And now we arrive at the final Hellraiser sequel, or the last one to star Doug Bradley as Pinhead anyways, so it may as well be a good a place as any to stop. Hellworld is the eighth, and silliest iteration of this story, a script that tries to properly usher the franchise into the cyber age with a sort of meta narrative that turns the Hellraiser characters and movies into an online game that college kids get hooked on. So with this one the movies exist, like this takes place outside the canon in a way, like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare took Freddy Krueger out of his own fictional narrative and placed him in the real world, except that it’s far less effective and properly utilized of a concept in this franchise. The main reason this one doesn’t fall into thorough mediocrity is Lance Henriksen, it doesn’t matter how shitty your sequel, threequel or eight-quel is in any given series, you cast him and immediately there’s a level of pedigree by default alone. He plays a mysterious rich dude who hosts a party at his remote, spooky mansion where players of the once popular online RPG game Hellworld can live out their gaming fantasies one more time. Of course, Pinhead and his buddies break the fabric of time, space and fiction to make their night a literal world of hell, facilitated by Henriksen’s treacherous collector/socialite. It’s a fun enough time, the actors who plays the teens are a silly bunch, but it was neat to see a very young Henry Cavill in their bunch. Decent kills too. One thing I did appreciate is that Henriksen’s character could have easily just been like, a nondescript cyber host type archetype or temporary avatar for Pinhead, as they sometimes do in these films. He’s a very real human character himself with his own fascinating arc and that at least gives the film some narrative fibre, as does his solid, creepy performance. Not the best, but also not the worst in this canon.
After the dreary disappointment that was Hellseeker, I’m excited to report that Hellraiser 7: Deader is a wonderful, wicked return to form and one of the strongest sequels in the canon so far, trying some bold new ideas on for size and going to some shockingly depraved new places in the universe. This one shifts the action over to the UK where an American journalist (Kari Wuhrur) is sent by her boss (Simon Kunz, the adorable butler from The Parent Trap) over to Romania to investigate a mysterious cult called the ‘Deaders’, who are rumoured to have certain abilities that transcend the boundaries between life and death, our world and others beyond. Not much sooner after stepping off the plane she starts getting into trouble after she’s led by chance to the evil puzzle box, whereupon Pinhead and his gang show up and she has to juggle them plus the dodgy cult leader who is out to get her too. This one has a neat spin, I liked the cult angle as it ties in succinctly to the Cenobite mythology and feels organically developed. This is the most fucked up of the sequels too, because of one sequence involving a rogue subway train that barrels through the Bucharest underground system, with newspapers plastering its windows. At one point she has to get on it to gain information from a sort of darkweb contact, and let me tell you the kind of bizarre, hedonistic, vomit inducing euro-trash rave taboo horrifying WTF shenanigans going on inside this thing aren’t images I’ll soon forget, and careful watching that sequence because it’s among the most disquieting things I’ve ever seen in a film and may cause the more sensitive viewers to get upset. That’s a testament to the film’s effectiveness though because so few horror sequels are able to successfully push the envelope beyond what the first film established and be scary in new, innovative ways, but this baby pulls it off spectacularly. I’ve always loved Kari Wuhrur, she’s in a lot of edgy, cult horror type stuff, is gorgeous and super charismatic with an angelic tomboy presence that I vibe with whenever she shows up, she’s great here. This is the strongest Hellraiser film since Bloodline (the fourth) and one that gets positively shocking, down n’ dirty and reworks the motifs for something fresh, unsettling and dark as fuck. Solid stuff.
I recently binge watched all the Hellraiser sequels and man, they are one wild ride. One of my favourites is the fourth one, titled Bloodline, that traces a family lineage from French silly wig times where a toymaker first crafts the evil puzzle box for a dark magician, who initially conjures up Pinhead and his homies. The film traces this genesis into the 90’s art-world scene in a big city where the cube has been embedded into the architectural foundation of a skyscraper where it causes havoc, and then yet another timeline far, far into the future where a scientist on a massive deep space station experiments on the box, trying to put a stop to Pinhead and close the hellish portal for good. It’s an ambitious, wildly entertaining, boundlessly imaginative sequel that covers thousands of years and many characters including a sultry demon princess (Valentina Vargas) who is first summoned in French silly wig era by a very young Adam Scott, who wishes he never met her. She’s terrific and adds a sort of supernatural femme fatale aesthetic to the mythos. Doug Bradley is off the chain here and this is by far my favourite of his Pinhead turns in any of the films. He gets a whopping amount of screen time (often not the case in these sequels) and is a terrifying, antagonistic asshole who feels like an actual tangible threat here instead of his sometimes illusory, half-there half-not theatrical presence. I appreciate such ambition in horror sequels, where the same retread or motifs aren’t just tiredly recycled through new characters and settings, but actual innovation is employed and new lore is pioneered into the canon. The outer space stuff is a fucking blast, as the team of mercenaries played by recognizable faces (Christine Harnos & Pat Skipper are awesome) race against time to find the scientist before all hell breaks loose where no one can hear you scream. The finale is a jaw dropper and one of the most creative moments in the entire franchise as the space station becomes… something more, it’s a slow-clap moment of adrenaline pumping sound and fury and, in a way, the final narrative beat of the entire Hellraiser legacy, despite the fact that there are many more films to come. I would say this is tied with the second film, Hellbound, as my favourite in the series, it’s so well structured, gory as ever, creatively inspired and just so much fun. Oh yeah and there’s a Cenobite dog, too! So badass.
