|AC after nine Hellraiser movies....|
This week was relatively quiet, right up until I headed up to Oshkosh to hang out with the gang and bear witness to my first “Franchise Marathon,” a long-standing tradition of amigos John Pata, Eric Egan, and Ashley MerCleod who have endured such epic series as The Amityville Horror, The Howling, Leprechaun, Children of the Corn, Saw, Final Destination, and so on, all in one sitting. This time around, well, let’s just say it involved a certain puzzle box…
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Dolls (1987) d. Gordon, Stuart (USA) (3rd and 4th viewings)
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Se7en (1995) d. Fincher, David (USA) (4th viewing)
While it still packs a punch, I must admit that Fincher’s rebound from the debacle of Alien3 loses a bit of its power on subsequent viewings. Morgan Freeman enters his “sage elder” stage as Detective Somerset, dancing intellectual (and acting) circles around Brad Pitt’s mannered hothead Mills, while Kevin Spacey’s John Doe sets the stage for the kind of laconic-with-power performances that would come to characterize his later career. The real star is Arthur Max’s highly detailed production design, meticulously moving us and our heroes deeper into Doe’s metaphorical Hell. Still worth seeing, but perhaps not the classic I once felt it to be.
THEY WILL SERIOUSLY, HONESTLY, NO-KIDDING-AROUND TEAR YOUR SOUL APART: OSHKOSH HELLRAISER MARATHON
Watched all nine of the Hellraiser movies in one afternoon, in the company of friends John, Egan, Ashley, Sam, Mary, and Kyle. Outside of an organized theatrical event like the Music Box of Horrors or The Sci-Fi Spectacular, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen nine consecutive films in one sitting (although we did do all eight of the non-Rob Zombie Halloweens a few years back). The unfortunate detail is that, like that ill-fated Michael Myers-athon, they were THESE particular nine movies, only one of which could be called particularly good and several of which that fall into the “categorically bad” dump bin. Oh, and Dimension? My three-year-old niece shows more imagination in one afternoon of preschool than your entire marketing team has shown in nearly two decades.
I’m sure there are websites out there dedicated to Pinhead and his pals, so I’m not going to bother with any kind of comprehensive recap. Just a few quick thoughts:
Hellraiser (1987) d. Barker, Clive (UK) (5th viewing)
At a time when masked killers with sharp implements were all the genre had to offer, writer Barker made his feature debut with this awesomely gory tale of a mystical puzzle box that functions as the key between Hell and Earth. While he definitely has some interesting philosophical ideas underlying his directorial debut, Barker establishes his gruesome tone within the first five minutes, as a man is graphically torn to pieces courtesy of some very nasty hooks on chains. The film then introduces the unfortunate man’s brother and his family and we quickly find that in this world, the dead don’t like to stay dead. Makeup master Bob Keen provides a gross-out moveable feast with such delicacies as a corpse regaining its corporeal form layer by gooey layer, several juicy hammer-to-skull moments, and more of those nasty hooks. But the main attraction is the startlingly original Cenobites, grotesque demon creations who come calling whenever someone solves the puzzle box to “tear your soul apart.” (Their ominous leader, played with gusto by Doug Bradley and later dubbed “Pinhead,” would soon become as iconic in the horror realm as Michael, Freddy, or Jason.) Most of the human performers acquit themselves nicely amidst the viscera, particularly Clare Higgins’ conflicted wife-turned-murderess. Only Andrew Robinson, as her husband, is unconvincing – too sleazy to be nice, too wimpy to be threatening. In the end, though, it’s Barker and his striking visuals that are the real stars of the show.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1990) d. Randel, Tony (UK) (2nd viewing)
Lesson one when dealing with nightmare logic: Don’t try to explain it. Some amazing visuals and a lively performance by Kenneth Cranham as Dr. Channard don’t quite even the scales between the dopey storyline and substandard acting. But hey, there’s William Hope, aka Gorman from Aliens, and Ashley Laurence is back as feisty young heroine Kirsty Cotton.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) d. Hickox, Anthony (USA) (2nd viewing)
Dropping the serious tone from the first two films, the director of Waxwork (and Waxwork II) was handed the reins and well, things just got silly. As would become the defining trait of most of the subsequent sequels, had it not been a Hellraiser movie, it probably would have been a lot more palatable. However, for you Doug Bradley fans out there, the actor is afforded abundant screen time both in and out of makeup as Pinhead and his human alter ego Capt. Elliot Spencer. Not great, but fun if you’re in the mood for cheese.
Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) d. Yagher, Kevin (as Alan Smithee) (USA) (2nd viewing)
As evidenced by the infamous directing pseudonym, Yagher was quite unhappy with the final product, hampered by studio interference and another director replacing him after he left the project. That said, there are a lot of positive elements, particularly the first 2/3 of the narrative which detail the origins of the mysterious puzzle box, called The Lament Configuration for the first – and only – time in the series. It’s only when we head off to outer space (this happened a lot in the late 90s) that things fall apart, with Bradley given oodles of nonsensical monologues to utter in his sonorous manner.
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) d. Derrickson, Scott (USA) (1st viewing)
Oof. The first of several sequels that started out as other scripts only to be transmogrophied into a Hellraiser flick for purposes of name recognition, and it’s one of the worst. Craig Sheffer’s narration is so gruff that subtitles are required, and even then, none of us had any idea what was going on. Something to do with a dirty cop and a serial killer and child abuse...maybe? Derrickson overcame this embarrassing debut and went on to deliver worthier efforts like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) d. Bota, Rick (USA) (1st viewing)
A better storyline this time, with a man finding the world around him crumbling after his wife (played by, wait for it, Ashley Laurence, back for her fourth Hellraiser movie) dies in a car crash. More mystery/thriller than horror, and Pinhead feels particularly out of place. I guess it says something that I can’t really remember much more than it was a hell of a lot better than Inferno, but I do remember remarking I’d be willing to watch it again.
Hellraiser: Deader (2005) d. Bota, Rick (USA) (1st viewing)
A strange cult called (really?) "Deaders" has the power to revive the recently deceased and intrepid reporter Kari Wuhrer attempts to infiltrate them to find out how it’s all done...but I don’t think we ever got a satisfactory answer. Something about their leader belonging to the bloodline of the French toymaker who created the box, which made them want to challenge the Cenobites for dominion over Hell...maybe? Not bad, but muddy.
Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005) d. Bota, Rick (USA) (1st viewing)
This was actually more fun than the previous installments, since it basically turns Pinhead into a slasher who utilizes Saw-like traps and sharp implements to bump up the body count. I’m sure fans were bummed since it basically follows the Friday the 13th : A New Beginning gambit that Pinhead isn’t really Pinhead, but hey, you’ve got Lance Henriksen, Doug Bradley, and Superman-in-waiting Henry Cavill, and a fun meta look at the Hellraiser universe. Dumb but entertaining.
Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) d. Garcia, Victor (USA) (1st viewing)
This one got a lot of hate due to it being the first Hellraiser film not to use Bradley as Pinhead (which painted a virtual target on the back of replacement Stephan Smith Collins, subjecting the actor to a wealth of undeserved abuse). The fact that it’s a lot sleazier and low budget than the rest – looking like it was shot on a DSLR – probably didn’t help either. Barker announcing online that he disassociated himself from the project was a further nail in the coffin. The other Cenobites look like they bought their masks down at the corner drugstore. Finally, it was common knowledge that Dimension Films needed to crank out another one in order to retain the rights to the title, so this was commercialism at its most blatant. That said, there’s plenty of blood and guts and sex and boobs and at 75 minutes, it’s the shortest one in the bunch, which worked for me since I can’t say I’m really a fan of the series overall, or of Pinhead as a horror icon. He’s got a good look, but unless he’s slinging the hook ‘n’ chains, you’re more in danger of him talking you to death.
A Midwinter's Tale (1995) d. Branagh, Kenneth (UK) (3rd viewing)
Based on his superb grasp of timing and lovably eccentrics on display here, it’s a shame that writer/director Branagh didn’t turn his hand more to comedy. (Yes, he did do adaptations of Much Ado About Nothing, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and As You Like It, but they’re not particularly, well, funny, so maybe not.) Even so, fans of Waiting for Guffman should get a kick out of this literate love letter to amateur theatricals, as a neurotically insecure egomaniac (Michael Maloney) assembles a company to perform Hamlet...in an old deserted church...in the boonies...at Christmas. Endlessly quotable and full of charm and heart.
2014 Totals to date: 386 films, 194 1st time views, 250 horror, 47 cinema