Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Revelations

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hellraiser revelationsDimension Extreme

It’s been 25 years since the original Hellraiser was brought to the big screen, unleashing Clive Barker’s twisted nightmare visions to the unwashed horror masses.  Based on his novella The Hellbound Heart, the first Hellraiser and the resulting sequel are considered classics in the genre.  Obviously this led to a long line of sequels.  After the first two movies, Barker decided to not be involved in the movies, and there was a noticeable change in quality, and not for the better.  Absurd plots, leading eventually to straight-to-video releases, and finally tweaking scripts that had nothing to do with the Hellraiser series to feature Pinhead for maybe a couple of minutes somewhere near the end or so just to slap the Hellraiser franchise on the product.  This made the fans jaded and filled us with a despair that our beloved series would ever find its way back.

Rumors circulated for years that there was going to be either a reboot or a Clive Barker involved sequel.  But, in 2011 we got this instead.  Hellraiser: Revelations, another direct-to-video sequel that delivers neither Clive Barker’s involvement, Doug Bradley as Pinhead, or for that matter any kind of “revelations” promised in the subtitle.

No, what we get instead is 90 minutes of a very low budget movie trying very hard to be a Hellraiser movie, but failing so miserably you can’t help but feel pity for everyone involved with this thing.  Well, almost everybody.

Now, before you go and think I’m just trolling just to be a trolling jerk horror movie snob, let me say this: at least those involved tried on the outset to actually make a Hellraiser movie.  Instead of giving the puzzle box and Cenobites brief cameo appearances in their own movies, the story in Hellraiser: Revelations dips a bit more into the Cenobite mythos, and tries to capture the same kind of spirit as that of the original..  Problem is, this isn’t enough to make this a good movie.

As far as the story goes: Two annoying overprivileged white boys are videotaping their road trip to “Tee-WHANNA!” for one of the two’s birthday, I forget which one.  Once at “Tee-WHANNA!” (seriously, that’s said so many times within five minutes in an annoying faux-Spanish accent that only white people are capable of that I had trouble not envisioning beating that kid to a pulp with a Tequila bottle), it’s only a matter of time before they get their car jacked, kill a hooker, and run into a homeless guy who gives ’em the infamous puzzle box from Hell.  In that order.  Of course, they decide to fiddle with the thing, and they both go missing.  Flash forward a year, and the parents of the two missing boys have gathered together for dinner.  The daughter of one of the families was dating the missing son of the other family, who has her suspicions about the truth concerning her brother and boyfriend’s disappearances.  To make matters worse, the videotape that was turned over back to the family shows some rather mysterious and disturbing things captured on the tape, including the opening of the puzzle box and the appearance of a weird leather-and-pins festooned guy.  Oh, and did I mention that the Mexican police also turned over the puzzle box to the family?  Yeah, that’s there too.  And the girl decides to play around with the thing, which results in her brother suddenly reappearing by the pool, in shock and the worse for wear.  The boy then begins to fill in the blanks of what happened in the year, he takes the families hostage, then he’s not what he seems to be…ugh, my brain is hurting just playing the movie back in my head to get a decent synopsis going.  Anyway, the Cenobites stop by to redecorate, say a bunch of pretentious sounding stuff and introduce the surviving family members to their own special brand of body modification, the girl is told she’s gonna see them again some day, and then…the end.  It just ends.

Overall, when I got done watching this thing and pressed the button to have it taken off of the list, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have resulted had Clive Barker actually been involved with this.  We’ll never know, but there were some bits and pieces that made me think that they really wanted to do a good Hellraiser movie.  Thing is, the effects, though practical and not CGI, were cheep looking, the actors ranged between mediocre to excruciatingly bad (especially that one kid who came back a year later, I didn’t even bother to look up the character’s name I give that much of a rat’s patootie at this point), and the Cenobites themselves came off as less other-dimensional horrors and more S&M cosplay enthusiasts.  In the end you can’t help but feel you just watched a really watered down product.  Hellraiser Lite, if you will.  Pass.

Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Hellworld

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hellraiser hellworldMiramax Films

“Your son was quite the prodigy. He opened the gateway to Hell. But you never believed yourself, did you?”

A group of gaming fans of the online Hellraiser-themed Hellworld game are invited to an exclusive out-of-the-way Hellworld theme party at an old mansion owned by a creepy but cool guy with a serious taste for the macabre. After showing up, the kiddies find that the music’s bumpin’, the alcohol is flowin’, and hot and cold running fleshly carnality is on the tap for tonight. Only, not everything’s what it seems…as the party posse learns a bit too late…

I believe, at this point in juncture, it’s safe to assume that the Hellraiser franchise isn’t the same as the one that graced our collective noggins with horror master Clive Barker at the helm. Now, with the past four or so installments, it’s almost like Pinhead and his cohorts are making cameo appearances just to sell a lousy DVD. Same here, with the eighth in this ongoing series.

Not that it’s bad. Far from it, really. Overall, like the previous Deader (both that and this movie were shot back-to-back) from this year as well, feature a real solid horror story, nicely done, and doesn’t let up until the end. Pinhead just pops in once in a while to quip something, and that’s it. Otherwise, I had a great time watching this film, as it not only has a dark and creepy Castle Films vibe, but the fact that it plays on the whole Hellraiser mythos gives it a different feel. Not to mention the wise addition to the extra-creepy Lance Hendriksen as the Host, along with some creative kills, and one hellova wizbang ending. I was very satisfied with this when the credits rolled. Mind you, the writers could’ve kept out the Hellraiser angle and stretched their imaginations further to make a stand-alone story, and it would have worked just as well. But as it stands, Hellworld is a fine cinematic horror treat. Rent in conjunction with Hellraiser: Deader for a double-header sometime, hit the lights and let the darkness consume you…

Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Deader

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hellraiser deaderDimension

“Dreams are fleeting. Only nightmares last forever!”

Chain-smoking, hard-hitting and jaded tough-as-nails alternative press reporter Amy Klein is dispatched from her London home base to Romania to check out a bizarre cult of “Deaders”, a small subgroup with a morbid initiation rite. Soon she learns of a connection between the cult’s leader and the fabled Puzzle Box from the previous Hellraiser movies. Now it’s a struggle to keep her sanity intact as she delves further into the madness surrounding the Deaders…

Now…this is a horror movie. I rented this, not really expecting much (for the record, I hadn’t had much interest in the franchise after uber-horrormeister Clive Barker left the series), as the last one I saw, Bloodlines I think was the title, didn’t do much for me. After watching Deader, though, my opinion has indeed become more favorable, as this, the seventh in the series, was quite the dark and freaky through-the-twisted-rabbit-hole journey that, in my opinion, brought back the whole Barker-esque nightmarish quality and sensibility. Dark, foreboding atmospherics (the Romanian setting was used to its full effect), twisted and stylish film style, and effects that border on madness…great stuff that’s sorely missing in a lot of horror films these days. Those scenes inside the subway train alone are worth the rental, as they effectively freaked me out while keeping me glued in morbid fascination. There were more than a handful of times where I literally jumped and proclaimed the sanctity of excrement to my equally-startled feline pet. Nicely done.

On the minor quibble side, the script for Deader was originally written as a horror movie that had nothing to do with the Hellraiser franchise whatsoever, only to be picked up and changed a bit to have it part of the mythos. That is evident, as it feels like the Puzzle Box and especially Pinhead are thrown in there haphazardly, just to say “Hey, what’s up, my peeps?” to have some sort of tie-in with the rest of the series. Really, you get the feeling that Deader could have done without that and still would have stood on its own two legs. Other than that, Deader is a great late-night freakfest horror that you must watch in the dark to get its full effect. Recommended…

Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Inferno

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hellraiser infernoDimension Films

“Your flesh is killing your spirit.”

While cheating on his wife with a hooker, a sleazy LAPD detective opens up the dreaded puzzle box, which sends him into his own personal hell consisting of gruesome murders, frightening monsters and agonizing memories of his countless misdeeds.

