Reviewed by Ross Hughes
Anticipation, hype, hope, memories of the good old previous films, I often think that these elements are one of the reasons why many horror sequels fail to live up to the core of the fans hearts. They want what they had before, but better. A need to be taken to the same pits of hell, to revisit old ground and to be scared all over again. Maybe that is the reason why I hate Zombie’s vision of Halloween so much is because of my love and passion of the original. I mean anyone could have directed that remake and my feelings would have been the same. Its the same with Halloween 2 by the man, maybe the film is not as bad has I make out, maybe I should give it a second chance and see it without giving in too my love of all things Carpenter. Nah! That film is a piece of grunge crap that insults everything that made the name Halloween the franchise it is, and I can not believe that he was giving money to spend on such a travesty piece of film that….
deep breath, relax, and focus!
Sorry about that, where was I?, what film was I reviewing? Ah yes! Anyhow, the fans of the Hellraiser franchise have been burnt by what went on in chapters 3 and 4. Even by looking at evil bill’s comment of the sequels in his last post that they can “burn in hell!” shows that from chapter 5 on, many would not give them the time of day. It seems that fans have just run out of patience with what they were offering and the fact that when Inferno hit the shelves, bypassing all cinema and setting for the straight to DVD market, then their minds were already up. If the previous sequels could hit the cinema and be a dud, then this surely should be….
They were wrong…..very VERY wrong…
Hellraiser: Inferno, is one the best discoveries I have made in the past year. An underrated gem that sadly got lost in hell and criminally ignored. What it does so wonderfully and totally unexpectedly is that it goes back to the core of the original Hellraiser, this is not about the cenobites or Pinhead, its about what is important, a character driven storyline that involves a cop and his discovery of the Lament Configuration. While the previous sequels expanded on the world created in the first Hellraiser and making Pinhead into a new Freddy, this completely wipes clean the slate, telling us that the power itself is this puzzle box, not what is in it! Yes Pinhead is in this film but only on screen for 10 minutes. I have said for the while that this evil force needs to be kept in the background for more effect and director Scott Derrickson must have shared the same feeling. Not only does it work beautifully but most importantly it makes Pinhead scary again. You actually believe in this creature and what he is capable of and when appears in the final moments of what is the BEST ENDING OF ALL HELLRAISERS, then you realise that the wait as all been worth it.
I have read this film being compared to the likes of Se7en and even Jacobs Ladder but one film that never seems to be included is 8mm, Inferno shares a lot with this movie, a cop, a case, and a journey of nightmare discoveries but unlike Cage who may have found redemption at the end of that snuff movie flick, there is no such joy for Detective Joseph Thorn (Craig Sheffer) who literally goes to hell and back again.
Thorn is a bad cop. Married with a child, he gets his kicks by driving around at night and sleeping with prostitutes, sometimes corrupt and loves to dabble at drugs, the only joy he has out of live is the fact his is good at his job, he feels regret at the way he is neglecting his family but its the way it is. A man uncomfortable to change for the better. He needs no magical box to open, he already is in hell and his lost soul has become quite attractive to what lies in the “real hell” and those demons are all set to pay him a visit. It starts with a case. Not a “normal case” like these films start with, but that of a mutilated chained up body and next to it a severed finger which seems to be from a young child. Also nearby is a box which Hellraiser fans know of as the Lament Configuration, which Thon picks up and puts in his pocket. That night, stressed and in need of a thrill, he picks up a hooker and has a night of lust and drugs in which afterwards he goes into the bathroom and starts to play with the box.
