While I didn’t have as many guest submissions this year as I did last, one cool thing was some new Felix Vasquez Jr., who runs Cinema Crazed. It’s a cool blog, and if you dig Camera Viscera, I’m sure you’ll dig plenty of the stuff Felix is putting out over there. For his SUMMERTIME SCARES! submission, he tackles the sweaty, drippy, oozing, uncomfortable Hellraiser franchise, specifically Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth.
Admittedly, the first “Hellraiser” film I’ve ever seen was “Hell on Earth,” the 1992 sequel to Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” series that arguably killed all cache the first movies established. It wasn’t until almost twenty years later when I finally sat down to see the superior “Hellraiser” predecessors. When my building was finally wired for cable in 1994, my brother and I sat down to watch “Hellraiser III” on Cinemax late one Saturday night during the summer. For a long time it remained a very vivid and fond memory of horror cinema. It was also my introduction to Doug Bradley as the iconic pinhead.
Anyone who knows a lot about the “Hellraiser” movies, know that the first two Clive Barker movies are complete tales in their own right. “Hellraiser” was a twisted love story about a sordid love affair and the evil Julia Cotton who led men to her house to feed to her undead lover Frank. In the first film, Pinhead only appears in the movie for ten minutes, and the movie is not even about him. But Doug Bradley’s performance is so gargantuan in presence and gravitas that Pinhead became the face of the movie series, despite Julia being the villain of the first two films. Pinhead is a name bestowed upon the character by populace as Clive Barker never really liked the name. Pinhead in the literature is a sexually ambiguous character that Barker called “Hell Priest.”
But with “Hellraiser,” it cemented the direction, allowing for a more Pinhead-centric follow up. Though he appears for a longer duration, he is still only in the film for a small period and Julia Cotton is still the villain. She’s now a cenobite who seduces a sadistic doctor to feed her mental patients in an asylum so she can rebuild her body again. After Clare Higgins dropped out of the movie series, the studios naturally took the film series in the direction they wanted. Pinhead became the true persona of “Hellraiser,” and in “Hell on Earth” he became the primary antagonist who literally wrought pure havoc on Earth, massacring people, and creating his own gimmicky cenobites.
Where the original two films comprised cenobites out of willing subjects with dark sexual desires, Pinhead would take literally any victim and make them in to a twisted foot soldier. “Hell on Earth” is now mostly about Pinhead where he’s essentially the main character, even. After revealing his humanity in “Hellbound,” the studio gives a good excuse to turn Hellraiser in to the pure villain, as he’s been split in to two personas. The human persona battles to maintain his station within Pinhead and is stuck in limbo, while the pure evil Pinhead begins roaming our world using his magic to bathe the streets in blood. The symbolic monolith we saw in the final scene of “Hellraiser II” is turned in to a literal plot device where Pinhead is a part of a writhing pillar bought by a sadistic night club owner.
The pillar now looks like some cheap European art project made in a loft, and it comes to life thanks to Pinhead’s devious hooks that proceed to skin alive a jilted lover of JP Monroe’s. Pinhead’s head, now peeking through the statue like an episode of “Laugh In” demands that JP lure women up to his loft to get sucked up by the statue. With enough lives Pinhead is freed and feels compelled to unleash darkness upon humanity. Where the first two “Hellraiser” films thrived on delivering still iconic imagery and instances of terror, “Hell on Earth” attempts to compensate for its goofy take on Pinhead and convoluted story by delivering its own iconic imagery for Barker fans to chew on.
There’s Pinhead invading a church and presenting Christ symbolism, and his massacring of JP’s night club, which shockingly cuts away when it’s about to get really splatterific. At least Hickox delivers some money shots which involve mostly the conception of his own army of cenobites. “Hellworld” defies the concept of the cenobites and goes full on gimmicky for this outing, delivering a cenobite that shoots fire, has a deadly zoom camera lens in their head, and one that even shoots deadly CD’s for some reason. Back then my brother and I thought it was the coolest thing we’d ever seen. These days it breaks the rules of the first two movies, but is at least some goofy fun.
“Hell on Earth” is unofficially considered the final chapter of the “Hellraiser” saga. It takes an unnecessary glimpse in to Pinhead’s back story and transforms a once enigmatic and mystifying monster in to a silly scowling movie monster for what is a pretty typical nineties B movie that I fondly recall grinning through as a young boy. After finally watching the first two films almost four years ago, I still not quite sure if “Hellworld” turned Barker’s saga in to B movie fodder, or if the “Hellraiser” tale was B movie fodder painted in an arthouse gloss the whole time.