Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Judgment

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“This new millennium hurtles forward. Faith is lost. Mankind have become a vacuum without morality. So many souls seeking new and darker experiences. Degradation upon degradation, sin after sin.”

So, at this point in the game, should anyone who has been a fan of the Hellraiser movies even care at this point? The track record since going the direct-to-video rout back in 2000 with the release of Hellraiser: Inferno hasn’t been that great. There’s been maybe a couple of decent ones, but so far they’re underwhelming at best. Then Hellraiser: Revelations fell with such a loud splat, I figured that was it. Even if they did make another Hellraiser movie, it would just be going through the motions.

Then news of another Hellraiser movie started circulating. At first, there was talk of a reboot, but then that fell through. So, we got yet another direct-to-video original movie sequel, subtitled Judgment. And so, because I can’t not watch the sequel, it was with a resigned sigh that I pressed play and settled down, expectations at an all-time low.

So, how was Hellraiser: Judgment? Surprisingly decent, actually.

After a brief yet rather memorable bit featuring a new kind of Cenobite called The Auditor, we follow a couple of detectives following a case involving a grizzly serial killer dubbed the Preceptor. The detectives are brothers, Sean and David, who are joined up with a third detective, Christine to help with the investigation into The Preceptor, who apparently bases his murders on the Ten Commandments. Following up a lead that takes him to the house from the first part of the movie, Sean finds himself being questioned by The Auditor, who then leaves him to be judged by the Stygian Inquisition, when an angel intervenes to have him released. Sean escapes this Hell dimension with one of the iconic puzzle boxes, and after getting David, they both go back to the house to find that nothing is amiss, certainly no portal to hell or anything. That night Sean is tormented by nightmarish visions of the Cenobites and goes back to drinking. Later, Sean and Christine discover the cell phone of one of the Preceptor’s victims, which lead them to his hideout, where it’s learned that Sean is actually The Perceptor, when he incapacitates Christine, then abducts his brother and his wife. Seems the two were conducting an affair behind Sean’s back, so he makes the two open the Lament Configuration box, summoning the Cenobites to take them. Pinhead shows up and let’s Sean know that he’s basically screwed despite his attempts at bargaining with his brother and wife’s souls; the Auditor tries to take Sean back because he was judged guilty for his sins, but then the angel comes back to say “NAY” to that noise, because Sean is apparently part of heaven’s plan to instill fear into sinners. Then Pinhead rips apart the angel with his chains n’ hooks, to which he’s then banished from hell to walk the earth as a mortal man. Wait then to the end credits for an hilarious scene featuring The Auditor and a couple of Mormon missionaries. The end.

To begin, yes, I admit that Hellraiser: Judgment is another re-purposed script to get a quick movie out before losing the rights to the franchise. One might be jaded enough to say that Hellraiser: Revelations is more of an original Hellraiser movie than this one because of that. However, despite its many flaws sporting the Hellraiser re-purposing, Judgment was far more watchable than was the previous movie. I found The Auditor to be enjoyable as a character, and I wouldn’t mind having him incorporated in future stories. Pinhead, however, seems once again to be wasted potential. I miss Doug Bradley, really, and while Paul T. Taylor was passable, he lacks the charisma that made the character so legendary, even when he was regulated to showing up near the end to do his job in the later films. I also couldn’t help but feel Pinhead’s fate was cribbed from the second Prophecy movie and Gabriel’s fate.

While the mystery surrounding the serial killer was standard and predictable, still it worked on a certain level, with the best parts involving the house and The Auditor. Making this into more of a House Of Mystery type adaptation instead of a Hellraiser movie might have been a better bet. But, if you can look past the shoehorning of the story into a Hellraiser flick, Judgment was still a far better movie than some of the previous in the series. Worth a look, at least.

Movie Review: HELLRAISER: Revelations

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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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“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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“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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“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.

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