A few weeks ago, I had a bit of a random thought – It’s been ages since I’ve seen Hellraiser. I don’t know where the thought came from (probably some strange hypnotically suggestive Pinhead fever dream), but I figured I’d check out Netflix and see if it was available to stream.
Not only is it available, but it turns out that all the Hellraiser movies ever made are available. Having only previously seen the first three films in the series, I was shocked to find out that there are, to date, nine of them. And the most recent installment was only made four years ago.
Naturally, I decided that the only logical thing for me to do would be to spend a three-day weekend watching every single Hellraiser film, in order, and report back with my findings. This made perfect sense to me at the time, although I will say that once I got to the fifth film I started to question my decision-making skills (more on this later).
It’s also worth noting that Clive Barker sold the franchise after the first movie. So while his influence pops up from time to time in subsequent sequels, the original Hellraiser is the only movie in the bunch that is 100% Barker.
I’m sure this masochistic marathon has been undertaken before elsewhere, considering there are plenty of horror fans out there who also have copious amounts of free time and a general ambivalence toward putting on pants and leaving the house. I’ve never read anyone else’s account of the experience, so much like the many, many, many poor suckers who solved the Lament Configuration, I came into this without any idea of what I was in for.
It probably goes without saying, but I’m going to talk quite a lot about plots and characters. I’m going to describe the first movie in much more detail, just to give you all a good understanding of the world and mythology we’re working with here, but I’m not going to go into much depth on the plots of subsequent films. Spoilers will likely pop up from time to time.
There will also be gory images, though if gore were not your thing I suspect you would not have read this far into a Hellraiser article. For an interesting history of how Clive Barker came to make the first Hellraiser movie, io9 has a great write-up that delves into the background from his motivations to the casting and budget and everything in between.
I’ll be rating the films on a franchise scale. This means I’ll be judging how each best meets its potential as a Hellraiser movie, rather than how it fares compared to others in the genre. While this may seem like it’s tricky to do for the first film in the series, consider that the movie can be rated by how successful it was in adapting Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart.
It also probably goes without saying that this is a long post. I thought about breaking it into separate posts for each film, but somehow putting it all together helps you see just how insane I was to watch all of this in such a short period of time. If you want the tl;dr version, just scroll to the very end of the post for my ranked list of the movies.
The film opens with a man (Frank) who has reached the limits of sexual exploration and seeks out a puzzle box that is supposed to take him beyond earthly pleasures to some other realm where pleasure and pain are merged into one. (Nice guy, that Frank.) He gets way more than he bargained for in the pain department and ends up having his body torn to pieces and soul sucked into the box world.
His brother Larry and sister-in-law Julia move into the house where he died (though they don’t know it) and after a moving mishap leaves Larry with a dripping, bloody hand he runs around the house looking for Julia to help him because he just can’t handle blood. You see, swooning Larry is the polar opposite of his macho brother Frank, who Julia is secretly pining for.
We’re treated to a delightful flashback to the day before their wedding when Frank shows up to Julia’s place in a cool leather jacket, dripping in the rain. Their meeting goes a little something like this:
Julia – “Who the hell are you?”
Frank – “I’m your future brother-in-law. Let me in your damn house.”
J – “Sorry, I was distracted by your cool leather jacket.”
F – “Yeah, it’s whatever. You got any beer?”
J – “I’m sure you get this all the time, but you want to go bone?”
F – “Maybe. Can we do it on top of your wedding dress?”
J – “Oh, of course. It’s not like I have literally an entire house full of other surfaces we could have sex on.”
So, back in the present, Larry’s wussy blood has somehow partially released Frank’s form from the torturous beyond. The thing is, he’s just sort of a slimy collection of muscles and tissue. He explains his condition to Julia, and tells her all about the Cenobites in the hell realm that he needs to get away from.
This whole mess of crazy does not seem to matter to Julia, who not only gets all cozy with him again, but agrees to bring sacrificial dudes back to the house and let Frank devour all their gooey bits until he’s back to his old self.
Julia eventually hits her murder limit, and Frank is like, no big deal babe, I can just murder-eat my brother and niece. She is surprisingly not cool with this and comes down with a sudden case of scruples. Frank tries to attack his niece Kirsty anyway, and she manages to make a getaway, taking the puzzle box with her.
