I was never particularly a hardcore fan of the Hellraiser series. I could never remember anything that happened in the films right after seeing them, which is usually a clear sign that a movie didn’t give me any fright delight. Of course, you can’t expect much from sequels (especially when they hit double digits), but I couldn’t even retain the first film. However, I decided to revisit the Clive Barker series that began over 3 decades ago, which was easy to do, because hardcore fan or not, I own every damn one of the films on disc.
The main thing I took away from Hellraiser is that sex is really REALLY bad! No wonder I didn’t like this series! The essential philosophy right from the start seems to be that those who seek pleasure are never satisfied, eventually turning to more extreme stimulants, and inevitably to pain. And what better way to experience the ultimate pain than to go to hell??? Only there do you learn your lesson and decide you want the hell out of hell! To complete the circle, the only way to come back to life as a mortal is to inflict horrible pain on others! You would think a gay writer and director would be a little more tolerant of S&M and sluts!
Clive was totally in the driver’s seat for the first film. I’ve always been stuck with the impression that this was dark, violent, and vicious. Upon rewatching it (and actually paying attention this time), I found much of it to be campy and…well…kinda goofy. I’m sure lovers of Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart were ecstatic by 1987 to have anything that wasn’t a cookie cutter slasher, but this film lacks any real level of creepiness—until the very end.
Like something out of the beginning of Gremlins, some dude makes an under the table deal to buy a fancy Rubik’s Cube from a merchant. This dude, Frank, has sexy gay 80s facial scruff and BJ lips. He sits cross-legged on the floor surrounded by candles and fiddles with his box…releasing the iconic room of dangling chains, hooks, and freaky demons…and getting himself torn to pieces in the process.
Cut to a couple moving into the hubby’s family home. It’s the 80s, so the wife Julia looks like Frida from Abba when she set out on her own in 1982 and made a video for her rockin’ track “I Know There’s Somethin’ Going On”. We quickly learn Julia is a big slut who fucked hubby’s brother Frank regularly. However, Frank is nowhere to be found. There’s just a mattress on the floor of an empty room, which sparks Julia’s fond memories of pig sex with the gay looking Frank. As she recalls the good times, Frank’s guts, which are still in the house where he was ripped apart by the hooked chains, begin to reform to the strains of some seriously melodramatic orchestration. Gory the film is—creepy and atmospheric, not so much.
Soon, Julia discovers the fleshless Frank (who looks like one of those anatomy models from biology class). He tells her he needs her to bring him bodies (“Feed Me, Seymour!”). He reminds her she once said she’d do anything when they were in bed together. She probably meant butt sex. But she agrees to get him flesh. So he hangs out in a room that no one else ever bothers to enter, smoking and dressing up while waiting for Julia to bring men home under the false pretense of sex. They follow willingly. See? Sex is bad. Julia beats the guys, Frank eats the guys.
Meanwhile, there’s the side story of Kirsty, the husband’s daughter, who comes to live with daddy and stepmom Julia. She eventually catches on to her evil stepmother’s little secret thanks to encounters with Frank, the puzzle box, the hell realm it opens, and Pinhead and his demon friends, known as Cenobites. This is really when the film actually gets trippy, with Kirsty being chased through the house with some freaky-cheesy 80s demons. And although she manages to escape the house as it burns down with the puzzle box in it, the creepy merchant dude from the beginning takes it out of the fire, turns into some pterodactyl demon, and flies off! Hellraising in Jurassic Park is what’s going on here. Anyway, last we see, the merchant is offering the fancy Rubik’s Cube to some new customer…
HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988)
The sequel blows its load way too early by showing us how Pinhead became Pinhead. They could have kept this secret for at least another 3 movies. Anyway, I began to notice immediately that parts of the musical score sound just like the melody from the Puppet Master series.
Kirsty is back. Apparently, things didn’t end quite the way they were presented in the first film. There’s this detective, and he tells her he was there at house and brought her to the hospital. She warns him—wait for this one—that he has to destroy that mattress from hell or Julia will come out of it! Oh man. Hell is in our mattresses because we have sex on them? The mattress is immediately rescued from the house—which I guess didn’t burn down after all….
