Hellraiser: Bloodline (Alan Smithee, USA, 1996)
One look at the director’s credit will tell you everything you need to know – Alan Smithee is the pseudonym that the Director’s Guild uses when the real director has disowned the project. In reality the film was initially directed by special effects wizard Kevin Yagher – responsible for providing the Freddy Krueger make-up for Elm Street parts 2-4 – and then finished by Joe Chapelle once Yagher had walked away from the project due to studio interference. So with all that in mind – and considering the dip in quality that marred the third film – just how much of a travesty is Hellraiser: Bloodline?
Well, not as much as you would think. Despite the fact that the wraparound story for this film is set in space – yes, space… in a Hellraiser film – it isn’t quite as preposterous as it may look on paper. Beginning in space in the 22nd century, Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) is trying to open the Lament Configuration puzzle box by using a remote-controlled robot as his hands, probably to avoid any of those pesky chains. Upon solving the box the robot explodes, enabling Pinhead (Doug Bradley) to enter the spaceship. Before Merchant can act he is captured by a team of soldiers and begins to tell them the story of how his ancestors created the puzzle box and that he must try and destroy it.
Flashing back to the 18th century, Merchant’s ancestor Philip L’Merchant makes a puzzle box commissioned by Duc de L’Isle (Mickey Cottrell), a nobleman obsessed by the dark arts and a master of black magic. After Duc de L’Isle and his assistant Jacques (Adam Scott) kill a peasant girl (Valentina Vargas) they flay her and summon a demon named Angelique to wear the peasant girl’s skin. Angelique and Jacques kill the Duc de L’Isle and, thinking that the toymaker’s bloodline will be stopped, they also kill Philip, unaware that his wife is pregnant and his bloodline will continue.
Carrying on their diabolical partnership through the centuries, Angelique and Jacques meet John Merchant two hundred years later. Angelique manages to get hold of the Lament Configuration – that for some reason has been cemented into a pillar in a building designed by Merchant – and forces a stranger to open it, unleashing Pinhead upon the modern world. And then it really hits the fan…
Working as a prequel and a sequel, Hellraiser: Bloodline is actually a lot more entertaining than you would think, although there a flaws aplenty. The concept of Pinhead in space is a little too much for most purists to comprehend but it doesn’t play out as naff or campy as Leprechaun 4: In Space or Jason X – well, not quite anyway. For many the story of how the puzzle box came to be is one that needed to be addressed, and the section of the film set in the 18th century is actually the best segment, offering up classic Hellraiser-style sex n’ gore with a little of the dark magic that was painfully absent from the previous film.
The main faults with the film, though, are pretty similar to the ones that plagued Hell on Earth, namely the humanising of Pinhead and some pretty terrible acting. Doug Bradley is as solid in the role as he normally is but his voice is lacking that echo effect that worked so well in the first film, and giving him more to do on a physical level means he moves around more and loses that regal posing that made him such a presence before. Interestingly, one of the reasons that Kevin Yagher took his name off the film is down to the studio wanting to bring Pinhead into the film much earlier than he had wanted in his original cut. Note that in the first film Pinhead doesn’t have a significant scene until an hour in.
Most of the other players are pretty terrible or just plain bland. Bruce Ramsay (the lovechild of Mike Myers and Andrew Lloyd Webber?) is annoyingly nondescript as the main lead, whilst the striking Valentina Vargas is fine all the time she isn’t saying anything. Mickey Cottrell is mildly amusing as the Duc de L’Isle, piling on the camp and being reminiscent of Kenneth Connor in Blackadder the Third. For genre fans, Kim Myers (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge) pops up as John Merchant’s wife but has very little to do apart from run around a bit and do some laundry.
But if you can ignore the dullards trying to overact and the Resident Evil-style Cenobite dog (oh yes, it goes there), the story itself is decent enough and the visuals, although typical of the time, are an improvement over the previous film. Really the last film in the Hellraiser canon, Hellraiser: Bloodline is generally considered to be the cut-off point for most fans and was the last Hellraiser film to get a theatrical release. But there are still five films to go, so to quote the popular television phrase – what happens next?
Hellraiser: Inferno (Scott Derrickson, USA, 2000)
What happens next is that somebody decided to squeeze the udders of this franchise a little harder and tried to milk it for everything it had left, which wasn’t very much. It’s worth noting that this film marks the beginning of a period for the series when the scripts were originally for other films and adjusted at the last moment to try to fit in with the Hellraiser mythos. It isn’t until Hellraiser: Revelations that an original script was filmed. Does that knowledge make this film any better? No, but maybe it excuses a few of its weaker moments.