Here it is.  The fifth Hellraiser movie in the franchise, the first one to be released directly to video, and the last one I have to watch and review.  For now, that is; you know there’s going to be another sequel, and when that thing does come around…yeah, I’ll be watching it.  For now, though, it’s been a long weird road to getting them all watched and under my ever-shrinking belt.

Let me make this as clear as possible: I went into watching Hellraiser: Inferno, like I do most movies like this, with little to no expectations whatsoever.  None, almost.  I was expecting pain, and not the kind used in this franchise, with the chains and hooks and Pinhead waxing eloquently about suffering and pleasure and whatnot.  I was actually cringing while my finger hovered over the “play” button.

And in the end, Hellraiser: Inferno was a lot more watchable than I was expecting.  It takes a bit of a different route than the others, as Inferno is more of a crime noir mystery by way of psychological terror.  Pinhead is in this for maybe a small handful of minutes, which makes me wonder if the script to this was something completely different before becoming a Hellraiser movie.  Speculation on my part, there.  Regardless, though, I sat through a pretty decent, slow-burning story about a dirty cop slowly going insane while trying to solve a pretty gruesome case.  The visuals were good, and mostly practical I might add.  No, Inferno didn’t seem to fit well within the confines of the Hellraiser world; but taken as a movie in and of itself, Hellraiser: Inferno was a decent watch.  Worth at least one shot, methinks.

Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Bloodline

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“Glorious, is it not?  The creatures who walk its surface, always looking to the light, never seeing the untold oceans of darkness beyond.  There are more humans alive today than in all of its pitiful history.  The Garden of Eden.  A garden of flesh.”

Spanning four centuries, this petrifying Gothic thriller recounts the anguished past of the L’Merchant clan, who unwittingly fashioned the puzzle box that unlocked the gates of Hades and unleashed the monstrous Pinhead.  As Pinhead and his band of diabolical demons propagate evil on Earth, three generations of L’Merchants battle the legions of darkness to annihilate Pinhead…permanently.

The fourth installment of the Hellraiser franchise, and the last one to actually get a theatrical release.  And this time out, the theme for this particular Hellraiser movie is Pinhead In Space!  Seriously, things start off in deeps space, where a giant version of the infamous puzzle box is being built by the last living descendant of Philip L’Merchant, the original builder of the Lament Configuration, the afore mentioned puzzle box that summons sadistic demons. Because the Cenobites are demons now.  Or something.  Yeah, things aren’t like the original movie anymore.  Which is probably why Bloodline is the last Hellraiser movie Clive Barker would have anything to do with.  But I digress.

So, it’s 2127, and this guy’s in space building what he mentions is a trap for the evil beings his ancestor helped unleash back in the 1700’s by building the Lament Configuration for an occultist that wanted control over demons.  The movie works as kind of a prequel and a sequel, as it takes place in the future (in space, keep in mind), but also has the protagonist Paul Merchant tell the stories of his ancestors Philip L’Merchant, the toymaker who built the box, and John Merchant, the guy who built that weird looking building that was glimpsed at the end of Hellraiser III.  So there’s at least a continuation from the previous movie there.  As it turns out, that giant puzzle box in space was designed by Paul Merchant to permanently  trap Pinhead and his minions in Hell permanently.  Why it had to be in space, is anyone’s guess.  Of course, the military sent to shut the guy’s project down doesn’t believe the guy, Pinhead is unleashed on the space station, and wackiness doth ensue.

Usually, one of the strongest indicators that a franchise is running out of ideas and is on the verge of jumping the shark (look it up) is setting it in space.  Unless it was originally intended to be a space opera, for horror franchises, this doesn’t normally bode well.  Mind you, by the time whatever icon gets the deep space treatment the franchise had crapped out of ideas well before then.  And I’m afraid Hellraiser isn’t any different.  With a concept like the one that sprung forth from the mind of Clive Barker, there were so many possibilities for the series.  But, unfortunately things went in the usual bland directions.  While the history behind the Lament Configuration and all the other boxes (again, look ‘em up) was interesting itself, I can’t help but wonder if this should have been a comic book miniseries rather than movie script.  In the end, Hellraiser: Bloodline was a mediocre entry with some good visuals but a melodramatic pace that deflates a lot of the horror tension.  Watch only if you’re a completest, like myself.  Otherwise pass.

