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.
The horror genre is typically dismissed as distasteful, uncultured schlock, and most of the time, it is. But every once in a while you get someone who crafts something a little off the beaten path, something that uses horror as a means to tell a story rather than just making another horror story. Clive Barker, known best as the author of such books as The Great and Secret Show, The Hellbound Heart, and Imajica used horror as a vessel and a tool to write compelling fantasy stories with intricate backstories and expansive worlds that live and breathe on their own. His stories had an air of sophistication about them. Sure there was blood spilled and guts strewn about, but the stories had human drama that was grounded in real world problems. From marital and family issues, to addiction and obsession (pick your poison: people, drugs, and faith were all under fire from Barker’s writing), to the cultural, class-based, and racial divide caused by the urban Chicago housing projects. Barker had a knack for weaving interesting, grounded tales together that used the macabre to elevate them. Also sex. Clive Barker stories have lots of sex in them.
Barker went through a film making phase in the ’80s and ’90s where he would adapt his own written stories to film. I think Barker’s thought process was that if his material was handled by anyone else, they would neuter it. They just didn’t know it as thoroughly as him. The Hellbound Heart was one of his most popular novellas at the time, so he adapted it into his debut feature length film: the 1987 horror masterpiece, Hellraiser.
This film is about the resurrection of Frank Cotton, a man obsessed with pursuing increasingly extreme carnal desires. After he purchases a mysterious puzzle box and solves it, he opens a gate to hell and promptly dies. His resurrection is brought about when his brother Larry injures himself while moving his family into Frank’s house. After cutting his hand on an old nail, Larry’s blood is spilled on the very floor where Frank held his last breath. Larry’s wife (and Frank’s ex-lover), Julia finds the rejuvenated-from-the-inside-out Frank, and decides to bring men back to the house and kill them, letting Frank consume their blood to slowly rebuild himself. All the while, Larry and Julia’s daughter, Kirsty has found the puzzle box and must deal with the Cenobites, a group of sadomasochistic inter-dimensional beings who cannot distinguish between pleasure and pain. The Cenobites are looking for Frank now that he is back in the material plane, and hope to find him to drag him back to hell once and for all.