There are many varying depictions of Hell throughout many films. From the comedic to the downright nightmare inducing. Although its not something I personally believe in, it sure is interesting to see it portrayed in film. Here, I’ll take a look at a few depictions from my own knowledge. Neither the best, worst or entirely biblical either but my most memorable and worthy of discussion……
Event Horizon - this film comes up in many of my articles and mainly all because of one very unforgettable 5 to 10 second scene in the whole film. For those that have seen it, you know what I’m talking about. The moment where two of the crew stumble upon the ship’s log of what happened to the crew of the derelict spacecraft. If Hell existed and this was it, I would be beyond good forevermore. (I am anyway ) This is by far and away the most terrifying depiction of Hell ever put to screen and even recalling the ships log “blood orgy” (as many people on the net put it) by memory sends a shudder down my spine. This is your worst nightmares amplified a hundred fold.
Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey - the idea of Hell in this film is also very different to other films in this list. This Hell sends you back to times in your life when you either screwed someone over and felt guilty for it or flat out we’re terrified of something as a child. In Bill’s case, he has to kiss his hairy lipped, no teeth grandma at his 6th birthday. In Ted’s case he has to escape an angry giant Easter Bunny chasing him for eating all his brothers eggs and for the pair of them when they meet up again, it’s the Colonel yelling at them, wanting to put them into military school. Not exactly the stuff of nightmares ala Event Horizon but it wouldn’t be entirely enjoyable either.
Hellraiser 2 – Clive Barker’s idea of Hell is somewhat disturbing, I will say. The idea that pleasure and pain are so closely related that in his Hell it’s what you’ll be experiencing there. A strange puzzle box is the key to the door of this Hell and the wardens of this Hell are the Cenobites. Creatures born from the unwitting humans opening the dastardly Lament Configuration (a fancy name for the puzzle box) only to find that it’s not exactly endless pleasure that they’ll find within. The Cenobites, lead by Pinhead, all have their own unique look about them. It’s Hell that defines their look by the way they are killed and what they do in life. A small glimpse into Hell in the second film shows endless labyrinthine passageways with various creatures chomping their way towards anyone just passing through and rooms with people “getting it on” but with hooks and chains through their backs and various other places. Pleasure and pain indeed. I don’t know if I could “keep it up” with a slew of hooks through my back. I’ve often wondered if the Hell in the Lament Configuration was the actual Hell and the puzzle box is just a key for the living to get in or if it’s a separate Hell altogether contained within the box, reserved just for those that open it. Anyway, there’s some pretty good ideas for Hell in the first two Hellraiser films. Forget the rest.
Constantine – This film copped a lot of shit from fans of the comic from which the film is based. The comic in question was called Hellblazer, one that I never read, though I understand that the film is vastly different. Other than that, general filmgoers who saw it kicked it while it was down also. Personally, I loved this film and although I realise it’s flaws, it’s still a memorable flick and in the end it’s a film’s ability to remain in one’s memory that counts. Constantine’s depiction of Hell is a fascinating new take of the whole idea of Hell. It is neither above or below us but rather a sideways shift into an alternate version of the world we see right now. Everything around you remains in place but as you cross over into Hell’s plane of existence, everything looks like it’s become smoldering ash in the orange haze of a world on fire, a strong hot wind constantly howling and the comforting screams of the damned being endlessly torn apart below you. Not a bad depiction at all and one of the better ones in my opinion. Peter Storemare’s barefooted Devil in a pristine white 3 piece suit was a great addition to the lore of the film. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Spawn – in possibly the most uninspired depiction of hell and a wasted opportunity to do something great with it, we instead have what the underwhelming Spawn brought us. In a film that could’ve easily been great and delivered some great effects (well, sometimes) and ideas but the execution was beyond limp. Hell in this film was crusty burnt people on floating rocks tethered with chains with a flaming background. And that’s it. It looks like a bad screensaver. The Devil himself was even worse. A very poorly rendered CGI monster with a massive underbite. It was just terrible. The real world CG effects of the film were more than sufficient but the crossover to hell just sucked. I really wanted to love this film as the concept is a great one. With a bit more budget and tweakage, this film could’ve delivered us one of the more interesting and memorable superheroes ever, emerging from a Hell worthy of fear rather than ridicule.
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut - yes, this Hell has all the prerequisite people being tortured and maimed by demons, flying hell birds that shit fireballs as only South Park can do. The whole shebang is being run by a Devil who’s a homosexual with desperate hopes to come up to Earth and live a life of compassion, love, burping babies, watching flowers bloom and generally being happy. He and Big Gay Al would get along like a legion of the damned on fire. Matt Stone and Trey Parker did very well to make you empathize with a badly drawn and animated devil who constantly gets rogered by Saddam Hussein. Bravo.
Flatliners – one could argue that this film doesn’t show Hell at all. In some ways I guess you’d be right as the person in the so called Hell isn’t dead, nor are they entirely evil people but the film does convey the message that you have to atone for your sins when you die, except when you come back from the dead, so do your demons and you’ll have to deal with them or be driven insane. I would certainly call this Hell, albeit a more personal form of it. Kiefer Sutherland’s character in particular has the more harrowing experience of being stalked by a boy he once killed by accident when he was a child and is now having the shit beaten out of him at every opportunity by the same boy whenever he’s left alone. The film does well to show that the severity of your life’s guilt will affect the pressure put on you from the afterlife. A great concept for a film and maybe somewhat of a controversial choice for a depiction of Hell on film. Still, I stand by it.
Saving Private Ryan - okay, so this entry isn’t technically Hell in the true sense of the word but if there has ever been any depiction of Hell on Earth in film, this is the definitive version so far. The first 20 minutes of this film will leave you shellshocked at the sheer scope of pain, misery, calamity, destruction and blood ‘n guts on offer. As a mere human being growing up, I knew there were wars, some of which my own ancestors died in and people went through horrible scenarios but Saving Private Ryan really drove it home like nothing else before. What I witnessed in that first 20 minutes changed my entire outlook on war, made me much more appreciative of the Veterans and their sacrifices and made me seek out more material on the subject of our most recent wars (most notably the incredible television series Band of Brothers). All of it born from this film. If anyone ever says watching films is a waste of life, I could argue that it can change your life. This film changed mine.
Funnily enough, I could only muster these depictions of Hell in film, whether technical definitions of it or not. As I started, I thought I could manage at least ten but even after hitting a wall and succumbing to using the Internet, I still couldn’t find any others that I have actually seen. Surely there are more but this is the limit of my knowledge from my many years of viewing film. Are there any other films you can think of with interesting takes on Hell itself? I know I can think of many films where something comes from Hell to do bad things but we rarely get to view Hell itself. I’d be interested to know what I have missed here if anyone can think of any others. I have a feeling I’m about to be schooled so “What you got?”