Welcome back, Fellow Geeky Readers, to the blog. I’m giving Buffy and the rest of her friends a break from my exploration of their world, but don’t fret – I will be returning to them shortly. Had to take a hiatus due to a week-long venture into the woods (Jemez Mountains in Northern New Mexico), and the beginning of a hectic new semester at the community college that I spend a majority of my waking life at (gotta love being a tech). The chaos is slowly winding down, which means I have time to return to my first commitment: this lil’ blog of mine.
Let’s venture from the good guys and dwell into the world of some neutrally-bad guys that love to worship the flesh, have deep discussions with their victims, and distort your soul to their own vision. Yes kids, welcome to this retrospective on the lovely, charming, and fluffy kitty-cat world of… HELLRAISER. Over 25 years ago, this horror film masterpiece was unleashed onto the masses and introduced the world to one of our greatest genre masters: Clive Barker. Clive’s unique and interesting take on Hell mythos and sexuality was what many horror fans were looking for, and while mainstream critics may dislike it for simply being a genre film, we horror fans know better.
To those who haven’t experienced this dark and enriching universe, here’s a quick rundown: the basic elements of Hellraiser first entered the public eye with the novella The Hellbound Heart, written by an up-and-coming writer by the name of Clive Barker. Barker has moved on to create some really fascinating stories, characters, and worlds with his ventures into comics, video games, other novels/short stories, film, and poetry and art. While Barker has brought us many colorful characters and locales with both his adult and young adult/children’s fiction, none have been more vivid, grotesque, dark and horrifying like our first taste of the Cenobites and the dark desires and the consequences of seeking such played out in The Hellbound Heart.
The Hellbound Heart would later gain a new generation of fans, in the form of its film contribution to horror fans looking for a new villain to worship and love. Main Cenobite Pinhead has joined the lexicon of horror icons who have grabbed our attention throughout the years with their killing antics. Pinhead joined such elite horror icons as Jason, Freddy Krueger, and Chucky as one of the greatest horror villains of the 1980’s, and to this day people are still heavily influenced by this character and all that he brings to the horror community. Hellraiser was the answer that many horror fans were looking for, and its influence can be seen in all facets of pop culture: from bands quoting and sampling lines from the films to cartoon characters like the Simpsons encountering them. As I’m writing this, I’m also watching the recently-released Cabin in the Woods (awesome flick if you’re a Drew Goddard/Joss Whedon fan), and there are Hell Lords that are obviously inspired by our Cenobite friends (and their make-up is a hell of a lot better than the atrocities seen in Hellraiser: Revelations. But more on that film later).
Hellraiser is also one of those rare horror films where we saw both a female heroine and villain, which didn’t occur too often back then, but is slowly becoming more common in this time. Teenage heroes were also rare, but several of the major horror films from the ’80’s had a female protagonist fighting against the monster and winning. Examples include Adrienne King in the first Friday the 13thflick versus Pamela Voorhees (Jason’s mom), Heather Langenkamp from A Nightmare on Elm Street versus the dream killer himself, Freddy Krueger, and Ashley Laurence in Hellraiser versus the Cenobites, her stepmom Julia, and her uncle Frank.
Ashley still appears in film and television from time-to-time, and she is also quite the accomplished painter who has created some really awesome original and haunting pieces of art. One of the more recent appearances by Ashley (who is absolutely smokin’ hot in her 40’s, to be a bit shallow for a second) was in the Slipknot short-form music video for their song “Snuff,” along with another horror icon: Malcolm McDowell. I fangirled a bit when I saw Ashley in the music video – it takes a horror fan to recognize a horror icon like her. Pretty cool video for a really great song, if you get the chance to watch it.
Here’s a an overview and rundown of the nine (!) films that make up the entire Hellraiser franchise, complete with favorite scenes, and how many Lament Configurations each one measures up to. I have the screenwriters listed, but lots of people wrote the stories for each film. All can be traced back to Clive Barker’s original story and imagination, but taking his story to craptacular levels is of the screenwriter(s) own doing, and not Clive’s fault (especially Revelations).
MOVIE SPOILERS WARNING: Just like my Buffy the Vampire Retrospective, there are spoilers full-steam ahead, but I try not to ruin all of the fun. If you’re a fan of the films I’m not spoiling anything for you, but if you’re a bit curious as to what the movies are all about…at least you can look at the screenshots.
