If the noticably immature Hellraiser III was a timely portent that the franchise was already tipping over the edge of the abyss into the realms of direct-to-video hell, then Hellraiser IV shoved it as hard as it could. But it needn’t had been that way…
Picked up by Dimension – the horror arm of Miramax – the Clive Barker birthed series seemed to be on steady ground, but soon it became apparent that if you were an aspiring young filmmaker trying to break into the horror genre you’d better better off giving the studio a wide berth. Oh sure, the Scream series and anything horror that Robert Rodriguez lent his hand to was golden, but anyone else saw had to suffer vast amounts of studio meddling and ugly recuts as Dimension hacked up such movies as Halloween 6 and Wes Craven’s Cursed to an unfathomable degree. But arguably the worst victim was hell’s chief torturer himself, the regal Pinhead Cenobite, as in an impressive example of irony, it was his latest film that had it’s soul torn apart….
We open on a peculiar looking space station orbiting Earth in the year 2127 and reclusive engineer genius Dr. Paul Merchant has highjacked his greatest work for reasons unknown. While a special unit breach his satellite in order to bring him to justice, Merchant sets his mysterious plan in motion by having a robot remotely open the Lament Configuration puzzle box in order to summon the Cenobites, denizens of hell who get their body modification rocks off by making their victims enjoy their mutilations. However, Merchant’s plans have now been thrown off by the arrival of the group of heavily armed lunkheads and while they wander aimlessly around the ship, the engineer tells the story of his cursed bloodline to the team’s empathetic leader, Rimmer.
Back in 1796, in Paris, France Merchant’s ancestor Phillip LeMarchand, is a toy maker by trade and is commissioned by an aristocrat to make a puzzle box to extremely specific certifications while unknowingly allowing the wealthy perv to turn it into a portal to hell. Witnessing the skinning a prostitute in form to call forth a shapely demon called Angelique, Phillip attempts to create a new box to counter the first but is killed, his bloodline doomed to be as tainted as mexican tap water.
We then hear of John Merchant in 1996, an architect who designed the building seen at the end of Hellraiser III and who been having nightmares of hell his entire life. Approached by Angelique who worries that the building is a threat to hell, she fails at seducing him but succeeds at reclaiming the original box from the building’s foundations and summoning a bit of help from beyond. However, ideologies appeared to have changed in Hell over the last 200 years and Pinhead’s methods do not line up with hers and their dueling plans eventually bring us to the future, where Paul’s ultimate plan is to seal off hell once and for all, contain and kill the Cenobites and avenge all the fallen victims of his cursed bloodline. Not bad for a days work, eh?
Straight off the bat, the plot behind Hellraiser’s fourth outing seems massively ambitious for a low budget horror and this seemed to be part of the initial problem. While original director and special effects whizz Kevin Yagher (he built Chucky and the Crypt Keeper, don’t you know) obviously had a dark, fantasy epic that spread itself across centuries in a kind of anthology format, Dimension seemingly just wanted cheap scares and gore and proceeded to not only gut 25 minutes from the thing, but order new scenes to be shot that Yagher promptly refused to do. Stepping into the void was director Joe Chappelle, a man no stranger to Miramax tinkering thanks to the shocking hack job they did on the sixth Halloween movie, who gave them the scenes they demanded and thus, before you knew it, Hellraiser: Bloodline became an Alan Smithee joint.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Hellraiser IV could have been a towering, horror masterpiece if left unmolested, but I do feel it’s important to point out that the untouched film was at least trying to do something different and explore different aspects of the Hellraiser universe that we hadn’t seen before. After all, if the first movie introduced use to a world of skinned dudes, meat hooks and busted marriages; and the second and third took a closer look at hell and Pinhead respectively, then putting that pesky Lament Configuration Box under the lens makes a huge amount of sence – however, we’ll never know thanks to brutal budget cuts and post-production fiddling meant more Pinhead, less plot and rapid reduction in coherent story telling.
As it stands now, Bloodline is a startlingly rushed, piece of shit with a stupendous premise and a cheap look and sending Pinhead to space may actually work in the context of the movie, but is ultimately is still as dumb as the previous film’s idea to create new Cenobites out of CD players and video cameras (none of whom appear here). The cast isn’t exactly great either, although it does contain the odd familiar face here and there, not least of all with the appearance of Parks And Recreation’s Adam Scott – although Kim Myers, the female lead from the second Nightmare On Elm Street, is also present too which means she’s accomplished the impressive feat of surviving both Pinhead and Freddy.
Visually the budget can’t begin to do justice to the concept, but at least the Cenobites look less stupid… well, mostly. Pinhead looks swell and Angelique’s updated mutilations impressively parody that of a nun’s habit, but the Twin Cenobite (two brothers crushed into one, two-headed form) just doesn’t work and it frequently looks like the thing has the chonk factor of the Kingpin from Into The Spider-Verse. However, the lupine Chatterbeast looks pretty cool even if the thing is utterly illogical – 1) why would the Cenobites feel in need of a pet and 2) what exactly happened here, did Lassie manage to open the puzzle box with his fucking paws or something?
Still, wooden acting and bizarre creatures aside, the biggest problem that taints this particular bloodline is the fact that it seems to have be pieced together by an editor who was either blind, fingerless or who had never seen an actual movie in their life and the end result is nothing short of a total mess that takes every last shred of that original idea and obliterates the hell out of it.