Because people just can’t seem to not touch that damn box, she solves it and opens up the gateway, giving us our first glimpse of the group of Cenobites, led by the iconic Pinhead (played by the equally iconic Doug Bradley). They’re keen to torture her, but she makes a deal to deliver Frank to them if they’ll let her go.
As would be expected, horrific hijinks ensue.
My first thought on re-watching this movie was that there is a lot of blood. Just blood everywhere, frames full of pooling blood, scenes literally dripping with viscera. It’s interesting, because as graphic as modern films can be, they still somehow seem sanitized when it comes to blood and guts. A spray here or there, some overdramatic fake goo, a close-up of someone’s face contorting as they’re injured off-camera. That’s not to say that I need more blood and guts in my movie-watching life, but the magnitude of the carnage definitely affects the viewing experience.
Most of the film was also spent going, “Julia, really? I mean, come on girl.” No sex could ever possibly be so good that when you see the guy later all oozing and inside out you think, “Well, if I could just get some skin back on him this could still work.” The whole scenario is meant to highlight Frank’s twisted animal magnetism, but I have a hard time believing that any woman would choose melted skeleton Frank over every other fully intact human available in the tristate area.
They say the suit makes the man…
But then again, the film is, in its own way, a statement on addiction and morality. Julia has a depraved heart, as demonstrated by her involvement in decidedly premeditated murder. She’s not tricking the delivery driver into coming inside her death attic, she’s going to bars and actively hunting men. Julia takes what she wants, even when she’s completely grossed out by her own impulses. Larry is willfully ignorant of the fact that his wife is repulsed by him because he has his own addiction to companionship. He is the submissive to Frank’s dominant.
And then there’s Kirsty, an unlikely heroine portrayed by the fantastic Ashley Laurence. She’s not someone who horror tropes would traditionally consider an innocent, and therefore she makes a sort of unconventional final girl. She willingly opens the box, and even though she doesn’t know what she’s opening it could be argued that merely the act of opening it indicates some level of darkness in her. She is flawed, and that’s what makes her both an interesting character and an interesting conquest for Pinhead.
Kirsty’s character in the film is probably the biggest diversion from the source material. In Barker’s novella, Kirsty is not Larry’s daughter (in the book his name is Rory, but the character is the same). Rather, she is a friend who harbors romantic feelings for him. Her jealousy is what leads her to try to catch Julia in the act of adultery, which in turn is what leads her to a confrontation with Frank. This jealousy could easily help explain how she possessed the darkness necessary to open the puzzle box, whereas in the film it’s a bit ambiguous.
The rest of the Cenobites are more focused on agony than bargaining, but Pinhead sees a spark of something that fascinates him in Kirsty’s feisty spirit. He’s used to people approaching him with resigned terror, not a will to survive. In a way, Kirsty and Pinhead have active, inquiring minds in common. He does not necessarily feel an obligation to hold up his end of the bargain, but he does feel a sort of obligation to indulge his own curiosity on where that bargain will lead.
For an evil BDSM overlord with a penchant for slowly dismembering people with meat hooks, Pinhead is somehow still surprisingly human. He has his own flaws (namely hubris and a love for monologuing at inopportune moments), but also he has a fully functioning ability to reason. You don’t get this from a lot of other horror villains, especially slashers, which gives Pinhead an unusual ability – The capacity for change.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)
The opening sequence of Hellbound: Hellraiser II shows an early 20th century British military officer sitting in a bare industrial room, working out the solution to the now-familiar puzzle box. As hooks and chains pull him in to the box, the audience is shown his transformation by an unseen force into Pinhead, the head Cenobite from the first film. It’s the first glimpse we get of his origin story, and the first time it’s made clear that while he may be a demon now, he was at one point in time a regular flesh-and-blood man.
The plot then picks up shortly after the original film, with Kirsty placed in a mental institution by the police following the strange, bloody disappearance of her family and mummified corpses found in her attic. She sticks to her story of the Cenobites, begging the authorities to believe her and destroy evidence from her home with blood on it. This frustrates the police but intrigues the head of the institute, Dr. Phillip Channard, whose secret passion project is studying the history of the Lament Configuration with a desire to witness firsthand the pain-pleasure of the hell realm.
