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Review Bites Franchise Frenzy: Hellraiser Part One

Little did Clive Barker know when he published his novella The Hellbound Heart in 1986 that it would introduce the world to a horror icon whose popularity would spawn 11 movies, a series of comic books and appearances in his other books. Whether you call him Hell Priest, The Black Pope, The Pope of Hell or simply Pinhead, the leader of the Cenobite demons portrayed for eight years by Doug Bradley is the stuff of nightmares made reality.

After the first two films, Barker would distance himself from the film franchise and actually lose the U.S. rights to the series until 2021.

While the Hellraiser franchise began with more consistency and integrity than its compatriots like Halloween and Friday 13th, it soon began to falter and stumble as a slew of low budget, direct-to-video sequels were produced. That glut of garbage will hopefully come to an end as any new projects going forward now need Barker’s approval. Barker has already given his blessing to a new Hulu feature film and a new Hellraiser HBO series. The new film comes out on October 7th.

Hellraiser (1987)

Clive Barker’s directorial debut, Hellraiser was a very simple but very disturbing story. Like his astounding and unmatched work in the Books of Blood series, Barker plays with the traditional notions of what is “normal” and what is “acceptable” as well as blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. He is much like David Cronenberg when it comes to portraying pain and suffering as pleasure and pushing the boundaries of erotica and sensuality.

The gleefully ghoulish Julia Cotton (Clare Higgins) is the star of film. Pinhead and his minions appears sparingly, as he and they should. In fact, Julia was supposed to be the lead of the series until Pinhead became a fan favourite.

In the original film Julia is not a good wife to her hubby (Andrew Robinson as Larry Cotton). Right before their wedding she cheated on Larry with his creepy brother Frank (Sean Chapman) whom she simply cannot resist. Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), Larry’s teenage daughter, is caught in the middle of the chaos. The deceased Frank is resurrected in a phenomenal sequence and then the real carnage begins with Pinhead and the rest of the Cenobites joining in on the blood-soaked debauchery through a mystical puzzle box (the Lament Configuration) which opens a gateway to hell setting the demons free on Earth.

While the great cast and direction by Barker have received their fair share of praise over the years one person who hasn’t is composer Christopher Young whose soundtrack, especially the Hellraiser track, which became Pinhead’s anthem, is as magnificent and unforgettable as Carpenter’s Halloween score. When you are done watching, give the soundtrack a listen on its own.

Watch on: Shudder, Tubi, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Darkside of the Internet.

Hellbound Hellraiser II (1988)

In one of those rare cases, the sequel to Hellraiser is actually better than the original film. Continuing just hours after the first film ended, Kirsty is recovering in a psychiatric hospital under the care of Doctor Channard (Kenneth Cranham). As Kirsty attempts to make sense of it all she is befriended by another patient Tiffany, played by Imogen Boorman. Tiffany is a mute who coincidentally loves solving puzzles.

Little does Kirsty know that Doctor Channard has been infatuated with the Lament Configuration for years and that obsession brings him, Julia and Pinhead together. Channard resurrects Julie in a scene that purposely mirrors the Bride of Frankenstein and a doorway to hell is opened so that Kirsty and Tiffany can attempt to rescue Kirsty’s dad.

In Hellbound, the Cenobite mythology is explored as well as Pinhead’s origin in one of the best scenes, transformation or otherwise, you will ever seen in a horror film. We also learn about hell and its hierarchy.

Because Hellbound pulls back the curtain on so many things and has far more action and intrigue, it eclipses the original, sort of like how Evil Dead 2 and Aliens surpassed their predecessors.

Watch on: Shudder, Tubi, Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Darkside of the Internet.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

Hell on Earth takes the Cenobite/Pinhead mythos one step further by having them actually invade our mud ball planet. Once again starting when the last film ended, Pinhead and the other Cenobites are imprisoned in the perplexing Pillar of Souls. It is basically a spinning supernatural column with body parts and faces frozen in it. A scuzzy, douchebag of a night club owner, the slimy Kevin Bernhardt as J. P. Monroe, buys what he thinks is a piece of art…until Pinhead starts having curious chats with him.

Terry Farrel (Jadzia Dax Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) is a television reporter Joanne “Joey” Summerskill who comes into possession of the Lament Configuration, which makes her a target of Pinhead and his new collection of Cenobites including one who is a demonic flame-thrower (Barbie Cenobite), a Camerahead Cenobite, a Pistonhead Cenobite and my personal favourite, the CD Cenobite who flings razor-sharp CDs as if they were mini buzz-saws or saw blades at his victims.

Although the new Cenobites are cool everything goes to hell when Pinhead breaches our dimension and the Cenobites terrorize city streets as they hunt down Joey and the puzzle box. It is the same with a scene in which Pinhead appears in Monroe’s Boiler Room nightclub massacring the patrons with chains and hooks that appear out of nowhere. Pinhead and the Cenobites work best when their scope is limited. When they operate in the shadows seducing, tempting, manipulating and turning people into puppets not publicly storming city streets or night clubs slaughtering everyone. It is all just very silly and very out of character with the Hellraiser series.

Those cringy scenes and a lot of bad acting are balanced out by a great set-up and some really exceptional scenes like the one in which Doug Bradley goes all out when Pinhead charges into a church in pursuit of Joey and decides to play some games with the Christian priest there. Pinhead confronting and toying with the priest is the one scene that truly represents what the first two films strived for.

Sorry, Kirsty and Ashley Laurence fans. She only appears in a clever cameo and nothing more. Her suffering isn’t as legendary in this mediocre sequel.

Watch on: Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Darkside of the Internet.

Hellraiser Bloodline (1996)

Many a critic hated this film but I loved every moment of it. In fact, I think it is one of the better Hellraiser movies.

We begin in the far distant future. Dr. Paul Merchant has commandeered a space station as he works to solve the Lament Configuration using a remote controlled robot in a sealed room. The station is stormed by soldiers. Merchant is arrested but in audience with their commander explains why it is crucial that he be allowed to finish his experiment.

What follows is a deep-dive into the Merchant clan from the first puzzle box manufactured in 1796 to the 1996 architect of the awfully familiar building shown during the Hell on Earth finale and back to 2127 for the film’s finale.

See, how it all winds its way back? Clever that.

Tied into the Merchant legacy is Angelique (Valentina Vargas), the coolest Cenobite next to Pinhead himself. Thanks to Vargas, Angelique steals the spotlight away from Pinhead and it is so criminally tragic her Hellraiser legacy ended with Bloodline as the character didn’t return in any of the sequels. A power couple partnership with Pinhead would have been so delightfully evil.

Worth a watch just for the final scene which is one of those cinematic “mind blown” moments.

Watch on: Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Darkside of the Internet.

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