The story revolves around Joseph Thorne (Craig Sheffer), a dodgy police detective who happens to be a bit of a whiz when it comes to puzzles – that’s handy then, isn’t it? Working on a case involving ritual killings and the like Thorne comes across the Lament Configuration box, which he duly solves, but soon after things start to get weirder and Thorne’s investigations begin to lead him to a mysterious figure known as The Engineer, and then back to himself…
So how does Hellraiser: Inferno fit into the well-established Hellraiser universe? It doesn’t, is the simple answer. What we have here is a film noir detective story more in line with something like Angel Heart than the slick, commercial slasher films that the previous two films leaned towards. Is it a bad film? No, not really but it is a bad Hellraiser film that, ironically, would have been improved by removing Pinhead and most of the familiar Cenobite-isms. But would Dimension Films have allowed that? Not likely.
As it is, Pinhead is in this film for about the same amount of time as it takes for the credits to scroll through and his role is more of a commentator than executioner. All he really does is appear at the end of the film to tell Thorne about the error of his ways and slap his wrist, but there is plenty of Cenobite imagery throughout the film, the most striking being the twin female Cenobites that try to seduce Thorne and get the whole pain/pleasure thing bang on. But even though there is an undercurrent of dark goings on it never really gets any deeper than fleshy shapes and flashes of black leather costumes, so removing the Cenobite thing altogether wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
Craig Sheffer plays the dirty cop pretty well – a damn sight better than his good-guy performance in Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, where he came across as a bit sappy – and the relatively unknown supporting cast all do enough to stop it from being total drek. Naturally, Doug Bradley (looking a little fuller around the face) knows what he’s doing by now but as he doesn’t have much to do apart from pontificate about how living a bad life means you must be punished for all eternity – bit rich coming from him, but they had to shoehorn him in somehow.
So overall, Hellraiser: Inferno is a bit of a strange one. There is a school of thought that says the real star of Hellraiser and any related media isn’t Pinhead but the Lament Configuration box, and that is a good point as the box was really the focal point of the original and the surrounding characters could have been anybody. However, Pinhead had been the face of Hellraiser thus far and as far as the studio was concerned, Pinhead was the star of the show and needed to be there. As a story it isn’t bad, although the tacked on ending is a bit of a let-down, and the film does have a nice visual quality about it but gorehounds will be very disappointed by the lack of blood n’ guts. The film noir narration and narrative serves the story fairly well and marks the film out as a little different but if only they’d remove the Hellraiser connection then it would all flow a little better. The first of the straight-to-DVD releases, this is about as interesting as it gets for a while.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (Rick Bota, USA, 2002)
Another example of an existing script being altered to fit in with the Hellraiser universe, the awkwardly titled Hellraiser: Hellseeker sees the return of Ashley Laurence to the role of Kirsty – her first appearance in the series since her brief cameo in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth – and should have been another wickedly brutal confrontation with her old nemesis Pinhead. Well, it might have looked good on paper…
Trevor Gooden (Dean Winters) and his wife Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) are driving when they are involved in an accident and their car ends up in the river. Kirsty is apparently killed and Trevor suffers head injuries, resulting in him suffering with amnesia and unable to assist the police who don’t have a body to confirm Kirsty’s death. This leads to all sorts of confusing goings-on and – somewhat inevitably – it all leads back to Pinhead (Doug Bradley), who again spins a yarn about morality and how you must be a good boy if you don’t want to suffer at his hands.
As an overall comment, Hellraiser: Hellseeker is a bit of mess. It tries to resurrect the sex and violence of the earlier films but fails miserably. The sex scenes never come across as sordid as the ones between Frank and Julia, instead coming across as restrained and a little desperate, and as for some decent Cenobite gore – forget it. A couple of minutes of Pinhead and Kirsty chatting and a flash of a couple of shadowy Cenobites floating in the background is as much as you get here (although the hardcore among you may find an alternate scene in the extras on the DVD a little more interesting – but don’t get too excited!). There is a pretty graphic exposed brain shot that looks pretty convincing but otherwise it doesn’t deliver on the gore front at all.
There’s not really a lot of good stuff to say about this film. Fans of Columbo might get a bit of a chubby for it as it has a TV police drama vibe throughout – one detective even says “Just one more thing…” – but this is Hellraiser and is supposed to shock us with graphic body horror and mutilation, not bore us with ‘is it real or is it in his head?’ nonsense which was done a little – just a little – better in the previous film. As for Pinhead, Doug Bradley was just cashing the cheques by now and giving about as much of a toss as the rest of us. Still, at least Ashley Laurence proved she was aging well.