It’s that time of year, and many of you are probably looking for a good scary movie to watch. Some of you may be thinking about watching the series named after my most beloved of holidays, but I’d advise against it. I’m not really a Michael Meyers fan, if I’m going to watch a masked man stumble around the woods and kill someone, he’s going to be wearing a hockey mask, not Captain Kirk. But if I really want something scary? I turn no further than Hellraiser. That’s not to say that the series is perfect, there are indeed some really shitty Hellraiser movies out there. Here’s a quick guide to the Hellraiser franchise:
The original, based on Clive Barkers original Novel The Hellbound Heart (also an amazing read). It’s the story of a family torn apart by infidelity. Larry tries to reconcile things with his wife after he finds out she cheated with his brother, Frank, by moving back into his family home. This is the worst idea ever, as we find that Frank is still in the house. The story is really about how terrible people can be when they think only of themselves and pleasure. It’s Frank’s pursuit of new pleasures that leads him to a shady salesman in Morocco. The salesman sells him a puzzle box, that unbeknownst to him, summons a group of cenobites when it is solved. The cenobites, lead by Pinhead in the movies, tear Frank apart so he can the suffer exquisite agony they offer. Larry’s cheating wife, Julia, discovers the half regenerated Frank and falls for him all over again. Later, Kirsty, Larry’s daughter, finds the puzzle box and accidentally summons Pinhead herself. To save herself, she lets them know that Frank is still alive and has escaped from their clutches. Frank and Julia are the real monsters here, not the Pinhead and the Cenobites, they are pretty much just there to clean up. Most of the movie involves Frank being a dick and Julia doing what ever is needed for her to be able to fuck him again.
Final Grade – A+
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Kirsty wakes up in the Channard Institute. She has to explain what happened to the police and doctors, who don’t believe a word of what she says. You can’t really blame them, can you? Bondage gear clad demons from hell is a tough story to sell. Eventually, Kirsty meets another girl named Tiffany, who has a thing for solving puzzles. Eventually we discover that Dr. Channard actually knows quite a bit about the puzzle box and the Cenobites. He’s got the mattress that Julia died on, and brings her back in much the same way that they bring Frank back in the first movie. He’s also got the puzzle box and plans on having Tiffany solve it so that he can reap any rewards there may be and let her be taken off to Hell. Again, we find that the humans are the real monsters and that the Cenobites are really just there to collect human garbage. Eventually, we see Leviathan, the ruler of the vast labyrinth of Hell, and are shown a new Cenobite that tries to bring Hell to Earth.
Another great part of this film is that it shows us the process by which humans are turned into Cenobites. The movie actually opens with the creation of Pinhead. This is important because, as I said, the humans are the real monsters in the movie, but sometimes, the humans can get a lot worse.
That’s actually one of the biggest points of the first two movies. Sure, Pinhead is an evil demon here to drag people to hell so they can be tortured forever, but he still has to be summoned, and normally, the people who summon him deserve it. Sure, on occasion, someone like Kirsty plays with the box without knowing, and the Cenobites show up to drag her to hell, but generally, they get away, leaving the real sinners to get what’s coming to them.
Final Grade – A+
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
This one is bad, but it’s not terrible. It’s a level of bad that you can still enjoy. That said, this movie shows us what happens when the humanity we saw in the previous movie, is removed from Pinhead. Banished from hell, but still maintaining all his power, Pinhead decides to instead create his own hell here on earth. Without the machines of Leviathan to do all the work, Pinhead must create his own Cenobites. These consist of a fat guy with CD’s stuck in his face, a camera man with a camera stuck in his face, a woman who smokes too much, and a guy with some kind of piston in his face. They aren’t real Cenobites, but they are the best he could do with what he had. The story follows a reporter who must find a way to reunite the Pinhead with his lost humanity, and then defeat.
The fauxcenobites are a big reason that people hate this one. Another is that it doesn’t really follow the same formula that the first two follow. Pinhead is the real villain here, sure there is a guy that frees him, but he’s no Frank or Dr. Channard, he’s just a sleazy nightclub owner. In this movie, Pinhead plays the role of your typical slasher, killing anybody that he comes across instead of going after just his chosen victim.
It’s cheesy and dumb, but like I said, it’s fun to watch. Plus, it also has scenes like this one:
This is where the problems really start. You see, the first two movies were perfect. They pretty much closed up any loose ends and told a complete story. There is an option to continue with the creation of the Pillar of Souls at the end of II, Which is where III picks up. Hellraiser III ends with no opening for another sequel. It really does complete the story, which is probably why most of the rest of the movies suck.
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline
This one really leaves the formula behind, and pretty much the entire time, the cenobites are stalking nice normal people. Now, these people also happen to be the descendants of the person who originally created the puzzle box, but he was tricked into making it, so really, the dude is still an innocent here.
This movie starts off where all horror movies go to die, Space. Space is like the horror genre’s version of jumping the shark. Eventually, every horror franchise that lasts long enough finds their way into space. Friday the 13th did it. Dracula did it. Even the damn Leprechaun wound up in space.
I’m not saying that you can’t make a good horror movie in space, I’m just saying that most people don’t. I actually like Hellraiser: Bloodlines though, just not the space parts. The movie actually plays out the creation of the puzzle box and spans around 400 years, using the futuristic space parts as a wraparound. The box was originally commissioned by a practitioner of the dark arts named Duc de L’Isle, who promptly uses it to summon a succubus. The succubus then promptly screw the hell out of de L’Isle and his apprentice. The apprentice in turn has the succubus kill his master, and the two live for a few hundreds of years until the demoness discovers that the puzzle box has resurfaced. She kills her playmate and travels to america where she finds the descendant of the toy maker and his family. We find that the family is pretty much cursed. They always die young, but always have a son to carry on the line, and each and every one of them is obsessed with the puzzle box. The tricky part is that they don’t know what exactly it is. The modern-day descendant is named John Merchant, and he designs buildings. His masterpiece is filled with art and designs that look like the puzzle box, and in fact, wind up functioning the very same way, turning the entire building into one giant portal to Hell. This is where Pinhead returns.
