Next up on Killtoberfest, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. It is… aptly named.
Most horror franchises are by their nature centered around the villain. Saw, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Child’s Play, Paranormal Activity, etc. Scream is a rare exception, as is Romero’s “Living Dead” series; both essentially carry through a similar situation from one movie to the next, with new people rising up in the villain role each time. (Scream is even more unique for following a set of protagonists, as I’ll discuss in a later review.) Both of those exceptions, it should be noted, are creator-driven franchises. Like all good horror directors, Wes Craven and George Romero are more interested in the people and the ideas than the monsters.
Horror audiences are a different thing. Sequels by new creators are all about the money (well, all movies are all about the money, but here that’s even more the case). Once you get into the roman numerals, the question isn’t the blank slate “what can these creators do with this concept,” it’s about the complex tug of war between studio expectations, audience desires, and creatives over what shape each new entry will take. As a creator, you try to find whatever you can in the material that you can make original or personal to you; the studio is trying to cater to the box office; and audiences will typically reward movies that really, really work (Gravity, or Paranormal Activity) or that satisfy good old fashioned bloodlust. Too often the latter drive takes the form of venerating the monster over its victims, and studios respond by asking creatives to elevate the killer from villain to star. This gets more and more tempting the longer the series runs, because, really, isn’t the villain more of a star the more his image and presence defines each entry’s inclusion in the franchise?
The result of this process is shit like Hellraiser III.
I can’t really comment on how this process works or doesn’t work with other franchises; it might turn out better in the Friday the 13th movies or something (although the existence of a movie called Freddy vs Jason leads me to doubt that). But in Hellraiser it’s utterly ruinous for audiences to fall in love with Pinhead and for studios to play to that desire. We’ll talk during the review of Hellraiser IV about how the director felt that request destroyed his movie. Here it just makes the entire proceedings super, super dumb.
I’m not even going to bother with a plot summary, because “the one with the killer razor CDs” is just as meaningful as “the one about the reporter and the nightclub” or “the one where evil Pinhead fights good Pinhead for the fate of Pinhead, yes, that did in fact happen.” None of it means anything and all of it is a betrayal of what Hellraiser the series should be about.
I think they just got confused by the word “demon,” which, I mean, that’s what the word “Cenobite” is for. The Christian ideas of Heaven and Hell and especially good and evil/sin, these have nothing to do with the Cenobites. Barker clearly meant for them to be supernatural beings–perhaps even morally neutral beings–who existed to give pleasure and pain to those who seek it out, to deliver on the extremes of human desire. But after the first movie, the idea of the Cenobites as traditional demons, tempting mortals into sin and then punishing them for it, begins to seep into the series. By Hell On Earth it’s taken over completely–hence the climactic battle between Pinhead’s “good” and “evil” sides. Hence the portrayal of the evil Pinhead as gleefully sacriligious as in the screenshot above. (He should be areligious.) Hence the temptation and destruction of the nightclub owner, whose sin is sleeping around. Hence the childlike innocence of the protagonist and her friend (who dies because she was corrupted by sex and failed to reform). Hence the demonification of the people who WORKED at the club, who never asked for it and are never seen participating in extreme sex, only facilitating the immoral nightclub.
That isn’t Hellraiser, but it might have still worked, if not for the audience-driven, studio-catered elevation of Pinhead from a coldly amoral figure into a cackling asshole who spouts one-liners and murders people in apparently entertaining ways. His presence in the film overshadows all other possible characters, with even the protagonists’ role reduced to observing his antics and helping his “good side” win out.
When it’s not bland and boring, it’s actively stupid in precisely the way that movies are when they’re studio creations from the ground up. The concept for this movie wasn’t “what if we carried on the themes of such and such,” or “let’s finish the story” or even “hey guys, we should make another Hellraiser,” it’s “Fuck yeah! Pinhead!” The result is the worst entry in the series to date by a wide margin.
TO BE CONTINUED in my review of Hellraiser IV: Bloodline, which suffers from some of these problems but manages to be the most entertaining Hellraiser yet… in SPAAAAAACE!
Okay, guys, I know that was a long and angry rant, but watching that trailer reminded me of how completely ridiculous this movie was. (Sinful rock and roll! The “final” confrontation! CD demon making robot whirring noises! Cheesy nonsensical one-liners!)