An evil doctor acquires the mattress and puts one of his mental patients on it. Wouldn’t you know it? Stepmother Julia comes crawling out, completely skinless. She devours the crazy guy. She smokes, she drinks, Evil Doc begins bringing her sacrifices. Before long, she is good old Julia again. But wait. Her hairstyle is different! No more Frida feathers! But it makes sense. Abba is way too heavenly and pure for hell…
Evil Doc has another handy patient—a young mute girl who is a pro at puzzles. He gets her to open the box. Everyone ends up in hell—which bares a striking resemblance to an M.C. Escher drawing. Julia gives Evil Doc a tour of hell and he spies a threesome—in which 2 men sandwiching a young woman between them have chains piercing their backs. Get it? Sex = pain. Julia stuffs Evil Doc into a torture box, where he becomes “Wirehead”.
Meanwhile, Kirsty stumbles upon Frank’s penthouse suite in hell: a mausoleum filled with drawers occupied by beautiful, naked, writhing, untouchable women. Because as we know, the way to punish the hellish is to deny them sex. Frank is so horny he wants his niece’s body. Bad. Kirsty is not having it. She sets Frank’s hell on fire. Isn’t that an oxymoron?
In the end, there’s no room for good virginal girls in hell, so Kirsty and the puzzle mute jump out of the fire and into the frying pan. A big pillar rises like an erect penis from the center of the mattress, and we see that all the Cenobites are now frozen like Han Solo in carbonite. And like something out of a bad Amityville sequel, the evil escapes in the form of a cool piece of art, soon to be sold by the merchant…
HELL RAISER III: HELL ON EARTH (1992)
Some pretty boy (REALLY pretty) has purchased the pillar from the merchant. Meanwhile, a down and out reporter is in a hospital when she sees a guy brought in screaming, attached to flesh-ripping chains that soon do their job. Some chick who came in with him says it happened in the boiler room (where have I heard that before?). Actually, the Boiler Room is the name of a club in this movie.
The reporter tracks down the pretty boy with the pillar, who happens to own the Boiler Room. He has the big pillar displayed in his bedroom. He reaches into a hole in his pillar, he’s bit by a rat hiding inside, and he bleeds—all over the pillar. Uh-oh. Carbonite Pinhead sucks up the blood. This can’t be good.
Next comes one of the clear reasons fans seem to hate this entry in the series and why it’s one of my favorites (and the reason I’m going to hell): the pretty boy, totally naked. Sure, he’s having sex with some chick, but he is completely squishing the hell out of her boobs with his hands (they must be real) so you can’t see them. As soon as the sex is over, she gets all whiny and clingy (SO glad I’m gay), he fights with her, she backs towards the pillar, and, well, you know the key to getting a big phallus to come to life; it needs to be filled with blood….
Things don’t go so well for our pretty boy either. So much beautiful flesh wasted. The box is opened. The Cenobites are released. The reporter steps into a mirror and ends up meeting pre-pinned Pinhead in mirror land. He tells her just how his hunt for pleasure turned him into Pinhead. Shit. Does this mean pins are going to start growing out of my head? Is that why I’m going bald?
Now comes the part I believe fans REALLY hate. Pinhead and the ghoul gang make a live appearance at the club! It’s like Carrie’s prom all over again, and I finally see a positive to MP3s—flying CDs can slice right through a guy’s head! After making everyone at the club really feel the music, the Cenobites hit the streets, have a shoot out with the police, and start the L.A. riots all over again (stealing TVs and shit) in search of the reporter with the box. She’s on the run, and Pinhead is right on her trail.
In the end, the puzzle box is buried in a vacant lot where a large building is being erected. And as Hellraiser III closes, we see that the completed project looks incredibly like a fancy Rubik’s Cube.
What better way to make ScareBearDan hate a horror movie? Make it both a period piece and futuristic sci-fi! WTF?
Remember how everything evil went into space in the 90s, when horror movies sucked? Jason, Leprechaun, Alien (well, she was already there)…yep, even Pinhead. Picture it; space station, 2127. Some dude who bares a striking resemblance to Luke Skywalker is getting some Terminator looking robot to play with his box when his station is stormed by troopers. And so he must tell the story of his family lineage…
Flashback to the good old days of pilgrims and Paul Revere, the Boston Tea Party, witch trials, and chopping down cherry trees—I suck at history. Did that all take place around the same time? Some dude (the Skywalker guy in another role as his distant relative) is a toy maker, and makes this puzzle box that just happens to be able to open the gates to hell. THAT’S IT? THAT is the explanation for the incomprehensible power of this damn box?
The narrator (the Skywalker dude on the space station in 2127) keeps talking about these merchants that want the box…and I keep thinking he means merchants that sell shit, like the guy at the beginning of the first movie. No. It turns out that’s the family name of the bloodline of the guy who made the box! Very clever.