Yes, they bring him back again. After being banished from Hell, and then killed, he is summoned back from hell where he is again the lead Cenobite. This part picks right up after the events of Hellraiser III. She goes to the building that was being built-in the last movie and recovers the puzzle box from where it was left. At this point, Pinhead shouldn’t be there, she should have summoned someone else. But that’s not what people want from a Hellraiser movie, so Pinhead returns. He advises his the succubus that Hell has changed, and they do things differently now. We are treated to more slaughter and terror as the building is turned into a portal to hell, until eventually the Cenobites and succubus are sent back to hell.
We flash back to the future and Paul Merchant, space station architect and Cenobite enthusiast, has been telling his story to the space police after using a robot to open the puzzle box on his space station. The Cenobites, along with the newly converted succubus, wind up tearing through all the space police. Where the first two movies (and to a lesser extent, the third) were more about the depths of human depravity, and how we will walk straight into Hell if we thought it would be fun, this one is entirely about demons tearing people apart.
Final Grade – C-
Hellraiser V: Inferno
Space may be where horror goes to die, but sometimes it also goes there to be reborn. Inferno features a dirty cop, Detective Joseph Thorne, as the protagonist. We follow him around the city as he tries to solve murders that all evidence points to him as the perpetrator. His search brings him to the “The Engineer” a shadowy crime lord that may or may not exist, has kidnapped a child, and may be setting up our hero. Every time Thorne get’s close to finding a clue, he is attacked by cenobites.
Even though there are Cenobites all through this movie, there isn’t really any gore. Nobody walks around without skin, there aren’t any people torn apart by hooks. The torture in this movie is all mental. Instead of inflicting physical pain on Thorne, it seems that the Cenobites and Engineer are happy just to fuck with his mind. Pinhead finally makes his appearance and lets us know that we all make our own Hell, and that we all must suffer through it for eternity.
I like this one, it’s not as good as the originals, but it also doesn’t fall into the crappy slasher formula that they series was starting to adopt.
Final Grade – B-
Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker
Kirsty Cotton makes her return in this one. She’s married to Trevor Gooden (played by Dean Winters), but they appear to have some issues in their relationship. We don’t learn much though, because shortly after the movie starts, they drive off a bridge, and she drowns. Trevor survives, but can’t remember anything due to a head injury. As the movie progresses, we learn bits and pieces of their life together. We start to pick up that Trevor was a dirt bag who was cheating on Kirsty every chance he got. We learn that Kirsty had a large inheritance, and that it was quite probably that Trevor killed her for the money. The more that is revealed to Trevor, the less and less everything makes sense. Reality starts to break down, and he starts seeing shadowy figures following him. Pinhead makes a couple of appearances to give him clues and warnings. It’s a great movie and possibly could have been better had it not been a Hellraiser movie. It really lacks in the Cenobite department, and if you watched the previous movie, the surprise twist ending is pretty much spoiled because they both have the same exact twist.
That said, I still really liked this one. I wish that it had come before Inferno, since I think it’s a little better and with the two reversed, the ending wouldn’t have been spoiled. In fact, if you want to marathon the series, swap the order of these two. Watch Hellseeker first, then Inferno.
Final Grade – C+ (but it gets a B if you swap the order)
Hellraiser VII: Deader
The Lemerchand family is back, only this time, instead of just building puzzle box themed building and space stations, he is practicing necromancy and starting a suicide cult with the purpose of bringing people back from the dead after they kill themselves so they can open the box and allow him to control the Cenobites and gain the power of Hell. It’s a terrible plan that makes for a terrible plot. Seriously, the story is bad.
Final Grade – D
Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld
This one takes place in the “real world”, and the characters play a game based on the Hellraiser franchise. One of their friends die, and then they all go to a Hellraiser themed party where a bunch of weird stuff happens, people are killed, and there may be actual Cenobites running around. It’s just as bad as the one above it.
Final Grade – D
Hellraiser IX: Revelations
I haven’t watched this one. I’ll watch Hellworld and Deader, but I probably won’t watch this one. Hell, I’ll probably watch Pocket Ninjas again before I watch Hellraiser Revelations. It was filmed in a few weeks on a budget of $300k because if they didn’t film something, they would have lost the rights. This one was so bad Doug Bradley, who was Pinhead in every single other Hellraiser, said no. The man said yes to Hellworld, then shot this crap down. Just think about that for a little.
The Machete Order
If you want to watch the Hellraiser series, I have a suggestion for you. Much like the Machete Order for Star Wars, I have a new order for Hellraiser. I, II, III, VI, V, IV. Why do I suggest this?
The first three, as I said, are a trilogy that work on their own. After the end of the second one, there is a fundamental shift in the order of Hell, and after III, a change in Pinhead himself. This is then reflected in the next two films where he tortures his victims psychologically instead of physically. It’s not about the sadomasochistic joys of pain anymore, now it’s just about the suffering. IV shows you how Hell changes over time, and chronologically, it is also the last movie since it ends a hundred years in the future. This also drops the last three movies, which have all sucked.
All the ones that matter are available on Netflix or Amazon if you don’t have Netflix.