In 1987, Clive Barker introduced film audiences to a BDSM inspired experience unmatched in the horror genre. Based on the director’s novella, The Hellbound Heart, the blood-soaked film unleashed one of the most iconic characters in cinematic history, the torture-master, Pinhead (Priest, as far as Barker’s concerned).
Hellraiser wasn’t your typical frightfest and, fittingly, Pinhead wasn’t your typical antagonist. In fact, it could be argued that he wasn’t actually a villain. Think about it; Pinhead really only hurt those who asked for it when they unlocked the puzzle box. Check out Hellbound: Hellraiser II for my reasoning: when Tiffany (Imogen Boorman) is used by Dr. Philip Channard (Kenneth Cranham) to solve the puzzle, Pinhead knows it wasn’t her intent that brought him and his fellow Cenobites but the bad doctor’s. He’s not a mindless killing machine like Jason Vorhees (Friday the 13th) or Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre); he’s not a psychopathic murder who just wants to watch blood run like Chucky (Child’s Play) nor is he out for revenge like Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street). If he’s there for you it’s because you called for him, whether or not you realize what you’ve done. He must be invited in like Dracula so if you fall asleep or take a dip in a crystal lake, you won’t end up sliced and diced but if play with the wrong puzzle, count yourself screwed.
Sadly, out of nine Hellraiser films, only four (maybe five) of them are actually worth watching. The original trilogy and Hellraiser: Revelations (number nine) should be required viewing while Hellraiser: Bloodlines, while not terrible, it’s not necessarily must- see aside from the history of the Lament Configuration (that’s the name of the puzzle box, just so y’all know) due to the unsuccessful attempt merging horror and science fiction. Honestly, if you’re not hunting xenomorphs, you’re not gonna pull it off; not every franchise can do what Alien did so stop trying, really. As for Inferno, Hellseeker, Deader and Hellworld… bloody terrible should’ve-aborted crapshoots that only dragged Pinhead’s name through the mud while they held his pointed head under the muck.
Total attempted murder.
The fourth to the eighth films may have Pinhead (all, shockingly, played by the man who brought the domination-extremist to life in the first, classic film, Doug Bradley) they were in no way true Hellraiser movies, which may have something to do with the fact that they started out as Pinheadless horrors. Yeah, the studio was so desperate for Pinhead-money and keeping the film rights they bastardized the essence of Hellraiser and forced the leather-clad kinkster into completely unrelated films; square peg, round hole sort of thing.
Laziness almost killed the entire franchise. Laziness and greed.
Eventually we got a Hellraiser film that actually began life as a Hellraiser film but some people feel it was too rushed and not having Bradley definitely hurt. But, hey, at least it showed an upswing, yeah? With everything it had against it there was every chance it could’ve put the final nail in the coffin but, surprisingly, it turned the tide and turned out to be a pretty decent flick.
But, again, the four before it were not so much good as… eww. Hellraiser’s grand mistake was injecting its star into things he wasn’t meant to appear in instead of building a proper story around him that really played to his strengths and history or at least including him in the bloody process. You can’t add something as important as a series’ main protagonist without the finished product, and the franchise as a whole, suffering. Even though sequels are, at least in part, produced to make another round of fan-cash by invoking fond memories of what came before, they should never be an obvious cash-in. When Hellraiser was slapped onto the scripts’ covers, it was simply to draw in those diehard fans hungry for more but what we got was something lacking the spirit of the older films and a sour taste that made us weary of the following installments.
When you lose the essence of a series, that “something special” that made it worthwhile and fans can see hearts aren’t in what they’re seeing. They see that profit was more important than artistry and creativity and that’s something not easily forgotten; A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddie’s Revenge and Halloween III: Season of the Witch are proof that fan-fleecing will make haters of fans and twenty-plus years later those abominations are still reviled. Hellraiser 5 to 8 are, and will continue you to, similarly remembered as attempts at cash grabs that lead to the near death of a beloved franchise. Revelations did its damndest to bring Pinhead back from cinematic hell (though I have my issues with the ending) but the real test will be the forthcoming Judgement due to release 2017; if it can improve on Revelations reforms and bring us closer to the Pinhead we love and fear, Hellraiser can resurrect much like the it’s demonic star.
Pinhead claims to be eternal. Don’t make a liar out of him.