Happy Halloween, everyone!
Today on Killtoberfest 2, a pair of psychological horror films in which young people realize that nothing is what it seems.
First up, Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld (2005).
My opinion on this movie reversed direction every five minutes. Calling it “uneven” would be an understatement. But it left me with good feelings, and was reasonably entertaining, so I’m going to give it the ringing endorsement “The best Hellraiser since Hellraiser VII! – Kyu” and they can put that shit on the box if they want.
In what is becoming a minor theme this year, Hellraiser VIII was neither as bad as everybody said it was nor about anything remotely like what I thought it was about. For example, it is not about young people being “sucked into” a Hellraiser-esque video game, as the Netflix description implies; instead, it is about young people who are metaphorically sucked into the game, in that they play it a lot, but not on screen or anything. I know, right?
In fact, the video game is mostly just the set-up by which the main characters, a group of 20-something friends who recently lost one of their own to suicide, are given special invitations to a “Hellworld”-themed party in a creepy old house, and by creepy I mean it’s been set up to look like a spooky party mansion. The big twist in the premise of this film is that it takes place in a world where young people are obsessed with Hellraiser, and as a young person obsessed with Hellraiser, that’s completely and utterly laughable. Ha ha! See, I laughed there. Watch and be amazed as people who don’t play video games tell each other, “Naw, you gotta finesse it!” and then grab the mouse to help click ‘better’ in a ‘game’ that looks suspiciously like a website with only one button. Listen with your earballs to an actress who was 10 when Hellraiser came out as she tries to make “the Lament Configuration” roll off her tongue. Enjoy ironically the part when, Scream-style, the cast discusses the “rules” of the Hellraiser movies, only to realize there is only one rule (“First you open the box, then Pinhead kills you”). Oodles of fun!
Once they all get to the party, things pick up a bit as they meet their host, Lance Henriksen, here playing the only decent non-Cenobite antagonist in the entire franchise. Then the movie goes downhill again as it devolves into a series of off-brand Saw style killings as the cast wanders off one by one to sit down in all the deathtraps and then look surprised when they’re suddenly trapped to death. Unfortunately, these sequences kill off all the interesting characters, ie., the nerdy chick and the douchebag, while leaving “mysterious group frenemy” and “is too blonde to like this stupid game anymore anyway” alive and kicking and hallucinating in kinda boring ways. (“Oh no, I’m trapped in a rooooom! Helllllp!”) Meanwhile Henriksen keeps turning into Pinhead and saying some of the most boring Pinhead pronouncements ever and believe me, that’s saying something.
This movie is easy to hate and even easier to mock, but it’s at least varied and is throwing a lot of ideas at the wall. A fake puzzle box that stabs you! A fetus in a jar that keeps moving when you’re not looking! A high-concept party segment where everybody gets a cell phone and a white mask with your phone number written on it, all the better to facilitate anonymous hook-ups, even though everybody seems to have to take off their mask to make their intentions clear anyway so I don’t know what the point was supposed to be. (This does lead to the beautifully crass image of the douchebag character getting a blowjob, depicted as a pushed-back mask nodding in his lap.) There’s a lot going on, is what I’m saying, and even if a lot of it’s dumb, it’s not boring (the real sin of most of the Hellraisers, to be honest).
The movie goes downhill again from those portions as it devolves into the least interesting characters running around, trying to escape the house, trying to find each other, etc… And then bam, all the dead kids come back as Cenobites, which was super neat and at least partially justified killing them all off. Anyway, just when the movie was about to lose my interest entirely, it triggers eight twists in a row, are you ready?!
So it turns out that MOST of the movie was all in their heads. See, once they got to the house and got met-and-gret by Henriksen, he was able to cleverly drug them in various fashions (like that stabby fake puzzle box) with a drug that causes both paralysis and hallucinations.
Then he buried them all alive. Holy shit. And gave each of them a cellphone so he could whisper in their ear and influence their terrifying nightmares. So Hellraiser is just a movie! It was all in the brains. That’s what you get for being horror fans, kids: your fears will consume you, and also you’ll be buried alive.
