3 out of 5
Directed by: Rick Bota
Another long running franchise next to Hellraiser – Halloween – found itself doing the “modern,” tech-savvy, genre-aware, multi-sexxxed-up-teens Dimension slasher approach in the abysmal Halloween: Resurrection in 2002 seven years after Hellraiser: Hellworld kinda sorta did it first. In film, seven years, starting from the 90s onward – when computer effects and the internet started to more quickly evolve – is a long enough time to rather severely advance technology, and trends, such that we’d expect Hellworld to seem dated in comparison, tossing its featured 20somethings into some vaguely defined online game versus Resurrection’s… uh, vaguely defined online video stream TV webshow. And yet, while H:R was dated before it came out, Hellworld still holds up as something moderately comparable to experiences one could get in to nowadays. The “rules” of Hellworld are non-existent, which helps, and what we see of the “game” appears to be, like, a spinning cube that you just shout at on your computer screen, but never mind all that – it works as believable (in context) bait to gather our cast for some Cenobite fun. And by playing that same sort of open-endedness with its dedication to Hellraiser tenets, instead of making you smack your forehead repeatedly and swear at forced attempts of tying into franchise history, it also ends up working as an acceptable entry in the series. Furthermore, like Inferno before it – another movie that used Hellraiser more as a frame than something to really dig in to – it’s actually a pretty good horror movie on its own terms, iterating effectively on what seems like a generic structure and those Dimension stereotypes. It lacks Inferno’s stronger visuals and deeper dive into the conceptual – there is, admittedly, zero attempt at exploring Hellraiser themes – but it has a young Henry Cavill, and an acceptable cast of likable-enough teens. And Lance Henricksen!
In Hellworld, several friends reconvene for an event for the titular online game, two years after another friend – Adam – committed suicide whilst obsessing over said game. The briefest of flashbacks suggests this occurred via some kind of ritual, and the briefest of dialogue along the way lets us know that Hellworld is based on… Hellraiser. There’s a box; you open it; Pinhead comes. These kids know the “rules” – a year before Scream made that a thing – but also know (or “know”) that it’s all fiction; there’s guilt over Adam’s death, but also blame in that he should’ve known it was just a game. Lance Henricksen is the host of this Hellworld party, and he takes an instant shine to our guests, showing them around a house of horrors and explaining the night’s festivities, which are, again, very vaguely defined. To the extent that they are stupid: masks and cellphones would seem to function like keys-in-a-bowl at a swinger’s party, but this is all pretty unimportant except as window dressing for “wild teen sex party” atmospherics. Soon enough, the kids get separated, start to experience weird sights and sounds, and then Cenobites start to pop up. Is the host Pinhead? Is everyone actually dead? The movie pulls several “and then…!”s toward the end, which, understandably, pissed off some Hellraiser dedicants, as it essentially abuses the franchise for its own purposes, but if we just focus on the most open-ended definition of Pinhead and crew bringing Hell to people who mess with the box… well, I’m okay with it. It’s not like any of the flicks have had a great grasp on what it’s all about anyway.
Rick Bota’s direction has the same confidence shown in Deader (logically, since they were filmed at the same time), though it also includes the same “cool” editing shots here and there. These do seem more fitting for this flick’s style, though, and they’re mostly kept at a minimum. The effects and Cenobites are also better and more interesting here, with some fun makeup work when things start to go especially awry for our party attendees. A satisfying outro for the Bota wave of ‘Raisers.