Is there a doctor in the box? (hellraiser.wikia.com)
After bribing someone to bring him the evidence that Kirsty begged the police to destroy, Dr. Channard brings back a familiar face from the dead using the same murder-eating technique seen in the original. With the help of newly resurrected Julia and the puzzle-solving skills of a mute, zoned-out patient – a young girl named Tiffany – a portal is opened to the Cenobites’ world. Kirsty and Tiffany roam the labyrinth together, trying to find and release the soul of Kirsty’s father while avoiding deadly traps.
I love how seamlessly the plot carries over from the first film to the second. It makes perfect sense for Kirsty to be institutionalized after her experiences with the Cenobites, though I think it’s a lazy plot device for her to just happen to end up in an institution run by a sadistic doctor obsessed with Pinhead’s legend. Or maybe that’s just part of the pull that the Leviathan (a weird, spinning pyramid thing that rules Hell) has over the fabric of the waking world.
It also makes perfect sense that a vision of Hell with a puzzle box for a gate key is that of a dismal maze with rooms containing personalized horrors. The place is like a mildewed nightmare from the mind of M.C. Escher‘s sinister twin. Though, considering how grotesque all of the Cenobites are, it doesn’t quite compute for me that their godlike ruler is just sort of a floating obelisk.
What makes this film so unique for me in the genre is that the primary heroines (arguably plural with both Kirsty and Tiffany stepping in at times to fill that role) and also the primary villain (Julia) are all female. They are all clever, determined and have clear goals in mind. Even though both Pinhead and Dr. Channard are also forces of evil, they are not Jason chasing barely-dressed helpless girls around Camp Crystal Lake. Despite the fact that they’re looking to torture them, they still recognize they are dealing with strong women and treat them accordingly.
HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, Imogen Boorman, Ashley Laurence, 1988. © New World Pictures (hellraiser.wikia.com)
I remain unconvinced on the puzzle box acting like a two-way portal, allowing the Cenobites free reign over the entire hospital and also allowing multiple characters to wander around Hell. This is contrary to the background story in The Hellbound Heart, wherein the person who opens the box is the focus of the Cenobites. In fact, in the source material, Frank is even given a choice by the Cenobites as to whether or not he wants to go through with surrendering his body and soul to them; they go so far as to warn him that he may not get what he anticipates.
So to have this turn into a flesh shredding free-for-all doesn’t fully fit within my expectations of what the rules allow for. It might make more sense if the movie gave some indication as to the motives or abilities of the Leviathan, but it just hovers there, occasionally sweeping glowing beams like an evil lighthouse.
The final act is satisfying, with Kirsty operating as a therapist of sorts, trying to get the Cenobites to tap into their repressed memories and recognize that they were, at some point in time, human. During this confrontation, Pinhead shows flashes of conscience and even what might be called selflessness. I absolutely love character development in a villain, especially a nihilistic villain that previously seemed void of compassion.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
After his therapy session with Kirsty in Hellbound, the third installment finds Pinhead somehow split into two versions of himself. There’s his id Pinhead form trapped inside a torturous-looking statue (very Queen of the Damned) and then there’s his super-ego human form, Captain Elliot Spencer, relegated to a ghostly spirit world. Both versions are trying to break out of their respective traps, though Pinhead wants to turn the globe into one big torture fest and Spencer is hoping to stop his reckless half from going rogue.
Because depravity and Pinhead go together like peas and carrots, a total scumbag club owner (J.P. Monroe) is drawn to the statue and eventually ends up filling in the sidekick role, luring women into his pad to feed Pinhead’s bloodlust and help him regain physical form. This is id Pinhead and not regular Pinhead, so there’s absolutely no finesse and no guarantees.
On the side of good we have Joey, a local reporter who just can’t seem to catch a real story to facilitate her big break. She’s standing around the ER, frustrated at the lack of action, when a guy covered in the familiar chain-hook accessories gets wheeled in screaming. One of the hooks scratches Joey’s ankle, and her blood binds her to the wild story she’s been waiting for, as well as a mysterious woman (Terri) who turns out to be Monroe’s ex.
She enlists Terri’s help in hunting down the truth, all while Pinhead is trying to hunt down Joey and Spencer is haunting Joey’s dreams asking her to help him merge his selves. Along the way, Pinhead racks up an astronomical body count and creates an inept Cenobite hit squad out of most of the main characters.
