Today’s Killtoberfest entry is the last Hellraiser movie I watched this year, Hellraiser V: Inferno. One side of the concept for this movie, how it interacts with the Hellraiser mythology, I completely understand why they would go in that direction. It makes sense and it’s not a bad idea. If the Hellraiser series was a comic book, Bloodline would be a giant 12-issue arc and Inferno would be an Annual one-off. Pairing that with some very decent (for DTV) horror visuals like in the screenshot above, and you’ve got the makings of a nice, unassuming Silent Hill-esque flick.
It’s the other side of the concept that’s ruinous, and that is the decision to make the movie a noir. As I said in my Bloodline review, the flexibility of the series is one of its greatest strengths; but that flexibility is not infinite. Noir and horror almost never mix. Noir is about the past (crimes uncovered, mysteries solved, sins revisited), horror is about the future (they’re coming to get you, Barbara). Noir is usually about unique protagonists (Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe), horror about universal protagonists (teenagers on vacation, new homeowners). Horror is conservative, even regressive, with a strict old-school morality (sin is punished), while noir is anarchic (corruption rules, moral lines are blurred, no good deed goes unpunished). Noir is about dialogue, horror about visuals. Noir is style, horror is atmosphere. Noir asks questions that need answers, horror provides dangers that need escaping.
So when Inferno tries to marry the two genres, it cripples them both. On the noir side, you have a mystery to be solved by a Holmesian detective who is brilliant and talented but also corrupt and immoral, narrating his own story and searching for the truth. On the horror side, you have inexplicable events and visions, BDSM-infused subcultures, and a moralistic punishment for the protagonist’s sins that runs counter to everything the series has established. None of this meshes. Him solving the mystery is meaningless because of the horror ending; and there’s no point in puzzling through the clues because the movie continually turns to surreal imagery, undermining the veracity of the mystery’s information. You’ve got an unreliable narrator (possibly hallucinating, possibly seeing the supernatural) telling the story. The whole thing just breaks down at the margins.
On top of that, the protagonist is simply too unlikable. Or rather, the movie can’t decide how much it wants us to like him. Is he a House-style detective, a loose-cannon asshole cop who nevertheless gets results? He seems far too dumb to fall into that “I hate but admire you” camp. On the other hand, am I supposed to feel sorry for him because he’s getting his due for taking bribes, doing drugs, and cheating on his wife? If anything, the film is trying to show him that his family bears the brunt of his actions, which doesn’t exactly make me care about his plight.
The end result is a soupy mess of mismatched tones and clashing narrative devices. I found it boring and difficult to watch. And the limited scope at the end just goes to show that Hellraiser belongs on the big screen, not a DTV release. It was not entirely an accident that I never quite got around to watching any of the subsequent Hellraisers, although I might next year. Overall, it’s a troubled, messy series, pushed in too many different directions by too many different intentions. Of the five I watched, I would only recommend one and four. Hopefully the remake will be worthwhile.