Today I found Mel Brooks’ classic Young Frankenstein in a five dollar bin at a local retailer. What a steal! If you haven’t yet seen this masterpiece of comedy (ranks right there with Monty Python and the Holy Grail in pure cinematic perfection), then I must insist you quickly correct this! That film will last the test of time.
Unlike the next.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Oh, what fresh hell is this?
All the things that made the first two Hellraisers interesting and refreshing in its unique presentation of the macabre, all that great mystery and apparent desire to tell a story, was so brutally demolished in this by-the-numbers piece of Hollywood dreck. What happened? It was going so well. Not perfect, mind you, but it was a series well on its way to becoming something special. Despite what seemed like a definite conclusion to the main characters of the film, the viewers were left with a vibrant new world to explore and the possibilities of fresh, new stories to be told. There were more boxes, which meant more keys to hellish gateways. But were there other types of keys? Other types of worlds? What of the creatures and creations that dwelt there? An exploration of mythos behind it all awaited. It would have been a fascinating project for a talented storyteller of Barker’s caliber.
But count on Hollywood to muck it all up, and completely miss the very POINT of Hellraiser.
Where to begin?
To start with, Pinhead is back. While I love the character of Pinhead (particularly Doug Bradley’s wonderful betrayal of him in the first two films), Pinhead’s story was essentially done in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. The only reason he was brought back was because he had become such a profitable horror icon at this point (like Freddy Kruger) and Hollywood saw mega dollar signs in having a large franchise like Halloween, probably hoping it would be as massively profitable as the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. They probably hoped for some sort of “Pinhead vs insert-horror-mainstay-character” type film eventually, a la Freddy vs Jason, (two fan bases for the price of one!). Originally, Barker and crew had intended on Julia to carry on the story in the next installment, but apparently she didn’t test as well with the audience (and I have issues with that too, but more on that later).
But of course they couldn’t leave the character of Pinhead intact. Oh, no no no! They had to make him some clichéd. He actually throws a temper tantrum in one scene! He is no longer serene, observant, cunning, or seductive. Just flat-out LOUD. Oh sure, the movie tries to convince us he is a crafty manipulator, and to a degree he is (he knows what people are feeling and the details of their past), but the characters he runs into are pretty dense and one-dimensional. Doug seems to fight hard with the script, trying to give Pinhead back some of his dignity, and its only through him that some semblance of the true Pinhead is saved, a daunting task as in this film the director seems to be ramming the character quickly from one task to another in an attempt to cram as many memorable movie lines as he can to make the character more marketable. I found the whole thing quite repellant.
Truthfully, the plot isn’t a bad one, just formulaic and fairly generic, but with a great many plot holes and non-explanations (that are actually needed here). To sum it up: Pinhead is brought back through the mysterious pillar shown at the end of Hellraiser II; which is now known as the “Pillar of Souls,” which works like a sacrificial altar as bodies and blood must be “fed” to it (or rather, Pinhead who is fed through it) in exchange for power. The trick is the person feeding the Pillar isn’t gaining power, Pinhead is, as with each victim he grows more powerful (though he promises power to the person aiding
him). The Pillar is a confusing point for me: it supposedly acts as a prison, keeping Pinhead bound inside, though how he got in there, or why the others in his Gash are not there, is never explained. He is “powerless” while he remains within, yet somehow he is able to manipulate his environment (even beyond the space the Pillar is contained). And how does the Pillar “feed” him? We must assume it is like the mattresses in the first two, right? But the Pillar was created from seemingly nothing, and the Cenobites were returned to their human form by their own humanity, thus made weak and killable by the Channard Cenobite. Key word: Killed. I guess one could argue about where the soul of a reformed Cenobite go after “death.” Again though,
where are the others? What happened to Chatterer, Female, and Butterball? Yes, the “good” side of Pinhead, Captain Elliot Spencer, explains there was a schism. But this really doesn’t explain how the Pillar was formed, who or what controls it, and what happened to the others (or how the schism was even created). And yes, I argued for keeping the mysteries of the otherworld created in the first two films in tact, but as we are now dealing with a different Hell (hinted to be Biblical here), the rules have changed. We are now in semi-familiar territory, but nothing makes sense because it’s been horribly ret-conned. And again, Pinhead was never EVIL. He lacked “humanity” because he was no longer human, and he wasn’t a demonic being in the Biblical nature. The novella certainly didn’t treat the Cenobites as vengeful, irrational, shrieking psychopaths. They were almost pacifists. I guess though I have to recognize that the first two films (at least the last one) steered slightly away from that concept (certainly they got angry), but they were fairly stoic. Having one mock another religion, when they themselves weren’t about religion in any sense would have been meaningless. And if Pinhead was supposed to represent the most debased and wretched side of Captain Spencer, then shouldn’t the side of Spencer shown to Joey have been pure? But he was also susceptible to temptation, as Pinhead tries to manipulate him in the end. But if THAT’S the case, then that would mean that there weren’t TWO sides that split, and that Elliot still has wickedness within, and Pinhead can’t be a carnation of all of Spencer’s malice.
