Hell on Earth is as far as I go with the Hellraiser series. This ride’s taking a downward plunge in quality, so I’m going to jump off quick and hope that I can’t get hurt in my own metaphor. It would be more painful, anyway, to see the concepts of the original film distorted further for the sake of grabbing a buck. The ideas haven’t quite run out yet and the budget certainly hasn’t, so there’s still some positives to find here if you can stomach how far the series’ intelligence level has dropped, and how quickly.
So Pinhead’s a slasher villain now, dispatching innocent victims at will. In comparison to the character as Clive Barker originally conceived him this is, in a word, stupid, but scriptwriter Peter Atkins at least tries to find a reason for it. As a result of Kirsty’s actions at the end of Hell Bound, Pinhead’s human aspect has been separated from the Cenobite, each now operating as independent beings trying to break through to the Earthly realm. In Pinhead’s case, this involves convincing New York fetish club owner J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt), who’s in possession of the Hell Pillar in which the Cenobite is imprisoned, to bring him enough blood to create a physical form. In Captain Spencer’s case, this involves seeking help from Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell), a TV news presenter who’s investigating the violence at J.P.’s club, by contacting her through her dreams.
Doug Bradley now gets to play two characters, and considering that his performance was one of the most enjoyable parts of the first two films, this is no bad thing. He seems to have seized upon the notion of Pinhead being totally free to kill and enjoy killing, and hams it up with gusto. The scenes where Pinhead annihilates a club full of people and commits sacrilege at a church altar may be far removed from anything the character should be interested in doing, but they do have a certain inventiveness about them. Spencer, meanwhile, is terribly British, a self-aware man who could have been quite different were it not for his experiences in The Great War. His realization that he needs to recombine with Pinhead, to give the Cenobite a sense of restraint and honour, works as character development and is a reasonably satisfying conclusion.
We didn’t need any of this development and backstory, and we didn’t need a film full of Pinhead. Hellraiser is a perfect example of how a character can have tremendous impact with less than five minutes screentime if the concept, actor, and makeup are just right. Nonetheless, a film full of Pinhead is what we get, and it is hard to say no to being shown a bunch of shots designed specifically to make him look good. Unfortunately, this is undermined by the fact that the makeup is also weaker here; a brief insert of footage from Hell Bound proves that a cheap British film did a better job of creating the character than this Paramount-funded production. Moreover, the name “Pinhead,” which Barker always disapproved of, is used as an insult here, and Joey calls him an “ugly fuck” to boot. These are pretty ill-advised ways of undermining the dignity of a character who embodies powerful concepts of morality, physicality and metaphysics.
Hell on Earth does manage to be almost as female-centric as the first two films. Joey faces the problem of not being taken seriously in her profession, and a chunk of the story relies on her friendship with Terri (Paula Marshall), a former girlfriend of J.P.’s who needs help to clean up her life. The relationship is actually just one scene away from being a romance, which J.P. makes some biting remarks about at one point. Bernhardt himself was clearly cast for looking like an underwear model, and the movie is arguably equal opportunity about nudity. On the whole, it’s less exploitative than the average slasher film, though more problematic than Hellraiser, Hell Bound or the Barker-connected Candyman. (I would like to write a post about the series’ female characters, but to do that I’d have at least watch Bloodline oh god help.)
I’m not going to claim Terry Farrell is a greatly talented actor, but she does have an innate likeability. Maybe I’m influenced by her role in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but I have no issues with her here. Despite being lumbered with plenty of lazy dialogue, Farrell is still charming and moves well in the many action and horror oriented scenes toward the end.
Hell on Earth has plenty of things to get annoyed about if you’re so inclined. The new Cenobites, in particular, have none of the style of the original lineup, and are the final nail in the coffin when it comes to Hell on Earth’s disregard for the first two films. However, the bigger budget gives the film a larger sense of scope as well as pleasing imagery in some scenes, and Bradley, Farrell and Marshall are quite enjoyable. While you watch Hell on Earth, forget that Hellraiser and Hell Bound were full of vivid ideas ripe for exploration, because that’s certainly what this film does. I managed to find a few things to like about it, for one viewing, at least. If the series gets worse than this, however, there are some things that I don’t have to see and don’t have to know.