Amusingly, the film trailer calls it “mankind’s final confrontation with evil.”
While Hellbound stretched the franchise premise, Hell on Earth takes that stretched premise and prances around the basement in it like Buffalo Bill. It’s just murder and mayhem and a ditzy heroine flailing about screaming. Joey wants to be considered a real reporter, but a dude’s head blows up in the ER and she’s all, “Welp, time to take the bus home” instead of sticking around and asking a doctor what the hell just happened. Though I will say that her being a reporter at least makes it plausible that she would want to keep digging and get to the bottom of what’s going on.
Yeah, yeah, we get it Pinhead. You’re all man under that demon shell.
Pinhead’s kills are completely over-the-top ridiculous, including a scene where he kills literally an entire nightclub full of people. During this spree we see ectoplasmic floating Pinhead vaporizing out of a drink, turning into some sort of icicle dagger and spearing a girl through the mouth. Compensate much, Pinhead? It’s like the demonic equivalent of driving a phallic sports car.
He then proceeds to kill a DJ using CDs like ninja stars and turn the DJ into a Cenobite who kills people using CDs like ninja stars. Complete with the sound effect of an ejecting CD. He kills the bartender, seen earlier in the movie making flaming cocktails, and turns him into a Cenobite who kills people using flaming cocktails… of doom.
Joey isn’t a Cenobite, but she still kills people using terrible acting.
There seems to be a more literal, almost puritanical bent to this movie. People are being killed by and then turned into physical manifestations of their vices. A cameraman who is obsessed with work becomes a human-camera hybrid. Sex-crazed Monroe has a drilling rod pumping through his skull. At one point he attacks Joey by just kind of humping in her general direction and then smacking her on the ass with a metal pole.
Joey tries to take refuge in a church, yelling about demons, and the priest reassures her that demons are just parables. Which of course is Pinhead’s cue to waltz in and reenact a crucifixion on himself using his own wormy head pins.
On top of all this, Joey is remarkably chill about being haunted by the ghost of Pinhead’s soul, very calmly listening to Captain Spencer’s instructions and blindly following them. Especially when he gives her the history of his own fascination with pain. “I was an explorer of forbidden pleasures,” is not really the introduction you want to hear from the ghost that’s haunting you. Um, ok Casper. I’m going to head back to the waking world now.
After Tiffany and Kirsty (who makes a brief appearance by way of interview tapes Joey finds from Kirsty’s time in the mental hospital), Joey and Terri are disappointing female protagonists. Joey is absolutely useless at almost everything, and Terri is so codependent that she’s willing to throw her lot in with Pinhead because he’s the only guy left in the room.
The only saving grace for me is actually the final scene. After trapping all the Cenobites in the puzzle box (because apparently it now functions like a genie’s lamp), Joey plunges it into wet cement on a construction site. The film ends at the same location, with an office building now completed on the lot. As the camera goes in the front door, the interior lobby of the building looks like the exterior pattern of the puzzle box.
Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
After the cheesy bloodbath that was Hell on Earth, it should come as no surprise that the fourth movie was the last in the series to get a theatrical release (all the subsequent sequels were straight-to-video). I would consider it to be the final chapter in the original set of Hellraiser films. In fact, I’d argue that they could even be called a tetralogy (with Hell on Earth performing the function of the satyr play).
Since I had only previously seen 1-3, this was also the first of the bunch that I was watching for the first time.
While the second and third movies primarily focused on the history and evolution of Pinhead/Elliot Spencer, Bloodline focuses on the history of the puzzle box and three different generations of the family that created it. The same actor plays toymaker Phillip L’Merchant (1796), architect John Merchant (1996) – the man responsible for designing the building in the closing scene of Hell on Earth – and spaceship engineer Dr. Paul Merchant (2127).
Vacant stares run in the family.
The plot is remarkably straightforward for a movie that jumps around in time. It opens in the year 2127 aboard a spacecraft of Dr. Merchant’s design, where you see him using techno gloves to manipulate a robot’s fingers into solving the Lament Configuration and releasing Pinhead and a Cenobite crew into a locked chamber. At the same time some sort of space police burst in and court martial him for… I’m honestly not sure what. Being weird? Dr. Merchant is very insistent that they must all get off the ship immediately, and when the interrogator (a badass chick named Rimmer) asks him why, he dials down the urgency and launches into an entire family history.
