– Hellraiser is a franchise that currently consists of nine movies in addition to a comic book series. It is based off of the novel The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker. Barker would write and direct the adaptation of the book, which would go on to be the first film in the franchise. He would continue to act as producer for the next three films, but his involvement in the franchise would not go past that. There is talks of a remake/reboot with Barker as director, writer, and producer, but nothing finite as of yet. The franchise revolves around a puzzle box (known as the Lament Configuration) that opens a gateway between Earth and a Hell-like realm known as The Labyrinth (ruled by Leviathan), inhabited by creatures known as the Cenobites. The Cenobites are an order of monsters that were formerly human. They harvest on human souls by torturing them through sadomasochistic experiments. In addition to the puzzle box, all of the movies feature the character of Pinhead, who is the leader of the Cenobites. Doug Bradley is famous for his performance as Pinhead, a role he performed in the first 8 movies of the franchise. The 9th film (Revelations) is the first and only film so far to not have Doug as Pinhead. This is notable because Doug is one of only 6 actors to play the same horror character at least 6 consecutive times.
Hellraiser (1987): 8.75/10
– The first movie introduces us to Frank Cotton (played by Sean Chapman), who buys a puzzle box from a dealer. His brother Larry (played by Andrew Robinson) decides to move into their childhood home to help rebuild his strained relationship with his second wife Julia (played by Clare Higgins). Larry’s teenage daughter Kristy (played by Ashley Laurence) lives separately from Larry because she and Julia do not get along. The house shows traces that Frank was probably there recently, and Larry assumes that Frank is currently fleeing from the authorities. As the movie progresses, we find out exactly what the puzzle box does, what it did to Frank, and where he is currently. Through Frank, we find out about The Cenobites, and we see brief images of the terrible things that they put Frank through. Without giving anything away in terms of the twists and turns that the plot takes, the movie does a great job of being a low budget film (it cost $1,000,000 to make), but still being able to deliver memorable scenes and scares. The movie feels very nostalgic. It definitely feels like the time period (the late 1980s) in terms of the acting, the way that the movie is shot, and in terms of what was scary at the time. It may not be as scary watching it now, seeing as we are used to more intense visuals and jump scares, however Clive Barker did a great job of using many different techniques. The movie uses gore, dream sequences, creepy imagery, music, lighting, and other typical horror techniques to remain fresh even after all of these years. The acting is hit or miss. Some characters may not be as tight as other ones (and contribute to that old school feel), but all the right characters such as Kristy and Pinhead (played by Doug Bradley) are extremely effective. It contains some of the most memorable lines of the franchise and helps set up the rest of the series nicely.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988): 8.75/10
– The second movie in the franchise was released a year after the first one. It was directed Tony Randel (who has directed a number of low budget, straight to video movies) and was the first film to have Clive Barker as the producer instead of the director and writer. Despite the shift, the movie had the benefit of being released so close to the first one. It was able to draw heavy inspiration to what worked and what didn’t work, and it was also able to retain much of the same cast and crew as the first one. Because of this, it feels very similar. It is able to stay true, while expanding upon the precursor and trying many new things. It starts by giving us a little bit of backstory on how Pinhead came to be, before returning us to Kristy Cotton from the first movie (again played by Ashley Laurence). She wakes in a psychiatric hospital and is questioned about the events from the first movie. She tells them what happened, giving both the police and the audience a brief recap of the first movie (containing images directly from the first movie). We are introduced to new characters such as Dr. Phillip Channard (played by Kenneth Cranham), his assitant Kyle MacRae (played by William Hope), and fellow inmate Tiffany (played by Imogen Boorman). The film takes drastic twists and turns as the doctors and detectives try to find out how much of the story is true and how much of the story is fake, leading to certain characters from the first movie being reawakened. This movie is one of my favorites of the series because of the depictions of The Labyrinth. I thought the idea of Hell being a huge Labyrinth that was different for each person in it because of their different experiences was a great idea and could really be expanded on. Sadly, it is the last of it you see in the series. The 3rd act of the movie is very action packed and does a great job leading into the events of the next film, although it might be a little over the top for some people.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992): 8.50/10
