Monday, May 30, 2011


I'm something of a bookworm, though despite my love of the horror genre I tend to read more sci-fi and fantasy than horror. This isn't so much because horror doesn't translate to literature very well, but more because there really aren't that many good horror novels compared to other genres.
There's Stephen King, there's Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft... I'd strongly recommend House of Leaves to anyone that hasn't before, it's sort of a mindfuck but I love it.
Due to the small amount of good horror novels, it's no surprise that many of them end up with film versions of varying quality.
Today, we're handling Clive Barker's Hellraiser series.

I want to start off praising the author. He's got some issues and quirks, sure, and his odd fear of women shows through a lot (take a shot everytime period blood is referenced in Book of Blood, you'll die of alcohol poisoning during Rawhead Rex.)
However, I'd say that, outside of BoB, he doesn't so much write horror as much as he does dark fantasy. Still, he's considered a horror author, and he's spawned enough horror films that I can't really argue with that label.

Thie first film is simply "Hellraiser", based on Barker's short story The Hellbound Heart. If you've someone never seen this film, you need to as it's something of a classic.
Basically, in a sort of odd summation, a woman cheated on her husband with his brother years back, he opened up a gate to hell, got tortured to death, he comes back when she and her husband move in, she kills people to make him whole, her daughter finds out... y'know, the plot's a bit too hard to really describe without it just sounding odd, so just watch it.
The film is disturbing and unsettling, and not just the supernatural elements. There's so many uncomfortable, non-paranormal scenes that just get under your skin. The hobo, the rape undertones which managed to get turned into an awesome Aphex Twin song (Come to Daddy.)
The special effects are... hrm. Not bad, especially given the low budget the film had. I'm quite fond of the makeup effects in particular, I used to have a large number of articles on the subject, detailing such interesting things as the fact that Pinhead's pins were, in fact, q-tips sans cotton painted grey.
This... is the kind of move that successfully gives you that feeling. It doesn't so much scare you as it does make you feel creeped out. It's grim, it's disgusting, it's unsettling, and it's uncomfortable. I love it.
There's very little music beyond some very uncomfortable ambience that plays every now and then, as well as a very memorable sort of theme tune to the franchise. The actors are mostly unknowns, save for Kirsty's dad who is played by Andrew Robinson (Garak in DS9, Scorpio Killer in Dirty Harry, the creepy barber in Child's Play 3.)
The interesting thing to me? Clive Barker himself directed this. I'm not used to seeing writers direct films based on their works, and even less used to them doing a good job (see: Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive for how it normally turns out.)

The second film is pretty much part two of the first film, to the degree that I strongly recommend just watching the two together as one four hour or so film. It picks up right after the first film leaves off, has the same atmosphere, same cast, same feel, and is every bit just as good. I can't really say anything explicitly about 2 that I didn't say about 1, beyond that I -really- fucking love the design for Hell. It's got this sort of... German expressionistic vibe to it, and it just looks beautiful. The matte paintings are just -amazing-. I'm sort of a sucker for good set design and matte paintings though, so maybe this is just my bias showing through.
I guess really my only complaint in this film is that the ending to it is... odd. It's like the original NoES in that it's just super surreal and confusing. The first film had the same flaw but to a lesser degree.

