In “Part 1” of our retrospective on the Hellraiser franchise we chronicled the impetus for Clive Barker’s decision to move from author to filmmaker. The focus was placed solely on the first four films in the series, all of the theatrical releases. When we left off, Dimension Films had “Harvey Scissor Handed” Hellraiser: Bloodline so much in post-production that director Kevin Yagher ultimately had his name removed from the final cut. The film was ultimately a box-office failure and future prospects for the franchise seemed grim. From here on out the Cenobites have languished in direct-to-video hell.
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) – From Sadomasochism to Moral Guardian
IMDb Plot Synopsis: “A shady police detective becomes embroiled in a strange world of murder, sadism and madness after being assigned a murder investigation against a madman known only as ‘The Engineer’.”
Clive Barker has gone on record saying he was practically shut out from the offices of Dimension at this point. He was eager to return to the franchise and help build toward a proper end for the horror icon he helped create, but it wasn’t to be. Over the years, The Suits continued to hear various pitches for how to bring Pinhead and his leather-clad minions back to the screen. One concept that gained traction was Hellraiser: Hellfire, an ambitious screenplay from publicist and editor Stephen Jones along with author Michael Marshall Smith. Their concept would see the return of a mentally unstable Kirsty and a cult with past ties to Pinhead and the Cenobites, all culminating with a mass of underground tunnels forming a giant Lament Configuration across London that would see Leviathan himself attempting to break free into our world.
Ultimately, this proved to be much larger in scope than the concept Dimension ending up greenlighting. Fresh out of film school, Scott Derrickson along with writing partner Paul Harris Boardman, pitched a noir-style detective story set within the Hellraiser universe. The Weinsteins were impressed and commissioned the script. When Derrickson (who has gone to quite the lucrative filmmaking career with Sinister and Doctor Strange) showed his interest in directing, he was given $10,000 and tasked with filming a scene from the film. Apparently, what he came up with was impressive enough that he landed the gig directing Hellraiser: Inferno.
Interestingly, despite Derrickson’s insistence that Inferno was an original Hellraiser script, Doug Bradley has claimed otherwise. He has stated it was a pre-existing detective story that was retooled to feature Pinhead and the Hellraiser iconography. Bradley’s recollection of events is easy to believe when one looks at the finished product. Much of the established mythology goes out the window in this sequel, and we are treated to a Lynchian, Jacob’s Ladder style psycho-thriller that manages to incorporate the puzzle box and Cenobites by way of nightmarish visions inflicted upon our lead (played by Craig Schaffer of Nightbreed fame). In the end, Pinhead stands as a character intent on passing moral judgment against our lead and his past sins, which is a much more traditionally Christian viewpoint for the character than Barker ever intended. Nonetheless, with a reported budget of less than $2 million and a straight to video release with limited marketing spend, Inferno apparently made Dimension enough money to warrant another trip down similar territory.
“Once again, the sequel-mongers have destroyed a series with solid potential, all in the name of a quick buck. Pinhead deserves a hell of a lot better than a cameo role in a third-rent cable movie.” – Scott Weinberg, eFilmCritic
“There’s enough morbid imagery here to satisfy the ‘Goth’ in all of us, enough gore to quench the thirst but not enough Pinhead to call this a Hellraiser flick.” – John Fallon, Arrow in the Head
Cenobites Featured: Pinhead, Wire Twins, Torso
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) – The [Tepid] Return of Kirsty
IMDb Plot Synopsis: “A shady businessman attempts to piece together the details of the car crash that killed his wife, rendered him an amnesiac, and left him in possession of a sinister puzzle box that summons monsters.”
Rick Bota was a cinematographer working consistently through the 90s when he got the chance to tackle 2nd unit for a number of Dimension Films’ productions (Mimic, They). This landed him in the right place at the right time to essentially take over the reigns for the next several Hellraiser films. Dimension hired Carl V. Dupre and Tim Day to put the script together for what would become Hellraiser: Hellseeker. The two writers were confessed fans of the franchise and included several nods to the previous films throughout their screenplay: the main character’s workplace was called Cubic Route, a dog named Cotton, among others. They even envisioned bringing Ashley Laurence back to reprise the role of Kirsty. Unfortunately, the producers couldn’t get intouch with the actress during the entire pre-production period. They eventually gave up on the prospect of bringing her back and rewrote the script, yet decided to leave the character’s name the same as added nod to fans.
