MAY 18, 2011
Until the abomination known as Hellraiser: Revelations, the only film from the series I saw in theaters was Hellraiser: Bloodline, which was released in March of 1996 and was the last one to get a theatrical release (not counting Revelations’ bizarre one-off screening). But since I wasn’t a big fan of the series anyway, I don’t even know if I ever watched it again; I know I rented it so I could copy a clip to use on my public access horror review show in my senior year of high school (so, spring 1998), but if I actually watched it then I can’t recall; I sure as hell didn’t remember anything about it beyond the 18th century Paris and, of course, outer space settings.
But I also remembered that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, considering the widely publicized (well, in Fangoria and such) production troubles that are pretty common with Dimension movies. Apparently, original director Kevin Yagher was so sick of all the meddling that he eventually walked off before shooting even finished, leaving Halloween 6’s Joe Chapelle to shoot the rest of the scenes and reshoot some others based on new script elements. He also reshaped the movie; it was originally presented entirely linear, with the 18th century stuff in the first third, modern day in the middle, and then finally the space sequences. But (and honestly, I think this was a good idea), he changed it so now it starts in space, with Merchant telling the story of his two ancestors, allowing to cut back and forth to the spaceship throughout the movie (and, the whole reason for this maneuver in the first place, allowing Pinhead to make his first appearance a bit sooner). I was actually kind of surprised to discover how little certain things changed, and how a few of the revisions were actually for the better; you can read the script HERE to compare for yourself.
The main problem with the resulting movie, unsurprisingly, is that it’s too rushed. The 18th century stuff got overhauled the most, and it shows. There’s a character played by Adam Scott (who hasn’t aged at all – what the hell, man?) who I guess betrays his boss and takes control of the box/Angelique (the movie’s main villain, a sort of blend between Pinhead and the first two film’s Julia character), but it’s impossible to gauge what he was doing or who was really controlling who in these scenes. A major death is skipped over entirely (we just see his body), and the whole goddamn point of Merchant’s quest is unclear. Hell they barely even address that his wife is pregnant; if you miss the somewhat subtle moment where the child’s existence is mentioned (well, subtle for a movie featuring spaceships, a hell-beast, and a lead villain whose lines seem written by Winona Ryder’s character from Beetlejuice), the rest of the movie will seem like one giant plot hole.
The other segments fare better; the modern day stuff is of course the least interesting, and very little about it changed from the script. It starts to feel too much like a generic horror movie at times – for Christ’s sake, there’s even a scene where our female protagonist goes down into a dark basement to do laundry – but it’s fine, and it’s the segment where Pinhead really enters the story, so fans of the character (the ones who complained he wasn’t in the DTV sequels enough, apparently forgetting he wasn’t in the first one much either) probably enjoy this stuff a lot. And it’s also the area in which one of the script’s more confusing issues was cleared up. Originally, there was a single security guard who met up with Pinhead and basically tried to run only to be sent to Hell. Here, we have a pair of twin guards who become the “Siamese Twin Cenobite” (which appeared in the script without any explanation), so that was a good call – I don’t need to know where every cenobite came from, but it makes a lot more sense to have the sort of cause and effect plotting than to just introduce a character, send her off, and then bring in a male cenobite out of nowhere.
Which leaves the outer space stuff, which isn’t as hokey as you might think. Unlike Jason or Michael (Carpenter himself wanted to send Myers to space; he was thankfully turned down), it does sort of make sense to have Pinhead in space. After all, he is a demon summoned from Hell – it’s a concept based on religious beliefs, and thus having him appear in a place dictated by what SCIENCE can achieve is actually quite interesting. It’s actually sort of a shame that they didn’t set the entire movie there, as these sort of concepts could have been explored, and again, they wouldn’t have to rush things. Angelique and Pinhead are at odds and working against each other, but that power struggle barely registers, and certain aspects of Merchant’s plan are glossed over or just plain confusing. Instead, we get a lot of (admittedly cool) death scenes back to back, as Pinhead and his cronies decimates everyone on the ship except for the guy he’s trying to kill, while Merchant finishes his story and puts his plan in motion. And while the ultimate reveal of the Elysium Configuration is pretty awesome, the changed ending (allowing Merchant to live instead of die like he does in the script) weakens its impact.
And that’s sort of how the entire movie is; you see glimpses of a really good sequel (it could have easily been the best since the first), but there’s always something muddling it, or confusing you with something seemingly left behind from an earlier draft. At one point Angelique tells Merchant (present day) that they “were good together”, referring to his ancestor, but in this version the two never met in the past. You also have to hear painfully on-the-nose dialogue that’s there to sum up ideas that we would have been able to figure out for ourselves if the editing weren’t constantly rushing through major events, which is why you actually hear someone say “Your genius will be passed along your bloodline which is why we have to stop it!” (paraphrased, pretty close though). Which is why I wish Dimension had never gotten a hold of the series; the concept just isn’t a good fit for the way they like to make movies. Hellraiser movies shouldn't be about racking up a good body count or coming up with cool Cenobite designs, they should be about the actual people that INVOKE these things. The first Hellraiser is the story of a woman’s lust destroying the lives of the folks around her; if Dimension had made it that would be a two scene idea and then Pinhead would come along and, I dunno, turn Larry into Speaker-Face or something.
Maybe they should have sent it direct to DVD (well, this would have been VHS) sooner. They sure as hell didn’t care about how early Pinhead showed up in those movies (at least not with Inferno, which is the best of the lot, natch). The budget for this one was reportedly only 4 million, actually LESS than some of the DTVs, so it’s not like the production value would have been severely weakened. Without the pressure of a theatrical release, maybe Big Bad Bob would have left the production alone and the movie would have turned out really good, instead of just “better than most of them!”
Part of why I hadn’t seen the movie again is because the DVD was always really expensive; I remember seeing it for 34.99 at one point, despite a lack of any bonus material whatsoever. By the time it was finally reduced to a reasonable price, I had upgraded to an HDTV and thus didn’t want the disc because it was non-anamorphic. So while I can’t vouch for how much better/worse the picture looks on Echo Bridge’s new Blu-ray, I CAN happily report that it is indeed anamorphic, and not too bad looking either. Hardly the type of disc that you’d want to use to show off Blu-ray’s image quality, but it’s not all washed out and detail-challenged like their H20 Blu, and they certainly didn’t go overboard with DNR (if anything, for once I actually think it could be less grainy). Sadly, like all of EB’s new “Dimension orphan” discs, there aren’t any extras whatsoever (even the old disc had the trailer), and, for some reason, they have dropped the original 5.1 tracks and replaced them with DTS-HD 2.0. Unless you have the most top of the line sound system in the world (which, let’s face it, probably isn’t the audience for Hellraiser goddamn IV), you probably can’t tell much of a difference between DTS and Dolby Digital, but ANYONE can tell the difference between a stereo mix and 5.1. Maybe someone can explain the possible logistics behind this to me? However, it’s pretty cheap, and for another 2-3 bucks you can get Inferno along with it; if you’re a space-saver type, this is a fantastic option as now these two movies will take up about 1/3 the space on your shelf and look better to boot.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not the biggest Hellraiser fan in the world, but I think the biggest problem for me is that as I grew older, the movies began aiming younger (indeed, the last two were more or less teens in peril movies). It takes a more mature mind to fully appreciate the ideas in the first film (which I saw as a kid), and I think you’d have to be an adolescent to enjoy Hellworld (which I watched a few months ago). So if you haven’t seen any of them yet, watch the entire series backwards, one per year, and see how interesting it gets as you grow wiser!
What say you?