Hellraiser: The Rate-ening

So in the previous two posts, I discussed the Hellraiser franchise, eight movies that came out between 1987 and 2005.  How do they rate as movies, and more particularly, as Hellraiser movies?

As movies, they are generally okay.  At their best, these films are creative and original, but they are hardly masterpieces.  Even at their worst, however, they are passably entertaining.  So none are excellent, but none are atrocious.  If you like lots of blood and gore, these movies should do the trick.  So how do I personally rank them?

  1. Hellraiser – As might be expected, the original would be the best.  Although a bit dated in both fashions and special effects, at least this movie offered something different.  The Cenobites are something new to look at; eventually, they would become little more than generic movie monsters.
  2. Hellbound:  Hellraiser II – This works well as a followup to the first movie, though there are some inconsistencies (such as a house that’s destroyed at the end of the first movie and intact in this one).  With many of the same characters returning, this film is not just a rehash, but a nice continuation.
  3. Hellraiser:  Bloodline – The fourth movie provides a history that answers some of the “why” questions that have developed over the first three movies.  Perhaps most significantly, it provides an origin of the Lament Configuration.  The three stories that comprise this movie, however, are just so-so.
  4. Hellraiser: Hellseeker – The sixth movie brings back Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), the closest the series has to a heroine.  Admittedly, she doesn’t do that much, but it’s nice to see her character again.
  5. Hellraiser:  Hell on Earth – The principal virtue in this third movie is the little look into the backstory of Pinhead, who spends much of the movie split in two:  the evil half wants to take over the world, the good half wants to reunite and restore order.  There isn’t actually much difference between “evil” Pinhead and “united” Pinhead, as can be seen in later movies.  This movie also seems to establish that Pinhead can create new Cenobites.
  6. Hellraiser:  Deader – If the movies above have slightly (or more) good than bad, this movie is the balanced one, with at least the Romanian settings providing a nice change-of-pace look.  The mopey main character, however, is a bit of a drag.
  7. Hellraiser: Inferno – It’s kind of a toss-up between these last two rated movies.  This movie – fifth in the series – suffers from having no likable main characters (a cop partner is the only one who comes close, but he is in a supporting role).  It comes off like an elaborate and bloody Twilight Zone episode, one of those ones where a bad guy leads a bad life and suffers a bad fate.
  8. Hellraiser:  Hellworld – This movie is bad enough that it almost goes into so-bad-it’s-good territory.  Poorly written with gaping plot holes and bad direction and acting to boot, this film comes off less as a Hellraiser movie and more as a knockoff of Scream or Saw.

Raising Hell times 8, part II

When describing the Hellraiser movies, there’s enough to say that it’s best to divide into two posts.  Since there are eight movies, it makes sense to break at the midpoint, but it is also logical based on the stories themselves.

The first four movies form a loose tetraology that defines the Hellraiser mythology.  “Loose” is an important consideration since continuity between movies has rarely been much of a consideration.  After these movies, the stories are pretty much standalone tales in the Hellraiser Universe, with Pinhead becoming less of a force of evil and more a force of somewhat sinister justice.  These films are stories that use Hellraiser elements but more-0r-less exist outside the Hellraiser saga comprised of the first four movies.  As a another reason to logically break after the first four movies, they had been released theatrically; the next four were direct-to-video/DVD.

As for the movies themselves:  the fifth movie is Hellraiser: Inferno, the tale of a corrupt cop who retrieves the Lament Configuration from a murder scene.  There are indications that a child is being held prisoner by a mysterious figure known as the Engineer.  After a binge with some coke and a hooker, the cop opens the box and things get really weird, almost like a David Lynch version of  a Hellraiser movie.  While many of the films have dream sequences, this one almost goes overboard with them.  As seems appropriate, the bad cop pays for his crimes thanks to Pinhead.

Hellraiser: Hellseeker brings back Ashley Laurence, the heroine of the first two movies.  As the movie begins, she is traveling with her husband, played by Dean Winters, currently most well-known for his guest appearances on 30 Rock as Dennis Duffy and his Allstate commercials where he’s Mayhem.  Any bliss between Kirsty and Trevor ends quickly as their car crashes into a river and Kirsty drowns.  Or does she?  Clues point to Trevor being not-so-nice a guy and Kirsty’s body never appears.  Strange flashbacks point to a less-than-happy marriage, one in which Trevor eventually gives Kirsty a Lament Configuration box.  Nothing good can come from that.  Pinhead is around, but his appearances are getting more and more limited.

Hellraiser:  Deader kind of revisits the concept of the third film, with a reporter getting entangled in a nasty conspiracy.  In this case, the reporter Amy Klein is played by Kari Wuhrer, one of those actresses whose name is kind of familiar but I can never quite place.  After viewing a video showing a person being killed and brought back to life, Amy is off to Bucharest for a story.  She finds a cult known as Deaders, led by one of the descendants of the original Lament Configuration.  This fellow plans on using Amy as a pawn to gain access to Hell and control of the Cenobites.  Pinhead has other ideas. It should be noted that this is one of the signs of a death knell of a franchise: first, direct-to-video, then filming in former Soviet bloc countries where everything looks European but is super cheap.