Its here that the film shows some sparkling dark humour in which Derrickson knows the world of Clive Barker. Thorn upon opening the box, ends up in a strange room, where he first encounters two cenobites who are a massive step up from previous films. Two what seem female, with blank expression faces and only a black tongue to show for, they corner the detective and start to caress him with they hands, but if you watch closely their hands are actually going into his body. Its a surreal image that is followed by a cenobite with no body that appears from behind the staircase. Thorn coming to his senses, runs from them and opens the door across the hall only to confronted by the one and only Pinhead. But before we start to think here we go again!” the film totally shocks us by sending out a message that is full of delight and freshness. What we are so used to with this Franchise is that whoever plays with the box and opens it, gets tortured by the cenobites or have to spend the rest of the film trying to send Pinhead and co back to where they came from. Its the standard procedure of the series that started with the original and carried on up to the 4th. Here, that notion is dismissed. When Thon encounters Pinhead for the first time, before the man with the pins can bore him to death with a long introduction of who he is and how much suffering he can cause, the detective wakes up, back in the bathroom. Its such a weird moment, that I was a bit stunned by the development. I don’t think I have ever seen a horror franchise move its traditional way of doing things so suddenly. Even thoughts in my head were going “this is not supposed to happen!” but it did, and for the first time since the second film, I found myself on an unknown path, and I have to say, a more than welcome one!
Thon leaves the hotel room with the hooker sleeping in bed and carries on investigating this bizarre case, and news comes through that the severed finger is that of a child and more worryingly is still alive. Events lead him to a serial killer called The Engineer which by the way I do not know if this is important-one of the cenobites in the original was actually called The Engineer-, whose reputation in this movie is that of a vicious killer who is behind all the vice and sex crimes in the city. Things get complicated when Thon sitting at his desk, has a phone call from the hooker back at the hotel room who starts screaming down the phone at being attacked. When he and his partner arrive at the scene, they find her murdered and Thon begins to realise that the warning he had of “those who seek The Engineer will find The Engineer coming after them” starting to come true……
And that is it, Thom is now in a world where nothing is what it seems, brutal surreal images plague his life, what is real and what is not cloud his judgement. One minute he is dreaming then he is not but finding what he dreamt about coming true right before his eyes. Its amazing that Clive Barker had no involvement in this film as its his blueprint and imagination that shines through proceedings. The look and feel of the film has a fascinating eeriness to it all, and there are some wonderful incidental imagery that even Lynch himself would have been proud of, the cowboys playing cards is something quite out of it and would not look too out of place in say Twin Peaks and it signals the thought and imagination that went on in the writing of this film.
We should also be praising the fact that they did not sell out to the fans and its no wonder Derrickson has gone on to direct bigger films like horror Emily Rose and The Day The Earth Stood Still. He also creates an Hellraiser first by not showing the need to show the gore. Most of the violence is done off camera, we are just left alone thinking of the horrors that are unfolding in our own minds and there are plenty of scenes that test our imagination
Sheffer would have been the weakest link, he starts a bit annoying and looking too much like David Boreanaz from Buffy fame, but when the film kicks in, you can not help but feel for the poor character especially when it comes to the mouth watering final reveal that shows the true extent of how evil Pinhead can be! Its here at this moment that you realise that what you watching more than anything here is a horror version of Groundhog Day and poor Thon is stuck in the cycle of it. There is a high quality of brutal efficiently displayed at the climax, one that dare I say makes you want to watch the film all over again, just so that you can see it all with a new outlook.
From Videotapes that play phantom footage to tattoos that come to life, Inferno is no doubt the best Hellraiser since the second, yes Pinhead is not hardly in it, but that is not the point. This harks back to the original in so many ways that it should be cherished for being totally bold and ambitious, two words that I often mentioned belonged to the first two films. I am not saying Inferno is one of the best horrors out there, but for a film that is fifth in a franchise, it shows enough intelligence and style to make it stand out from the rest, it has a story to tell, a character that we feel for, and a Pinhead that is back to his original design. In fact thinking of this now, maybe all fans should sit back and watch this before the original and sequel. At least then they come to appreciate the fact that Kirsty managed to escape her hell while poor Thorn has to swim in it, for all eternity….
OVERALL: Clive Barker would have been proud. A different direction but the same basic principle, Inferno is one of the lost tresures of the franchise, not just a very good sequel, but a damn good horror all round, a must for all those who neglected the franchise after the trip to space in part 4……….