Reviews of Hellraiser (1987) and related work

Hellraiser (1987Moving picture, 94 minutes)

Two elements always appear in the films of this franchise: A puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration, which summons agents of hell, and such an agent, called Pinhead.

Here, an occultist purchases the box and opens it. Four Cenobites (“demons to some, angels to others”) arrive and tear him apart without a trace. However, the man has fooled them and reincarnates.

Demonic horror. Vaguely Faustian, except insofar as those who summon the baddies don’t seem to be rewarded. As in fundamentalist Christian children’s fiction, it’s purely a losing prospect: they kill you and take you to hell.

The film was directed by the man who wrote the book it’s based on (The Hellbound Heart). The primary motivator is female lust and violence is suitably dehumanizing. Good make-up but otherwise poor gore, and lots of it. Ends up cheesy.

References here: Blame (1997).

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Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988Moving picture, 97 minutes)

Follows on tightly from the original. Kirsty is sent to a psychiatric hospital, where the head doctor turns out to be an occultist who manages to resurrect the wife from the original. Doctor and wife use a mental patient’s obsession to open the box, and all four—doctor, wife, Kirsty and the autistic patient—visit hell.

The shift from horror to action, still with poor effects, is pathetic. The only memorable scene is Channard’s “experiment” intended to resurrect Julia. “Good Pinhead” sucks. The Cenobite “team” and the three-dimensional maze in hell are probably strong influences on Kentarou Miura.

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Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992Moving picture, 97 minutes)

A reporter gets pulled into a series of murders at a club, where a playboy is feeding Pinhead, who has become trapped in a statue. When Pinhead is free, he pretty much tries to take over the world by force. The reporter studies the events which took place at the psychiatric institute in the previous sequel, and she encounters the redeemed human occultist who got twisted into Pinhead when he opened the box.

Even more action in absence of a psychological component, this time with Pinhead as the utterly and involuntarily evil villain. Terrible concept.

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Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996Moving picture, 85 minutes)

A 22nd-century science fiction application of the framework. A genius aboard a space station is interrogated about a family curse. One ancestor, in old France, built the Lament Configuration, which was used to summon a demon princess who then served a magician until modern times, where another chapter unfolds. In space, the man telling the story has perfected an invention which many in his bloodline have worked on obsessively.

Alan Smithee direction credit. For the first time, people who use the box seem to know what they are doing and they actually profit from it, but other than that, this is yet another step in the wrong direction.

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Hellraiser: Inferno (2000Moving picture, 99 minutes)

A corrupt cop starts to question his sanity during the investigation of a rapid series of murders, where all the victims have some connection to the main character. For each victim, the severed finger of a child is left at the scene. The cop, increasingly mistrusted by everyone else, becomes obsessed with finding the child alive. When he does, Pinhead is there to tell him what the rest of his life will be like.

A triumphant return to the gritty personal horror format. There are lots of problems: moralism, a horrible daughter character (“I love my daddy!”), blunt clichés (“Why don’t you visit us, Joe?”), cheap random weirdness, funny forensics (no rigor mortis in amputated limbs). Still it’s the best one yet, a sort of Jacob’s Ladder (1990) hybrid with Max Payne (2001). A functional escalation of tension and a passable ending is more than any previous instalment has managed.

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Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002Moving picture, 89 minutes)

Kirsty returns. Apparently the gate she once opened will not close until Pinhead takes her away. They make a new deal: He settles for five other souls provided by her, and she gets off the hook (sorry). The movie follows Kirsty’s husband, starting at the point of her apparent death. His grip on reality is consistently slippery.

The first truly unbearable sequel, despite refraining from the action of films 2 through 4.

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