With the news that Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson is heading off to the magical land of Labyrinth, we look back and review the time he directed a Hellraiser film.
Inferno may have its critics and to this day is still neglected by most of the horror crowd, but for a tiny few, its one of the most underappreciated entries in the much loved franchise…..
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 my dislike for Rob Zombie’s vision of Halloween is so strong because of my undying love and passion for the original. I mean anyone could have directed that remake and my feelings would have been the same.
When I reviewed all the Hellraiser films for a now defunct webpage, I vividly remember a comment from a fan of the franchise who simply posted “all the sequels can burn in hell”, which was followed by many replies from others all agreeing the same.
While I agree that the many sequels failed to live up to the first two films of the Pin Head saga, I will admit and say there are moments in each follow up that sparkle with creative horror delights that have been forgotten due to the rest of the film’s failings.
After the box office failure of Hellraiser 4 or as most fans call it “the one in space”, the franchise ended up going down the route of Straight to Rental and by then many fans had made their mind up. What hope did Inferno have when it was released way back in the year 2000?
With films like Sinister and Marvel’s very own Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson take on the Hellraiser mythology is one of the best discoveries within horror. An underrated gem that sadly got lost in hell and criminally ignored.
Inferno is a Hellraiser sequel that done some thing unexpected. After the attempt of making it more like an Elm St flick in Part 3 and then go for a grand mythology in part 4, the plot of part 5 scaled back its own ambition and went back to the core of the original Hellraiser.
The plot wasn’t about the cenobites or Pinhead, instead focusing on a character driven storyline that involves a cop and his discovery of the Lament Configuration. While the previous sequels tried too hard by either turning the franchise into a full slasher mode, this completely wiped clean the slate, telling us that the power itself is this puzzle box, not what is in it!
Pinhead had become the more central figure in the sequels, a forever presence which made his impact less threatening. Here he basically has 10 minute screen time and it works beautifully because it makes him feel scary again, a bogeyman that horror fans can lap up once more with adulation.
This entry has been compared to the likes of Se7en and even Jacobs Ladder but one film that never seems to be included is 8mm, as Inferno shares a lot in common with the Nicolas Cage 90’s cult fav, but unlike Tom Welles who finds redemption after watching that snuff movie, there is no such luck for poor Detective Joseph Thorn (Craig Sheffer) who literally goes to hell and back.
Thorn is a bad, corrupt cop. Married with a child who gets his kicks by driving around at night, sleeping with prostitutes, and loves to dabble with 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 carries on regardless,
He is a man uncomfortable to change for the better who needs no magical box to open as he is already walking around in a real life living hell, whose damaged soul will attract those who are willing to have it.
It starts with a case. A mutilated chained up body is discovered next to a severed finger which seems to be from a young child. Nearby is a familiar looking box which the viewers will recognise as the Lament Configuration, which of course Thon, finds and stupidly takes it home.
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 the much required dark horror in which Derrickson proves he 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.
The two female kind creatures have blank faces and only a black tongue to show for, and as they corner Thorn, they 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 rightly fits into the world of Hellraiser.
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.
Most of the films so far have all followed the same sort of blueprint. whoever plays with the box and opens it, gets tortured by Pinhead and co and then spend the rest of the film trying to send them back from where they came from. Its the standard plot of the series that started with the original and carried on up to the fourth but here, Derrickson goes for a different approach which is more than refreshing/
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 strange imagery that even Lynch himself would have been proud of. One particular scene of some cowboys playing cards is something that would not look out of place in an episode of 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 as he shows a deft touch with his camera work.
He also created 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 are often mentioned when talking about 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 as its a standalone story, you won’t go too wrong in watching this entry straight after the original two, because at least then you’ll come to appreciate the fact that Kirsty managed to escape her hell while poor Thorn has to swim in it, for all eternity….