*Sigh* I’m rambling again, but this is what happens when you have a generic plot that revolves around having a Hollywood formula surrounding characters that are literary in nature. I’m certainly not a student of film but I think you can see (that is, if you’ve seen the films) that this just does not mesh well.
But let’s move on.
Also gone is the lovely, and at times haunting, score, replaced by the typical mindless metal music that is often used to sell soundtracks. Whether you liked the soundtrack or not, the whole point of the soundtrack SHOULD be to give the film atmosphere and work with the film to create a mood. Original scores work so well for this purpose. But Hollywood is lazy and all about the bottom line, so they tried to cram as much heavy metal slop as they could.
But let’s get to a favorite complaint about this addition: the Cenobites. They look like crap. Don’t believe me? Look here:
Now, does that look like something that would come from the wildest imaginations of an otherworldly force? I really don’t have to say anything more. That looks like crap. Hell, even Pinhead is given a bad makeup job.
Now, there are some good things about the film. The budget was miniscule (a mere few million) but according to the actors the crew worked hard to achieve what they could with so little. And I agree. The sets look pretty good, and there is a definite professional quality to be found in all the shots. I didn’t realize it had been made for so little.
The acting is a mixed bag, but the actress playing the lead character (the statuesque beauty that is Terry Farrell) did a convincing job. It was actually a fitting role for her, as playing a hard-nosed reporter is a close match with another role she is perhaps more famous for portraying. However, she is unconvincing in her most tender moments. The opposite is true for her counterpart, “Terri” (portrayed by the lovely, Doe-eyed Paula Marshall) who has a genuine vulnerability aura, but is unconvincing as a street-wise survivor (too weak and whiney). Again, many of the male leads aren’t given much depth, save for Doug Bradley, but they aren’t the worse I’ve ever seen. Some of the extras are noticeably awful though.
At this point I feel compelled to note, and on a purely superficial level, the Hellraiser series is well-known for it’s exquisitely gorgeous female leads, many who don’t quite fit the typical Hollywood mode, with the exception of this film (the female leads all look like the typically beautiful Hollywood starlets). But this reverts back in the next film, Bloodlines (one that I find among the most interesting, but more on that a little later).
Speaking of beautiful female leads, some may wonder why I would have rejected Julia returning. As stated in my last post I loved Julia. I still do. And with a decent script I’m sure we could have had a lot of fun with her. But like Pinhead I basically considered her story over. Kristy’s too, for the most part, though I felt she had more business making a comeback than Julia did (and she does make a brief appearance in this film).
Honestly though, looking back (as I write this review), while I am angry at the way this film turned out (and mark it as the decline of the series), the film itself isn’t the WORST I’ve seen in horror, and I felt the cast and crew did the best with what they had. The fault mainly rests in the hands of the script and some of the direction. There wasn’t much to salvage, and it’s a shame, because this series was a bit of a rarity.
So how did the next film do? Well, I’ll give you a hint: it was the last to make it to the theaters.
Ahhh, Hellraiser in Space. You know when a horror series reaches this point it’s reached the bottom-of-the-barrel, with virtually no hope of returning back to the mainstream (at least without a reboot). It’s basically D.O.A. after this point, even if what is produced after is marginally better. Most never hit the theaters again. This is not an exception.
