Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)

FEBRUARY 28, 2024


There are currently 11 Hellraiser movies, and as many reviews tagged "Hellraiser" here on HMAD (well, 12 now if you feel like seeing for yourself), so I actually forgot that I never reviewed Hellraiser: Inferno back in the day, as it seemed "complete." I knew I saw it pre-HMAD, but same went for 1-4 and I got those taken care of along the way, so I'm not sure how/why Inferno (the 5th entry, if you've forgotten) got skipped over in those rewatches, especially considering in my memory I actually thought it was pretty good. So for anyone who has been waiting over a decade for me to finish up the Doug Bradley era of the franchise: today's your day!

The biggest complaint about the DTV ones (well, maybe not Hellworld) is that Pinhead doesn't appear in them very much. It's an odd complaint considering he's barely in the original, either, but I was amused that it's similar to the hate for the 5th Friday the 13th movie because Jason isn't in it. He's not in the first one either! How often do you hear fans complaining that a sequel is trying to bring things back to the original, which is usually the favorite? Wackiness. But yeah, he's barely in it, and his first appearance seems shoehorned in to try to rectify that, but it's a bad call.

Because really, the worst thing about the movie is that it's "Hellraiser 5" instead of a movie called Inferno. I get the "Where's Pinhead?" complaints in a way, but the film is structured in a way that doesn't rely on him the way the previous sequels did. The Lament Configuration gets more screentime, I think, as it appears almost instantly at a crime scene. Our protagonist is Joseph (Craig Sheffer), a corrupt cop who pockets the cash from victims' wallets, lies to his wife to go sleep with prostitutes, and does up close magic for other grown adults - in other words, he's kind of awful. Anyway he finds the LC at a crime scene and, as a bit of a puzzle nerd, keeps it for himself and maybe, just maybe, opens it.

Now, in any other Hellraiser movie, that would mean Pinhead would show up and start causing problems. But here his brief experience after Joseph fiddles with the box is treated as a nightmare, and as the movie continues following Joseph's investigation that started with the crime scene, feeling more like something like 8MM than a supernatural horror film. Not that the case isn't gruesome; a child's finger was found and the killer, known as "The Engineer", seems to be keeping the kid alive, so Joseph becomes hellbent on finding him. As the investigation gets more dangerous and disturbing (he has visions of cenobite type figures, the hooker he slept with is murdered, as is one of his informants, etc.) he starts to wonder if the box has somethng to do with it. And guess what? It does!

So unfortunately it's one of those sequels in which the audience is too far ahead of the characters, unless they for some reason are watching this as their first Hellraiser movie and have zero knowledge of the series when sitting down for it. If that's you, great, but you're also like 1% of the crowd at most. Curiously, writer/director Scott Derrickson (this was his debut as director) did the same thing with Sinister 2 (which he wrote but did not direct), giving the hero a mystery to solve that we already know the answer to. It's hard to recover from that sort of disconnect when it's treated as a "what's going on?" kind of mystery film, as opposed to Friday the 13th part whatever when a new group of idiots arrive at Crystal Lake without knowing anything about Jason. They're not exactly poring over newspaper clippings and police reports to figure out who the hockey masked guy is, you know? They're unaware and then they're dead, and it's fine.

But if you ignore the Hellraiser-ness and just go for the ride of this dirtbag getting what's coming to him, it's a solid time. The Jacob's Ladder/David Lynch-esque touches keep it visually engaging throughout, and Derrickson gets every bit of his meager budget on screen. Plus it's just enjoyably weird at times, in particular when Sheffer goes to a saloon in the middle of nowhere (already weird!) and proceeds to get his ass kicked by two long haired Asian cowboys. He also spends an extended (dream/hallucination/whatever) scene shotgunning his parents who have become cenobite/zombie things, and his own family ends up on a rotating pillar like the one from the first movie. And if you're a Nightbreed fan, please enjoy the fact that Craig Sheffer has now played two (2) Clive Barker characters who are set up by their psychiatrist, though here it's (spoiler for 24 year old movie ahead) actually Pinhead in disguise.

And keeping with the spoilers, while I'm sure it's not the first movie to do so, and also kind of changes the canon version of what Hell is in this world, I like the idea that he's stuck in an endless loop of being made miserable as his eternal punishment for the misery he inflicted on others when he was alive. He has to keep seeing his family die, chased around by demons, etc. and when he tries to kill himself to get out of it, he just ends up back at the beginning of the loop again. I try not to think about the afterlife too much, but the idea of hell just being in a cycle of reliving your worst memories for eternity sounds far worse than some kind of "you just burn forever" kind of scenario.

Plus I have to admire that it took efforts to return the series to its roots. I like Hellbound as much as the original, but I have little use for 3 or 4 (though in the latter's case it COULD have been good if the Weinsteins hadn't Weinstein'd it), and none of them really seemed to get that the Cenobites weren't supposed to be the main attraction. Like the original, this is a movie about someone whose endless thirst for hedonistic pleasure results in them delving into things they shouldn't, resulting in their very gruesome and supernaturally-charged death. It doesn't mention any of the other films' events; even when the history of the Lament Configuration is explained to Sheffer's character, it's more of a vague idea of what it's been through as opposed to "And then one time this douche who ran a nightclub got a hold of it...". So I appreciated that they were at least trying to get things back on track, even if it was kind of a silly thing to do now that the series was going DTV and thus only the most die-hard fans would likely be bothering to watch.

The blu-ray I have is paired with Bloodline, from an Echo Bridge release. Since I recently got Arrow's 4K UHD set of 1-4, I looked to see if Inferno had ever been available on its own so I wouldn't have TWO Bloodlines in the house (I mean, I only have one Godfather. It just doesn't seem right to have twice as many "Pinhead in Space!"s), but all I found was another EB multipack that added Hellseeker and Hellworld to the mix. I nearly bought that one before I realized Deader got left out, so it's a set of 4-6 and 8? Why? More annoying, Deader DID get its own release, also from Echo Bridge, but it's long out of print and goes for over 300 bucks on eBay, which... no. I'm not even sure what studio owns these movies anymore, but maybe since they did it for Amityville, Vinegar Syndrome (or someone like them) can make a nice set of Bradley's DTV era (so, Inferno through Hellworld) and I can get rid of this janky-ass disc that doesn't even have subtitles, let alone the bonus features from the DVD.

What say you?


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