Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

4 out of 5

Directed by: Anthony Hickox

The first Hellraiser will always hold the crown as, of course, the best; it is also a classic horror flick in its own right, even if it is a bad movie.  Clive Barker made a flick with passion, and that carries over into its overwrought-to-the-point-of-campy-believability tone and horrifically dreamlike imagery; no subsequent Hellraiser that I’ve seen comes close to that precise mixture of bravado and creativity that makes the original unique.

The sequel seemed to realize that Barker’s pain and pleasure pitch was a little wonky, and so focuses on the “pain” part and goes for full-on gonzo horror.  It’s entertaining, and appreciably tries to continue the story, but is also, like, a bad movie.

Hellraiser III?  No one’s pretending that this is anything more than a cash-in splash of 90s cliches.  But because of that awareness – and because of how very 1992 it is – it’s also the first Hellraiser that’s straight up enjoyable from start to finish.  To be clear, we couldn’t have this “freedom” to design cheesy-ass Cenobites with “tech” affectations like video cameras and CDs stuck in their heads and a one-line spewing Pinhead without the setup and tonal explorations provided by HR I and II, and I also wouldn’t likely consider this in such a positive light as a standalone flick, either.  But we do have the foundation of those preceding movies, and we are now a Dimension production – if that’s an indication of the type of crowd-pleasing “quality” we can expect – and the soundtrack is stuffed full of era-appropriate “metal” like Motörhead and Triumph.  The movie features bad boys with black slick hair who smoke real cool and model journalists after their big break story and teens-on-the-run in those skimpy outfits that I guess girls wore in the 90s, and a fun romp through the most tropey of set pieces – a rock club; a construction site; a church.

Bad boy J.P. (Kevin Bernhardt) is turned on to the “sculpture” we see at the end of HR II by one of his many girlfriends, skimpy-outfit wearing Terri (Paula Marshall), and said sculpture ends of something something massacring someone, which is spotted by up-and-coming reporter Joey (Terry Farrell) in a high-velocity opening sequence that gets right to the skin-ripping-with-chains business, before that sequence is never really mentioned again.  Joey tracks down our famous box, and is then prompted by dreams of Pinhead’s human side, Elliot Spencer (Doug Bradley), to put a stop to his unleashed demonic side.  This is actually, like, a fairly linear plot, that despite being written with dialogue culled strictly from a book of predictable dialogue lines, follows plausible in-context A to B logic.  Writer Peter Atkins is also keeping the previous two films in mind, speaking to the shift in focus in pain from that poorly explained pain/pleasure paradox, having Kirsty (Ashley Laurence) cameo to exposit some bits, and even tossing in an aside later on regarding the hilarious conception of the new Cenobites, which are clearly part of director Anthony Hickox’s visual agenda, here, along with kookily campy kills like something shot through someone’s face, then showing Joey’s reaction through the hole in that face, followed by a one-liner from the perpetrator.

Again, no one’s pretending like we’re working on art at this point.

The new grounds of computer effects haven’t aged well, of course, but there’s still a ton of practical stuff that’s great fun, and unleashing Pinhead’s most malicious side means we can just go all out in some sequences in ways we haven’t see before.  The whole last half hour or so is a fantastic flood of momentum and cheeky nonsense.  I would’ve been one of those dummies in the audience chuckling aloud and clapping during the credits, celebrating ticket money well spent, and I’m one of those dummies now, telling you that this is maybe probably the second best Hellraiser movie.  (Although a lot of non dummies would remind that that’s a pretty low bar.)