It's carried over into our third film however, and the start of the series decline. Set some odd years after the first film, our hero is now Jadzia Dax from DS9, a tomboyish reporter that wants to hit it big. She runs across a case where some guy gets ripped up by a pillar that shoots out hooks, which takes her to the biggest fucking dance club I've ever seen in my life.
Seriously, this dance club is larger than some -malls- I've been in. This is a minor gripe, you won't really think much about it, but god -damn- is this one place gigantic for some reason. I refuse to believe any dance club exists that is that large. It's like someone inherited an IKEA warehouse and wanted to host gothic BDSM raves there.
Anyway a girl, the ex of the owner of the club, follows her back to her apartment, tells her about what happend... there seems to be some lesbian undertones in some of the scenes after this point. I don't mean in a sort of highly sexualized "They're gonna fuck" kind of way, they're actually a pretty cute couple.
Anyway Dax starts getting daydreams involving Pinhead's human form, a very english fellow we see briefly in 2, asking for her help in defeating Pinhead. At the same time, we're shown the owner of the club sacrificing a ditzy chick he just nailed (gratuitous sex scene, a warning of things to come) to the pillar that Pinhead is now part of (the same pillar from the confusing as fuck ending to Hellraiser 2.)
Anyway Hell plays a prank on Cute Ex Of Danceclub Dick, she leaves Dax, runs back to the dance club, gets attacked by her ex, but then sacrifices him to Pinhead, freeing him.
We're then treated to the biggest on-screen mass murder I've seen in a horror film, the only thing that comes even second to it is the cord-scene in Ghost Ship. This is... easily the only memorable scene of the film. It lasts several minutes and features many, many people being ripped apart and murdered in various creative ways by chains and crap, some of them turning into cenobites.
Anyway Dax's partner somehow becomes a cenobite too, she goes to investigate, Pinhead chases her, taunts a priest, then we're treated to a really cheesy battle between Human Pinhead and Pinhead, as well as Dax dropping the puzzle box into cement... and end.
The film's pretty mediocre compared to the first two, but I guess is an alright horror film on its own, so I'd still recommend it. The special effects are pretty good, there's a lot of gore for people that are into that, and DS9 fans will of course just be happy to have Dax fighting demons.

Sadly, that wasn't the end of the franchise. Hellraiser decides to go where Critters 4 had gone years before, and where Leprechaun would go the following year, and then Jason a few years later. Hellraiser goes to space.
Hellraiser 4: Bloodlines was the last theatrically released film of the franchise, and it's obvious why. It's a confusing, poorly done, -horifically- edited film that honestly feels like a Sci-Fi Original film for its bulk.
Many of its flaws stem from the studio fucking over the film and infuriating the original director to leave the film unfinished because they were trying to force him to do a more traditional horror than what we'd planned, and god damn does it really show that it was unfinished.
The film follows one family, LeMerchand/Merchant, that is responsible for the Lament Configuration (here called the LeMerchant Configuration.) We see them in the 18th century (it seems like it's France, but nobody sounds french, and the architecture screams Italy and England to me at different times). We get some random gore (seriously, there's a random scene of a medical cadaver having its torso skin removed. It serves no purpose, the camera focuses on it, it just happens nonchalantly during a conversation. like the mortician that LeMerchand is randomly talking to who is never named just... randomly takes the skin off a cadaver.)
Anyway two evil french guys open up a portal to hell using the puzzle box LeMerchand made, and then a demon they summoned kills him.
300 years later, the demon and one of the evil french guys get word that LeMerchand's ancestor in America is doing something with the box, the demon kills the last french guy, goes to America, summons Pinhead... ...we get a random scene where two twin cops are randomly killed by Pinhead and turned into a cenobite... there's a dog cenobite... ...eventually Pinhead kills 21st century LeMerchand.
The third level of the story is also the wraparound: IN SPACE. Future LeMerchand made a big space cube to trap light in that'll destroy the cenobites. A robot makes an adorable "oshit" sound after opening the box (this is the entire reason to see this film, I just want this 4 second scene looped.) Some crappy space marines die in a crappy way... and then the cenobites get killed in a beam of light. Yay.
Seriously, this film is fucking awful. The acting is the worst in the series, the special effects outside of the cenobite makeup is -terrible-, it overuses stocksounds more than the last few Children of the Corn movies, the plot is retarded, the nudity and gore is so gratuitous... whatever happend to the cenobites only going after those that open the box? Why the hell did the cenobites go after the two twin cops, or the space marines?
Seriously, just look up a youtube clip of the sad robot, watch that for two hours, and you've officially watched a superior version of this movie.

Here you go. Just watch that, repeatedly, for two hours. Why was the robot programmed to feel pain and fear? I want a movie based on this robot, surely it'd be better than this shitfest.

