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Oct 26, 2014

October 2014 Horror Movie a Day - Day 25: Double Feature - HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH (1992) / HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE (1996)


NOTE: As mentioned in previous posts, Clive Barker hated the name Pinhead and intended for the character to be named Priest. Although I would like to stick with Barker's original vision, people are more familiar with the name Pinhead plus these sequels are nowhere near the original Barker concept so he shall be referred to as Pinhead in this entry. Again my apologies to Mr. Barker.

There is always a moment during an extended series or watching marathon where even the best of bloggers and movie fans experience fatigue. I noticed on Facebook yesterday one of the Digital Bits (the best website for Blu-ray and DVD release news - www.thedigitalbits.com) writers mentioned that he was ready to watch anything but a horror picture. I am also reaching that point which increased when I decided to do a Hellraiser franchise marathon following the second film. Thankfully I was smart enough to only cover the first four theatrical releases and skip the final five direct-to-video releases.

I keep my music collection embedded in my head. Helps me save on shelving.
It was Saturday night and with one week until Halloween I figured it was time for a double feature and complete this Hellraiser fest once and for all. The two I had remaining, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth and Hellraiser: Bloodline (part IV), are known for being universally reviled. Bloodline has the extra element of being an 'Alan Smithee' directed film, the Director's Guild of America moniker used when a director has had his or her name removed from a picture for various reasons. Doing some research, it appeared that in this case it was for creative reasons as Kevin Yagher (who is also a make-up/effects artist) felt the film he wanted to make was being hijacked by the powers-that-be.

This is so not comfortable.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is directed by Anthony Hickox and is as bad - if not worse - than advertised. I also like to refer to it as Pinhead Takes Manhattan. It begins as an obnoxious, rich New York playboy (Kevin Bernhardt) purchases the 'Pillar of Souls' statue that was seen encasing all the Cenobites at the end of Hellbound: Hellraiser II. We are also introduced to a reporter played by Terry Farrell (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who is struggling to make her career click when she is assigned fluff pieces, and told that she should wear tighter, shorter skirts if she really wants to get ahead (although I have to say the skirt she is wearing when she is told this is skin tight). When her camera crew is pulled away to a bigger story Farrell sees a young man brought into a hospital with hooks and chains hanging out of his ripped up flesh. We know where these come from, and Farrell smells a scoop.

Sticking my arm in the hole of this crazy statue seems like such a great idea.
Enlisting help from Bernhardt's girlfriend (Paula Marshall), she finds the puzzle box and investigates. She also has been experiencing strange dreams where she watches her father die during the Vietnam war. In the grand scheme of things (outside of a minor scene) these are superfluous even though within them she meets Captain Elliot Spencer who is Pinhead in human form (we were briefly introduced to him in II). He wants to stop Pinhead once and for all, and enlists Farrell to help. She has the box, therefore the power to lure him into Spencer's realm so he can send him back to hell permanently. Farrell must give Pinhead the box, he just can't take it. Yep, full rules explanation there so we know why Pinhead just doesn't kill Farrell and take it.

How many flesh hooks does that little puzzle box possible contain?
Meanwhile, Bernhardt has inadvertently awakened Pinhead in the statue when in the most ridiculously over-dramatic scene possible he is bitten by a rat and sprays blood on it (the score really gets bombastic here too which adds to the over-the-top theatrics). Pinhead later rips the flesh off, then sucks in the body of one of Bernhardt's sexual conquests and as usual instead of running away screaming like a sane person would do, he agrees to supply his over-priced talking demonic statue with more flesh. Marshall is the next intended victim. That doesn't go as planned but needless to say, Pinhead is released and now running amok in Manhattan. If he can make it here, he can make it anywhere.

If you're going to get your skin ripped off, might as well wear sexy boots..
Right off the bat this picture has taken all the bite out of the Hellraiser concept, and turned it into a laughable guilty pleasure of a 'horror' film. The original Cenobite band has broken up and Pinhead is now a solo act. All the terror that his character oozed in the previous films has been sucked out of him as he becomes just another dumbed-down horror figure much like Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees (but not as fun). There is an enjoyable scene where he unleashes his flesh hooks on a hip New York nightclub, but then it turns comedic with moments that include a woman's drink transforming into Pinhead's head before piercing her in the mouth and a DJ who is sliced up by his own CDs. If you think that sounds comical, it gets so much better. Pinhead then turns a group - including Marshall, Farrell's cameraman and the DJ - into Cenobites and chases Farrell through the streets of New York. The fear that the original Cenobites struck into the hearts of victims and the audience is non-existent as this 'army' more resembles the Borg from Star Trek (Terry Farrell was a year away from appearing in Deep Space Nine, so perhaps they were just warming her up). I kept expecting Pinhead to say 'resistance is futile'. The DJ uses razor sharp CDs as a weapon, and the cameraman's lens - which is now embedded in his head - is just as lethal and he has corny lines like 'that's a wrap' (I couldn't make any of this up if I tried).

Resistance is futile!
Farrell is solid in the lead, and does the best she can, although the subplot of her trying to make it as a serious reporter is abandoned pretty quickly as this movie steamrolls off the tracks.

You know what's worse than Cenobites? Making love to a Klingon.
As the credits rolled on III, my expectations for Bloodline- especially given the 'Smithee' credit - were lower than low. However, the picture surprised me because it felt like it made a serious attempt to get the series back on track. That doesn't mean I thought it was good by any means, but it definitely had its merits.

