Hellraiser: Deader (Rick Bota, USA/Romania, 2005)
The second Hellraiser film directed by Rick Bota, Deader actually has a promising story when you look at it on paper. All the more surprising as it is the third film in a row adapted from a non-Hellraiser script – they’ll do anything to save a few pennies, those damn movie execs.
After being shown a video tape (in 2005 – really?) in which a teenage girl kills herself and is then resurrected by cult leader Winter LeMarchand (Paul Rhys), maverick journalist Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer) is sent to Romania by her editor to investigate. Going to the tape’s return address Amy discovers a corpse that is holding the Lament Configuration box. Naturally she takes it and solves it, opening up the portal to the Cenobites realm. Through various interactions, Amy discovers that Winter is the descendent of the original creator of the box and is trying to open it himself so he can try and control the Cenobites – yeah, right! Obviously, Pinhead (Doug Bradley) will have other ideas and pops up to put everybody in their place.
Or something like that anyway. The idea of a cult of Cenobite worshippers is an intriguing one that has quite a few possibilities. It’s just a shame that nobody got their act together enough to shape it into something even vaguely approaching exciting. Again, Rick Bota proves he has an eye for a photograph but little else in the way of directorial skills, and the bulk of the cast here are just generally annoying and offer very little in the way of engaging performances. There is an interesting scene aboard an underground train featuring all sorts of degenerates performing all sorts of degenerate things to each other but that small titillation is about it.
Of course Pinhead pops up for all of five minutes to witter on about something or other, but we’re at a point in the series now where it doesn’t really matter what he says as he’s just a tacked on face to stick on the DVD cover in the hope that the completists will at least shell out for it. In its favour it is a little better than Hellseeker but that’s a bit like saying Keane are better than Coldplay; the world would be a better place without any of them.
Hellraiser: Hellworld (Rick Bota, USA/Romania, 2005)
Well, we’re still altering previously written scripts to fit Pinhead in but at least we get the same director as we’ve had for the previous two films, although using those as a yardstick doesn’t do Rick Bota any favours. But maybe after the negative reviews of those films it would be a case of third time lucky? Or maybe not…
The story centres around a group of teens who are all addicted to playing Hellworld, an online role-playing game that is based on the Hellraiser mythology. One of the group takes it all a bit too seriously and kills himself, leaving the rest of the group to blame themselves.
But not too harshly as two years later the survivng members go to a Hellworld themed party at large mansion, arranged by somebody known only as The Host (Lance Henriksen). Soon enough strange things start to happen as the various members of the group are seperated and begin to meet terrible ends, but isn’t the whole Hellworld thing fake?
Filmed back-to-back with Hellraiser: Deader, there is something strangely compelling about Hellraiser: Hellworld but it must be stressed that it in no way has anything to do with the original vision, the only exception obviously being the inclusion of Pinhead. If you disassociate it from the rest of the series – or at least the original canon – and view it as a one-off slasher film it is fairly entertaining in a brain-dead-Friday-night-with-a-beer-and-some-mates-round kind of way. There is an obvious comparison to the self-aware Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and the obvious Halloween: Resurrection – of which this is the better film, purely on an entertainment level – but from a film series that once led the pack to one that now follows it this is pretty weak stuff.
Obviously having Lance Henriksen in your film, no matter how awful a film it is, makes it ten times better than it otherwise would be, and having him appear alongside Doug Bradley is a bit of a treat for genre fans. As is the scene where Henriksen meets the Cenobites which, not to give too much away, is the most ‘Hellraiser’ moment in any of the films since Hellraiser: Bloodline.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Hellraiser: Hellworld is still really just a generic slasher wrapped up in some distilled mythology with a meta thread that doesn’t really work. It is a bit more fun than the last few films and it ticks all the boxes in terms of sex, gore and violence but it smacks of ‘too little, too late’ and is lacking that certain something that made those early films so special. It is better than Deader and Hellseeker – the real low point of the series – and depending on your point of view, it could be better than Inferno, although it doesn’t look as good. The end reveal is pretty stupid but getting there isn’t as painful as sitting through Hellseeker again, so take a chance if you want some big, dumb fun with Pinhead being a bit Freddy Krueger about it.
Hellraiser: Revelations (Victor Garcia, USA, 2011)
But what is the revelation? Perhaps it’s that we’re not getting the proposed Clive Barker-penned remake that we’ve been promised for the past couple of years and that, just to hang on to the license for the Hellraiser name, Dimension Films decided another straight-to-DVD sequel was in order. Doug Bradley obviously didn’t agree as he did not return to play Pinhead – the first time in the series that he did not appear – and thankfully neither did Rick Bota, the chosen director this time being Victor Garcia (Return to House on Haunted Hill).
Anyway, the story is about Steven (Nick Eversman) and Nico (Jay Gillespie), two friends who travel to Mexico for a bit of what teenage lads do when they are attacked by a mysterious figure with what appears to be pins in his skull. After the lads have been declared missing the authorities hand their possessions back to their parents, including a video tape of the boys apparent final moments.
One year later the families of the boys have gotten together for a meal. Steven’s sister Emma (Tracey Fairaway) has a look at the video tape and also finds the puzzle box that appears in the film, and after opening it unleashes a chain of events that reveal what happened to her brother and his friend, and also who the man with the pins in his head is…
Naturally the film got torn to shreds upon release – even before its release actually, as this is the age of the all-knowing internet troll – but at least – the very, very least – it did try to evoke the feel of the original film. The chains, the tolling bells and the pillar of souls are all present and there’s actually some well-done gore scenes here considering the budget. The Cenobites entrance is also pretty creepy for the first time in at least seven films. There are quite a few small, subtle nudges to the first film for the eagle-eyed amongst you that, although ultimately fall flat, does show that it was at least in the writer’s mind. Incidentally the writer was Gary J. Tunnicliffe, who also did the make-up effects for this and all the Hellraiser films since part three except for Inferno, so there was a bit of franchise history there, and being the first original Hellraiser scriot since Bloodline also worked in its favour.
But maybe that’s all too forgiving, as it still falls woefully below what a Hellraiser film should be. Most of the action (or what passes for it) takes place in the same location and for even more budgetary cuts the makers use a handheld camera for that ‘authentic’ (i.e. cheap) feel. The acting is pretty bad from everybody, particularly the two male leads and – wait for it – Pinhead is a bit crap. Obvious, but not really the fault of Stephan Smith Collins, who had the unfortunate task of stepping into Doug Bradley’s rather large shoes. He tries to emulate Bradley’s original portrayal – and his first appearance is pretty effective – but he lacks the regal presence that Bradley had in that first film. He also lacks a voice, as Pinhead is voiced by Fred Tatasciore and sounds like something from The Simpsons and is too unintentionally comical to sound like a real threat.
So there we have it. Nine films, two essential, two okay if you’re in a forgiving mood and five that should come with a warning not to get too excited. Naturally there is an expanded Hellraiser universe in the comic book and graphic novel format, and some of those stories are actually pretty good; Clive Barker himself even returned to his creation to contribute to the Cenobites and their adventures on the page. But for those of you awaiting that much talked about remake will have to wait a bit longer as Dimension Films don’t seem to want to give up their supposed cash-cow and at the same time don’t want to actually spend any money making a decent Hellraiser movie, which is a shame as the world that Clive Barker created nearly thirty years ago certainly deserves a lot more respect than what has been afforded to it in recent times.