Two-Minute Synopsis: This first entry into the series introduced us to our main characters, though three will re-appear in the first sequel: boring Larry Cotton; his wife, bitchy ice queen Julia; his creepy, sleazy brother Frank; and our heroine – daughter Kirsty Cotton. In the book, Kirsty and Larry’s relationship was a bit different, but since Clive is in control on this flick and it’s his baby, we’ll let it slide; the man can write and direct whatever he desires. We’re also introduced to our new horror villains: Pinhead and his fellow Cenobites (Chatterer, Butterball, and the aptly-named ‘Female Cenobite’), who offer both pleasure/pain beyond the human imagination to those who seek out and solve the dreaded puzzle box – the Lament Configuration (its history is explored in another film in the series, and in the Books of the Damned). Frank is one of the many solvers of the box who suffers the same fate as those who previously opened the box before him: get your body and soul dragged to Hell, and let the Cenobites do with both as they please. Frank somehow finds a way to escape, and he convinces his former lover Julia to help him stay out from the Cenobites hands. Kirsty finds out what’s going on and has her own encounter with the Cenobites. Can she bargain out of her way from Hell and send someone else in her place? Well, duh!
Two-Minute Review: I love horror movies. I’m a horror movie fanatic. I love horror movies that scare me, disgust me, make me think, and keep me engaged with their vivid storytelling. Hellraiser is no exception, and a really good introduction into what has become a so-so horror franchise. But fans of the series will tell you that the first is the best with some decent acting, awesome gore effects, and some pretty cool cinematography. But what captures the imagination the most is the original story. We haven’t had a movie or a storyline like what Hellraiser displayed in the first movie, and it surprised horror aficionados. It is definitely a film of its time, and it appears dated, but that’s the charm of it. If you’re looking for a retro-‘80s look back at horror, then I highly recommend watching Hellraiser if you still haven’t experienced Clive Barker’s creation. Doug Bradley as the Lead Cenobite (Pinhead as he’ll be referred to later in the other films) creates a horror villain all of his own that is just as memorable as when Robert Englund first stepped into Freddy’s shoes. This is one of my favorite films, and if you’re looking for an original flick that features some memorable villains and mixes topics that were taboo (and still are, in a way, today), then definitely give Hellraiser a shot.
Favorite Scenes: The opening sequence of Frank solving the Lament Configuration and being sent to Hell, Larry’s blood being the catalyst for Frank’s awesomely gory “re-birth” scene, Julia discovering that Frank has returned, the Cenobites encounter Kirsty at the hospital and she bargains with them, and the final ten minutes when Kirsty sends pretty much everyone back to Hell. There are lots of memorable scenes in the movie.
Two-Minute Synopsis: A continuation from the first film, expanding on the story and adding more to the mythos. Kirsty Cotton finds herself stuck in the loony bin as she tries to convince the cops that everything she said about the Cenobites, Frank, and the puzzle box are all true. Of course, everyone thinks she’s nuts except for the head of the Channard Institute, Dr. Philip Channard (almost sounds like LeMarchand, as in Philip LeMarchand – the creator of the Lament Configuration). Channard’s interest in Kirsty’s story surrounds an obsession with learning more about the box’s origins, the Cenobites themselves, and discovering Leviathan’s domain himself. Kirsty encounters a young girl named Tiffany, who has an affinity for solving puzzles, and they must join forces in stopping Dr. Channard from unleashing Hell (literally) with his newest companion: the recently resurrected Julia Cotton, the bane of Kirsty’s existence. Her dear evil stepmother is back and wanting to seek revenge on her stepdaughter, as well as serving her new God and Master: Leviathan. Leviathan sure if a jerk…for a deity that looks like an inanimate object Itself (a giant version of the Lament Configuration). Can Kirsty and Tiffany stop the Cenobites and Julia and Channard, all while staying alive? Of course. And the Cenobites learn a thing or two about humanity – their own.