Ready for more time travel? Now we’re in the present (1996). Not surprisingly, this is my favorite part of the film. Present day Skywalker is an architect who built that building that looks like the box! Genius! Coolest part of the present? Meryl Streep girl from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is the wife. Pinhead wants Skywalker to build another box to open the doors to hell, blah blah blah.
At this point in the series, I’m pretty convinced Pinhead is gay. Whenever men get naked, he comes. He lures in two adorable twin brother security guards and makes them give each other head—and the term takes on a whole new meaning.
Let’s just say they end up looking like the Double Mint twins…after the gum has already been chewed, spit out on the street, and run over by cars for ten 10 years. You gotta love when one of the twins first sees Pinhead and cries, “He’s got pins in his head!”
Interestingly, Pinhead pursues Skywalker’s kid to use as a bargaining chip, and the plot has a very A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child vibe. Pinhead sets his demon dog loose to chase Meryl Streep mom. She faced off against demon dogs in Elm Street 2, so she’s an old pro at this! It’s all very Elm Street in this segment. Pinhead has even become the king of one-liners, much like Freddy once Elm Street started to suck.
The carnage is the highlight of part 4 (because if it’s not scary and the plot sux, just load it with gore), and we get a nice body count thanks to the transition back to the space station, where Pinhead runs amok, knocking off members of the space army. But future Skywalker has crafted his space station to fold into the shape of the box. There’s even a Death Star explosion as Skywalker escapes in a pod that jettisons off to Earth…
A new millennium, a new set of rules, but the Hellraiser series didn’t get the memo. Instead of presenting any deeper meaning to the series or even any cohesion to the previous film, we get a new victim doing the old rinse and repeat. But really, how do you come back from outer space? You don’t. You just pretend you never went.
The good news is our victim this time is Craig Sheffer, best known for his role in Nightbreed. Hey! 2 degrees of Clive Barker! In this one, he’s a scummy detective who really needs to go to hell. He’s married with a kid but spends most of his time doing drugs, doing prostitutes, and blackmailing his partner Nicholas Turturro—better known as one of the fat guys on a season of Celebrity Fit Club (I only remember because he looked chubby hot in his Speedo…).
Inferno is obviously a script that was adapted to be a Hellraiser movie later on. Craig investigates a murder scene where he scores the box. Now it’s in his hands. It’s like one big game of Hot Potato with this box.
Craig sets out to find someone he calls “The Engineer”. First I’m thinking he means the engineer of the box, and I’m like “find Luke Skywalker!” But that’s not who The Engineer turns out to be because there’s no connection between this film and the last that took place in the future…and the past…and the present.
Scummy Craig steps over the line into hell when he sleeps with a prostitute. SEX BAD. SEX BAD. How many sequels do we need before we get it? Body count rises, Craig begins to go insane, Craig sees some seriously ghastly ghouls ripe with sadistic and perverse themes. This movie could have been pretty good if they didn’t have to bring in…Pinhead. Yeah. He ruins it. He’s out of place.
Like I said, the ghouls in this one are nightmarish and the film should be edited into a hella creepy short (removing Pinhead and the cowboys. Oh, did I forget to mention the cowboys?). Plus, there are a few sexy moments between Craig and some men. When he pins a skanky, sexy bald body-piercer (you know the type) to a wall, the baldy asks, “You gonna frisk me or fuck me?” Hot. When Craig beats his drug dealer for info, the drug dealer cries, “What am I? Your whipping boy?” Hot. Craig lays on a couch for a shrink who’s also a priest. Hot.
Unfortunately, because of my depraved thoughts, I learned from this movie that I’m so going to hell (as if I didn’t already know).
HELL SEEKER (2002)
As soon as Hellseeker began, the first thing I cried was, “Holy crap! It’s the guy from the AllState commercials!”
The second thing I cried when I saw the chick next to him was, “Holy crap! It’s Kirsty from the first and second films!
Ah—the desperate attempt to revitalize a franchise at movie number 6 by bringing back one of the original characters. Don’t get your hopes up. She’s at the beginning. She’s at the end. The majority of the movie is about her scummy, whoring husband thinking she’s dead.
AllState guy is a total man slut, which means I love him—and he has to go to hell. This is one of the most trippy, disjointed installments yet because AllState guy has one hallucination after another–a recycling of a pair of detectives at the police station, AllState guy’s annoying cubicle neighbor at work, an acupuncturist…over and over and over again. By the end, I was hoping the whole movie was an hallucination and I hadn’t actually spent an hour and a half watching it.