And really, that’s the plot.
In 1796 you see L’Merchant making the box to order for an eccentric aristocrat. Fancy pants turns the box into a demon portal (creating sultry demoness Angelique) and subsequently gets murdered by his upstart manservant Jacques, played by Adam Scott(!). L’Merchant tries in vain to figure out a way to create a counter-box to reverse the gateway and Jacques curses his bloodline.
He seemed so nice in the craigslist ad.
In 1996 you see John Merchant tortured by nightmares, something about a blood curse, it’s probably nothing. He meets a still-kicking Angelique, who summons Pinhead on a lark and watches a few fools get caught up in some Cenobite drama. Merchant gets closer to figuring out how to reverse the gateway with mid-90s lasers, and even though he fails to destroy the box his fierce wife manages to trap both Angelique and Pinhead back in it.
Lesson learned – Always check your babysitter’s references.
Back in (forward in?) 2127, the Cenobites get out of their chamber and grossly murder most of the space police while Dr. Merchant sets his plan in motion to defeat them once and for all. He revels that the ship itself is actually the counter-box and a series of reflective shields activates the Elysium Configuration that will destroy the Lament Configuration. There’s also a hologram trick and a Cenobite dog, because why not?
While this movie overall misses the mark, I give it a lot of credit for having grand intentions. It’s definitely horror, but there are also quite a few elements of science fiction and even a sprinkling of space opera. I’m enamored with the concept of the movie it was meant to be before the producers mucked it up, which would have been (in my opinion) infinitely more sophisticated.
Even in its flawed form, the movie manages to explain the origin of the chains and hooks and also alludes to how the box drew its inspiration for Pinhead’s skull grid. It feels appropriate that this gateway didn’t always exist, but rather that it was created by a necromancer with a flair for the dramatic.
Speaking of dramatic, I think we should all pause here and appreciate the bloody excess of Adam Scott. He is a stone cold libertine killer in a floral velvet robe. Such hair toss! Such rakish charm!
And probably such regret.
“I need to fire my agent.”
In its own way, this film seems to involve more female empowerment than its predecessor. Angelique is taken advantage of, but she also finds a way to regain her control. When John Merchant’s lasers fail, his wife Bobbi goes into beast mode and steps in to puzzle-solve the problem. Rimmer is skeptical of Dr. Merchant’s story, but she’s quick to jump into action and faces the Cenobites with determined calculation.
I enjoyed the evolution of Angelique’s character, especially her interactions with Pinhead, who refers to her deferentially as “princess” as he longs for the good old days. As time goes on, Pinhead gets antsy and is basically like, “Why can’t we just terrify the crap out of everyone?” and she sort of sighs and gives him this look that says, “Haven’t you ever heard of subtlety?” Even after she gets the Cenobite treatment, there is still something regal about her.
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
The fifth movie marks the start of storylines that are essentially about some other horror but happen to involve the puzzle box. Movies five through eight follow this structure – best described as Tales from the Crypt with Pinhead taking the place of the Crypt Keeper. Much like with Tales, some of the stories are hits and some are misses.
Inferno is, without question, a miss. It’s so dull that I’m not going to waste much space here talking about it. The main character is a corrupt detective who loves puzzles. Surprise, surprise, he comes upon a crime scene where a guy is dismembered and pockets the puzzle box (along with a wad of cash and a vial of drugs). He’s still bored after doing all the drugs with a nice young prostitute in a seedy motel, so he decides to lock himself in the bathroom to solve the puzzle box.
After that it’s pretty much standard gore, with the only addition of note to the Cenobite world being weird snake tongues that burn like hot coals.
It’s passed off kind of like a noir, complete with the protagonist narrating over plenty of brooding long car rides. It’s also really boring, perhaps because there’s no hero. The main character is so unlikeable that I wouldn’t even go so far as to classify him as an anti-hero. He’s just a jackass.
And for a movie called Inferno, there’s a surprising lack of fire and overabundance of indoor snow.