Two-Minute Review: It’s hard to choose between the first and second films and decide which of the two is my favorite for the franchise. I’m going to cheat and say both. I loved the storytelling of the first movie, but also loved the epic-ness and continuation of said story in Hellbound. The sets were larger, the story was more in-your-face, the gore was upped tenfold, and we got two heroines for the price of one. Seeing Julia as the main villain this time around was the shit, ’cause girlfriend is crazy as hell (well, both figuratively and literally) in this installment, and much more badass. She’s pure evil and loving it, and she only answers to Leviathan. The uncut version of the film is definitely the one to check out, including the extremely bloody and gruesome death scene involving a patient who sees insects and maggots all over his flesh and carves at them with a straight-edge razor (the old-school one that barbers still use). His blood-shedding is the catalyst for bringing Julia back, which it does. Kirsty’s badass quotient is also raised in this movie, and she finally realizes that whatever innocence she had in her life is gone, and now she has to be as ruthless as the Cenobites themselves in order to save her own self from the Labyrinth. Another recommended viewing.
Favorite Scenes: “Larry” paying a visit to Kirsty, complete with blood writing on the wall; Julia’s resurrection scene; Channard’s Cenobite creation scene; our four original Cenobites facing off against the Channard Cenobite (“The doctor is in!”); Julia going through a massive amount of people to become human again.
Two-Minute Synopsis: The run of great Hellraiser movies ends as soon as Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth begins. It is certainly not the biggest cinematic train-wreck, but there are so many cringe-worthy moments that you have to wonder what the hell the studio executives were thinking about. You know that they had their hands all over this from day one, and it shows.
Venturing away from my mini-rant, Hell on Earth features a new heroine named Joey, an intrepid journalist who is stuck doing filler stories for her television station. Left bored out of her mind reporting in a hospital’s ER one night, Joey encounters the story of her life when one of the Cenobites’ victims is rushed into the hospital, dying much in the same way as the infamous Frank death scene from the end of Hellraiser. Confused and frightened by what she has seen, Joey sets out to discover more about the strange box the victim was holding, and gaining more information from the woman who came in with the victim: Terri. Meanwhile, Pinhead’s human alter-ego Elliot Spencer pays nightly visits to Joey in her dreams, asking for her help in stopping Pinhead and his new league of Cenobites, featuring Camerahead and CD. Oh, and there’s the biggest asshole on the planet in the form of club owner J.P. Thanks, jerk, for helping unleash Pinhead into our world and turning him into your average slasher. *sighs* There’s a random war subplot featuring Joey’s dad, who died during the Vietnam War (from what I gathered from the film), who also haunts her in her dreams. It’s like a war movie meets a comedy meets a slasher, and the results aren’t entirely pleasant or appealing.
Two-Minute Review: This movie is thoroughly entertaining if you take your brain out, safely store it in a jar somewhere, and for the full running time let your suspension of disbelief be your best friend. This movie is better if you’re drunk or stoned out of your mind, looking to laugh at all the one-liners or just cheer on the Cenobites as they obliterate everyone. If you try to view it as a serious horror film, you are going to have a miserable time. In terms of continuing the Hellraiser saga, there are some interesting bits: we learn a bit more about Elliot Spencer (Pinhead) and his origins, we see Kirsty – in videotape form – warning about evils of the box, and we learn that Pinhead is able to distance himself from his human counterpart, even in Hell and on Earth. Other than that, you can tell the suits at the studio had their dirty, grimy money-making hands on it, turning what could have been a pretty decent movie that had a pretty good script into your average, boring pseudo-slasher flick. Pinhead just isn’t intimidating this time around, and the new Cenobites are just plain stupid. Oh, and as if J.P. wasn’t annoying or douchey enough in life, he’s even worse as a Cenobite. If you’re looking for a serious movie, run away screaming, but if you need an unintentionally funny cheesy horror film to laugh your ass off with friends on a Saturday night, then I recommend checking it out.
Favorite Scenes: Pinhead scaring the shit out of J.P. in his apartment as he speaks to him from the Pillar of Souls, Terri’s encounter with J.P. and Pinhead, the bar massacre scene, and the last 15-20 minutes because the cheese is piled on high! Joey is running through the streets as the new Cenobites chase after her and it’s so hard not to start laughing hysterically at this point. Oh, and there’s lots of subtext between Joey and Terri (if you’re paying attention, you’ll catch it). You’d think they were a couple whenever they had scenes together.
