Monday, 23 April 2012



If you really want to put numbers on them, these are technically Hellraisers 6, 7 and 8 respectively, but in truth they're entirely unconnected stories which started life as non-Hellraiser spec scripts and then had five minutes of Cenobite action and Pinhead bon mots crassly and uncaringly shoehorned into them where they didn't really fit to turn them into Hellraiser sequels. The results are Hellraisers in name only, produced solely because they have the rights to, and who really cares whether they're actually any good or not? These films are not conceived by filmmakers, they're conceived by marketing people: made cheaply and quickly to sell cheaply and quickly. Indeed, Hellraiser: Revelations - the ninth in the series - was reportedly made solely to retain the rights to the franchise so they can one day produce a full reboot. (Revelations has yet to surface in the UK; to judge from the trailer it looks, unhappily, to be a predominantly found-footage movie about some dimwit teens on a road trip.)

What they've basically done is taken frankly unremarkable original scripts and shoved Pinhead and the Lament Configuration into the action every so often. Strangely, Hellraiser: Hellseeker almost qualifies as a direct sequel to the first two Hellraiser movies as it brings back Ashley Laurence to reprise her role as once-teenage heroine Kirsty: now married to Trevor, a faithless dick of a husband. But then the car plummets into the river and she drowns....or does she? The body has disappeared and Trevor's lovers are mysteriously killed off one by one. And then the lead cop on the case suddenly turns into a two-headed CGI monster, and reality is turned on its head as Trevor is locked in a morgue to face the horrible truth....

Sadly that horrible truth doesn't make a blind bit of sense and all the Hellraiser references are meaningless; this could have been an unremarkable DTV quickie but it ends up as an unremarkable DTV quickie with Pinhead occasionally photobombing the proceedings. Hellraiser: Deader is even further distant, as brilliant London-based American journalist Amy (Kari Wuhrer) follows up her scorching expose "How To Be A Crack Whore" by investigating a Bucharest suicide cult that, according to the secretly filmed but remarkably well edited video, has the power of resurrection. To crack the case she has to contact Marc Warren on a tube train full of sex and drug-crazed lunatics. And somewhere in there is that puzzle box and the three Cenobites for another frankly unfathomable ending.

By the time Hellraiser: Hellworld rolls into view (which is generally listed as the eighth film although it was apparently shot back-to-back with Deader, yet the copyright date is intriguingly two years before), Pinhead, the Cenobites and Lament Configuration are reduced to the level of icons on an online gaming site called Hellworld. Five uninteresting teenaged idiots show up at Lance Henriksen's exclusive Hellworld party full of free booze and the promise of unlimited kinky and anonymous sex with their fellow masked partygoers - but then Pinhead shows up and starts hacking them up with meat cleavers! Or is there something else, something more banal, going on? Quite possibly, but the final resolution again doesn't make a lot of sense.

Neither of the three films are in any way more than tolerable at very best, and there are only a few moments when they're any good at all. Certainly they're nowhere close to Clive Barker's original wonky but effective, surprising and intelligent horror film, or Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 which personally I slightly prefer as a totally bonkers gore fantasy. Anthony Hickox's wild and more crowd-pleasing Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth was fun in places, but the rot really set in with Hellraiser: Bloodline, messily merging the history of the puzzle box with antics on a space station (Kevin Yagher took his name off the credits) and Hellraiser: Inferno which just feels like an ordinary Bad Cop Goes Nuts movie with randomly inserted appearances of Pinhead.

Hellraisers 6, 7 and 8 are pretty much on that level of unambitious time-fillers: they're competently put together (all directed by Rick Bota) but the scripts don't work because they've been twisted to fit a template that its makers don't really understand. At least two of them also fall into the gaping trap of having great chunks of the action take place in the characters' minds, leaving you baffled as to what actually happened and what exactly is going on. That's not necessarily a bad thing in a horror film, to shift between reality and hallucination, fantasy and dream, but it's no good if it just leads to a sense of confusion. (The bulk of Christopher Nolan's Inception takes place across five or six different levels of reality simultaneously, but at no time is the audience ever lost as to which level they are in at any given moment.)

Of the three, Deader is probably the least annoying although that's absolutely no kind of recommendation. Still, there are moments which suggest they are trying recapture some of Hellraiser's grandeur, most notably the scores which are clearly attempting (unsuccessfully) to replicate the dark beauty of Christopher Young's soundtracks for the first two films. All three films actually look fairly decent, probably thanks to Rick Bota's long experience as a cinematographer for film and TV, and he stages a few moments quite nicely, such as an unnerving sequence with a corpse in an apartment bathroom in Deader. Gary Tunnicliffe's gore effects are fun as well (though the CGI gore is pretty lame). But this isn't really enough: if you're going to make a Hellraiser movie you have to embrace the darkness and the monsters, and they've failed to do that. They've just made a triptych of inconsequential, disposable horror flicks that waste their unique and fascinating iconography.

Pale shadows:

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