The next sign that a franchise is on its last legs is when it goes “meta”, referring to itself.  This is what happens in Hellraiser: Hellworld.  The premise here is that the Hellraiser story is just a computer game, one which obsesses one player so much that he kills himself.  A while later, his friends go to a Hellworld party where strange things are going on, including the appearance of various Cenobites.  Here’s where I have to insert a spoiler:  it turns out the whole thing is the grand scheme of the dead kid’s father, who’s drugged the friends with hallucinogens, making most of the movie one big dream (and one with plot holes that are too big to be ignored.  Of course, as a final twist, it turns out that the Cenobites are real, and they exact justice on the vengeful father.  I’d like to point out that one of this movies failings is that the computer game that sparks this whole thing appears to be not very interesting or difficult, making me wonder why college-age kids would be obsessed with it for years.

Next post:  rating the movies.

Raising Hell times 8

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve indulged in the Hellraiser movies, which is to say, the first eight in the series.  There is a ninth one that was released last year, but not only have I not seen it, I haven’t heard good things; apparently, it was mainly made to keep the franchise rights going.  Which is not to say that the first eight are all gems, but they are all reasonably entertaining.

When I say that I watched the eight movies over a couple weeks, that doesn’t mean I watched one, then the next one a couple days later.  I watched these in bunches, including four in a single day, and its to the credit of the series that I could do this.  Some movie series just rehash the same basic story time and again (such as the Friday the 13th or Halloween movies or even, going way back, Universal’s old Mummy movies: of the five, four are almost identical in plot and structure).  What the Hellraiser series offers is a different type of monster than many horror films and a mythology (however inconsistently applied) that goes with it.

The basic story goes back to a novella by Clive Barker, once one of the great names in horror fiction (his recent work is more sporadic in quality and quantity).  The movies deal with a puzzle box called the Lament Configuration which, when solved, opens a gateway to Hell.   Hell turns out to be an S&M paradise of sorts, populated by beings known as Cenobites who love to torture hapless souls.  The lead Cenobite is never named in the movie, but is nicknamed Pinhead in the credits; in fact, none of the Cenobites bear any real names.

As is typical in my posts, I may include some spoilers.

In the original movie, Hellraiser, the Cenobites have a lesser role.  It instead focuses on Frank, a nasty guy whose yearnings for exotic pleasures leads him to the Lament Configuration which drags him to Hell.  Frank’s clever, however, and figures on a way to escape with the assistance of his brother Larry’s wife (Julia) and some copious amounts of human blood.  The brother is played by Andrew Robinson, best known as the crazy killer Scorpio in Dirty Harry; here, he’s a much nicer guy, which will not lead to good things.  The heroine of the story is Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), Larry’s college-age daughter, who will summon the Cenobites inadvertently and use them to stop Frank.

Even this first movie is imperfect, but it is a fun film with an original concept, especially for the 1980s, a relatively low era for horror quality, with an overabundance of slasher flicks.  It definitely has a 1980s look to it, which makes it seem dated.  And if you don’t like gore, you should avoid this whole franchise, which often deals with people being flayed and mutilated.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II follows directly after the first movie, with Kirsty locked up in an insane asylum and no one believing her story.  Well, no one except the head psychiatrist, an evil man who knows all about the magic box.  He brings back Julia from the dead while Kirsty attempts to rescue her father from Hell, little knowing that it’s a trap by Frank.  The Cenobites play a bigger role in this one, and it’s revealed that they were once humans.  Though the movie ends with the Cenobites, including Pinhead, apparently dead, you can’t keep a good demon down.

In Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, Pinhead is back and, as the title says, interested in moving out of the underworld.  Somehow trapped in a strange statue, he is resurrected by a twisted nightclub owner.  It can be noted that although Pinhead has become the common monster in these movies, there is typically always a human villain who is typically the actual center of the story; in fact, only in this movie and the next one does Pinhead take on true “bad guy” status and kill people who did not fiddle with the box.  As in the majority of movies, this one features a woman as the lead “good guy”, in this case a reported played by Terry Farrell (pre-Deep Space Nine).

The fourth movie, Hellraiser: Bloodline, is actually a collection of three related stories.  The framing story takes place in the future where on a space station a man has summoned Pinhead, using a robot to open the Lament Configuration.  It turns out he’s the descendant of the original designer.  His story, taking place in pre-Revolution France, deals with the summoning of a demon princess and the havoc that results.  The other story deals with  a modern-day descendant who becomes targeted by Pinhead and company due to his ancestor.  Then it’s back to the future where the final descendant intends on destroying Pinhead using a “reverse” box.

At this point, halfway through the Hellraiser 8, it’s a good point to break.  This will continue in the next post.