The final film of my Summer of Anniversaries event celebrates the 25th anniversary of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.
However, we’re a couple weeks early on the celebration end. Oddly enough, 1992 didn’t have much for me to choose from. 1987 and 1997 had a bunch. But in order to find something celebrating a 25th anniversary, I had to look to September.
For a movie that takes place in New York City with all sorts of hell breaking loose.
With the Twin Towers appearing in the background of the poster.
Alright, that’s enough about that shit. Let’s set the stage for today’s ill-advised sequel. In the late 1980s, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series was absolutely incredible. The first film, no duh, named Hellraiser, was a low-budget, yet immensely successful, visceral body horror film that had lots of hallmarks of a Clive Barker story: weird sex stuff, lots of gore, weird sex stuff, dirtbags, weird sex stuff, and weirdly sexy stuff. Considering it was made on a lean $1 Million budget, and ended up grossing $14 Million, of course it would get a sequel, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, just a year later. Again, it followed the weird body horror and sex stuff ending with Pinhead, the lead Cenobite, a hedonistic angel/demon creature, defeated. With the movies being so incredibly popular among horror fans, of course the franchise would continue.
Yet, it took almost four full years for the third to be made and released. But right out of the gate, you knew something was off. The first two films were uniquely British. They were filmed in England and, despite starring an American actress, Ashley Laurence, just overall kept that feeling that the events were taking place in a small town in the countryside in England. When you see enough of these stylistic movies, you just get a feel that makes it uniquely British, or Italian, or German, or whatnot.
And if you’re curious what a uniquely German feels like… Just look for the weird scat sex that happens in all their films. All of them. In every German movie, there’s usually someone literally shitting on the other’s chest during sex.
All of them.
Not only did the British atmosphere go missing in the new Hellraiser III movie, but, through a series of events after Barker’s Nightbreed failed at the box office, Barker was basically shut out of the making of the third installment until very late in post production. So the film had mostly an American feel AND made pretty much entirely independent from the supervision of the guy who made the first two movies very popular.
As for the synopsis, I will look to my six-film The Hellraiser Collection set. According to the back of the box: “A TV reporter discovers the Lament Configuration Box which opens the door to the Cenobites’ demonic world of pleasure and pain. Now, Pinhead walks the Earth again.”
Let’s dive in, shall we?
When this starts, I’m reminded that the movie’s main protagonist, Joey Summerskill, is played by Terry Farrell who was, in turn, Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It’s kind of amazing that if you want enough bad movies, and you watch enough Star Trek, you end up seeing the same people who have both things in common.
William Shatner’s movie career is a disaster. I saw that guy who played Paris on Voyager in Masters of the Universe. The senator lady killed at the beginning of Steel was on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a featured player in one particular episode. Also, the commanding officer guy Shaq reported to in the army was in both the original Star Trek series AND Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Sheesh… I bet if I go back to all the American-made b-movies I’ve covered, I could find at least one person in each movie who had some sort of role on a goddamn Star Trek series.
I’m also reminded that I’m watching this on a shitty multi-pack DVD because the sides are mislabeled. The side with the label saying what movies are on side A of the disc is actually placed ON side A. So, when I put the fucking disc in, I had the wrong side facing the goddamn laser. I didn’t want to watch Hellraiser: Inferno… yet. I want to watch Hellraiser III, goddammit. Also, this is another full screen film. No widescreen on this $12 multi-pack from Target.
At the start of the movie proper, this jerkass, a club owner named J.P. Monroe, shows up at an art gallery. He finds a rotating column that looks like has people molded into it in various expressions of joy and pain. One of the people looks a lot like Pinhead, and it looks like the puzzle box is stuck into one of the sides. A grungy, homeless looking guy approaches Monroe and tells him he’ll give him the item for whatever the dude thinks it is worth. So just like that, this weird looking piece of gothic sculpture is sure to make this guy’s life a living hell.
At a hospital where she was making a report for the news, Joey sees a man brought in with his girlfriend. He has hooks in his body attached to chains dragging behind him. The girlfriend doesn’t seem to want to tell anyone what happened other than that she was at The Boiler Room, Monroe’s popular club. Joey witnesses the dude’s body get lifted up by the chains rising into the air on their own until his fucking head explodes.
Understandably, everyone witnessing this is pretty freaked out about the head explosion. Yet, Joey goes back to work, tells some guys there’s a story to be found about what happened at The Boiler Room. She kinda nonchalantly goes about her day. She then shows up at the club to find the girl who was with the head case (heh) that was brought to the hospital the night before. The Boiler Room is an odd little place. Part of it is a rave with loud, gothic rock music. Another part is a concert room with loud heavy metal music. Another part is a classy dining room with loud violin music.
Joey doesn’t find the girl at the club, who is identified as Terri, but Joey does have a nightmare about her father being left for dead after being injured in a shootout in Vietnam. She’s awoken by a call from Terri who comes to tell her about what happened at the club. When Joey tells Terri about having bad dreams while they bond, Terri says she isn’t able to dream. That might seem like an awkward piece of dialog, but we don’t linger on it long enough before Joey wants to know more about the incident at the club. Terri reveals that the guy claimed the chains came out of this weird cube, the Lament Configuration Box, that fell out of the statue Monroe bought.
