Why are the horror icons of the eighties so difficult to recast? Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster never had this trouble, with Gary Oldman and Robert De Niro joining Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Aaron Eckhart all taking a swing at these classic creatures with varying degrees of success. Yet when Jackie Earl Hayley slipped on the razor glove that formally belonged to Robert Englund in 2010 fans simply wasn’t interested seeing anyone else portray the 80’s icon so you would hope that that was a lesson learned.
However, as Dimension Pictures learned to their detriment only a year later, the laws of Hollywood cares not for such things and as their rights to the Hellraiser franchise where due to lapse, the only way they could keep their hooks into the franchise was to bang out a quick sequel in a matter of weeks before their time was up. However, Doug Bradley, the ridiculously loyal actor whose portrayal of Pinhead brought him genre immortality, finally decided enough was enough and vacated the pins after around twenty five years of service.
But this wasn’t such an issue, right? Slap on enough latex and anyone could do the job, yeah? History and common sense answered with a resounding hell no.
Best buddies Rico and Steven flee their middle class lives and head off to Tijuana to enjoy a wild vacation of dirty booze and dirtier women, but while there these two walking red flags get into some pretty heavy shit. The broiling alcohol that’s no doubt eating through their stomach lining is the least of their worries when the Rico, the plainly douchier of the two, kills a prostitute while engaging in some rough toilet stall sex and the two find themselves spiralling into a nightmare of their own making when their panicked debauchery eventually leads them to screw around with the Lament Configuration puzzle box. These guys know Mexico has beaches, right?
A year later and the two boy’s families gather regularly to have awkward dinner parties where no one brings up the couple of missing elephants not in the room and everyone has pushed down their grief to breaking point.
Due to camcorder footage shot by Steven, they know that the last time they were seen was when they opened the puzzle box and summoned a mutilated figure with nails in his noggin who seemingly whisked them away to god knows where.
During their most recent get together, however, Emma – Steven’s sister and Rico’s girlfriend – finally demands to know the details of their disappearance, an act that coincides with the phone lines being cut and their cars being incapacitated. As the two families realise they’re completely cut off, they are stunned when a bloodied, near-catatonic Steven turns up out of nowhere with no real answers to offer.
As everyone present try to make sense of what scattered information they have, flashbacks gradually reveal that things aren’t what they seem and Steven’s return really is just skin deep…
So Hellraiser: Revelations is awful, no doubt about it, but I’m actually going to kick things off with some nice words about this latest ravaging of Clive Barker’s original, unkillable, concept. The script – written by Gary J. Tunnicliffe – may have its issues but at least it tries to recapture and reintegrate classic Hellraiser imagery and plot points back into its DNA after a slew of sequels made from rewritten, existing scripts had wandered far from the original concept. Returning back into this world of pervs and puzzle boxes is the concept of freudian pacts and characters coming back from the dead, minus their skin, to absorb the lifeorce of victims seduced by tormented accomplices and it’s a fairly welcome return to the roots of the franchise. Tunnicliffe had been a mainstay of the franchise during its darkest times (he worked on the special effects on every Hellraiser from the third installment onward) and this rise to writer is quite an impressive climb through the ranks of low budget filmmaking, but I’m afraid it’s here where my nice words will now make an abrupt halt.
You see, even though this is the first “proper” Hellraiser story we’ve had in a while, it still doesn’t help that the actual finished script itself feels like a 16 year old’s fan fiction and it’s shot like a low rent American soap opera from the noughties. It’s a shame because if the film hadn’t been so frantically shoved into production and some time, care and some extra development had been bequeathed to the concept, we might have had something vaguely approaching a return to form, but as it stands, we’re given yet another low rent trip to hell.
The characters have all the gravitas of a helium balloon and the movie misses the point of the original story by a mile. Frank Cotton in the original Hellraiser sought out the Cenobites after a life of sadomasochistic pleasures and weird sexual games of power and dominance had left him hollow inside and constantly looking for more extreme thrills, in comparison, Steve and Rico are just a couple of red flag, fuckwads who get stuck in a horny white guy’s worst nightmare simply because they want to get wasted and their dicks wet. Mixing some random, found footage shit with the home invasion tropes of movies like The Stangers or Funny Games, as the sordid histories of both families are played out to almost no drama whatsoever – for example, how does a movie attempt an incest scene that somehow has all the impact of an M&M being thrown at a tank.
Maybe, just maybe, if Doug Bradley had sucked it up and donned the leathers and chains one more time, Hellraiser: Revelations might have been salvagable, even in this iffy state, but you can’t fault the guy for finally stepping down and frankly I’m amazed he hadn’t done it sooner – have you seen Hellworld? But while moving away from his character must have been painful for him, it’s understandable when a sequel is thrown together for reasons even more mercenary than usual, but then it also must be gratifying to know that not one, but two people where enlisted to try and fill his leather skirt (Stephen Smith Collins under the pins and Fred Tatasciore doing the voice) and they still manage to resembleone of those photo-op guys you see on Hollywood boulevard. Seeing someone else play such a recognisable character is as jarring as having Gilbert Gottfried voice Kermit The Frog – it just feels wrong and it looks even worse.
Depite its twisty plot, the only mystery this film manages to stir up is why on earth would Dimension would go through so much trouble to tenaciously cling on to the rights of a franchise they’d spent the better part of fifteen years driving into the ground with cheap, shitty sequels. Yep, it seems that the only revelation born from this Hellraiser is that they should stop. Fucking. Making. Them.