Finally, we find out that he got the box from some creepy guy in a warehouse—a guy who looks much like the merchant from the first film—and who says the box was created by a Frenchman named “Lemarchand”. Clearly a wink wink to the outer space debacle, but when did the toy maker’s name turn French?
Eventually, Pinhead comes on the scene, there’s the usual preaching about pleasure and pain, and Kirsty returns for the big twist. And don’t you know, almost a decade later Pinhead still wants her soul—and she still wants to make a bargain with him! And to top it all off—she ends up in possession of the box she’s been running from for the last decade!
The scariest scene in this film involves a vending machine and a disembodied hand. Now I’m going to have nightmares every time I go to get a chocolate bar…
Ah. Hellraiser: Deader, as in, could this series be any deader? Signs of a series being dead are even clearer when 2 sequels are filmed simultaneously (this and the next one). Not to mention, both scripts were not initially written for the franchise, just simply rewritten into the universe (but at least not into outer space…).
Deader is yet another installment that could have been better without Pinhead. The ever-awesome MTV leftover turned scream queen Kari Wuhrer is another down-and-out reporter looking for the story of her life. Kari is in pursuit of a cult of young people who have their members commit suicide and then bring them back to life.
This trippy film is loaded with sex, gore, and some truly freaky scenes. Most suspenseful is when Kari finds some dead chick in a bathroom—this scene was so tense and creepy. And of course, this is where Kari comes in possession of the box.
There’s also a freaky scene of Kari squeezing her way between two walls in what looks like Saw land—only to have a guy with a knife stuck in there, too, swinging the blade at her furiously. Holy shit! And when Kari wakes up and looks in the mirror to discover a knife in her back, which she then struggles to remove—damn, that shit is disturbing.
Kari also visits a party subway full of freaks and creeps—and along with the usual boobs and lesbians, there’s some man ass and full-frontal penis. Wahoo!
In terms of continuity, it turns out the leader of the suicide cult is in the Lemarchand lineage. Pinhead has one sick love/hate relationship with them toy makers…
You know a franchise has hit direct-to-SyFy worth when it casts Lance Henriksen.
Hellworld is Scream, Friday the 13th Part V: Jason Lives, Night of the Demons, and a whole bunch of other movies all rolled into one. The series becomes self-referential, with Hellraiser a mere myth and kids addicted to an online game based on the myth.
After their buddy dies as a result of the Hellworld game, one group of friends just can’t give up the ghost. They are invited to a Hellworld party at a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere. This straight-up slasher is complete with tons of EMO rock music, flashy lights and partying, kids drinking and having sex, and, naturally, getting picked off one after another (Pinhead even uses a cleaver to chop off someone’s head!).
As has become a typical characteristic with this series at this point, half of what happens is hallucinations, so things get very Night of the Demons as our final girl finds herself trapped in the house and pursued by all her friends, who are now gnarly demons.
The absolute SPOILER truth of it all? Lance is the estranged father of their friend who died, and he’s posing as Pinhead through the simple use of an hallucinogen in order to get revenge for his son’s death. Hellraiser hits rock bottom. But of course we can’t let it end like that. So Lance, finally alone, plays with his box, unintentionally summoning the real Pinhead (he’s not a myth!), and goes to hell where he belongs, complete with the modern CGI-tastic body slice.
Despite being filmed simultaneously with Deader by the same director, there’s NO connection between this and the previous film. However, Hellworld attempts some franchise continuity with a reference to a Lemarchand portrait hanging in the house and Lance giving a little speech about “Leviathan”, who was mentioned briefly in Hellraiser II.
After about a decade of scripts not actually written as Hellraiser movies, this 9th film in the series was specifically written as a Hellraiser movie. Unfortunately, despite the promise of a genuine installment of the series, Pinhead has been replaced by a different actor. And you can tell. Ironically, I looked up the actor to see what he looks like sans makeup, and this hot baldy does resemble Pinhead! Not sure what’s lost in the translation when they put on the makeup.
