There are some films that despite the apologies, despite the repeated attempts at revisiting, despite pleas from fans I just plain hate and there isn’t much of anything that can be done about it. One particular little gem is 1992’s Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. I really love the first two Hellraiser films. Barker’s original is a staple of the genre, and it’s follow up is a fantastic exercise on how to create a sequel that celebrates the original while expanding a its themes and mythologies. Both films in succession feel like complimentary puzzle pieces (yeah, I know, I know) and parts of a whole, both while being able to hold their own weight apart from each other. They represented a fantastic start to what could have been a great serial horror franchise. That is if Hellraiser III hadn’t come along and stinkfisted the series into an early creative grave.
Hellraiser 3 was such a departure from the tone and quality of the first two films that it immediately stood apart as an obvious and painful cash grab. Gone was the stylish direction of both Barker and his successor Tony Randell and the atmosphere that made the first films successful left with them. In fact Hellraiser 3 chose to focus on the cenobites themselves, discarding the prior prevailing theme of obsession that grounded the human element to the franchise. Even Pinhead himself, Doug Bradley, has commented on the decline of the series and the every-shifting role of the character as a contribution to the degradation of the series’ quality.
So, besides tone and story (as if we couldn’t stop here, right?) just what is it that makes this third entry such a steaming little turd?
- Well, for starters, the film decided to be about as 90’s as it possibly could, dating it horribly to the tune of lots of neon lights and shamefully cheese club scenes. The lighting in Hellraiser is so post New Wave music video that every little flaw in makeup and design is glaringly obvious. The cenobites derive their terror from being constantly veiled in shadow, not dripping in hot pink like they’re selling their ass on the strip. “We have such sights to show you…for $40, full service.”
- Dem der characters just aren’t sympathetic. Barker has always been able to construct multi-faceted characters that rose above their flaws. They represented what could be very real people, with very real motivations and emotions. Enter a “hot-to-trot” (omg, did I just right that while trying to watch my stories) investigative reporter and “I’m not really a hardened club-slut, I’m just dressed this way” douchefucker dup that are so one dimensional and frankly so boring that our curiosity stops dead in its tracks to see these characters survive and instead we just want to see the introduction of hell’s enema to cleanse these two of their banality.
- Cenobites don’t have handlebar mustaches. Jesus Christ on a fuckin crutch. NO.
- Pinhead. Yup. Yup. Pinhead was reduced to just a silly lil bully in this movie takin everybody’s lunch money like he was we Scott freakin Farkas. Pinhead is a side effect of the actual villainy in Barker’s story, not the source of the conflict itself. There is order to the cenobite’s and their architecture of suffering that makes them terrifying. Take that away and he’s just an amateur acupuncture fetishist that gets his clothes from the Warner Brothers backlot set of The Matrix.
Now, I actually enjoyed the 4th film in the series and by no means am I a detractor. I loved seeing the Lemarchand’s through the ages and the history does jive with Barker’s mythology, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to the first two film’s in scope and quality. That being said, Hellraiser 3 makes Bloodlines look like Citizen #HandlebarMustacheonaFuckingCenobite Kane.