AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 26th October, from ARROW VIDEO in HELLRAISER: THE SCARLET BOX, a limited edition run of 5,000 four disc sets
RUNNING TIME: 97/94 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Rich and arrogant nightclub owner J.P.Monroe buys the Pillar Of Souls in which Pinhead, the other Cenobites and the puzzle box are trapped. Some time later, ambitious young TV reporter Joey Summerskill witnesses a teenage clubber being ripped apart by the box’s chains in a hospital emergency room, and befriends Terry, a witness who is actually Monroe’s ex and who stole the box from the Pillar, in order to find out more, in the process unearthing some scary information about the history of the box and the Pillar. Pinhead is revived when chains rip into a girl who Monroe sleeps with and the Pillar devours her, but he’s still stuck in the pillar and needs Monroe to bring him somebody else so he can be freed from it….
Generally regarded as a major drop in quality after the first two Hellraiser pictures [though the seeds of this film are in some ways sown in the weak final quarter of Hellbound], I recall loving it at the cinema myself and remaining rather fond of it for some time after but, after watching it with [I like to think] more mature eyes, I do have to come to the conclusion that no, it isn’t anywhere near as good as its two predecessors. Taken on its own it’s a quite a fun, gory ride that is rarely dull, but the aim to make a Hellraiser film that would appeal to a broader audience [which backfired anyway] meant that the result lost some of the things that made the first two films unique, and some of the time IT doesn’t even feel much like a Hellraiser film at all. The blood flows probably even more frequently than in Hellbound, but in doing their best to drastically tone down the more daring elements of the series, they ended up with something where for much of the time you could have almost replaced Pinhead and co. with other monsters and you wouldn’t know the difference. It doesn’t even attempt to follow the rules set by the first two. The best thing to do with Hellraiser 3 is to try to forget, as much as you can, about Hellraiser and Hellbound, and then it may come across a bit better. It is a fairly entertaining watch with an increasingly tongue in cheek nature and lots of creative deaths. I just don’t think it’s very ‘Hellraiser’ at all, and Barker must have found watching it something of an ordeal!
The first Hellraiser film made outside the UK, Hellraiser 3 was, as New World were folding, produced by former New World executive Larry Kuppin who formed Trans Atlantic Entertainment to mostly make sequels to New World films, and it was later picked up by Miramax. Barker’s initial idea was to link the puzzle box with ancient Egypt and the Pyramids, but writer Peter Aitkins decided instead to adapt a less ambitious Barker premise about Pinhead being trapped as a relic in a church. Aitkins was originally intended to direct, but Miramax wanted somebody with more experience. Randel was signed up, but, not liking the direction this new film was going in, soon walked. Peter Jackson then turned it down before Anthony Hickox took the job. Kuppin forced much rewriting from Aitkins, including much reduction of dark content and the addition of new Cenobites quite late in the day. Ludicrously, Barker was paid not to work on the film, then paid again later on to have his name on the posters. The Boiler Room nightclub actually existed but it was deemed easier to build a set, while no church would give the crew permission to film a scene of Pinhead in a church so they realised the scene with a few props and a matte painting. The film was made on a somewhat larger budget than the first two, and heavily promoted by Miramax, but only did mediocre box office. The US version was cut by almost four minutes, losing, for some reason, five very short scenes [mostly set in the nightclub], some of a sex scene, and lots of gore, mostly from the nightclub massacre and the World War 1 flashback. Amazingly, the UK cinema release contained all this footage except a few massacre shots, and even they were put back into the video release.
Young’s calmer opening music from the first film returns before going into the dramatic variant of the same theme, then we open with Monroe buying the Pillar Of Souls from a derelict who is probably meant to be the one in the first film though is played by a different actor. Unfortunately, I could not get out of my mind the fact that the pillar here looks very different from when it was seen at the end of Hellbound, something emphasised later on in a flashback when we see both pillars in different shots! I guess we’re supposed to assume that it can change, but it seems a bit daft. Anyway, soon after this we get a very strong scene where our reporter heroine Joey is walking down a hospital corridor, the lights dim, and a trolley is rushed past her and into an emergency room where she managed to see the occupant being ripped apart from chains. As before, it’s quite graphic – we see the whole body explode – but its notable how differently Hickox handles the sequence, with the cutting being much faster and in the way that many modern filmmakers would have done it. After this the script opts, like in many of the old Hammer Draculas, to delay its chief monster’s resurrection for as long as possible, spending lots of time on linking this film to previous episodes [a rather thankless, considering she’s blurred, cameo from Kirsty Lawrence], a developing friendship between Joey and Terry the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and the supremely unpleasant Monroe, but there’s little mounting tension until Pinhead is finally free, and the mayhem can begin.
