Wednesday, August 17, 2011



LABEL: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
DURATION: 93 mins
VIDEO: Fullframe (.33:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
DIRECTOR: Anthony Hickox
CAST: Terry Farrell, Paula Marshall, Kevin Bernhardt, Doug Bradley
TAGLINE: What began in Hell, will end on Earth.

I watched HELLRAISER (1987) a few night backs and was reminded of how much I loved Clive Barker's initial film, it brought me back to seeing it for the first time and being deeply disturbed, it got under my skin and festered for quite some time. Thinking on it again it occurred to me that I've only ever viewed the first two entries in the franchise. Obviously I have great affection for the first, it's a film I've seen projected in 35mm twice and have watched many times since on DVD and Blu-ray. The sequel HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (1988) is a film I own and enjoy, watched it on DVD about half a dozen times over the years but after that I seemed to have lost interest in the series. Honestly, I'm not even sure how many entries there are in the series, so I was looking forward to finally taking in a viewing of the film some 19 years after the fact.

In the first two films Pinhead (Doug Bradley) was a character that lurked
in the shadows, certainly an important character, but not the focus of the film, particularly in the first entry which was populated with a quite a cast of characters including the delightfully sinister Frank and Julie, and the unfortunate Larry (Andrew Robinson, DIRTY HARRY) plus our protagonist Kirsty (Ashley Laurence, RED). The second film brought back Kirsty now imprisoned in a psychiatric clinic with the evil Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham) who becomes obsessed with the Box and madness ensues. Third time out Pinhead is front and center in a story revolving around a hungry young reporter Joanne (Terry Farrell, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE) who is trying score a news story that will jump start her fledgling career. Is  it just me or does Farrell look an awful lot like Brooke Shields?

While at the hospital Joanne encounters a victim of the Lament Configuration Box, the puzzle box that opens a gateway to the realm of the demonic Cenobites. His flesh is torn, his skin embedded with the hooks on chains that are will be quite familiar to fans of the franchise. Desperate for a story she bursts into the ER just as the chains spring to life with blue shocks of electricity tearing the young man apart in a SCANNERS style explosion right in front of her eyes. Stunned she stumbles from the room and recalls that the unfortunate man had been accompanied by a woman when he entered the ER. Joanne, or "Joey" as she's known, sleuths the whereabouts of the woman to a club called The Boiler Room, a sleazy nightspot owned by JP Munroe (Kevin Bernhardt). The woman in question Terry (Paula Marshall, TV's CALIFORNICATION) is JP's former girlfriend. Aside from being a generally sleazy guy JP is also a collector of disturbing artwork and his latest acquisition is the Pillar of Souls, a relic last seen in at the end of HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, inside of which the Cenobite Pinhead is imprisoned. After meeting with Terry it is rexplained that Terry's late boyfriend was in possession of the puzzle box which led to his horrific death, she now possesses it.

Joey befriends Terry who gives her the mysterious puzzle Box for safe keeping. Joey discovers a videotaped interview with one of Pinhead's former victims, Kirsty, that she's recovered from the Channard Institute. She is also haunted by nightmares and visions of Pinhead's alter ego Captain Elliot Spitzer who expands on the origins of Pinhead and how it came to be that that his spirit was sent to Limbo while his evil half, Pinhead, survived in the Cenobite realm or some such nonsense. Joanne comes to understand the power of the puzzle box and through Spitzer devises a plan to trap the demon Pinhead in Hell for all eternity.

At the same time Spitzer's alter-self Pinhead has revealed his existence to JP and convinced the him to bring him victims so that he might consume them and free himself of the Pillar of Souls. JP is only too happy to toss him a bimbo following some raunchy sex but Pinhead betrays JP and is once again free to walk the Earth. He waste no time massacring every living soul in The Boiler Room and creating a new army of Cenobites from the transmuted flesh of his victims to assist him in to reclaiming the Box and free himself forever from the Cenobite Realm, which leads to a fiery and explosive finale with perhaps a bit too much slo-mo action.