Once Bradley sat down with the script, he was pleased with what he read and excited by the idea of sharing the screen again with Laurence. Bradley offered to contact her personally to see if she’d be interested in reprising her role. Thankfully, Laurence was ecstatic by the idea. The only problem was there was very little time before shooting to actually re-rewrite the script to tie Kirsty as we’d known her back into the narrative. Having great faith in Bradley’s abilities, Bota entrusted the Pinhead actor to take a pass on the duo’s climactic confrontation…most of the newly added material from Bradley ended up on the cutting room floor, however. Though, it should be said, it does exist as a special feature on certain releases.
Despite the reverence for Hellraiser canon that was exhibited by the creative minds behind Hellseeker, it still winds up feeling more like Inferno than any of the previous sequels. Hellseeker is another “what’s reality?” nightmarish trip through Cenobite torture-land, thus solidifying the general direction most future sequels would adhere to. Thankfully, against the wishes of Dimension execs, Barker was given a chance to screen a workprint and provide his opinion on how to help shape and perfect the third act of the film. Hellseeker stands as the last film of the franchise to feature input from Barker in any shape or form.
“Hellseeker is competent on a base level and fans will enjoy a few grotesque visuals, but in total the movie serves no real purpose other than to extend a series that’s worn down its welcome.” – Martin Leibman, Blu-ray.com
“This one is certainly a mixed bag as it’s quite watchable and has lots of screwy visuals; despite the fact it feels a little off-kilter and for the most part doesn’t make much sense.” – The Video Graveyard
Cenobites Featured: Pinhead, Chatterer III, Surgeon, Bound, Stitch
IMDb Plot Synopsis: “A journalist uncovers an underground group who can bring back the dead and slowly becomes drawn into their world.”
A pre-existing script entitled Deader by screenwriter Neal Marshall Stevens was sold to Dimension after his Thir13een Ghosts remake went into production (and before he was relegated to mostly Full Moon titles). It seems his original script was a complex tale that dealt with the “Deader” cult who found a way to bring people back to life and a seedy, hallucinatory dark underworld that our lead reporter ultimately gets entangled with. When it was determined that Deader would become Hellraiser: Deader, Tim Day was brought back in to rewrite the script with Hell in mind. Stevens, not being privy to the rewrites, was quite shocked and displeased to see the changes once he received a copy of the shooting script for review.
Deader is ultimately the first of TWO Hellraiser films to be released in 2005 (despite filming in 02′). Seeing an opportunity to cut costs, execs had Bota and crew head to Romania to film the back to back sequels. They even tried to convince Bradley to work on both films while only paying him one fee. Thankfully, Bradley managed to strike up a proper deal with Dimension, and he signed on for both productions. Communication on set was difficult as a majority of the crew and talent were made up of Romanian locals. Bota was able to rely on Gary J. Tunnicliffe who had been steadily working on the makeup and special effects since Bloodline. He was now given more responsibility as he took on duties directing 2nd unit…a sign of things to come.
“Fans of the films may still cry foul and demand more screen time for Pinhead, but for those of you willing to take the time and open the box, your explorations will lead you to a smartly written blood-drenched scarefest that at times is truly creepy.” – Steve Barton, Dread Central
“Pinhead’s cameo appearance will surely turn off Hellraiser fans, while horror buffs are stuck with a film that isn’t even remotely scary. ” – David Nusair, Reel Film Reviews
Cenobites Featured: Pinhead, Chatterer III, Surgeon, Bound, Stitch
Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005) – Game Over, Pinhead!
IMDb Plot Synopsis: “Gamers playing a MMORPG based on the “Hellraiser” franchise find their lives endangered after being invited to a rave, the host of which intends to show them the truth behind the Cenobite mythos.”