Overall, there aren’t many redeeming features of this movie, save for a few scenes that feel kind of like a twisted homage to Twin Peaks. The straight-to-video quality is enhanced by the late-night Cinemax music occasionally punctuated by an incidental background track from The Crow.
It was so boring, I only half-watched the last hour while giving myself a manicure and wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into with this damn marathon. Was Netflix my own Lament Configuration? The only way to find out would be to push on to chapter six.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Thank goodness for Hellseeker. Without it, I probably would have abandoned this marathon partway through in bitter defeat. Ashley Laurence is back as Kirsty in a secondary role, portrayed mostly in flashbacks. Still, the fact that she’s involved at all makes this already infinitely better than Inferno just in the opening scene. Her husband Trevor is the other cast member of note, played by Dean Winters (who you may know from Oz or those insurance commercials).
The movie opens with Kirsty and Trevor in the car, and after a distracted moment of arguing Trevor swerves to avoid oncoming traffic and plunges off a bridge. Basically as quickly as your heart starts thumping at the idea that Kirsty’s back, Kirsty’s missing, presumed dead. A few months pass and Trevor is still out of sorts, ostensibly from head trauma sustained in the crash.
He has terrible headaches, can’t seem to function at work, and meanwhile a pleasant-but-prying detective won’t stop questioning him about why Kirsty’s body was never found. The guy in the cubicle next to his is fairly bro-y with him, but also super creepy. He covers for Trevor’s work failings, but as the movie progresses he gets more exasperated and aggressive.
Just another day at the cube farm…
Trevor starts losing time, hallucinating all sorts of weird things like having an eel slither its way out of his throat. He’s visited by several of his mistresses, all of whom are inexplicably still totally hot for disoriented, sweaty Trevor. He rebuffs all of their advances, not because he isn’t into it, but because he just can’t shake this brain-crushing headache. Which, when you think about it, is hilarious irony.
One by one, he sort of half experiences/half hallucinates his harem being torture-murdered until reality completely unravels from around him. In case you haven’t seen it I’m not going to give away the last third of the film, but suffice it to say that Pinhead is once again in a bargaining mood and it is delightful.
There are wonderful Easter eggs sprinkled around the movie, which I chalk up to Barker’s consultation (it’s the last Hellraiser film that he was involved with in any capacity). Trevor works at Cubic Route Actuarial Research, a gem I only noticed in a fleeting shot as he walked into the office. His desk area is decorated with a bunch of CDs tacked on the wall, which feels like a nod to the ridiculous CD-wielding DJ Cenobite from Hell on Earth. The detectives are played the way I wish the rest of the precinct detectives were played in Inferno – nuanced, probing, unwilling to rest until they get to the bottom of the case.
The plot device of trauma leading to amnesia and hallucinations works really well, continuously building this doubt that maybe everything happening is all in his crash-addled head. Did his boss really try to seduce him in the break room and then email the security tape to every computer in the office? Maybe! She seems like the kind of go-getter who would show that initiative. Or maybe Trevor is just paranoid and wracked with guilt about a woman he cheated on his wife with before his wife disappeared. Also plausible!
As with others in the series, there are flaws. For starters, he is pretty calm for a dude who keeps hallucinating weird crap and losing large swaths of time. Also, maybe he had more swagger before the accident, but I can’t figure out what it is about Trevor that drives the ladies wild (sorry, Dean Winters). Add to that the fact that I’m not keen on Hellraiser giving in to the horror temptation to condemn a bunch of women to death for having bad taste in men.
But also (and there’s really not much I can say without spoiling the heck out of this) Kirsty Cotton is queen of everything.
Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
Movie number seven demonstrates why it’s so important to have creepy Uncle Clive around. As happened in Inferno (another movie in the series with zero Barker input), the protagonist in Deader is just not someone to root for. The movie follows a hotshot young writer named Amy who thinks she is the messiah of investigative journalism. Her boss (who is much older and also possibly a former lover?) sends her to Bucharest to look into a mysterious cult that seems to bring people back from the dead.
He entices her to go with a line that Romania should consider for a tourism slogan – “It’s where all the Eurotrash kids looking for a good time are heading these days.” He’s so hip, so with it.