However, it’s actually not *that* bad.
Okay, the plot is ridiculous and it feels like a bunch of different ideas jumbled into one, which makes sense as it was originally intended to be a separate storied batch (which would have been far more interesting). Some of the acting is a bit over-the-top, and with a small cast that problem can really stand out. The effects are more or less the same, and though I can’t really pinpoint why, the film feels like an overall (slight) downgrade in quality. Pinhead feels like an afterthought (but ya know, gotta have him brought back). And once again the acting is a mixed bag.
But there are some interesting elements here.
First let’s talk about the big one: Angelique. Ahhh, Angelique. I really wish we could have explored this character more as I felt there was some really great stories here. Angelique is a bona-fide demoness. But not just any demoness. She is the princess of the Labrynth (Hell). Yeah, a demon princess. And she is of course gorgeous (wearing the skin of a beautiful sacrificial lamb. In many ways, she reminds of Pinhead in his earliest role. She is portrayed beautifully by Valentina Vargas, who portrays her as both contemplative and sensual, yet also sadistic with something….else. An edge I can’t explain that causes me to find this character just fascinating, I feel that there is just so much going on with this angel of the Labrynth that isn’t explored.What was her role to play in hell? Some back story on script revisions gives some interesting food for thought. She could make her own pseudo-cenobites for instance (my guess is in a form similar to Pinheads in Hellraiser 3, though it may only be limited to the Hellworld from whence she came). She also can apparently give long life and youth and possesses some telekinetic powers. Yet for all this, she is still limited to the control of her master (unless he breaks the “number one rule”), which again, why can she be controlled when she is a demoness of high rank???
Her relationship with John Merchant is more than meets the eye. She admires his mind for intricate detailing and planning, as well as his skill with his “pliant fingers”. Does this cause some desire for him in some way for these abilities? She seems quite remorseful in killing his ancestor, no doubt upset at the waste of talent. But there almost seems to be a kind of “lustful” element. Does she seek to control him to expand Hell’s power? Or as a plaything or object of study, as the Cenobites see their victims?
And what of her relationship to Pinhead? They appear almost as equals, almost. Yet he winds up “controlling” her, punishing her by making her a cenobite. What?? She’s a PRINCESS! She’s second in line to the prime seat of power in HELL! Yet, he shows moments of intimidation…toward her. He even threatens her at one point, while also trying to seduce her (a very short, subtle scene that is well performed as two solid actors can do). This would make Pinhead more powerful than a demoness princess. How??
And also, how is a demoness princess able to be controlled by a mere mortal, even with the use of black magic. How does that benefit the Hellworld? And since she is the princess, who is the king or queen? Leviathan is named the god, or, since we seem to have a mash-up using Biblical motifs, is Leviathan the Devil? We also know from Pinhead’s lines in the script and briefly mentioned in the film, that Hell used to be a more “amusing” place, indicating there was some sort of shift or transformation that took place in the Labrynth. What of that? Why did it happened? Was it because Angelique was on Earth? There are just so many questions though a lot of this poor back story planning can be blamed on all the retconning of the last film. And again, had the world remained an otherworldly dimension (lacking any religious ties), the ambiguous nature of it all would have worked well, because it was unknown territory to the audience, and therefore gives the story writers creative license. And with an awesome character like Angelique, it feels like the writers went in indecisive before almost completely abandoning her, not realizing her full potential.
Just like this franchise, but let’s not get off course…
The character of Philip Lemarchand (and vicariously John Merchant, because let’s face it, they are essentially the same character) is kind of interesting, though his original story was much better. In the film he is an innocent, but highly skilled toy maker whom for some reason is able to make otherworldly gateways that no one else can, despite appearing to be a simple human. Because of this he is obviously alluring to the forces of Hell, or should be (Pinhead doesn’t seem too impressed, but Angelique is fascinated.) However, he was originally perceived as a much more sinister character, the kind more likely to discover hellish gateways and be tempted by the potential power they bring. According to the comics, Philip Lemarchand “was portrayed as an older man, though still a creator of toys and singing birds. This version, created with the support of Clive Barker, was a mass murderer who used human fat and bone in the construction of his boxes. He was aided by a material given to him by the Cenobite known as Baron.” I could see a well done film made about the origins of the box from that brief synopsis. Again, wasted potential.