Movie Review: HELLRAISER III: Hell On Earth

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Hellraiser_IIIDimension Films

“Unbearable, isn’t it?  The suffering of strangers, the agony of friends.  There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh.”

When playboy club owner J. P. buys a mysterious-looking puzzle box and mistakes it for a work of art, he has no idea that Pinhead, “the Black Pope of Hell”, is trapped inside and playing tricks on his mind.  Pinhead tries his best to manipulate J. P. into breaking him out of his prison – that is, until an astute journalist begins to suspect something.

The early 1990s wasn’t exactly good to horror flicks in general.  For some reason, a lot of them just came off as goofy shadows of their former iconic greatness.  Freddy, Jason, Michael, Pinhead…all of these suffered at the hands of studio execs that had no idea how to handle such modern horror icons.  So they made them wacky, sucking the scary out of them, stripping them of what made them icons to begin with.

Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth is one such example.  While the first two are still strong entries in the series, this third one turned Pinhead into a wisecracking demon prankster.  Mind you, he was still dangerous, but since all of the Cenobites died at the end of Hellbound (oops, spoilers there), he had to make some more minions,and the choices are what you would call facepalm worthy.  There are some rather good imaginative kills, and the setting in the club (complete with Armored Saint, before John Bush jumped ship to front Anthrax, as the house band) was pretty cool.  Overall, though, this third entry in the series just seemed disjointed and awkward at times.  Oddly enough, this is still not the worst one in the series, though I do recommend having some friends around to help dull the pain.

Movie Review: HELLBOUND: Hellraiser II

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Hellbound_hellraiser_ii_ver2New World Pictures

“Your suffering will be legendary, even in hell!”

For Kirsty Cotton, the nightmares never end. Still fresh in her fevered memory are her father’s skinned corpse, the evil machinations of her uncle Frank’s reanimated body and the unspeakable perversity of the Cenobites.  But the worst is yet to come.  From beyond the Outer Darkness, from the darkest regions of the imagination comes Hellbound: Hellraiser II.

Second go-round with the nightmarish Cenobites and the stupid humans who keep summoning them.  This time, things take place after the incidents of the first movie, with Kirsty waking up in a psychiatric institution, her boyfriend evidently not caring enough to stick around after being interrogated by the police about the carnage that took place at the house.  The doctor assigned to Kirsty has a secret agenda involving the Puzzle Box, which involves bringing back her wicked step-mother from the Hell dimension she was taken to previously, and becoming one of the Cenobites himself.  Along the way, we discover the origins of the other fetish demons we know and love, and Kirsty tries to destroy the Hell they’ve stumbled upon with the help of a mute fellow patient.

All said, the story itself is rather fresh and does something different rather than rehash the plot points of the first movie.  Hellbound tries to continue on with the storyline, and on that point it succeeds.  Problem is, the effects are rather poor, verging on the ultra-cheesy side.  That said, Hellbound: Hellraiser II is still much better than some of the sequels to come out of this franchise.

Movie Review: HELLRAISER

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Hellraiser_DVDNew World Pictures

“No tears, please.  It’s a waste of good suffering.”

My first exposure to the unique twisted mind of Clive Barker was by way of his novella The Hellbound Heart in early 1992, a mass paperback reprint for the States with an awesome cover artwork that tantalized the imagination of this then-teenager.  It was unlike anything I’ve read before.  And I knew this was what the movie Hellraiser was based on, because it said so on the book.  So it was in short order that I rented the movie.

That was twenty years ago.  I’ve since then seen most of the sequels, but it took me until now to revisit the original, to refresh my memory of this and compare it to the sequels that have been spawned through the decades.  How does it hold up after all this time?