And what mayhem it is, with a nightclub massacre that is full of memorable and startling deaths, though the tone abruptly changes from serious to something goofier, as if Hickox suddenly thought he was still making a Waxwork film, and I couldn’t reconcile this Pinhead, who indiscriminately murders loads of people, with the previous version of the character. We’re told that he’s actually now split into two entities. There’s his human self who is now lost in limbo [cue for Joey to have some fairly well handled dream scenes initially involving her dead father – a plot strand later forgotten about – in Vietnam which become dreams of Capt. Elliott Spenser in World War 1]. And there’s Pinhead who is now a murderous evil villain. However, the crass simplification of the whole Hellraiser premise, and breaking of its rules like Cenobites not harming the truly innocent, and the Cenobites being able to be summoned or banished only by the box, is a great shame. It leaves one with a real feeling of dumbing down. Then of course you also get these silly new Cenobites, one of whom throws CDs [yes, CDs] that slice people up, and another one who launches missiles [yes, missiles] from the lens buried in his head. All this still results in a huge amount of gore, but it’s more the kind of gore where you go: “Wow, that’s a cool death scene” , rather than making you feel uncomfortable, while some of it is rendered with early CGI which, as we all know, dates more than most old-school ways of doing special effects. There’s little that disturbs, and the twisted sexuality which is really an integral part of the Hellraiser world is reduced to Monroe smoking a cigarette as he has sex with a girl whom he’s tied up.
There are still some effective scenes of course. The early death of the first victim, her skin being pulled off before being pulled into the statue, is quite startling, there’s a great, almost surreal merging of the two Pinheads near the end, and seeing Pinhead in a church, standing behind an altar crying:”I am the way” is a memorable image. Doug Bradley relishes the chance for Pinhead to be given centre stage, and delivers his increased dialogue expertly as well as being very good as his human self, but the character, despite slaying everyone in sight, even begins to become funny, which is the beginning of the death knell for any horror icon, largely because he ceases to be scary, and it certainly doesn’t work for Pinhead [whereas I feel that it partially worked for Freddy Krueger up to a point if you take those films as fun romps]. All this probably sounds like I seriously disliked Hellraiser 3 and it isn’t really the case. The characters are mostly well drawn – I especially liked Terry, a good hearted but easily led girl who has become lost in life, and her mindset and situation is nicely contrasted with Joey’s confidence and drive – while Kevin Bernhardt is supremely effective in making J.P. into the loathsome individual that he is. I couldn’t, though, work out whether Daniel “Doc” Fisher, a cameraman who assists Joey, was supposed to come across as being so thoroughly dim or whether it was extremely poor acting by Ken Carpenter the guy playing him!
Hickox’s direction is often punchy, though I missed those long takes that were a feature of the earlier films, and overall the film doesn’t have a particularly strong look, almost coming across as drab. Composer Randy Miller [it was obviously too expensive to get Christopher Young back] relies a great deal on Young’s memorable themes and mostly keeps the orchestration the same, though his own material is forgettable. From jarring tonal shifts to muddled writing, I don’t think that they [“they” being largely the studio, since we know that the first script draft was very different to what ended up on screen] really knew what to do with Hellraiser 3. If they wanted to make the film for a younger audience then why still have all this gore and pretend that, for the first half, things should still all be taken seriously, while, if they wanted to retain the Hellraiser fans, why did they almost seem to go out of their way to contradict things in Hellraiser and Hellbound and cheapen Barker’s disturbing but compelling world of pain and pleasure? I still enjoyed Hellraiser 3 up to a point, though maybe that was partly because I needed lightening up a bit after its grim predecessors. And it does have a killer of a end twist, a killer final shot which doesn’t make much sense but leaves one feeling a bit shaken and unnerved [exactly how one should after watching a Hellraiser film]….until they “explained” it in the fourth movie!
And his look at the later films in the series.