Two-Minute Synopsis: Phillip LeMarchand’s family history is revealed in flashbacks in this sequel, which was destroyed beyond recognition from the director’s original vision – once again, thank you Studio Executives! The infamous “Alan Smithee” alias was used at Kevin Yagher’s behest, who wanted nothing to do with the film after they butchered it. Two of LeMarchand’s descendants are followed in this film, from modern-day architect John Merchant to (much later on), Dr. Paul Merchant. Yes kids – this entry is the “Hellraiser in Space” film, but the futuristic scenes only make up about 10-15 minutes of the whole film. As some intergalactic police officers arrest Dr. Merchant, he starts explaining his family’s saga, and their connection to the Cenobites, and why he’s alone on this giant space carrier. Going back to our modern times, John Merchant is visited by a mysterious woman named Angelique, who has her own past with his ancestor Phillip LeMarchand and the infamous Lament Configuration. Did I mention that Angelique was a Princess of Hell?
Two-Minute Review: I’ve only seen Bloodline a handful of times, but found myself liking it a hell of a lot more than Hell on Earth. Even in its fractured form, it’s pretty watchable for the most part, but you can also see what a travesty it is to see a director’s film being taken from him and edited into the film that we see. There is a workprint version of the film that lots of fans swear by because it has lots of interesting scenes that were left on the cutting-room floor by the studio execs. You can see clips of it (or the whole workprint version in full) on Youtube, and some fans spent lots of time turning it into a watchable working film. I liked the exploration into Phillip LeMarchand’s family history, though it varies quite a bit from the Books of the Damned (LeMarchand is much older, more perverse, and quite the sinner). Valentina Vargas as Angelique injects just the right amount of sexiness into her performance, and she’s quite the memorable character for many Hellraiser fans like me. And she’s also one of the coolest-looking Cenobites too.
Favorite Scenes: The creation of the Twin Cenobites, Pinhead and crew arriving in space through the puzzle box, any scene with Angelique, the Hellhounds, and the final 10 minutes of the film, where we see out space carrier turning into one huge Lament Configuration. Oh, and Angelique’s “birth” scene.
HELLRAISER V: INFERNO (2000) – Director: Scott Derrickson, Writer: Scott Derrickson, Paul Harris Boardman, based on characters by Clive Barker
Two-Minute Synopsis: Detective Joseph Thorne is your average Good Cop/Bad Cop: he gets the job done while bending the rules to his advantage. He and his partner, Detective Tony Nenonen, are trying to find a gruesome killer nicknamed “The Engineer.” Hmm… Does that ring any bells? While trying to look for “The Engineer,” Detective Thorne starts to hallucinate strange visions of events in his life, and they are slowly melding into his real life. Are these bizarre visions really happening, is it a form of psychosis, or is it something much worse? And who is the strange pale man with the pins in his head?
Two-Minute Review: One of the better sequels to come from the Hellraiser franchise, Inferno is a pretty good crime-thriller mixed with some horror elements. Craig Sheffer helps move the movie along and keep it flowing steady thanks to his portrayal of the tortured, tough, badass detective, Joseph Thorne. If Craig looks familiar to any horror/Clive fans out there, you can trace that back to a little film called Nightbreed (if you can check out the Cabal Cut of the film playing at different festivals and one-off events, definitely check it out. I would love to see it sometime). Doug Bradley’s portrayal of Pinhead is as sinister as ever, leaving the accidental comedic moments of Hell on Earth and Bloodline behind. It’s good to see our main Cenobite back in form. The Wire Twins are some of the more imaginative Cenobites to come out from the franchise, and their appearance in the film is a welcome sight for those trying to wash away the memories of those lame-ass Cenobites from Hell on Earth. At least Bloodline has some pretty cool ones.
Favorite Scenes: Thorne’s hallucination scenes, his seduction scene by the Wire Twins Cenobites, any appearance by Pinhead, any of the gruesome Cenobite/Engineer kill scenes.
