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Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth

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Back when I was little, parents used to teach you things by letting you do something stupid, and then hoping that the consequences of what you’d just done would inform you as to why you should not have done it in the first place. A minor burn from a hot pot or open fire was a far more effective way of teaching a kid not to touch hot things than simply telling them. I, unfortunately, am an idiot, and even to this day, when I see fire, my initial reaction is, “Man, I bet I could catch it this time!”

Similarly, I’ve never learned that doing a marathon viewing of an awful movie series is never as funny an idea as I think it is. This started back in college, when my roommate and I thought it wold be hilarious to watch all the Porky’s films in one sitting. The sickness continues to this very day, with no lesson learned in the interim despite ample experience to teach me. And so I found myself one day sitting around with a stack of Hellraiser movies.

I, like many people, loved the first two Hellraiser films, and as they garner some modicum of respect, I decided it was best to skip over them and go directly to the one featuring a wisecracking Cenobite with a video camera embedded in his head. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth represents a quantum leap downward from the first two films — disappointing not just because of the drop in quality, but also because this was supposed to be something of a “Pinhead and crew run wild on Earth” scenario. In reality, the rampage through New York City of these demons called forth from another realm by way of a cursed puzzle box ends up looking more like Jason’s five minute jaunt through Manhattan in Friday the 13th, Part 8.

For those who don’t know the Hellraiser story, here it is in a nutshell: a long time ago, someone made a puzzle box. The box happens to be a key to opening a door to Hell, and out of it come creatures known to fans as the Cenobites. The Cenobites, lead by the now iconic Pinhead, are dedicated to pushing the humans who summon them into the extremes of pain/pleasure, something that is usually expressed via hooked chains shooting out of the ether and ripping the person apart — which always seemed to me to be a bit of a gyp in terms of the pain/pleasure ratio, but I guess that’s what you get for fooling around with an undead guy whose head is covered in pins.

At the end of part two, the Cenobites were defeated, the puzzle box lost but that didn’t last for very long. Part three picks up with a skeevy young guy who owns the most ridiculous combination of fancy five-star restaurant playing “String Quintet In E Major, Op.13, No.5 – Minuet” and fake industrial goth club decorated with S&M teddy bears. He buys a horrific sculpture that we know to be the current prison of Pinhead. Meanwhile, plucky young reporter Terry Farrell is trying to make a name for herself. When at a hospital, she stumbles upon a screaming young man embedded with hooked chains. He eventually explodes, and this puts her on the track leading to the goth club, which is supposed to be the most awesome underground goth club ever, except that it’s full of early 1990s frat guy types.

Eventually, of course, Pinhead will be released from his prison and, after creating a new army of Cenobites to replace the ones he lost last movie, he will go on the aforementioned rampage through New York, which means he mostly goes on a casual stroll through a deserted movie set and makes some manhole covers blow up.The reporter will have to team up with the ghost of Pinhead’s former self in hopes of defeating the lord of Hell in a fairly unmemorable final showdown.

It’s all pretty tepid stuff, but it’s still watchable despite being such a letdown. Pinhead at least gets to massacre a club full of fake movie goths, so I guess that counts for something. But mostly, the whole thing is just a letdown. Pinhead’s new Cenobites are completely ludicrous and possess none of the menace of the previous batch. Instead, this time around, we got a guy who throws CDs at people and a guy with a video camera in his head — and a mustache! What the hell kind of a demon has a droopy Southern rock mustache? This is ground zero for the Cenobites being transformed from creatures of evil and terror into wisecracking goofballs.

The acting is almost uniformly terrible with the exception of Douglas Bradley, the guy who plays Pinhead. But even Pinhead doesn’t escape completely unscathed, as he is put through a number of ham-fisted “shock” scenes, such as the completely ludicrous bit that takes place in a church and has Pinhead assuming “The Jesus pose.” We get it, we get it! It’s ironic!

Terry Farrell was a couple years away from fame and the lust of sci-fi nerds everywhere thanks to her role in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and she’s pretty terrible here. At least she’s in like company. Still, despite all that, the movie manages to be watchable and even entertaining in a pretty lame way. There’s still some decent scenes, a fleeting vestige of “that ol’ Hellraiser magic,” Pinhead is in decent form, and if nothing else, it’s a lot better than what Hellraiser would have in store for us later on down the road.

10 thoughts on “Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth”

  1. This inevitable move into wise-crack territory for every horror character not wearing a mask is something I’ll never understand.
    If we’re supposed to be afraid of them, why are they suddenly talking like Bruce Willis’ kid brother?

  2. Terry Farrell is going to be starring in her first on-stage role at Hershey Area Playhouse in Hershey, PA. She’s doing Love Letters with her husband, Brian Baker (“The SPRINT PCS Guy”). Check it out at HersheyAreaPlayhouse.com.

  3. Pinhead was such a bad character to take into wisecrack territory, too. I mean, he has that accent. He just sounds like a stuffy old man trying to seem hip. It’s bad enough when progressively less talented scripters try to write Hellraiser dialogue (“must use the word “flesh” as much as possible), but now they have to balance that with one-liners…that’s a no win situation.

  4. I don’t want to jump the gun, but everyone prepared me for part five to be terrible, and I really liked it. Part four I thought was slightly better than three, if for no other reason than it didn’t have a wisecracking mustachioed Cenobite with a video camera in his head. Mustaches are for tough cops and Freddie Mercury, not for S&M demons.

  5. Keith – If you haven’t watched the ones after 5, I would suggest it. They each break out of the Hellraiser mold and are truly their own movies. You don’t see the Cenobites as much but they are replaced by the evils that man creates for himself.

    Not to mention Kari Wuhrer is in Deader… how can you beat that?

  6. I have 6 and 7 coming to me this week, so I should be watching them shortly. Kari Wuhrer is my Lament Configuration — I know watching her movies will bring me pain, exquisite pain, and I always do it.

  7. I remember watching this with a friend of mine back in college. I had been a Hellraiser afficionado for some time at that point: my high school job was working at a local movie theatre, and I watched the first movie alone, at a midnight showing, in an empty theatre dating back to the 1800’s.

    Anyway, I recall that we both really liked the setup of the film. The first half was pretty decent… creepy statue, the girl who couldn’t dream, the ghost of Pinhead’s former human self. It’s just that the movie went nowhere with that. It could have been a very cerebral horror movie (or at least as cerebral as you can get with Cenobites) but it completely shot itself in the foot.

    Pity.

  8. I’ve always loved Hellraiser 3, and I don’t know why it always gets dumped on so much. Sure, it’s cheesy and has little of the biting undercurrent of Clive Barker’s work, but it’s still a lot better than most horror movies of the time – especially from a major studio, who back then were trying to repackage everything they had as “psychological thrilers” rather than horror.

    Bloodlines was royally screwed by a studio who didn’t understand the material. All the Hellraiser movies after that have been repackaged scripts – that is, they were written as original movies then repackaged as Hellraiser movies. They’re not bad as horror movies, but they’ve had Pinhead crowbarred into otherwise unrelated screenplays so they add nothing to the mythos.

  9. I just checked this out again (I intend on watching all the Hellraiser films) and I pretty much agree. It’s bad, but something about it makes it tolerable. The problem is that the film is heavy on dialogue (which is bad), and the actors make it worse. But it does make the film pretty goofy instead of just being boring.

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