While investigating, Amy manages to rob a dead girl’s apartment while her corpse is still rotting inside, ignore the dead girl’s video-taped instructions not to open the puzzle box, take a few rides on some weird goth sex party train, and get temporarily sent to an asylum for making a scene on a subway platform. They apparently have a very low threshold for crazy in Romania.
Get on to get off. (hellraiser.wikia.com)
Blah blah blah necromancer, blah blah blah Pinhead, blah blah blah legacy of the Merchant family and lots of bloody naked corpses.
If it wasn’t apparent already, I thought this movie was the pits. At the time I watched it I was thoroughly convinced it was the worst Hellraiser movie ever made, but that opinion changed once I saw the final film (more on this in a bit). Amy’s cockiness and refusal to do things by the book rebel stupidity just left me waiting around for her to get torn up by meat hooks.
What’s the first thing Amy does after finding a dead girl strung up in an apartment? Goes through her stuff, naturally. When that stuff includes a video confessional with the simple instructions of “Don’t open the box. Don’t do it. Don’t ever.” Amy is like, “Sure, ok. But first let me see if I can open the box.” Later on, she finds a knife firmly wedged in her back (but feels no pain, strangely) and instead of heading to the ER she stumbles her way back to the goth sex party train looking for help.
Amy is definitely forfeiting her deposit on that hotel room.
Speaking of which, I feel as though this movie really should have been called Hellraiser: Boobs because there are a lot of them. Everywhere, all over the place, boobs for days. The rave kid patriarch of the goth sex party train (a phrase I’m starting to think would make a great band name as I type it over and over again) loves watching topless ladies make out while dispensing little nuggets of wisdom like, “Did you know the word demon comes from the Greek work for knowledge?” (Fun fact: it does not.)
Also, Amy is supposed to be a journalist but she does zero research on the puzzle box? Thirteen years prior, Pinhead killed an entire nightclub full of people and unleashed a bumbling army of Cenobites marching down a New York City street setting people on fire. Is there no record of that? Do people’s minds get erased? By this point in time, how does the Lament Configuration not have a reputation?
My biggest beef with Deader though is that it reduces Pinhead to a caricature of his former self. Doug Bradley is still on point (he is always on point) with intensity and that intonation of voice that is somehow both terrifying and alluring. But the actions of Pinhead are freaking ridiculous. He’s excited to take Amy back to the torture realm, but instead of shooting chain hooks at her he just slowly advances while swinging a knife wildly and monologuing.
Rather than watch the entire movie, just spend a minute watching the gag reel.
Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
Because it took so long to get Deader released (it sat in limbo for two years), the eighth installment was released shortly after. The film opens with the death of a teen who was obsessed with an online game called Hellworld that involved dodging Pinhead and Cenobites. A few years later, some of his friends get invites to an exclusive Hellworld party after solving the Lament Configuration in the game.
All the horror archetypes are covered in the group of friends – The darkly gothic quirky girl (Allison), the game-obsessed super fan (Derrick), the walking cluster of hormones in a leather jacket (Mike – played by the delicious Henry Cavill of Tudors and Superman fame), the skeptical girl who just wants to keep an eye on her buddies (Chelsea), and the brooding loner who has kept his distance since the funeral (Jake).
The party is being held at an isolated old house with a haunted history and hosted by a creepy older man who loves giving tours of the pickled jars of babies in the basement. The place is filled to the rafters with lithe teens who are thrilled at the excuse to get drunk and make out in the shadow of a giant puzzle box. Each partygoer is given a numbered mask and a phone, so if you see a hottie shaking his or her body you can dial him or her up rather than walking over and talking like a socially adjusted human.
You used to call me on my cell phone…
As always seems to happen in these situations, the friends get separated wandering around the house and bloody disaster follows. There is sex with random strangers, weird hallucinations and a funky stretch where one or two of the characters seem to be invisible to everyone else. Much like with Hellseeker, the ending simultaneously sneaks up on you and feels obviously apparent once you’ve seen it play out.
There is a fair amount of criticism out there about this movie, but I actually liked it overall. Cenobites in a video game made it feel like the franchise was finally entering the 21st century, especially after Deader still had people popping in VHS tapes. The soundtrack is very of-its-time, and felt like it was trying to a certain extent to mimic the vibe of the Scream movies (but in a good way). I love that there are characters who try to logic their way out of the terror, because I feel like that’s probably what I would do in a similar situation.