I chose to watch the ‘ Alternate Unrated Version’ of Hellraiser 3 which is tucked away with the special features, rather than the ‘Original Theatrical Version’. The rather dull looking movie certainly looks as good as possible – in fact technically the picture quality is probably superior to that of Hellraiser and Hellbound – though Arrow obviously couldn’t find the original materials for all the extra footage, meaning that occasionally, though not as often as you might think – the uncut sex scene and nightclub massacre are in HD – the picture shifts to 1.33.1 and looks far less good. It’s a little jarring, but Arrow obviously did the best with what they had. The special features aren’t quite as extensive as before but do feature a new commentary in addition to an old one, and the making-of documentary nicely continues the stle of Leviathan.
The set has apparently already sold out, but it seems that Arrow intend to release the films as standalone Blu-rays at some point soon.
4-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
*Brand new 2K restorations of Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
*Uncompressed PCM Stereo 2.0 and Lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound for Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II
*DTS-HD MA 2.0 sound for Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
*English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for all three films
*Limited Edition bonus disc
*Exclusive 200-page hardback book with new writing from Clive Barker archivists Phil and Sarah Stokes
*20-page booklet featuring never-before-seen original Hellraiser concept art
*Limited Edition packaging with new artwork from Gilles Vranckx
*Set of 5 exclusive art cards
*Fold-out reversible poster
DISC 1 – HELLRAISER
*Brand new 2K restoration approved by director of photography Robin Vidgeon
*Audio commentary with writer/director Clive Barker
*Audio commentary with Barker and actress Ashley Laurence
*Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser – brand new version of the definitive documentary on the making of Hellraiser, featuring interviews with key cast and crew members
*Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellraiser – actor Sean Chapman talks candidly about playing the character of Frank Cotton in Barker’s original
*Soundtrack Hell: The Story of the Abandoned Coil Score – Coil member Stephen Thrower on the Hellraiser score that almost was
*Hellraiser: Resurrection – vintage featurette including interviews with Clive Barker, actors Doug Bradley and Ashley Laurence, special make-up effects artist Bob Keen and others
*Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser
*Original EPK featuring on-set interviews with cast and crew
*Draft Screenplays [BD-ROM content]
*Trailers and TV Spots
DISC 2 – HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II
*Brand new 2K restoration approved by director of photography Robin Vidgeon
*Audio Commentary with director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins
*Audio Commentary with Randel, Atkins and actress Ashley Laurence
*Leviathan: The Story of Hellbound: Hellraiser II – brand new version of the definitive documentary on the making of Hellbound, featuring interviews with key cast and crew members
*Being Frank: Sean Chapman on Hellbound – actor Sean Chapman talks about reprising the role of Frank Cotton in the first Hellraiser sequel
*Surgeon Scene – the home video world premiere of this legendary, never before-seen excised sequence from Hellbound, sourced from a VHS workprint
*Lost in the Labyrinth – vintage featurette including interviews with Barker, Randel, Keen, Atkins and others
*Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellbound: Hellraiser II
*On-set interview with Clive Barker
*On-set interviews with cast and crew
*Rare and unseen storyboards
*Draft Screenplay [BD-ROM content]
*Trailers and TV Spots
DISC 3 – HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH
*Brand new 2K restoration of the Original Theatrical Version [93 mins]
*Alternate Unrated Version [97 mins]
*Brand new audio commentary with writer Peter Atkins
*Audio commentary with director Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley
*Hell on Earth: The Story of Hellraiser III – making-of documentary featuring interviews with Atkins, Keen and actor Ken Carpenter
*Time with Terri – brand new interview with actress Paula Marshall
*Under the Skin: Doug Bradley on Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
*Raising Hell on Earth – archival interview with Hickox
*On-set interviews with Barker and Bradley
*Never-before-seen Hellraiser III SFX dailies
*Hellraiser III comic book adaptation [Disc gallery]
DISC 4 – THE CLIVE BARKER LEGACY – LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE
*Clive Barker short films Salomé and The Forbidden
*Books of Blood & Beyond: The Literary Works of Clive Barker – horror author David Gatward provides a tour through Barker’s written work, from the first Books of Blood to the recent The Scarlet Gospels
*Hellraiser: Evolutions – a brand new documentary looking at the evolution of the hit horror franchise and its enduring legacy, featuring interviews with Scott Derrickson [director, Hellraiser: Inferno], Rick Bota [director, Hellraiser: Hellseeker, Deader and Hellworld], Stuart Gordon [director, Re-Animator, From Beyond] and others
*The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith – short film