– The first big gap in the franchise comes as a 4 year gap between the second and third films. This leads to a change in feel and style. This movie is directed by Anthony Hickox and was the first of the films to be made outside of the United Kingdom. Kristy is briefly shown at the beginning of the film in a camera recording of her talking to the doctors/police from the second movie. Aside from that, Doug Bradley as Pinhead is the only remaining cast member between these two films. The movie follows Joanne “Joey” Summerskill (played by Terry Farrell) who is a young and ambitious television reporter. She begins to learn about the puzzle box and it leads her to a popular nightclub called The Boiler Room. The club is owned by rich and spoiled J.P. Monroe (played by Kevin Bernhardt), who recently purchased a pillar for decoration. Unknown to him, the pillar is The Pillar of Souls. The events at the end of the previous film split Pinhead into two distinct beings: his former self (WWI British Army Captain Elliot Spencer), and Pinhead (the manifestation of Spencer’s id). Spencer gets trapped in limbo, and Pinhead gets trapped in The Pillar of Souls. With the help of a girl named Terri (played by Paula Marshall), Joey learns about the Cenobites and the powers of The Lament Configuration. Joey is also being contacted by the spirit of Elliot Spencer who is trying to help her along her journey. The idea of the two “Pinheads” was a little confusing at first, but it started to make sense that the human side would balance out The Cenobites and keep them from complete control. The movie has a slower build up than the previous two, but the third act is completely chaotic in the club and on the streets of the city. The 3rd act definitely makes this movie worth watching, and continues to do a great job of alluding to the past movies while setting up the next.
Hellraiser IV: Bloodline (1996): 8.50
– At this point, Doug Bradley was the only remaining character/cast member, but this film also marked many other differences. It would be the last movie of the franchise to be released in theaters and it would be the last film to have Cliver Barker produce it. It was also the last movie to be part of the chronology that was created by the previous movies. However this movie helped create a lot of closure to the story by serving as a prequel and a sequel. The movie was originally directed by Kevin Yagher who disowned the film when he left because of conflicting artistic ideas and cuts made behind his back. The film was eventually finished by Joe Chappelle and Yagher’s credit was given under the name “Alan Smithee”. The beginning of the movie takes place on a spaceship in the year 2127 where Paul Merchant (played by Bruce Ramsay) has a robot solving the Lament Configuration. He is captured by Rimmer (played by Christine Harnos) and begins to tell her the story of his bloodline. The movie then goes 400 years back in time and tells the story of Phillip Lemarchand, a French toymaker who creates the box for a wealthy aristocrat named Duc de L’Isle (played by Mickey Cottrell). Alongside his apprentice Jacques (played by Adam Scott), they summon a Cenobite slave named Angelique (played by Valentina Vargas). From there, the movie goes forward about 200 years, to present day. John Merchant is an architect who has designed a building that we see at the end of the previous film. Seeing that the Merchant bloodline has survived, Angelique pursues John in New York City. She seduces a man into solving the box and Pinhead arrives. Pinhead sees the building as the perfect place to create a connection between Earth and Hell so that he can finally take over Earth once and for all. Finally, the film returns to 2127 where Paul finally explains to Rimmer that he was planning to solve the box and destroy Pinhead once and for all. The different time periods can make the movie one of the harder ones to follow, and it is important when watching the movie to understand the motivations of all of the different characters. It may not be as straight forward horror and in your face as the previous films were, but it has a dark tone throughout the film and definitely creates a memorable beginning and ending to the events of the franchise.