They’re all a bit too trusting, but also they’re young. It’s like, “Hello, creepy old dude who claims to own the house. That statue is made of human skin, you say? Sure, we’d love a tour of the basement.” While to me there are alarm bells clanging, they’re all in the moment, living life and hanging out at a Pinhead party. Separating them at a house party and killing them one by one is a solid premise. It’s pretty obvious from his swagger that Mike is going to die a horrible death, but it doesn’t happen when I thought it would.
There are glaring plot holes that can’t be overlooked when judging the movie’s merits – in particular the way Chelsea and Jake figure out information that they likely couldn’t have figured out in their particular situation. Pinhead is also lacking a certain tortuous panache, often opting for a quick (albeit painful) kill. Jake has a random hookup that seems way too random and out of character, giving me the impression that it was just added for the sake of another sex scene. The dialogue is cheesy as all get-out, but also I have a soft spot for cheese.
Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)
Revelations is the only movie in the series where Doug Bradley does not play Pinhead, and for good reason. Apparently, facing the loss of their franchise rights, the studio cobbled this monstrosity together in a matter of weeks. Knowing that it had disaster written all over it, Bradley wisely turned down the role.
So not right.
This movie is so bad it does not deserve a proper write-up. Instead, I present to you my stream-of-consciousness notes taken while watching it.
- I am least looking forward to watching this after reading about the reason for filming it.
- Dear lord I hope this entire film isn’t found footage. If it is I’m going to puke.
- Their last name is Craven? Really?
- Um, how did they know to light the square of candles? Is that in the puzzle box instruction manual?
- Thank goodness this isn’t all found footage.
- Except now there’s more found footage. Why is this even a thing?
- How does everyone seem to automatically know how to open the box?
- How do you own a shotgun and your wife doesn’t know?
- Pinhead is making a Pinhead Jr. out of Nico?
- I have zero fucks to give about these dude bros.
- She looks up “Cenobite” in a physical dictionary…
I have consulted the ancient tome, passed down from Merriam and Webster.
- “It’s like, it wants to open… but you have to want it as well… You have to desire it.”
- It’s like someone unleashed Pinhead on the set of Desperate Housewives.
- Ew. Creepy brother-on-sister action. Ew ew ew. What is this even? Gross.
- So bad I’m actually laughing.
- The entire film must have been shot in some producer’s house, except for “club” scenes obviously shot in a rented office building.
- Hellraiser: Revenge of the Millenials
- I hate that they keep killing prostitutes. Tally so far is 3 (plus a baby).
- The movie makes out like it’s all the fault of the women. One family’s mother was having an affair with the other family’s father and that’s why they left and went to Mexico and opened the Lament Configuration, so naturally she brought this on herself.
- And also Emma for being a woman with sexual desire. Taunting her father by bragging about having taken her virginity? I’M SO RILED UP RIGHT NOW.
- As vengeance for the husband’s selfishness, Pinhead damns his completely innocent wife to an eternity of torture? That’s not his thing. That’s not even close to his thing. Give me back my Pinhead, you bastards!
The only reason I gave this any rating at all is that it does include the Lament Configuration and the box does open the way it’s meant to. Plus there are also chains and hooks, so I guess it follows the barest of Hellraiser premises. But mostly, the movie is just this kid looking like he’s having the worst time ever.
(From most favorite to least favorite)
- Hellbound: Hellraiser II
- Hellraiser: Hellseeker
- Hellraiser: Bloodline
- Hellraiser: Hellworld
- Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
- Hellraiser: Inferno
- Hellraiser: Deader
- Hellraiser: Revelations
There’s no real way to end this post except to say that I feel like I’ve been through Hell and back, but in a good way. And if you made it through the last 7000(!) words, you might feel the same way. Or maybe you feel more like this…
If you have your own Hellraiser opinions, I’d love to hear them. And if you have any recommendations for another series marathon I might torture myself with, feel free to suggest it in the comments!
(A note on images – All images have been credited to the source where I found them, but I have no way of knowing if those were the original sources. All animated GIFs came from giphy.com. Any images with my website listed as the source were either screen grabs or actual photos of the TV that I took. The Pinhead vector image I used to create the rating system came from iconarchive.com.)