The next two reviews of mine are going to be on the longer side since I’m going to be reviewing the Hellraiser series in bulk, you could say. There are nine films in this series with four of them getting theatrical releases, and the rest being direct to video and DVD releases. This is also a perfect example of the studio system making a mess of a story with so much potential and relevance and turning it into a load of derivative drivel. What better place to start than with the original 1987 film, Hellraiser.
When an antique puzzle box is stumbled upon by a scumbag, Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman), a portal to hell is opened releasing the masters of pain and pleasure, the Cenobites, to bring you into a world of torture and suffering that has never been experienced before. When Frank’s extended family move into the house that was used as the portal, Frank is brought back to life. Now relying on his former lover and wife to his brother, Julia (Clare Higgens) to bring back humans for feast on an regenerate, his niece Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) once agains opens the puzzle box. The Cenobites want her, but after learning her uncle’s secret, Kirsty is prepared to make a deal with the Lead Cenobite (Doug Bradley).
This is a unique horror movie that blends psychosexuality, gore, and pure terror into a narrative filled with its own interesting mythology. The first time we see the Cenobites pulls us into the story in one of the best prologues to a film I have ever seen and when we hear more and more about them, the interest grows and gets the viewer excited for the sequel, but we’re not there yet.
I really don’t have any complaints about this movie other than the acting at times. Doug Bradley and Clare Higgens knock their roles out of the park, but the rest of the cast is less than stellar. One other noteworthy performance is Oliver Smith, who plays Frank when he comes back to life and is nothing but muscle and bone. Everything else is excellent and has marked Clive Barker as one of the masters of the horror genre whose name should be synonymous with Wes Craven and John Carpenter.
In 1988, a sequel was released. This was Hellbound: Hellraiser II.
Soon after the events of the first film, Kirsty wakes up in the Channard Mental Institute led by the mysterious Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham). Unbeknownst to everyone, Channard has a strange obsession with the puzzle box called the Lament Configuration, which was used to summon the Cenobites before. He soon opens the portal to hell allowing himself, a resurrected Julia, Kirsty, and patient Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) to enter the twisted underworld of ultimate pain and ultimate pleasure.
While Clive Barker still acts as a producer for this film, it is a lot different than its predecessor. First off, one can’t help but notice the implementation of a bigger budget. Stepping into hell does cost money after all, but I can’t help but miss the impressive simplicity of the original Hellraiser. The audience is still treated to more pools of blood and gallons of gore, which is always great.
In many sense, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is a step up from the first, but in other ways it isn’t quite the same experience as the first. It gets bogged down in special effects and I don’t really get the feeling of a strong cohesive story, rather it seems more episodic. Still this is a worthy entry into this series, and certainly better than the train wreck of a movie that is Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.
After the events of the second film, “Pinhead” (Doug Bradley) finds himself trapped in the Pillar of Souls with his only escape being to absorb the souls of others. Enter reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell), who is tracking the activities of the Lament Configuration. Once enough souls have been collected, Pinhead is released and begins to wreak havoc on earth, recruiting other cenobites in the process.
This is the worst movie of the series. It is truly a disaster in every respect. First of all, the acting is beyond awful, causing me to laugh at the most inappropriate of times. Second of all, Pinhead acts like Carrie when he gets out, just killing everyone in the room. This is very out of character, and doesn’t work at all. Finally, the movie turns into a joke in the third act. The cenobites are a bunch of wise cracking assholes with what seem like super powers. What happened to the chains? I guess it just wasn’t cool enough. This is the movie where Pinhead gets his name, and Clive Barker has come out and said he hates the nickname.
This is an immature excuse for a horror movie that doesn’t hold a candle to the previous films, or even most of the other films in the series. It’s a chore to watch, and it’s unfortunate that to understand everything in the next installment, you need to see this one. Luckily, redemption can be found in Hellraiser: Bloodline.
Past, present, and future blend in Hellraiser: Bloodline. The history of the Lament Configuration is explained with its creator being a toymaker in the 18th century, and then follows this lineage to the year 1996. John Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) is the descendent of the toymaker and is targeted by the demon Angelique (Valentina Vargas) and Pinhead (Doug Bradley). Finally, in 2127 on the Space Station Minos, the final descendent has a one on one battle with Pinhead while the rest of the crew have to deal with the hellish cenobites.
This was a very enjoyable entry for me. I had a great time seeing the progression of the Lament Configuration from its beginnings to humanity’s last stand against the cenobites. This felt like a pleasant return to the Hellraiser series. Pinhead gets a much larger role, and arguably has some of the best lines (“I AM PAIN!”). The cenobites also look a lot better and certainly not the joke they were in the third.
After the first film, I think Hellraiser: Bloodline is my favorite. There’s a lot going on forcing the plot to keep moving, and the whole story in space doesn’t feel cheesy or forced. This is what the Hellraiser series is about and I strongly recommend it.
This is all of the Hellraiser films that were released in theaters. My next review will be for the direct to video and DVD films in the series, and trust me, I have a lot to say about them. Keep a look out for it.