(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series that explores the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrically released movies. In this edition, we continue and conclude, for now, our descent into hell for the eighth, ninth, and tenth films in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser franchise.)

Clive Barker’s imagination gifted horror fans with the monsters of Midian, the hook-handed Candyman, and the child-eating god named Rawhead Rex, but his most ubiquitous creation will undoubtedly be Pinhead and the cenobites of Hellraiser (1987). He could have hardly imagined that adapting his novella (“The Hellbound Heart”) for the screen would lead to a franchise that just refuses to die.

As mentioned in part one, where I explored the first three DTV sequels (films five through seven in the franchise), these are all first-time watches for me. As much as I love Barker and his original Hellraiser film, I felt no need to devote time to these desperate sequels. They exist almost solely as a way for Dimension Films to retain the rights every few years, and instead of finding new ways to explore the worlds that Barker’s creation set forth the studio more often than not simply crams Pinhead into unrelated scripts – and it shows.

So join me, won’t you, as I foolishly subject myself to the last three DTV sequels… for now. Let’s watch Hellraiser: HellworldHellraiser: Revelations, and Hellraiser: Judgment.

The Beginning

There are seven films leading up to these next three, and rather than go through them all again I’ll just point you to part one of this DTV feature here. The shorthand version amounts to this – Barker’s original film was a blast of fresh air for the genre in 1987, and three sequels of decreasing quality followed in theaters. Three more follow-ups went straight to DVD, and while they bear the Hellraiser name they feel like wholly unrelated scripts mashed violently into Barker’s universe. Two of the films are lazy riffs on Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and the third has some ugly things to say about victims of sexual assault. They ain’t good!


The DTV Plot

Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005): Hellraiser is real. Not the world intertwining pain and pleasure with leather, chains, and entrails, but the film franchise. Its popularity led to an online game, but after a young man grows too attached to it and kills himself by going full Mazes and Monsters (1982), his five friends – including a young Henry Cavill! – mourn the death and move on with their lives. Two years later, they receive invites to a special Hellraiser event in a home built by Philip “The Box Dude” Lemarchand. The event’s host (Lance Henriksen) promises them a good time, but one man’s good time is another person’s bloody demise!

Meta-horror films are fairly common these days, and a few of them are sequels acknowledging their predecessor’s existence in the “real” world. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) is the best and smartest example, but something like The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014) is equally deserving of praise for its melding of “fact” and fiction. Setting Hellworld in a world where the Hellraiser films are real (and popular if you can imagine that) is a seemingly inspired spin for the franchise, but the movie does absolutely nothing of note with it. These supposed fans never mention Barker or directly reference any of the films, and the brief glimpse we get of the online game is remarkably underwhelming and visibly unrelated to the movies. There’s a wealth of possibility to the idea, but instead, we’re stuck with more of the same hallucinations and dream logic of the previous DTV sequels. Pinhead shows up periodically to say something worthless like “This is just the beginning” as obnoxious guys have sex with naked women before dying in bland ways. It builds to a twist you won’t care about – that has nothing to do with Hellraiser – and not even a bored Henriksen can make it worthwhile.

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011): Two friends head to Mexico to get some action, but the box they find isn’t quite the one they’re looking for. Nico Bradley (see what they did there?) and Steven Craven (eh? eh?) disappear, but when their belongings – including a camcorder – make it back to their families, it seems clear they crossed dangerous paths with women, alcohol, and someone cosplaying as Pinhead while south of the border. Their parents come together for dinner one night and are shocked when a wounded and confused Steven shows up. Then their phones die, their cars disappear, and the dinner party takes a bloody turn.

The film opens with the scariest concept of the entire franchise – a found footage sequence – but after showing a complete disregard for the reality of camcorder edits, it thankfully drops the found footage in favor of more traditional filmmaking. Not that the change makes it a good movie… the narrative moves between the family in distress and flashbacks (some normal and others in found footage form), but none of it appeals. Parents and “teens” alike, they’re all pretty obnoxious, and brief cutaways to Pinhead chilling in his torture dungeon while listening to their incessant jabbering is no great shakes either. The relationship between the two friends is revealed to be a mirror of the one between Julia and Frank from Barker’s original. They’re not lovers, but after one opens the box and is pulled into hell the other starts luring in prostitutes to “feed” his friend back to health. The difference, besides neither of the performers being able to match Clare Higgins’ evil charisma, is that there’s just no balance. There’s no Kirsty. Hell, there’s barely a Pinhead as Stephan Smith Collins tries to replace Doug Bradley’s presence with nothing but googly eyes.