Pretty darn well, actually.  I realize that most of you reading this have a very detailed knowledge of the movie’s story (the same that have probably gasped after learning that I’ve only seen this movie once).  But, for the sake of anyone not knowing: The story involves a married couple moving into a house that used to belong to the husband’s scumbag half-brother who disappeared mysteriously.  After a bit of blood being spilled, said half-brother is discovered by the wife to have never left the house at all, he was just trapped in a hellish dimension being constantly tortured by supernatural S&M enthusiasts.  The blood spilled begins to regenerate him back in the real world, thus escaping the grasp of the Cenobites.  And since the half-brother once had an extended affair with the wife, she begins to bring him various victims to drain dry of blood to finish the entire regeneration process.  The husband is clueless, but the wifey’s step daughter suspects something.  The Lament Configuration puzzle box gets opened up, the Cenobites come for the half-brother, people die left and right, and then the house is destroyed while the step daughter and her boyfriend try to escape the clutches of the Cenobites.

The franchise may seem like old hat by now, but when this was released it was like nothing any horror movie fan had seen up to then.  With Hellraiser, Clive Barker proved that he can not only translate fever dream nightmares onto the written page, but also give them life on the big screen.  The Cenobites are still the stuff of nightmares, with their quasi-religeous dedication to the pleasures of pain, giving their look an extra dimension to their darkness and lending weight to every line uttered by them.  The story itself eschews the bang-flash and gives us a dark slow-building piece that goes beyond just the visceral.  Mind you, there are places where the effects don’t hold up too well – mostly with the pre-CGI rotoscoping – and the end does seem to not know how to bring things together to a close.  But, other than that, and some late 80s fashions that stick out like sore thumbs, Hellraiser does hold up very well as a horror classic of the late 20th Century.  I’m surprised I don’t have this in my permanent collection.  Must rectify this immediately…

Book Reviews: STAR WARS- Enemy Lines I: Rebel Dream

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STAR WARS- Enemy Lines I Rebel DreamAaron Allston
Del Rey

“I know.” Jaina sat up and Leia let her. “I’ve got to go. Reports to write. Goddess stuff to do.” But first she embraced Leia, squeezing her with fierce strength. “I love you, Mom.”

Scattering after the Yuuzhan Vong’s invasion of Coruscant, the panic-stricken members of the New Republic Advisory Council pause just long enough to set up a mock defense on nearby Borleias–an attempt to buy time that fools no one, least of all the Jedi. Leia and Han Solo travel from world to world to ferment rebellion against the New Republic’s disastrous appeasement policies. But Luke Skywalker has chosen the most dangerous assignment of all: to sneak into the Yuuzhan Vong’s stronghold on Coruscant. His outrageous scheme to gain entry is either brilliant or suicidal, depending on the outcome. Bearing down swiftly on Borleias is a Yuuzhan Vong invasion fleet, determined to destroy the galaxy’s remaining defenders…

Alright, so I was a bit off in my assessment in the review of the previous book in the New Jedi Order series that, since that one made no effort to shed light on Jacen Solo’s capture by the Yuuzhan Vong beyond either mentioning that he was a prisoner of war or presumed dead, that this book in the continuing saga would focus on the errant Solo twin. Nope, way off. He’s still absent from the narrative, save for the brief mentions hither and yon. Which only means they’re building up to something big, right? Right?

No, I’m not going to look ahead on Wookieepedia. The spoiler line has to be drawn somewhere, you know.

What we have is yet another duology in the New Jedi Order narrative: Enemy Lines. This first parter–Rebel Dream–has the ragtag remnant of the Coruscant survivors retake the planet Borleias and set up camp to suss out an effective way to strike back at the Yuuzhan Vong. Wedge Antillies and Luke Skywalker decide to reactivate the Rebel Alliance, not only as a way to fight the Yuuzhan Vong, but also to avoid interference from the impotent New Republic government remnant. Meanwhile, Jaina Solo decides to help out by pretending to be the avatar of a Yuuzhan Vong goddess, Luke Skywalker decides to infiltrate Coruscant, Han and Leia take the Jedi grade schoolers to the new hideout located in the Maw cluster, and the whole thing ends with a Star Destroyer finally unleashing its full-on destructive capabilities, leaving the Yuuzhan Vong scratching their scarred noggins in flabbergasted confusion. And even while facing down certain death, Lando always looks good.