At the club, Monroe investigates the hole where the box was, he gets bitten by a rat. When he gets blood on the statue, his blood is sucked into the statue which causes the one figure that looks like Pinhead to become a little more lifelike.
The next morning, Terri tells Joey that she knows where this weird statue came from that Monroe bought and she thinks it is at the center of the weird stuff that happened. When she takes Joey to the art gallery, a passerby says the gallery has been closed for the last month with the owner vacationing in Hawaii – even though Monroe bought the statue just a few nights ago. The art gallery is dealing almost entirely in creepy and morbid pieces. A lot of the items were picked up from the Channard Institute, the insane asylum seen in the previous movie in the series. Included were diagrams and drawings of the Lament Configuration Box.
After Monroe picks up a bimbo in the club and utterly destroys her in bed, Pinhead comes alive and hooks her with his chains right in front of Monroe. Pinhead eats her flesh and sucks her into the statue. Pinhead explains to Monroe that he can be freed from the statue if he can get more flesh. He convinces Monroe to bring him more people from the club to get that flesh.
Here’s where the movie starts to feel weird. In the first two films, not only was this foggy, dreary, British feel and atmosphere to the movie, but there’s another element that is utterly missing from this movie. You see, in each of the first two movies, a character, Frank in the first and Julia in the second, needed to consume the flesh of living people to be resurrected from the dead. Both had connections to life and death and the Lament Configuration Box in different ways, but were not totally connected to the Cenobites themselves – aside from the fact that they were ultimately fugitives from the dimension the Cenobites resided in. At the end of the second movie, Pinhead’s original human form, a British World War I officer, was freed which separated him from the Pinhead entity. Okay, fine, that seems like a little bit of redemption for our main “antagonist”.
Now, in the third movie, the demon part of Pinhead has returned. He’s trapped on the other side of a veil separating the other dimension and Earth. Okay, but now, the main baddie in all the series is relegated to being not much more than what Frank and Julia were in the previous films – a monster wanting someone to seduce people in order to make it possible for him to steal their flesh to become whole again. I’m not sure what exactly is better, but this scenario kinda undercuts Pinhead as the main big bad.
The first two films set up all these trippy ideas of an afterlife and other dimensions and the idea of some seeing the Cenobites as angels while others see them as demons. That’s an interesting set of ideas you can really dig into. But if this was meant to be some sort of trilogy, you don’t have Kirsty, our heroine of the first two films, and you have Pinhead stuck inside a box. Fair enough, but you also have this whole idea of mature consideration of what pleasure and pain are on a deeply carnal level. Now, you take away that maturity of the sexual discussion and how it can relate to these angels and demons and leave behind the idea that a guy or girl needs to bring someone to a room, fuck them, and have the bad guy rip the skin off the victim to make themselves whole again. Which is very well part of the whole idea of Hellraiser, but you have it perpetrated in this installment by an egotistical, self-centered, douchey frat boy. He has a club and money. Therefore, he can mosey on up to a girl and say, “Hey, dumb bimbo, let’s go upstairs and fuck” and she does and Pinhead rips her skin off.
The main problem with this is that it’s sexuality without sensuality. There’s no kink to this to be explored or made taboo in all this. It’s the very shallow level of Hellraiser and nothing more. Whereas Friday the 13th was not much more than a vehicle to get a bunch of young adults to a campground, have them do stuff they aren’t supposed to (sex, drugs, booze), and then have some monster kill them one by one in inventive and new ways each time, Hellraiser was smarter and more intellectual thanks to Clive Barker. Yes, there was plenty of filth that made you feel uneasy the more you thought about it (a bloody lady kissing a strange dude and/or having sex with him while not having any skin or a creepy uncle that was so perverted that he made passes toward his young niece or, of course, all that pain and pleasure S&M shit), it was intelligent enough to make you realize that everyone has a kink. This stuff seen in the first two movies just happened to be these characters’ kinks or what have you.
But this third one just goes the shortest, most direct route to getting skin ripped off a character and makin’ Cenobites.
So anyway, back to the actual movie. Joey gets tapes from the Channard Institute featuring Kirsty talking about the box. Kirsty talks about how the box opens and how it is full of demons inside it. An image of Elliott Spencer, who was Pinhead, appears on the tape to tell Joey that everything Kirsty says is the truth.
Back at Joey’s place, Terri very nearly opens the box, when Monroe calls to say he misses her. He asks her to come to the club and she refuses. When she finds out that Joey got a job in another city, she decides to ultimately take Monroe up on his offer and leaves thinking that Joey was going to abandon her like everyone else in her life has. When Terri refuses to get near the statue multiple times, Monroe eventually drags her to a screaming Pinhead. She eventually gets free from Monroe, but is convinced by Pinhead to not leave by promising her the ability to dream. And because Terri is a dummy, she takes his offer. Pinhead turns both Monroe and Terri into new Cenobites.