Hellraiser: Judgment (2018): A serial killer who’s watched Seven (1995) a few too many times without paying attention to the details is killing people based off the Ten Commandments, and two detectives – brothers, one of whom is obviously going to be the killer – are hot on his trail. The Preceptor taunts the police with literature-tinged letters, but he’s not the only one spilling blood in this town. A rundown house on the wrong side of the tracks holds its own secret: a motley crew of scarred and leaking “people” acting as judge, jury, and executioners in their own right.

This tenth film, a rarity in that it’s a DTV sequel actually written as a Hellraiser film, starts with the strangest opening of the franchise. A pedophile is abducted and interrogated by a scarred man in sunglasses known as the Auditor (writer/director Gary J. Tunnicliffe) who types up his captive’s confessions. The Assessor (John Gulager) then enters, soaks the pages in the tears of sad children, and proceeds to eat the soggy paper… before vomiting into a tube in the wall… which then pours into a trough where three topless women stick their hands into the muck and declare the accused guilty… leading an obese butcher with a human, leather-clad hump on his back to enter and carve the man alive causing his blood to splooge and splash onto the still-topless ladies’ breasts Aaaand cue the opening credits.

It’s bonkers and gross and maybe a little disturbing? The group represents a different faction of hell beyond the cenobites, and a later visit from an angel in white confirms this as a long-overdue expansion of the Hellraiser universe. Unfortunately, the majority of the film focuses on the far less interesting serial killer case, the detective brothers, and a female cop who joins the hunt. There are some pretty terrific practical gore effects too which help make this the most watchable of the DTV sequels, but it’s less of a treat and more of a cruel tease as to what this series could have been doing all along.


Talent Shift

The filmmakers behind these three films are far from household names, but they’ve all been trudging their way through the horror genre for several years now. Hellworld director Rick Bota previously declared his lack of artistic ability with both Hellseeker and Deader, while Revelations‘ Victor Garcia is in a comfortable zone of DTV mediocrity that also includes Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007) and Mirrors 2 (2010). Tunnicliffe, though, manages something interesting with Judgment. He also wrote the previous film but claims his script was mangled in the process, so while his directing chops don’t impress, it may be the price of seeing his vision executed properly. I’d be curious to see what he would do with a bigger budget.

The casts consist of mostly unknowns, but a few familiar faces show up along the way. Pre-stardom Cavill is so bland that you’d be forgiven for not even recognizing him – no? just me? – and post-stardom Henriksen seems to be here for little more than a paycheck. It’s a job, so that’s not a criticism, but the most interesting thing about his presence here is knowing that he was initially offered the role of Frank nearly two decades earlier in Barker’s original film. Heather Langenkamp also makes a brief appearance in the final film.


How the Sequels Respect the Originals

Pinhead again remains the common thread running through the films, but even that element stumbles with Bradley’s departure and replacement in the last two films. Regardless of the man beneath the makeup, though, the character is a fairly dull flatline throughout until the third act of the final film. It’s there where he’s given agency beyond merely saying “Hey you gonna suffer now boy howdy!” (not a direct quote) and fondling his pins, and in teasing his human nature, we’re reminded of earlier entries in the series that recognized him as more than just a Hot Topic model.


How the Sequels Shit on the Originals

As mentioned above, while Pinhead remains, the actor beneath the pins changes for the last two films. Revelations is the worst offender on that front due both to Collins’ tonally odd performance and his look. (Those eyes…) Judgment fares a bit better with Paul T. Taylor giving a more restrained performance, but the addition of a leather duster doesn’t exactly inspire confidence or terror. There’s also a trend line running through all of the DTV sequels beyond their low-rent quality. While films in general, and horror movies in particular, benefit from featuring a sympathetic protagonist, these sequels are wholly disinterested in the idea. Hellraiser‘s Kirsty fit the mold and should have been the template for later entries: a likable, innocent character caught up in the madness and terror for us to care about and root for. Instead, we’re given a series of assholes, dicks, and twats. The character void leaves the films reliant on story, creativity, and kills, and unfortunately, those really aren’t strengths for any of them.


Conclusion

None of these are good, fun movies, but while the last film at least tries something new, it’s really a case of too little too late for those of us who’ve watched all ten in the franchise. If the series continues, and knowing the greedy bastards at Dimension/Miramax. it’s almost guaranteed that it will, they’d benefit from following its lead in new directions tied directly into the world of Hellraiser. Stop dropping Pinhead into tired murder mysteries, rejected Twilight Zone stories, and lame excuses to get women naked on your set and just make a kick-ass horror movie. Please?

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