Pinhead as the main focus of the film seems to me a misstep, he played much better as the dark entity operating within the darkness. Doug Bradley is really hamming it up here and his scenes of him embedded in the Pillar of Souls are pretty corny, as were the new Cenobites; Barbie, Camerahead and The DJ, need I say more? These guys are no Chatterer, that's for sure. The film is heavy with special effects but director Anthony Hockox (WAXWORK, WAXWORK II) just can't polish this turd enough, there was definitely some money thrown into this production so at least it's a shiny turd.

Overall the film strayed too far from the dark pleasures, sex and pain aesthetic of the previous two installments and ventured into more mainstream, later-era A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET territory with a constant stream of dream sequences, and Doug Bradley's eye-rolling one-liners don't help either. It seems as if the film is reaching for a wider audience but it fails on pretty much every level.

Now I will say that on a purely camp level this is pretty fun stuff, I was entertained but the film is most definitely a dud. Not to say it's without its finer points, there are some enjoyable elements. The WWII and 'Nam flashbacks were very well done with some great action shots, the gore is pretty decent, too. We get some fun chains ripping flesh, skinnings, bloody musculature, the head explosion and other on screen practical effects shots though it's obvious cuts were made to the film. Apparently there's an unrated director's cut that includes more gore and a raunchier sex scene that's been released outside the US, so we got screwed on that deal. While the practical effects are cool they are considerably tarnished by some rough (circa '92) digital effects work that's just laughably bad looking back at it now. The film has a decent heavy rock soundtrack featuring Armored Saint (who can be seen performing in the film), Motorhead and industrial rockers KMFDM among others, but the iconic Christopher Young score from the previous films is only glimpsed here, choosing instead to go the rock soundtrack route, wile the soundtrack is cool it's yet another departure that hurts the film. One last cool tidbit occurs at the end when the puzzle box is buried beneath a construction site, years later we are show the building that has sprung up around it and it has taken on the design elements of the puzzle box, very cool.

In conclusion, NOT GOOD, bit it is pretty brainless fun, not good, but entertaining on a level that will please most bad cinema enthusiasts. That said, it's definitely put me off wanting to further investigate the franchise beyond this. HELLRAISER and HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II I'll watch again, this perhaps with some inebriated friends for fun but don't hold me to it.

DVD: Echo Bridge have licensed this film along with many others titles from Miramax films and dumped it with a pretty dismal cropped fullframe transfer, it is quite disappointing to say the least. This was a feature film presented theatrically in widescreen and why in the year 2011 anyone would be releasing fullframe DVD's is just mind- numbing to me. When Miramax licensed HELLRASIER III to Paramount some years back it was released with an anamorphic widescreen transfer and surely it wasn't the greatest looking it was superior in every way to what we have here. Skin tones are tinged red, definition is lacking, it's a murky affair and there are compression and combing issues. I can only assume that Paramount struck their own transfer from the negatives and Miramax can't touch or EB don't wanna pay for it. Sadly, somewhere out t Paramount vault there's a 16x9 widescreen master of this film collecting dust while we get this. One might assume that EB would have access to the original negative elements to the film, and if they'd been so inclined could have struck a new widescreen transfer, but instead chose to dump this rather unimpressive version on us. Insult to injury, there are no special features.

VERDICT: Despite it's flaws and inherent cheese this was a fun watch, it's entertaining in a bad-cinema fromage kinda way but definitely not something I can recommend to the masses without fear of violent reprisal. Still, I would definitely like to see the 16x9 unrated director's cut of the film and I think Echo Bridge really missed an opportunity here, and with many other Miramax licensed titles, that have been dumped onto the market in affordable but otherwise unremarkable editions. That said, the film is available on the cheap for $5 at WalMart and is available as a double feature with HELLRAISER IV or as a four pack collecting III thru VI for a few bucks more.