Hellraiser V: Inferno (2000): 8.25/10
– This movie created a lot of firsts in the series. It was the first movie in the franchise to not get a theatrical release and go straight to video. It was the first film to not have involvement from Cliver Barker. It was the first movie to not continue the chronology and storyline of the previous films. And it was the first film of the franchise to not originally be written for the franchise. This movie was originally just going to be its own stand alone horror movie before the studios decided to tie it in as a Hellraiser movie, something that would continue to happen for the next 3 movies in the series. Despite all of this, I still really enjoy this movie. The movie gives some diversity to the franchise. Even though it was made in the late 1990s, it feels older, as if it was made in the late 1980s/early 1990s. This helps give a nostalgia factor that kind of feels like the first one in certain ways. The film follows Joseph Thorne (played by Craig Sheffer), an intelligent police detective in Denver. He is corrupt, regularly uses drugs, and is unfaithful to his wife. He finds the puzzle box at a crime scene. Being a person who is interested in puzzles, he solves the box. From there, he starts to have intense hallucinations. He is followed by mutilated women and chased by creatures with no eyes or legs. He starts to notice connections between crime scenes and pinpoints it to a killer known as “The Engineer”. He begins to search for “The Engineer” while undergoing therapy for his hallucinations. Pinhead is not as prevalent in this film as he is in the past films, which might upset fans of the series. However, I enjoy the fact that this movie and the ones that follow it fill in the time between the big time jumps that happen in the previous movie. They go back and show what else the box and Pinhead were up to when they weren’t with the Merchant bloodline, and I really thinks that helps continue the story of the Cenobites and The Lament Configuration nicely.
Hellraiser VI: Hellseeker (2002): 8.25/10
– After the previous film stepped away and gave the story a different angle, this film was able to simultaneously continue doing that while also pulling back some nostalgia from the early films. The reason I say this is because, like the previous film, it was another straight to video release that was originally going to be a stand alone horror movie before eventually getting tied into the franchise. However, this film saw the return of Ashley Laurence as Kristy Cotton, who was not shown or mentioned in the previous 2 films. And despite not being a part of the production team, Clive Barker had input on the film and had a big influence on the third act. Cristy is briefly shown at the beginning of the film. We see her now, many years after the events of the second film. She is married and is driving in a car with her husband Trevor Gooden (played by Dean Winters). The car suddenly goes off a bridge and into the river. Trevor lives, however the police cannot find any sign of Kristy. One month later, he wakes up in a hospital and finds out his wife is missing. He is suffering from a head injury that is not only affecting his memory, but is causing him problems when distinguishing fantasy and reality. He is the prime suspect of Kristy’s murder and is followed by two detectives. From here, the movie feels very similar to the previous film. He sees horrific images randomly as he goes about his day, and gets visited from Pinhead who begins to help him piece things together and eventually find out the truth. Pinhead is more prevalent in this one than in the previous one, and it is more straight up horror (with jump scares) than the David Lynch like surrealistic horror that we experienced in the previous movie. Fans may be upset that Kristy does not play a big enough role in this film, but I really enjoy this one. I think it helps tie her story together, while still continuing to show the different experiences people have with Pinehead and the box.
Hellraiser VII: Deader (2005):7.5/10
– The seventh installment in the franchise is the second one in a row to be directed by Rick Bota, who would also direct the following one as well. In addition to directing three Hellraiser in a row, Rick Bota has the distinction of also releasing two Hellraiser movies in the same year. The first of the two Hellraiser movies released in 2005 follows the previous two movies very similarly. It was written by Neal Marshall Stevens who is known for writting the script of the Thirteen Ghosts remake, and it stars Kari Wuhrer as Amy Klein, an investigative reporter who is sent to Bucharest to find the origins of a video tape. On the tape is a ritual where a woman is killed and brought back to life. The people on the tape are members of a cult, called “The Deaders”. She tracks down the return address of the video and finds a female corpse holding the Lament Configuration. She solves the box and is warned by Pinhead. She eventually focuses on tracking down Winter LeMarchand, the leader of the cult. He is the descendant of the toymaker who created the puzzle box. He believes it is his birthright to access the realm of the Cenobites and become the master. However, he is unable to open it, which is why he has founded the cult and why he practices necromancy. Throughout the film, Amy experiences extended waking dreams, creating a combination of jump scares, surrealism, and repressed memories. In addition to everything that Amy is experiencing, the film is shot on site, and uses some of the dark and mysterious parts of the city to create a memorable experience. However, after a pretty decent buildup and interesting storyline, the movie fails to deliver as strong a resolution as previous films in the franchise and falls a little short. Even though it follows a similar structure as the previous two films, it does not satisfy as much. I believe this is because the plot of the box, Pinhead, and the Merchant bloodline is obviously loosely tied into the story. It feels like it was just barely thrown in there, and was not as tight as it could have been. It can leave the viewer with some questions. However, it does provide a lot of really memorable scenes and scares.
