Ultimately, this pop-video horror shambles simply has no soul
Clive Barker turns his back for a second and his wonderfully bizarre creation of the Cenobites go clubbing ... with, sadly, humdrum results ... in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.
The franchise siren was blaring loud and clear when the third Hellraiser movie was approved. Although master-fabulist, Clive Barker, was no longer at the helm – his Scouse buddy, Pete Atkins, had taken over the writing and Anthony Hickox would direct – his mythology was just too damn tantalising, and his lead bogeyman too profoundly charismatic to let go. But the final result of this relocation to America, as so often happens, would prove that you can have too much of a good thing.
When egomaniac and complete tosser, J P Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt) obtains the Cenobites’ infamous torture pillar and places it in the penthouse of his super-club, he doesn’t realise that his dark passions will help to resurrect Pinhead (Doug Bradley), who is imprisoned within it. Aided by the Lament Configuration puzzle-box, which has also hitched a lift in the pillar, Pinhead and his new disciple in Monroe set about bringing pain and pleasure to Earth ... in that uniquely hellish way we witnessed in the altogether classier former two instalments. Only frustrated investigative reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell, looking a lot like the young Yancy Butler) can throw a spanner in Pinhead’s plans for chain-whipping, flesh-peeling, body-modding world domination.
There is no denying that the single most memorable aspect of Barker’s dark fantasy tableau is Bradley’s eloquent, nail-coiffed demon, Pinhead, and the character that fans were most enraptured by, so it was inevitable that he would rise to take centre-stage in a series that would, lamentably, go on forever after this entry with unmistakably lacklustre results. What Atkins and Hickox get so crucially and fundamentally wrong is that Pinhead works best as a figure of mystery, a damned spectre lurking on the fringes of our world and whose arrival is something we absolutely dread. Although it was actually a clever move to give him a backstory in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, making him a sympathetic and ultimately heroic character, it is a dumb one to then overturn this arc and reduce him to a quip-happy panto villain with ludicrous aspirations. His story was done. It was over. Yet studios know best, eh? With classic monsters, it is true that less ... is more.
Not only does Pinhead have far too many scenes, but his once outstandingly doom-tainted dialogue is now an endless stream of utterly forgettable drivel. Where once you hung upon his every sadistic soliloquy, savouring every sinister syllable, you now wish that he’d just shut up. Seeing what was previously an imposing figure of annihilation, whose dimension-poisoning countenance could peel back the shadows, poking his jibber-jabbering nail-bashed bonce out of the pillar is a wretchedly silly image in its own right, but then witnessing what should be the highpoint of the film as he, and his ragtag assemblage of fresh Cenobites (one of them even played by Atkins), strut down a city street, exploding store windows and flambéing hapless coppers, the game is up. And embarrassingly so. Even his appearance is less shocking – he looks far too, well, sterile and generic. What was once regal is now much too slick to be fearsome.
The glossy American shoot also jettisons the neo-gothic verve of the first two films. This looks gaudy and MTV in comparison. Hickox had made fun fright films in the past. His Waxwork and Waxwork II: Lost in Time were vigorous and ghoulishly entertaining. But the difference in filmmaking style is hugely apparent. Hellraiser is a mature and very adult sort of nightmare. Despite some sex and gore, this dumbs everything down and plays straight for the kids. One-liners and half-witted action scenes jostle over one-another in a painful attempt to rack up the tension and the suspense. The big nightclub massacre is actually a huge letdown and the street confrontation is pedestrian, to say the least. But what really hampers things is the collision of Pinhead and Catholicism, when the demon enters a church in pursuit of Joey. Barker could do this sort of thing in his sleep and bestow a soulful impact and plenty of theological food for thought. Hickox and Atkins botch it completely and make Pinhead’s mockery of the faith and its symbolism simply crude and juvenile.
The additional Cenobites – the classic former trio of Pinhead’s eviscerating accomplices didn’t make the trip across the Atlantic – seem to have been created with one eye on spin-off merchandise and, despite having more elaborate “working parts”, look nowhere near as intimidating and are utterly unthreatening. About the best thing here is Randy Miller’s propulsive score. He takes the themes created by Christopher Young and adapts them for the more action-orientated narrative, concocting a terrific orchestral mix of the dynamic and the demonic. He, at least, is firing on all cylinders.
Pinhead would return again. And again. And again. He would go on to become the very thing that once so deliciously separated him from the endless resurrections of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. Hell on Earth, although far better than the endless dross that followed in the series, marked the beginning of this terror titan’s descent into mediocrity. But we still have the classic first two films in which this metaphysical rhapsody on the ultimate extremes of flesh-bound experience reigns supreme. Ultimately, this pop-video horror shambles simply has no soul.
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