Normally I would write these reviews while watching the film in the background, but with Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth I’m not at all sure I can be bothered. We’ll wait and see, I might need reminding of some of its subtle nuances or self-referential humour later on. Or something like that.
Hellraiser 1 & 2 told a nice little story, one you could tell your children, if only they could stomach skinless people, British actors hamming it up and leather bound weirdo’s with bad skin.
But across both films we got a decent story arc, the same characters (Julia! Cor blimey!) and recurring themes. Hellraiser III pretty much ditches all the good work that was done on these instalments in favour of unrewarding action sequences and hackneyed ideas.
The film starts with possibly the most annoying and idiotic character since Uncle Frank from the previous films – J.P. Monroe. Here we find a character that seems to have made it big in the world of shitty nightclubs by having absolutely no morals, no fashion sense and no concept of his own powers of jerkdom. J.P. is a real card and is a keen connoisseur of disastrously bad art to boot. His passion leads him to purchase an ornate sculpture that looks awfully familiar to something that appeared from out of a bloody mattress at the end of Hellraiser II and in which Cenobite head honcho Pinhead is trapped.
On the other side of town a lousy reporter with too many morals, nice fashion sense and a concept of her own shortcomings witnesses a victim of a horrible attack being rushed into hospital. Being the intrepid journo that she is, she investigates only to arrive on the scene as the victim is torn apart by chains! I say torn apart, for that would have made sense, but in fact what I should have said is that he EXPLODES!
Following this horrific vision, Joey (our reporter heroine) makes further investigations which lead her to the lament configuration box, a little trinket, nay paperweight, with the power to summon and banish the Cenobites.
And so J.P. accidentally revives Pinhead by spilling his blood on the sculpture in a harrowing fight with a rat. Meanwhile Joey is contacted by the spirit form of Elliot Spencer (Doug Bradley out of make-up), the alter ego of Pinhead who reveals that he has been separated from his demonic form and now needs her help to banish Pinhead once and for all!
What follows is an absolute disaster. We get five new conobites (in order of appearance):
• Camera head Cenobite – with a nice handlebar moustache and a hydraulic death camera in his head. Best bit: delivering bad dialogue very badly. ‘Have you seen what he did to me you little bitch!? Have you seeeeeennnnnn?’ Awful.
• CD DJ Cenobite – cd’s embedded in his face and head to be used as lethal projectiles! Best bit: making robot noises every time he moves. Menacing!
• Fat cocktail shaker Cenobite – slightly tubby! A barbed-wire face! Breathes fire and adds a whole new meaning to flaming sambuca! Best bit: using his ample girth to walk through a wall!
• J.P. Monroe Cenobite – if you thought he was a jerk when he was human you haven’t seen nothing yet! With weird stabbing sticks in his head. Best bit: making horrible sex noises. Yuck!
• Smoking from the throat female Cenobite – with nothing all that wrong with her! Best bit: nothing, she’s rubbish!
We also get is something that sits rather uncomfortably between what is a Hellraiser film and what is a bit of a Hollywood action/horror film. Whereas the previous two films really carved out a unique position in the horror genre at the time crowded by slasher films, this entry just goes for something a little too conventional.
Pinhead also gets way too much screen time, eclipsing that of his appearances in Hellraiser I & II combined. With too much dialogue some of it inevitably falls a little flat and his behaviour at some points seems a little out of character (like I know the guy) even prepared to get his hands dirty with an attempt on Joey’s life. We were always led to believe that the Cenobites had some sort of ‘code’ which is repeated again in Hellraiser IV, but here the Cenobites are just causing havoc. This may however have something to do with Pinhead now operating as a more malevolent entity having been separated from Elliott Spencer.
The film is not totally without merit, some of the ideas are quite good, most notably the scenes with Elliott Spencer in the trenches of World War 1, but most just fall back on lowest common denominator kind of stuff.
What is most concerning is some of the concepts that were not used. As Clive Barker steps further and further away from a controlling influence, the more his good ideas get shunned for something all too naff. As mentioned previously in my Hellbound: Hellraiser II review the idea of Julia carrying the franchise forward was mooted. The idea seems unconceivable now, but at the time would have made perfect sense and made for a really interesting sequel, not to mention another opportunity for me to swoon over Clare Higgins again. There are also rumours floating about on the internet that Clive Barker also wanted to reference the history of the lament configuration box a little more perhaps linking it to ancient Egypt and the pyramids, but the history of the box would be explored in the next film Hellraiser IV: Bloodlines while Barker would hold back his ancient Egypt ideas for other projects.
All in all it’s certainly not the worst entry in the series, not by a long shot. It’s a reasonably entertaining film and while it does carry some ties to the previous two you can manage easily if you have no previous experience of Hellraiser films. You can also quite conceivably skip this entry altogether and go straight to Hellraiser IV without losing any vital details.
And can I just say J.P.’s nightclub – not only is it the most tastelessly decorated disco hall, it also operates as a god awful cock rock venue AND a ‘classy’ restaurant. Three awful nights in one!