I’ll give this film credit though for starting off where the last left off, a giant corporate building designed like a Lament Configuration box. It was an enigmatic ending to the last, so I guess they “had” to do something to connect the two. So I guess the architect descended from a toy maker bloodline would make some sense. Both require creativity, skill, and keen mathematical insight. Originally it would take even the most skilled at brain teasing a good amount of time to solve the puzzle. Add a dark, twisted thirst for dark powers….
But why SPACE? WHY? I suppose it has to do with the isolation element and the constant dark of the outside universe, as well as the fear of the unknown. Films like Alien or Event Horizon were successful in making space a foreboding atmosphere,the final desolate place, crafted to replace the primitive haunted woods as the stuff of nightmares (a place where humans have zero control). While I feel space is an underused area for horror, it doesn’t work well with Hellraiser. One main reason being you ALREADY have an unknown, desolate space to explore: Hell. A return to Hell would have been interesting. What if there were many layers of Hell, since we are mixing some Biblical influence here? Or heck, what if there was some sort of rift, and other worlds were opened up? To have it take place in space is so meaningless. The best parts of the film for me was the origin part, which took place in 1700s France.
Space is where this movie falls a part in a big way. Everything about it is wrong, wrong, wrong. The characters related to space have serious lack of….character. They are a big void. I have complained about some one-dimensional characters the first three, but these aren’t even one-dimensional. Do you remember ANY of their names? Can you even describe any of them, save Future John and maybe Rimmer even physically? Comedic internet critic, Red Letter Media, once used this great tool to discuss his critiques of Star Wars prequel characters: “Can you describe, without mentioning looks or occupation, any of these characters to someone who has never seen the film?” I can not do that to a single “future” character. Their scenes were pointless and they only existed to up the body count. By contrast, the characters in the 1700s, though their scenes very brief, were far more enjoyable. The Duc de L’Isle was incredibly sinister, mostly taking over the part of the original Lemarchand as a wealthy, older gentleman who could perform magic and had a great knowledge of the dark arts. His apprentice, Jacques, was a greedy young man who plotted with the object of his lust, Angelique, to kill his master and take over his fortune, but unlike the Duc, had no desire for unearthly magics or domination of worlds, just a sex slave and a comfortable, lazy existence that wealth can provide. Philip, in his movie form, was ambitious and talented, but poor, and sought to impress to provide acclaim for his name and provide a better life for his family. When he discovers his “finest” creations true powers, he bravely risks his life to try to steal it back.
Not to mention the space ship interior looks cheap. Like SyFy Original Movie cheap.
This film, unlike Hell on Earth, had some interesting ideas that were poorly executed. Again, we can blame the script and directing. Too many chefs in the kitchen, as it were. When you have this: “(Director Kevin) Yagher’s version contained much more graphic imagery, plot, and explained everything that happened in the film. The producers disagreed and demanded Pinhead should appear sooner despite every version of the script up until then having him appear around the 40-minute mark. When Yagher was unable to satisfy he disowned it and never finished filming some final scenes. Joe Chappelle was brought on to finish the film, filming new scenes from re-writes including the narrative framing device. Some scenes of the original script were thus never shot. Yagher substituted the generic Director’s Guild pseudonym “Alan Smithee,” how do you expect your film to succeed. I would have loved to have seen the original. Particularly from viewing one of the previous scripts and deleted scenes on The Hellbound Web. Still though, this film is should get at least one view. Of all the reboots and remakes out there, there is a lot here I would like to see revisited, only this time Hollywood needs to stay the heck away.
And ironically, it sort of does take a backseat, or seems to in the next couple of installments. But more on that later.
Until then, I hope everybody has a happy and safe Halloween! (and I notice with glee that as I type this, John Carpenter’s classic 1978 horror is on the tv!)