Revelations runs only an hour and fifteen minutes long, automatically making it my favorite in the franchise. Taking a cue from modern horror film trends, it intersperses standard third person POV with found footage POV. Two kids run away from home and film their exploits as they head to Mexico to get laid. There they meet a merchant, score a very different box than they intended, and unleash Pinhead. The more sexually experienced (and therefore evil) of the two boys gets a whole lot of pins nailed into his head. In order to return from hell, he needs his virginal buddy to bring him bodies. Back to basics…
But the real story is about the grieving families the boys left behind. The virgin has a sister who is being kept in the dark about what was on the found footage, and she wants answers. The evil son’s parents come for a dinner party and the families act like nothing’s wrong until the defiant daughter finds the box. And like everyone else in every other movie, she seems to automatically know how to run her finger around the circle on the box like it’s a classic iPod click-wheel.
Opening her box results in the return of her virgin brother, all bruised and battered, and the families discover their cars are gone and their phones are dead. This isn’t the last house on the left…it’s the ONLY house on the left. They’re trapped—and there’s a merchant lurking around their house! Before long, perverse flirtations take place between the young and the old and even siblings (incest! ew…fricking…ew!). Pretty much everyone needs to go to hell.
And hell is back: chains and hooks, (faux) Pinhead, face-stretching gore, even lesbian Cenobites this time. Then come all the shocking revelations–including one that made me feel less icky about the whole incest thing. The darkest and cruelest outcome of this installment is that the only character who doesn’t give in to pleasure or pain is the one who ends up going to hell! That twist, definitely made me relish this one a little more than most of the others. Fuck the pure! They should go to hell while I have tons of butt sex, making heaven a place on earth.
Finally, we get the threat of another sequel as one of the characters grabs the box and looks devilishly at the camera before the credits role. Well I’ll be damned….
As much as people like to bash Revelations, it is probably one of the most authentically Hellraiser based films in the franchise beyond the first few, which becomes even clearer when we move on to Judgment.
Judgment has plenty of hellish creatures—including babes in thongs with fucked up faces who like to take blood baths—and loads of sinners being gruesomely tortured, but once again Pinhead is recast and an afterthought.
We’ve seen this plot before in the series…detectives are on the case as grisly murders take place around the city. Pretty soon they’re experiencing hellish visions and nightmares of blood and gore themselves. They’re also brothers, one played by adorable scream king Randy Wayne, the other by unassumingly sexy as hell(raiser) Damon Carney.
The series has upped the gore, there’s a fucked up scene with a dog (don’t worry, the dog isn’t hurt—even Cenobites love animals more than people), there’s a twist at the end, and most of the Cenobites look more like they’ve come from a backwoods slasher dungeon rather than hell.
Finally, Pinhead shows up with his chains and hooks in what feels like a tacked on appearance for the conclusion.
Really, this is as recycled as a Hellraiser film can get. I still can’t believe people hate the fresh and different Revelations.
Of course the big controversy here was that “Pinhead” was no longer being portrayed as “male”. But if that’s your hang up, you’re really desperate for a reason to be a woke whiner. Pinhead is a damn otherworldly demon and is portrayed in this film as a beautifully, sexually ambiguous dominatrix, both visually and in terms of the husky Kathleen Turner voice.
In fact, if the anti-woke crowd wants to complain about anything here, it should be the fact that the whole premise of Hellraiser 2022 is essentially that a straight drug addict girl is willing to throw away her miserable hetero existence to save her brother’s beautiful, loving gay relationship from suffering a hellish fate.
Gone is the campy, sleazy erotic horror of the original eighties series. There’s also no levity—the excellent performances are quite intense, and these characters don’t get any moments of joy (beyond a few good fucks).
This is a darker, modern day take that features some fantastic Cenobite designs (familiar and refreshed plus totally fresh), but it is perhaps a bit too polished at times to truly capture the grit of the S&M themes the series is known for.
When the main girl joins her delinquent boyfriend in a robbery, she scores the puzzle box.
This mistake leads to the disappearance of her brother. So along with her friends, she begins to research the origins of the box. This takes up at least half the two-hour duration of the film, so it is rather slow at first.
The group sneaks into the empty mansion of a rich collector of the occult, and this suddenly becomes very reminiscent of the Thir13en Ghosts remake. The whole house is a puzzle box that moves and shifts in ways that dictate how much free reign the Cenobites have.
There are a few visually arresting sequences involving the Cenobites and their chains, and some thrilling chase moments, but just like pretty much every other Hellraiser film, I didn’t find this to be a particularly suspenseful or terrifying experience, which isn’t really what Hellraiser is supposed to be anyway. I’ve always felt the series was more of a mind fuck from a different dimension. And at last, it’s a gay mind fuck, which scores this installment an honorary place on the full homo horror movies page.