Hellraiser VIII: Hellworld (2005): 7.5/10
– The third Hellraiser film directed by Rick Bota and second one to be released in the year 2005 was much different not only from the previous film, but from any other movie in the franchise. Whether or not this is a good thing is up to individual viewer. The script was based on a short story called “Dark Can’t Breathe” by Joel Soisson. The film follows a group of teenagers who are addicted to playing an online computer game called Hellworld. The game is based on the Hellraiser franchise (which in the movie are the true stories about Lemarchand and his experience with the Cenobites). The teenagers attend the funeral of their friend Adam (played by Stelian Urian), who committed suicide after becoming too immersed in the game. The remaining friends (Chelsea, played by Katheryn Winnick, Jake, played by Christopher Jacot, Derrick, played by Khary Payton, Mike, played by Henry Cavill, and Allson, played by Anna Tolputt). blame themselves for not preventing his death. 2 years later, they are invited through the game to a private Hellworld party at an old mansion. They are welcomed by the middle-aged party host, (played by Lance Henriksen, who had originally been approached to play Frank Cotten in the first film of the series, but turned it down to star in a vampire thriller called Near Dark), who offers them drinks and shows them around. The mansion was a former convent and asylum built be Lemarchand. They are then given cell phones so that they can communicate with other guests. From there, the group members start to mysteriously become trapped in separate parts of the house, start to become killed off one by one, start to become invisible to everyone else, or start to become stalked by the host and/or the Cenobites. The film feels different than the other films in the franchise because it isn’t focused on a particular person. It feels very modern, not only because of references to videos games and parties, but because of how the teenagers get picked off one by one like in a typical slasher horror movie. However, the ending has a pretty interesting twist that I feel saves it, because it explains the major lack of Pinhead compared to other movies.
Hellraiser IV: Revelations (2011): 7.0/10
– After 6 years, the franchise returned with the biggest gap between movies yet. It was also the first movie in the series to actually be written as a Hellraiser film (as opposed to rewritten as one) since the 4th movie, back in 1996. That should have been cause for celebration. However, this film was produced in a matter of weeks due to an obligation. Dimension Films risked losing the rights to the franchise. Because of this, Doug Bradley declined to participate, making this first film to not have him as Pinhead. He was replaced by Stephan Smith Collins, and Fred Tatasciore provided the voice. The film follows Steven Craven (played by Nick Eversman) and Nico Bradley (played by Jay Gillespie), who are two boys who run away from their home in Los Angeles and travel to Tijuana, Mexico. They film themselves engaging in drinking and partying over the course of several days. Eventually, the two boys disappear. The videos that they recorded are returned to their parents by the Mexican police. The videos contain their final moments. A year later, the two families of the boys get together for dinner. Tensions rise as certain families express frustration due to the lack of closure. We find out that Steven’s sister Emma (played by Tracey Fairaway) was also Nico’s girlfriend. We also find out that Steven’s mother (played by Devon Sorvari) obsessively watches over the videotapes in private. Flashbacks reveal more about the experiences the boys had in Mexico, and reveals that they got ahold of The Lament Configuration and were able to open it up. Between flashbacks and moments of drama between family members, Steven actually returns, weak and covered in blood. From there, the family start to experience glimpses of the horror that the boys encountered, in addition to the power that the box can have over them. The plot is a pretty good idea, however the execution is a little shaky. The acting is good at some parts, but there are moments where the movie suffers from the overdramatic acting of the teenage boys. Also, having a new Pinhead just does not cut it for me. It feels very weird and out of place. The flashbacks on the video camera in Mexico are definitely some of the best moments of the movie, and make references to the first film of the series. However, the moments of family drama and the moments of the new actor is Pinhead make the majority of the film feel like a parody of previous Hellraiser films. I will not say that it is worth a watch, because it might frustrate a Hellraiser fan. However it does have its moment. I just hope that it’s not the last film of the series.