HELLRAISER VI: HELLSEEKER (2002) – Director: Rick Bota, Writer: Tim Day, Carl Dupre, based on characters from Clive Barker
Two-Minute Synopsis: This is not one of the most easily remembered of the Hellraiser series, or one really loved by fans. But you have to give credit to the filmmakers for at least bringing one of my favorite characters back to the Hellraiser universe: Kirsty Cotton! Yes, Kirsty is all grown up, quite the stunning beauty, and married to a nice guy named Trevor. BULLSHIT ALERT! Trevor is really an asshole that tries to come up with various schemes of getting rid of Kirsty for her inheritance, even if it means murder. Not the most original idea for a film. The storyline itself doesn’t feel like a Hellraiser movie – even with the Lament Configuration, Kirsty Cotton, and the Cenobites thrown into the mix. But our kickass heroine Kirsty has a few tricks up her sleeve and is not so easy to fall for Trevor’s charms or his deception. Then again, he did give her the puzzle box as a birthday gift…
Two-Minute Review: From what I remember reading about this film, and the next two sequels, was that the script was not written as an intended Hellraiser vehicle, but for a standalone film. For sure Deader, our next sequel in this retrospective, was a standalone script that was later changed to be included in the Hellraiser franchise, but does not feel like a Hellraiser film. It’s a lovely and welcome surprise to see Ashley Laurence in the franchise that started her career, but her performance as Kirsty Cotton this time around feels off. I blame it on the poorly-constructed script, which features scenes that are so lame and redundant that it feels like 75% of the film is just set to loop endlessly. Even Dean Winters – one of my favorite actors and great as the Bad Boy characters, like his characters from OZ and Law and Order: SVU – can’t save this train-wreck of the film. Doug Bradley does what he only he can do best as Pinhead, and the new Stitch Cenobite is creepy. Not the best of the franchise, not the worst, but a forgettable entry.
Favorite Scenes: Any Trevor hallucination scenes, all five minutes that Ashley appears on screen (she’s really not in the film for long, but always good to see her), Trevor and Pinhead’s final “confrontation,” and the death scenes are pretty decent.
HELLRAISER VII: DEADER (2005) – Director: Rick Bota, Writer: Tim Day, Benjamin Carr, based on characters from Clive Barker
Two-Minute Synopsis: This sequel is one of the more interesting ones to enter the Hellraiser franchise because it didn’t start its life exclusively as a Hellraiser film. You can tell that Hellraiser elements were injected into the script in order to make the Studio Execs happy (they are in it for the money and not originality), but knowing that doesn’t make the movie any less enjoyable. Our heroine in this film is Kari Wuhrer, who has been doing genre work for quite some time. Kari plays a journalist named Amy Klein, who will go to the extremes to get an exclusive (take that, Joey from Hell on Earth!) – even indulging in her subjects’ lifestyles. Her editor gets a strange and shocking tape featuring a young woman who seemingly comes back from the dead with the help of a cult leader named Winter. Winter runs a cult called the Deaders, who are a group of people who have harnessed the powers of Hell to resurrect themselves time and time again, essentially cheating death. Amy starts to follow the Deaders and becomes a bit too embroiled in their world. Trying to save her life and sanity, Amy encounters Pinhead, who offers her an interesting proposition. Things get crazier from there.
Two-Minute Review: Gory, crazy, a bit far out for a Hellraiser film… These are some words to describe Deader. This is one of my favorite sequels from the franchise, and the fourth one that I remember seeing (I saw all three back-to-back a few years previously). It’s much more different than your average Hellraiser sequel, which makes it a pretty interesting film to watch. I have been a fan of Kari Wuhrer’s for years, and what’s funny is that I remember her from her two appearances on an old MTV show (we’re talking ‘80s here) called Remote Control. Oh, those were the days. Throughout the years she has appeared in lots of film and television roles, and one of my favorites was her role as the sheriff in Eight-Legged Freaks (for someone with arachnophobia, seeing giant spiders didn’t really bother me that much). Kari did a pretty decent job in this film, but the stand-out star is Paul Rhys as the charismatic Winter. He pretty much steals the whole movie, and he’s supposed to be the “villain.” But I love it when the villains are just as much fun to watch as the heroes. Pinhead barely makes an appearance in the film, with a few brief random scenes sprinkled throughout, and the somewhat anti-climactic ending. Check it out if you’re looking for a pretty decent Hellraiser sequel. Definitely a fun one to watch on a weekend with friends.
Favorite Scenes: The Deaders’ resurrection sequences, Amy finding a butcher knife in her back (would hate to wake up like that in the morning), the crazy subway train car passengers scenes, Pinhead’s confrontation with Winter.