So, wait, that means all the kids who died are alive, right? NOPE TWIST they all died ironically in reaction to their hallucinations. (For instance, one girl who dreamed her neck was sliced by saw blades reacted by… clawing her neck open trying to get them out.)
So why the hell would Henriksen do this, other than as practice for that episode of Hannibal he’d be in years later? As it turns out, Henriksen is the father of the friend of theirs who killed himself–who did so because he got “too into the game” and realized that the other rule of Hellraiser is that if you kill yourself, you get to keep your soul out of hell. (Isn’t that the opposite of what the Catholics say?) So that’s what you get for being fans of a horror game, kids: it’ll drive you insane and you’ll die. Cancel that WOW subscription now. Anyway, Henriksen blames the other kids for not preventing his son’s suicide; this seems kind of unfair to me, but then Henriksen is clearly the kind of sociopath who will bury people he doesn’t like alive, so I guess complaining that he’s a little irrational in his choice of targets is kind of besides the point.
Anyway, the two main boring characters manage to survive, which is actually kind of neat and unexpected for the series. Henriksen gets away, but OMG TWIST TIME AGAIN Pinhead catches up to him in his hotel room and cuts him to pieces. Pinhead was real, you guys! It was all real!
So in summation, Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld has a message for all of us, and it’s that evil soul-sucking demons are real, but it’s best not to believe in them or the fear alone will kill you way worse. Also, don’t date robots! I didn’t mention that in my review but the movie was super clear about that one.
Anyway, this only leaves one Hellraiser left. Can I complete the cycle? Can I–spoiler alert, I can and I did, I just haven’t reviewed it yet.
Moving on: 1989’s Society. I don’t often use language this strong, but it has to be said: damn, Society, why you ackin’ so cray-cray?
You know those movies where you’re not sure if the main character is experiencing weird shit or if they’re just crazy? Every once in a while you’d rather they were just crazy.
Society is one of the weirder movies I’ve ever seen. It’s a horror comedy that is neither funny nor scary, which I guess makes it a colossal failure. The movie is about Bill Whitney, of the Beverly Hills Whitneys, a teenaged member in (but not of) the vapid higher class. He doesn’t seem to fit in, probably because he’s mentally ill. He has a therapist, to whom he confesses having hallucinations and paranoia, believing that underneath the surface of his happy, wealthy American family lies something awful. Various people start playing into his delusions–one plays him an audio tape seeming to document his sister’s coming out party as incorporating group sex and incest–and everybody who whispers to him that they have a secret about “society” ends up missing, dead, or both.
Finally, after roughly an hour of frankly boring-as-hell delaying tactics, Bill is captured by the local police and brought… home, where all of his worst nightmares have come true (and then some).
It’s here that I enter an issue: Society is one of those movies, like Megan is Missing, where the last 20 minutes or so is really the whole point of the film, and makes or breaks the movie. I don’t want to spoil them; but I don’t want to encourage you to see them out of curiosity, because despite the energy and oddity of the visuals and the effects work, I still don’t think it’s a good movie. Cronenberg this ain’t. And even the movie’s message–that the rich are literally monstrous and awful–doesn’t carry through well enough in the rest of the movie. Bill’s not enough of an outcast, and aside from the secrets on display at the end, the society itself is not visibly corrupt or harmful. I suppose the film is meant to expose the seedy underbelly of the 80s, but it fails at being spectacularly ’80s or spectacularly seedy. Part of the problem is that even the ending is so over-the-top absurd–and so willing to stop for dumb jokes, like the butthead line–that it’s impossible to take it seriously on a thematic level. And so you’re left with “funny”, which is subjective, but I was never really on the movie’s wavelength.
It’s disappointing, because this was one of those “oh man you’ve gotta see this crazy shit” movies, and while this shit was indeed crazy, I didn’t gotta see it. Oh well.
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