Hellraiser: Hellworld was the second film of the Romanian package deal spearheaded by Dimension Films and director Rick Bota. The main issue, however, was there was no script for Hellworld. Even amidst production for Deader and looming start date for the next film, they weren’t exactly sure what film they would be making. One of the producers stumbled upon a treatment from Joel Soisson (producer for almost anything Dimension Films). The treatment dealt with the idea of drug-induced suggestion which Soisson described as his “worst nightmare.” Thinking fast, Bota called upon the other screenwriting half of Hellseeker, Dupre, to whip this treatment into a full-blown shooting script…with Hellraiser stuff thrown in, of course. Two weeks later, Dupre finished a draft of Hellworld that showed obvious influence from the Scream series. For the first time, a Hellraiser film was dealing mostly with an all “teenage” cast who exist in a world where Hellraiser is nothing more than a part of an online RPG game. The meta touches are everywhere.
One of the more interesting aspects of Hellworld in retrospect was the up and coming cast they managed to wrangle at the last minute. A fresh-faced Khary Payton (The Walking Dead) was coming off a role in another DTV Roamania-lensed sequel, Dracula II: Ascension. He was a no-brainer for Bota to be a part of the cast. Not to mention, his decapitated head from that film could easily be repurposed for this one. There was also Henry Cavill (you know…Man of Steel) and Katheryn Winnick (Vikings) alongside genre vet Lance Henriksen who met Bota by chance in Romania, fresh from the set of Mimic 3: The Sentinel. Hellworld has surprisingly built up quite a fanbase over the years, keen they are on the film’s self-referential, early aughts’ kitsch. The film itself breaks so many of the franchise’s rules, it’s hard to look past, even if that is part of the story it’s trying to tell.
“I’d say that you should watch this if you’re looking for an absurd “so bad it’s good” horror comedy, but, honestly, still don’t. Watch something else.” – Ben, Bloody Good Horror
“Director Rick Bota and screenwriter Carl V. Dupré brought their A game with inventive little twists and shocks all throughout the gory proceedings.” – Staci Layne Wilson, About.com
Cenobites Featured: Pinhead, Chatterer III, Bound II
Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) – Bradley Steps Down
IMDb Plot Synopsis: “Two friends discover a puzzle box in Mexico, which unleashes cenobite Pinhead.”
The tale of Hellraiser: Revelations has been well documented, so we won’t be lingering on it too long here. The option to continue releasing Hellraiser films was stipulated by a clause that a new film go into production and be released every few years. If the set time-frame were to lapse, the rights would revert back to the previous owner (presumably TransAtlantic). Now, for a franchise that hasn’t been given the royal treatment, it would seem Dimension might not be too concerned over losing the brand, but they were (until more recent issues) still actively pursuing the idea of a larger budget theatrical remake amidst all of these DTV releases. A string of writers and directors have pitched for the eventual reimagining, including Clive Barker who actually wrote a draft and submitted to the studio some years ago.
Nonetheless, much the same reason the upcoming Judgement went quietly into production, Revelations was the epitome of a rush job. Filmed for around $200k, shot in under two weeks, and working from the rough draft from longtime Hellraiser creative force, Gary J. Tunnicliffe – Revelations was a mess. Doug Bradley infamously refused to return once he understood the conditions of which the film was being put together. For some, it at least attempted to return to the original flavor of the series and abandoned the more Lynchian tones brought into the latter sequels. It was far too underbaked to make much of a lasting impression, however.
“Worthless, contractually-mandated greed on film.” – Scott Weinberg, FEARnet
Yes…I managed to find a positive review…
“Hellraiser: Revelations is a nifty and emotional[y] strong sequel that could have needed some more time fixing the slightly corny dialogue and a bit longer shooting schedule to be perfect, now it’s just a good little DTV movie with more ambitions than money.” – Ninja Dixon
Cenobites Featured: Pinhead, Female Cenobite, Pseudo Pinhead
So, it’s been a long and somewhat tumultuous journey for the Hellraiser franchise. Great potential has certainly been squandered in some cases while moments of the pure terror promised in the first film have managed to shine through on occasion. Come February 13th, we’ll be diving into the newest incarnation of Pinhead via actor Paul T. Taylor. With Hellraiser: Judgment, Gary J. Tunnicliffe has finally gotten the chance to jump behind the camera and direct a new chapter in the enduring franchise. Only time will tell where depths of hell take us from here.
SIDE NOTE: Most of the info found for this article was pulled from The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy by Paul Kane. It’s an exhaustive tome that covers the inception of Hellraiser through to Hellworld. It’s amazing the amount of detail Kane unearths from each of the different productions.