and Doug Bradley feel like bit players in their own story.
The plot: Amy Klein is an investigative reporter for a small London newspaper. She’s sent to Romania to look into the Deaders, a cult that can reportedly bring people back to life.
Actors who got suckered into making it: At this point, the Hellraiser movies are populated with folks who don’t have beefy IMDB profiles. Biggest name is Sliders actress Kari Wuher.
The good: Amy Klein is the first protagonist since Joey Summerskill in Hell on Earth that I’ve cared about.
The bad: Oh goodie: another spec script that’s been retrofitted as a Hellraiser movie. None of the past four sequels have had anything resembling logical continuity. It’s as if Neo Art & Logic liked Highlander II: The Quickening so much they decided to make it over and over again.
The sad: Take Pinhead out and eliminate all mentions of the Box and Deader is a nice little horror flick. The movie studio’s attempt to drum up enthusiasm based on the Hellraiser name backfires here, as the half-assed mythology shoehorning just makes the film suffer.
The plot: A group of youths get invited to a Hellworld party, celebrating the hottest MMORPG on the internet. Once they arrive they’re slowly picked off one by one by a series of increasingly sexy and gore events.
Actors who got suckered into making it: Lance Hendrickson and Henry Cavill. Wait…what?
The good: Nothing. While Hellworld is not as awful as Inferno, there is not a single redeeming quality to this film.
The bad: Hellworld is bullshit. First, with its trying-too-hard internet plot and characters taken right from the tropes of Cabin in the Woods, it looks like it was written by a group of writers who made only a cursory effort. Neo Art & Logic strikes again. Second, for as little as Pinhead has been featured over the previous films, here he’s barely a presence. Until the last two minutes of the movie he’s a hallucination; the killings being perpetrated by the Host (Hendrickson). (I should have said SPOILER ALERT, but let’s face it: there is a 0% chance any of you reading this are going to watch Hellworld.) From the gothic title font to the Virgin who lives at the end of the movie, Hellworld is 95 minutes of cliches.
The sad: Good horror movies about video games exist: Stay Alive with Frankie Muniz is one of them. But they’re hard to do well. And Hellworld isn’t done well. This was also the last Hellraiser movie to feature Doug Bradley, which at this point feels like a mercy to Bradley’s career.
The plot: Privileged white kids hate their privilege. So they run away to Tijuana, only to commit more privilege. Then, everyone dies. Seriously, I’m out.
Actors who got suckered into making it: By this time, the filmmakers can’t even get Doug Bradley to reprise his role as Pinhead. Stephan Collins fills in. And really, everyone who agreed to star in this trash got suckered, as Revelations will do nothing for their respective careers.
The good: Thanks to Revelations, I learned a new term today: “ashcan copy,” describing a work produced solely meant to retain copyright. Revelations is such an ashcan copy, produced over a matter of weeks just do Dimension Films could retain their copyright to the franchise. Given the lack of respect and attention they’ve paid it over the past 20 years, I’m surprised they bothered.
The bad: I’ll say one thing for Neo Art & Logic: they sure excel at writing unlikable characters. I don’t care for these spoiled rich kids at all.
The sad: So Dimension Films keeps the rights and can make more Hellraiser movies. Great.
Watching all nine films in the Hellraiser series is its own kind of suffering. While the first movie rightfully earned its place as a horror classic, its sequels were nothing more than cash grabs. Clive Barker’s ideas and concepts are given no respect as filmmakers retrofit any old script with a Box and a Cenobite and call it a Hellraiser movie. Such is the Hellraiser legacy: one decent sequel (Hellbound) one sequel that was promising but fell short (Hellseeker) and 7 films that were utter garbage.
Doubt I’ll watch the eventual reboot. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 7 times, people are starting to question my sanity.
Quick summary: The Hellraiser saga takes a great original movie and shits all over it every few years until the original star stops showing up and cashing the checks.
Too many cooks? The first movie had one producer and one writer/director (Barker). The subsequent 8 sequels have 9 different producers, 7 different writers and 6 different directors.
Verdict: Given the choice to watch each Hellraiser sequel once or watch Highlander 2: The Quickening 8 times, I’m gonna go with Christopher Lambert.
Related Reading: From The AV Club: Watching all 9 Hellraiser movies is an exercise in masochism