So what can be said about Hellbound: Hellraiser II.. well for starters it’s so fucking off the map crazy that it makes the first film look like a modest teaser trailer. It’s like they gathered up the entire collective special effects team employed by Hollywood in the 80’s, turned them upside down to see what shook loose and the result was this bonkers, smor-gore-sbord of a flick.
In the first film the Cenobites and all manner of pandemonium they brought with them were largely limited to the confines of one very haunted house, where they tormented the humans within. This time we follow what’s left of these people, namely Kirsty (Ashley Lawrence) as she ventures into the hellish realm that these things come from and… well it’s quite a wild ride. After finding herself in an asylum run by a mad doctor (Kenneth Cranham) who gets a little too curious with that ol’ Rubik’s cube, she gets sucked into a portal and spit out onto a vast labyrinthine plane of pure evil, and that’s pretty much all there is for story. Oh and some neato backstory elements to the Cenobites that show they weren’t always supernatural dominatrix freaks, I liked that touch.
Honestly I preferred this over the first one simply for the level of ambition and sheer lunacy thrown at it and it’s ability to (mostly) hold up a coherent story throughout the din. Setting the story within the dimension of hell itself allows for so many more effects, cues, scares and opens up the tableaux much wider. Also, this picks up pretty much right where the first left off and as such we’re plopped down right in the mayhem whereas the first took some time and held back while lore was established. Sound, fury, gore and momentum propel this onto a level that is impressive even in the land of bonkers 80’s horror sequels. The loony surgeon whose fault the horrors are this time around gets a grisly Pokémon type evolution that has to be seen to be believed, not to mention a metropolis of stone catacombs where anything can happen, a Cenobite vs Cenobite Mortal Kombat death match and some weird sentient floating monolith thing that hovers over the land and looks down like Sauron’s eye. That isn’t even to mention the hundreds of gallons of blood, guts, pus, fake tissue, gristle and glorious glistening body horror on display. A true step up from the first and one hell of a twisted flick.
“Jesus wept!” exclaims a character in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser before being ripped to shreds. No kidding, and I bet David Cronenberg did too. Explaining the plot of rgis film to someone who hasn’t seen it can be vague and pretty bizarre. “Magic evil Rubik’s cube has the power to summon mutilated, sadomasochist beings from hell who inflict both pain and pleasure by maiming, mauling, dismembering and otherwise dispatching those who called for them in the most inventively graphic ways possible.” Well it is that, but you kind of have to watch it all unfold yourself to see how cool it actually is or it just sounds weird.
Many horror films start by showing a family moving into a house that has a dubious past and so does this but where it goes from there will floor you. Andrew Robinson (cast against type here as a meek dude) is a chatty yuppie who moves his new wife (Claire Higgins) into a family inherited home for some relaxation. Never mind that there’s maggots and decrepitude everywhere, the real danger is the lingering ghost of his reckless alpha male brother Frank (Sean Chapman in a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke which I would have paid big money to see) who got too curious with aforementioned Rubik’s cube and started all kind of trouble. Before too long his half dead corpse is resurrected, Robinson’s young daughter (Ashley Lawrence) becomes involved as do the inter-dimensional Cenobites and yes, all kinds of hell is raised.
It’s cool to see the impact that one film can have on so much in culture after it, the ultra gory practical effects, kinky costume design and overall distinct vibe here has obviously gone on to influence everything from Jacob’s Ladder, Event Horizon, Beetlejuice to countless video games and graphic novels. Pinhead is now an iconic character to the point where people know him before they do the film but back here he wasn’t even called Pinhead, credited simply as ‘Lead Cenobite.’ Every infamous legacy has its beginnings though and this is quite an arresting, gruesome, atmospheric and deliberately weird piece of cosmic horror. The performances are all sensual 80’s melodrama which just somehow works, the score is a bombastic orchestral overture courtesy of Christopher Young but it’s really the special effects that win the day here. Whether it’s a corpse crawling across the floor with no skin, razor sharp meat hooks ripping though flesh, living room walls opening up into other worlds or the startling, otherworldly design of the Cenobites themselves, this is one visually gorgeous piece of horror and looks even better on Blu Ray.
Hellraiser: Inferno marks the first juncture in the franchise where ideas deviated beyond the formula set in place by the first borderline surreal, masochist piece.
Gone is the dreamy, sordid aesthetic used back then, the Cenobites who were front and centre are reduced to limited appearances and the story is less otherworldly and something decidedly more noirish and down to earth. Whether that’s accepted by franchise die-hards and horror hounds alike is subjective, but I didn’t mind it’s slow burn approach or sidewinding tone. Craig Sheffer, the closest thing you’ll get to Josh Brolin without breaking the bank, plays a crooked Detective who finds himself dragged down a rabbit hole of creepy, murderous goings-on when he’s assigned to hunt a serial killer known as ‘The Engineer’. Of course the murders always seem one step ahead of his grasp, and naturally dark secrets from his sketchy past are brought to light as he gradually begins to lose his mind. Doug Bradley does eventually return as the iconic Pinhead, with a few members of the Cenobite posse, but their presence is kept mostly on the back burner for quite a while. Taking antagonist duties for a while instead is Sheffer’s eerie psychiatrist, played with sinister charm and knowing charisma by James Remar, a dubious fellow with a few tricks up his own sleeve. This is the one entry that sticks out from the franchise in it’s diversion from the usual path of distinct, abstract psychosexual horror and mutes the whole icy nightmare down to rebuild a story in it’s own image. You’ll either appreciate the initiative, or you’ll miss the good ol’ freakshow of the original film. Up to you.