Spencer tells Joey more about what Pinhead is. Apparently, when he reverted back to his human form, all his negative attributes became a monster of its own and manifested as Pinhead. So with Pinhead no longer anchored to a human, he’s basically a madman slasher who just wants to kill everything on Earth. He tells Joey that she must have Pinhead come for the box and she can then force him into the reality that Spencer is and they can merge again and prevent Pinhead from destroying the box and the only way to destroy him.
At the club, Pinhead steps out of Monroe’s fuck room and begins slaughtering everyone inside. He turns a couple guys into Cenobites but for everyone else, basically his demonic hooks comes out and gets them all. It is such a bloodbath that the blood of the victims flow freely from under the door.
Joey sees a report on TV about the massacre. She calls her sympathetic cameraman, Doc. What’s odd is that even though Joey sees the report, Doc doesn’t. Yet, he decides to meet her regardless because he believes in her.
Joey grabs the box and goes to the club. She finds Doc’s truck pulled over next to the curb with the door open as if it is abandoned. When she investigates further, she is led into the club where she sees the carnage. She finds a decapitated Doc with his camera where his head should be. She comes face to face with Pinhead. He asks for the box because he cannot simply take it from her. When he realizes this, he attempts to simply kill her, but… Wait. He can’t kill her because that means he would take the box and he can’t do that, right? Oh whatever, this is now devolved into a stupid horror movie more in the vein of A Nightmare on Elm Street where everything is a fucking nightmare scenario and our main monster is controlling everything around Joey.
Perhaps the most memorable thing about this movie are the inventive new Cenobites Pinhead has created. He uses them to chase after Joey and we’re introduced to them one at a time. The first three shown are Doc who now has a camera for an eye in his face, a CD Cenobite that tosses razor sharp CDs at people, and the bartender who breathes fire and throws gasoline in his shaker. Later, we see the Cenobites I mentioned earlier that were created from Terri and Monroe. Terri goes by Dreamer and she smokes cigarettes out of her throat and dreams up gross sex shit. Monroe is just basically a beefy Cenobite.
I realize the Cenobites as seen in the first two films were restored to humanity from their demonic forms, but again… This movie has devolved. It’s like the people in charge of this movie’s writing and production was aware that people were really interested in the Cenobites and thought they looked fucking cool and shit, and they just decided to make more. While inventive, most would agree that some of them were kind of stupid (CD face and Camerahead) because they were pretty over the top compared to what we saw in the previous movies. Those earlier ones just seemed like weirdos and not people fused with 90s things like compact discs and TV cameras. In subsequent films in the series, even more Cenobites are created on the fly as if this just became something of its own formula that had to exist in other movies.
After Joey opens the box enough to send the other Cenobites back to hell, she’s tricked by Pinhead who came to her as her father. He asks her to give him the box, and like an idiot, she agrees. However before Pinhead can turn Joey into a Cenobite, Spencer confronts him and forces them to merge together again. With an element of humanity restored within Pinhead, he is able to be sent back to hell as any other Cenobite. Joey manages to twist the box into the dagger configuration and stab him which returns him to hell.
With all the danger passed, or at least as much as Joey can tell, there’s still a whole bunch of dead guys in the club that probably will need some explanation, Joey sticks the box into some wet concrete that just so happens to be nearby where she had her final confrontation with Pinhead. When the building that is built over that construction site is revealed, images of the different sides and configurations of the box are seen throughout the interior. I suppose that is an indication that hell is pretty much everywhere or that it’s the ultimate portal for hell or something. I dunno.
Here’s the thing about this movie. On the whole, the movie itself is a fair sequel in a series that, like most horror franchises, lasted too long. Removing the first two films, this is the best of the rest. That said, it still has all the issues of being dumbed down that I mentioned previously. It doesn’t carry the weight of the previous movies did and it just feels… American. It’s shallow and relies on things audiences here identify as being part of Hellraiser without it actually meaning as much. This third movie in the series was in “development hell” for years. That term describes when a movie is attempted, planned, a crew is hired, a script is written, then rewritten, then rewritten again, then the crew gets replaced, monies are reallocated or funding is pulled, new creative teams are brought in, and the story shifts to different writers and ideas in an almost seemingly endless loop. That’s what ultimately caused Clive Barker’s Executive Producer role to not come until much later in the process as he was basically forced out during the earlier stages. Whenever movies like this go into development hell (Ghostbusters 3, The Dark Tower, Aliens Vs. Predator, and Atlas Shrugged to name a few) what usually comes out the other side is not all that pretty. It often disappoints and proves to show a lot of concessions in style or vision or production crew.
That’s really all I have to say about Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. Now that summer has drawn to a close, I am closing out my Summer of Anniversaries series. With September on the horizon, it’s back to school season, so let’s do a good old fashioned college film about secret societies and mix in a little sex too. I think one could say this movie belongs in the Ivy league…
Oh yeah, there’s a fourth Poison Ivy movie and I’m ready to talk about it next week!