Gotta tell you, at the point, though the overall storyline is advancing, and some interesting twists have been made–mostly in the military tactical action department–Rebel Dream was…well, functional. The narrative was cinematic in execution, which kept things going at a fairly decent clip; though the dialog at times did get a tad cheesy, but not in much of a bad way. The build-up to Luke leading an infiltration expedition onto Coruscant had a nice bit of tension, and of course the requisite “to be continued” cliffhanger did its job, in that I immediately started in on part two at the conclusion of this. Overall, a decent yarn. Let’s see what happens next, shall we?

Book Review: STAR WARS- Dark Journey

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star wars dark journeyElaine Cunningham
Del Rey

“That was a joke,” Jaina broke in impatiently. “And as for changes, my feeling is that by the time this war is over, none of us will be the same, even the Jedi. Maybe especially the Jedi.”

Though the Jedi strike force completed its deadly mission into Yuuzhan Vong territory, the price of success was tragedy: not everyone made it out alive. In a daring getaway, hotshot pilot Jaina Solo stole an enemy ship, taking along her fellow survivors–and leaving behind a huge piece of her heart. With the enemy in hot pursuit, Jaina is forced to seek haven in the unprotected, unfriendly Hapes Cluster, where the royal family has grim plans for their famous Jedi guest. Even more sinister are the intentions of the Yuuzhan Vong, desperate to capture Jaina for a hideous sacrifice. Grief-stricken and obsessed with revenge, Jaina is blind to these threats–and to the overpowering evil dangerously close to consuming her. In the coming conflagration, Jaina will be fighting not for victory or vengeance, but for her very being…

After quite the roller coaster ride of the previous novel, here we are at Dark Journey, the tenth book in the New Jedi Order novels, in case you were keeping count. This one focuses less o the Yuuzhan Vong’s continuing conquest (though it does have brief parts between the young and idealistic offspring of the Warmaster and the Priest that has a few more years of experiential wisdom under whatever this species use as belts, the interaction I found rather interesting), and focuses more on a tale of political intrigue of the former Queen Mother of the planet Hapes trying to manipulate Jaina Solo into becoming the new Queen Mother to “lead” them against the Yuuzhan Vong. Politics are even more convoluted when it’s a culture utilizing tactics that put Game Of Thrones to shame.

Anyway, Jaina’s having a bit of an existential meltdown herself due to all the wackiness she’s been going through as of late. She’s going to some rather dark places, going so far as to out-manipulate Kyp Duron. Yes, Dark Journey is ultimately about Jaina Solo and the rather interesting path she goes down. Further insight is gained on the Yuuzhan Vong “technology” and culture but this is wearing down on the Solo offspring, who’s trying to figure out if she has a greater purpose as a Jedi beyond being a rather skilled pilot. It was fascinating watching her go pretty dark, not going full Sith, but now we see the potential in falling into that trap. And I admit it was amusing to see Kyp get a healthy dose of his own medicine.

Overall, while not an entirely throw-away filler story, I found this less interesting, mainly due to the lack of interaction with the antagonists, regulating the Yuuzhan Vong to passive reactionary characters, little more than a Greek Chorus. Well, okay, as passive and reactionary as the Yuuzhan Vong can get. Jacen Solo’s captivity isn’t even touched on, which leads me to think the next book will be focused on that aspect of the outcome of Star By Star. The political intrigue and brief action scenes were written well, and the story rarely lagged. But…eh, Dark Journey seemed like Game Of Thrones Lite in Space, more or less. Take that as you will. In the end, Dark Journey made me think, “well, this is one finally”, rather than eagerly want to move on immediately to the next book in the series. But, move on I must…

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