Thankfully, the next film, despite being direct to video, is -awesome-. Hellraiser 5: Inferno is easily the best straight-to-dvd horror film I've ever seen.
It's less of a sequel to any of the Hellraiser films and more of an original film inspired by the short story, and a few other Barker tales.
The story centers around a crooked cop that is going through marriage issues, is a cocaine addict, seeks out whores, etc. and is involved in a quite grotesque case chasing a child killer. He starts to slowly lose his sanity as he finds the fingers of kids at various gruesome crime scenes, hears a hooker he'd recently slept with murdered over the phone, watches a video of an informant getting ripped to shreds, and all sorts of creepy as fuck hallucinations/daydreams he keeps having.
Despite how all that sounds? This film isn't actually that gorey at all. Most of it's implied or off screen, and handled exceptionally well. This film, much like the original, seeks more to creep you out and unsettle you than it does to scare you, and it works. This is an -extremely- well done psychological horror film, and it saddens me that many passed this over due to how awful Hellraiser 4 was.
If you're only going to watch 3 Hellraiser films, rent 1, 2, and 5. They're the best of the series, and the only three I'd recommend to people that aren't normally horror fans.

Hellraiser 6 then jumps back into a lump of shit. It tries to use the same setup as the first film, only with more gore, more gratuitous nudity, and lazier writing. Over time we find out our douchebag hero tried to kill his wife, only oh no it turns out his wife killed him. So we get a bunch of shitty "You're in hell" sequences that are handled about as well as the cenobite scenes in Hellraiser 4, only much more unintentionally comedic. Pinhead shows up every now and then, looking quite fat, old, and tired, like the actor didn't want to do the film and only came in because they offered him a lot of money to do it.
Finally we get a retarded twist ending where it turns out his wife was Kirsty from Hellraiser 1-2, played by the same actress who must have -really- needed that money, and now she's becoming evil. Great movie, just great.
Seriously, this film is -rage enducingly- shitty. It's just a god awful ripoff of the previous film with worse acting, worse writing, worse effects, a god awful ending that makes no sense, assloads of plot holes... This movie pisses me off it's so bad.
This is, easily, without a doubt, the second worst film of the franchise. I can't even recommend it for completionist sake, just skip right onto 7 if you must.

Hellraiser: Deaders... hrm. It's not as bad as six at least, despite being a super low budget Sci-Fi channel film that barely features the cenobites.
The main plot is basically a gang/cult of people that are obsessed with resurrection, all of them being dead people that were brought back to life. It's a kind of confusing mess, but it's at least nothing that painful to watch. After many, many boring scenes (again, at least it's not rage enducing), the cenobites appear, do their thing, reveal the leader of the cult is a descendant of LeMerchand (fuck you Hellraiser 4), gore happens, film ends.
I'm sorry for how short that is but... yeah, watch it yourself and you'll see what I mean. It's a very dull film, very immemorable, and not really Hellraisery at all.
I wouldn't recommend watching it, largely because even if you do you'll forget most of it shortly after because it's just that damn immemorable. It's like Psycho 3 (for those that never knew Psycho had sequels, I'm sorry.)

Hellraiser: Hellworld was done by the same crew I believe and also shown on Sci-Fi, but it's at least a better film. It's more of a semi-conventional film in which Lance Henrikssen throws a party for fans of 'Hellraiser' (apparently there's an online game based on the cenobites, so this film rolls around in a big pile of meta), when cenobites start attacking the party guests in mildly creative ways.
Mandatory plot twist reveals that cenobites didn't kill anyone, Lance Henriksen just blanmes the teens for his son's death, drugged them, and started killing them. Then at the end, just to make this a Hellraiser movie, the actual Pinhead shows up to kill Lance.
The movie, as you can tell from that summation is... mediocre. It's not rage enducing like 6, it's not boring as fuck like 7, but it's nowhere near as good as 1, 2, 3, and 5. If you're a fan of the franchise, a completionist, or really love Bishop, watch it. Otherwise, pass.

There's been word of a remake for several years now, with Clive Barker personally directing it, but I sincerely doubt it'll happen at this rate. More like a rumor that just repeatedly gets brought up, and then Clive Barker toys with it in an interview but never actually does it.
I'd much prefer he did a faithful Nightbreed film (not to bash the existing one, it's fine, but I'd love a more faithful adaption) instead, but that's me.

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