The Cenobites in the Hellraiser series have always talked about how at extremes, pleasure and pain are indistinguishable from each other. Well folks, we’re less than halfway through this franchise and I’m definitely feeling the pain way more than any pleasure.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is the next in line of the progressively worsening Hellraiser films I’m trying to work my way through. It takes place some indeterminate amount of time after Hellbound, the second film, and generally has very little to do with its predecessors.
After being trapped in the Pillar of Souls at the end of Hellraiser II, Pinhead is trying to escape his prison so that he may roam free on the material plane, no longer bound by the rule of Leviathan, whom he served under in Hell. While physically weak, he begins to manipulate a local nightclub owner and general scumbag J.P. Monroe to fetch him human souls after attempting to beguile (and consequently slaughtering) some other, weaker-willed people. Once free, Pinhead must find and destroy the Lament Configuration, an occult puzzle box and the only thing that can banish him back to Hell. Joey, a young reporter has witnessed the aftermath of what the Lament Configuration can do, and after getting her hands on the puzzle box, is intrigued in following the story to its bloody ends.
Now, I really like the first Hellraiser movie. I even dug the sequel. Together they provided a rich, detailed (if under-explained) lore and world in which Pinhead and his Cenobites reside in. While being campy late ’80s horror flicks, they had an air of sophistication and intelligence about them that most other franchises lacked. Unfortunately for us, By the time Hellraiser III came around, its creators somehow decided to begin turning the franchise into a mediocre slasher series. I think Hell on Earth is going to be the tipping point of the franchise, turning from being films about twisted, unhealthy characters with obscene desires and imaginative fantasy lore into films that show off all the different ways Pinhead and his posse can kill young attractive
cardboard cut outs actors.
At least, when the people who made this movie decided to make this film about Cenobites killing people in over the top ways, they hit it, hard. In the context of a ’90s slasher film, they understood that the dumb teenagers who were filling the theater seats at the time pretty much only cared about the various gruesome ways a demonic entity from Hell can dispose of people. While about as tonally far away from the source material as it can get, Hellraiser III does dish out the goods when it comes to the kills. Any time Pinhead’s chains make an appearance, you can be sure that what follows will be nothing short of horrifying. Skinnings, impalement and dismemberment are all shown without shying away, and the nightclub massacre has got to go down as one of the best sequences in a slasher flick I’ve seen in a long time. All the while, Doug Bradley continues his reign of terror as the living embodiment of Pinhead. His voice and physical presence on screen is just as good as it has ever been, and he fully embraces how ridiculous this movie is. Letting Pinhead go crazy on the general populace, no longer shackled by Hell was a fun little romp to have, as you can definitely tell Doug Bradley cuts loose and chews the scenery a lot more than usual. In spite of the cheese factor, Bradley still dominates the scene anytime he steps in to frame. It’s just a bit of a shame that his dialogue is significantly dumbed down from that of the past two films.
Therein lies Hellraiser III’s biggest problem for me: the dialogue. I knew immediately that Clive Barker had nothing to do with the script of this film other than the inclusion of the characters from the first two films because the writing in this movie is just terrible. It’s choppy and stilted and feels like an old studio executive tried to write for young, hip, 20-something year old characters. It doesn’t help that most of the actors (honestly pretty much everyone except Doug Bradley) feel like they dropped right out of acting school. The cringe-inducing writing blended with the off-deliveries from the actors all adds up to a frustrating experience watching the slower paced, conversation heavy scenes.
Another small thing I will give this film credit for is that once it really gets going, it goes from zero to one hundred in record speed, and doesn’t let up for the majority of the second half of its runtime. It’s campy, cheesy, dumb, and whatever else you want to call it, but seeing all the new Cenobites descent on Joey is a fever dream of a joy to watch. Any semblance to the legitimately disturbing and scary Cenobites that served Pinhead in the last movies is gone. Instead we get Camerahead, a man with a camera lodged in his head that juts out of his eye, or Barbie, an ex-bartender who throws gasoline cocktails and breathes fire, or CD, a once-DJ who has a CD dispenser in his torso which he uses to throw CDs at his victims like shurikens, Yes, all of these Cenobites totally exist, and CD, while probably being the dumbest thing ever put to film, got me to sincerely laugh out loud over how absurd he is.
While this movie has its moments of being so bad that it’s good in addition to Doug Bradley’s excellent-as-always performance, a majority of it is just rather bland and boring. Hellraiser III has even less to do with the original than the second in the series, and seems to muddle up the Cenobite lore a little bit along the way. The high points in this movie are high enough that I believe it to be worth it to seek this one out if you haven’t seen it. If you’re looking for another well fleshed out fantasy horror film out of this entry into the Hellraiser franchise, you’ll definitely be disappointed. Take this as a stupid early ’90s slasher flick and you’ll enjoy it much more.