HELLRAISER VIII: HELLWORLD (2005) – Director: Rick Bota, Writer: Carl Dupre, based on characters from Clive Barker
Two-Minute Synopsis: Train wreck galore coming up! Pinhead and the Cenobites meet our world/Real Life when stupid college kids playing an online game called Hellworld encounter said demons. Hellworld is based off of the Hellraiser series, and our stupid college kids are quite obsessed with playing it. One of their friends decides that self-immolation is a fun way to spend an evening, and our stupid college kids attend his funeral. In the midst of their friend’s suicide, our “heroes” get invites to a Hellworld party thrown by awesome genre vet Lance Henriksen (!). Lance welcomes our stupid college kids to his huge mansion and party, but things (of course) aren’t what they seem. Boo! Cue the hallucinations, clichéd sex, drugs and rock-and-roll scenes, and the infamous “Is it really happening or not?” sequences, which seems to be common in the Hellraiser sequels. Did I mention our “heroes” also get ghostly visits from their dead friend? No surprises here, folks.
Two-Minute Review: Even Hellseeker, Bloodline, and Hell on Earth have somewhat redeemable qualities about them; Hellworld, unfortunately, does not. Even Lance Henriksen, Superman (Henry Cavill as our new caped superhero), and Katheryn Winnick (our eye candy for the film, and quite fun to watch in this dreadful film) can’t save us from tedium, “blah” directing, or a tired and clichéd script. Shot back-to-back with Deader, it makes you wonder if the film crew – at this point – was just going through the motions. It’s sort of fun if you REALLY try to shut your brain off, but it’s not a film that I catch myself going back to and re-watching. I’ve seen it three times and that was one time too many. I do give it this: it is a hell of a lot better than the huge piece of shit that makes up the last (and current) sequel of our franchise. Even Doug Bradley and Lance Henriksen look like they want to quietly run off set before anyone notices them missing; their scenes are quite bland and uninspiring.
Favorite Scenes: There aren’t any scenes that jump out, but death scenes are fun to watch, and Katheryn Winnick is super-hot, and she pretty much steals most of the scenes she’s in. Does that count?
HELLRAISER IX: REVELATIONS (2011) – Director: Victor Garcia, Writer: Gary J. Tunnicliffe, based on characters by Clive Barker
Two-Minute Synopsis: Clichéd events in Mexico + two crappy leads + found footage + really horrible acting = one of the worst horror sequels ever committed to film. The only saving grace in this story is including scenes that add to the Hellraiser mythos or revisit common themes, like the wearing of another’s skin, what the puzzle box holds for those that open it, and trying to bargain with Pinhead. When one of the boys returns from Mexico (and Hell) with a truly bizarre story, he and his friends’ families are plunged into a deadly game involving Pinhead, Pseudo-Pinhead, and a bunch of other things that happen that honestly are not all that interesting. The first sentence of this synopsis is all you need to cautiously enter into viewing this film…if you dare.
Two-Minute Review: How to retain rights to a beloved horror franchise so that you don’t lose it to another film company: create a new Hellraiser sequel with “blink and you’ll miss it” production timing, an incomplete script, and actors who feel like they were randomly pulled off the streets. Even Doug Bradley, himself, thankfully steered clear of this turn, seeing it for what it really was. Then again, maybe he feels remorse to Hellraiser fans for co-starring in Hellworld. This movie is so forgettable and so boring that I don’t remember much from it when I was watching it; I kept finding myself easily distracted and doing household chores. It will not grab your attention, and you will need to focus all of it into finishing this film without tearing your eyes out from your skull. If you’re one of those individuals that have to watch every franchise offering, like me, then wade into the murky waters and watch this movie. If you have no reason to watch it, then I suggest you don’t. Boring, forgettable, and just plain awful – avoid at all costs.
Favorite Scenes: I don’t remember enough of the movie to name any favorite scenes. Any scenes featured were boring beyond belief, if I recall correctly.
Thank you for taking this journey with me and looking back at one of my favorite horror franchises. I may not have liked every sequel in this series, but I tend to find most of them watchable. And if you are a virgin to Clive Barker’s Hellraiser world, I recommend reading The Hellbound Heart and then venturing off to watch the movies, the re-newed comic series that started last year from BOOM! Studios, and reading the Books of the Damned to learn more about the Lament Configuration, Leviathan’s master plan, and the origin of the Cenobites themselves. Until next time, Fellow Geeky Readers!