If Hellraiser III could have been Pinhead Takes Manhattan, Hellraiser: Bloodline is Hellraiser in Space - sort of.

In space, no one can see you bleed.
The second that Bloodline began and the setting was on a 22nd century space station, I mentally prepared for more laughs. It is two movies wrapped into one, which could have been easily separated into individual pictures (more on that later). First is the space station setting where the film opens, but then as the lead character (Bruce Ramsay) tells his story, we are taken back to 18th Century France, and then later the setting is 1996 New York.

I placed an ad on craigslist for more Cenobites.Hopefully these survive longer than the last batch.
Ramsay is first seen on the aforementioned space station in the year 2127, doing what we know to be is a very bad idea by remotely having a robot open the puzzle box. He opens it, but is interrupted by a squadron of space marines who place him under arrest for hijacking the station. If you pay attention, you can see that the outside of the space station has a familiar look to it - but more on that in a moment.

Will it open if I seduce it?
Interrogated by one of the marines (Christine Harnos) he tells a story of a toy maker (also Bruce Ramsay) in 18th Century France who is commissioned to create a box for an aristocrat. The toy maker claims it to be his masterpiece, but is horrified to discover that the aristocrat and his apprentice (Adam Scott - yes THAT Adam Scott from Party Down and Parks & Recreation) have used it to summon a demon (Valentina Vargas) that they make their slave. Rules are clarified that the demon must do their bidding unless they 'stand in hell's way' whatever that means. Determined to undo the evil that he is partially responsible for unleashing, he begins to design another device that will destroy the demon and close the portal to hell completely. Trying to steal the original box back, he stumbles upon Scott and Vargas having sex. He is discovered and told that his bloodline is now cursed for eternity for creating the box, then killed. It should be noted that the toy maker has a pregnant wife back home.

Spike here prefers to chew on human arms as opposed to just bones..
Flash forward to the year 1996, and Ramsay is now a descendant of the toy maker living in New York and has created a building incorporating the design of the puzzle box that we know all too well (the building was also seen at the end of Hellraiser III tying them together). Vargas is living in Paris with Scott and connects this version of Ramsay to the toy maker and plans to go to New York. Scott stands in the way of hell and well, things don't turn out so well for him.

Are these flesh hooks the only weapon they've got in these sequels?
Vargas discovers an area of the building that acts as a gateway to hell and accidentally summons Pinhead. It seems hell has changed since Vargas was last there, and Pinhead plans to use this gateway as a permanent portal so that he can invade Earth with an army of Cenobites. Initially Vargas is in on the plan and works on Ramsay to help them carry it out. When Pinhead gets impatient and kidnaps Ramsay's child, Vargas has a change of heart and realizing she doesn't care for the cut of Pinhead's jib, tries to inspire Ramsay to finish the toy maker's original plan to destroy the demons and lock up the portal. Things happen, Pinhead is confronted, the child, Vargas and Ramsay are all put in jeopardy and that wraps up the 1996 portion of the program.

I play three roles, but I bet they only pay me for one.
Now we're back on the space station in 2127 and Ramsay finally cracked the toy maker's design and had summoned Pinhead and his Cenobites (Vargas is now one of them as well as a pair of hapless twin security guards who stumbled upon Pinhead in 1996) to finish this once and for all. The problem is the marines interrupted him and well, now unholy, blood-thirsty, flesh-craving demons with a plan to invade Earth are loose on the ship. Well done Marines, well done. Oh yeah about that space station, it is at this point that it becomes evident that it looks like the puzzle box flattened out. Yep, not a coincidence.

I just saw 'Hellraiser III'! Always good for a laugh.
I have to give Bloodline credit because it really tries hard to erase the sins of Hellraiser III and bring the franchise back on track. Pinhead is sinister and scary again as are his new Cenobite pals - although still not to the level of the original film. There is even a Cenobite dog-like creature that is pretty nasty. It chatters, an homage to the chattering Cenobite from the first two films.

Are we having fun yet?
The problem with this picture is that it really is two movies in one - the space segment, and the 18th Century/1996 segment. In fact, I got so caught up in the 1996 portion I totally forgot about the space portion until it jarringly returned. While the whole idea of a cursed bloodline connected to the puzzle box is ambitious, the movie feels fragmented to a point where I lost interest once it returned to space.

Bad hair day.
Although more effective as a Hellraiser movie than III, the picture doesn't begin to reach the heights of blood, gore and discomfort of the first two. In both III and Bloodline, skin is ripped off, meat hooks pull on flesh (this device is used so much it gets tiresome) and buckets of blood are spilled. Here it all plays out like an average horror film rather than the extremes of Clive Barker's original vision.

This looks NOTHING like a Borg cube (please don't sue us 'Star Trek')
One note for Bloodline is that when it was released in 1996, the distributor Dimension Films, Miramax's horror label, was owned by the Walt Disney Company. In a roundabout way, here is a Hellraiser movie that is a Disney film. I would love to see the plans for inserting Pinhead and the Cenobites into Disneyland (and of course Walt rolling over in his grave many times). That might even worked as a film concept, Pinhead invades Disneyland. I'd love to see him with the Mickey ears on.

What are you going to do now that you've unleashed hell? We're going to Disneyland!
Thankfully my Hellraiser mini-marathon has come to a close, and I can move onto something different for Horror Movie a Day during this final week leading up to Halloween. Is there a support group or pill I can take for Pinhead fatigue?