Paramount // 1992 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // October 10th, 2006
J.P. Monroe: Jesus Christ!
Pinhead: Not quite.
Finally, we can fill the hole in our Hellraiser collections here in North America with an official Region One release of the third installment of the horror series. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is the only installment where Pinhead gets center stage the entire running time, and for that reason alone it has many fans. It's not the best of the batch (I reserve that slot for the original), but the film has dark charms that should satisfy any fan of acupuncture's worst poster boy. Pinhead rules, and I can't think of a better man to spend a dark evening with in front of the television. But some things nag me about this release from Paramount, and someone will have to pay with their flesh before it's all over.
Sometime after the events that concluded Hellraiser II: Hellbound, Pinhead the demon is trapped in a gruesome statue. Enter a kinky, slightly sadomasochistic club owner named J.P. (Kevin Bernhardt, The Immortals) who purchases the twisted art piece to decorate his trendy S&M-inspired bar. J.P. has no idea what he has purchased until he accidentally bleeds a little on the statue, and starts to bring to life Mr. Pinhead (Doug Bradley, who plays the character in every episode). A reporter (Terry Farrell, Deep Space 9) witnesses a victim of the statue who mysteriously is ripped apart by chains in a hospital emergency room, and soon she's on the trail of J.P. and the demon. She teams up with his ex-girlfriend (Paula Marshall, Veronica Mars); together they begin to piece together the puzzle box. Also haunting the reporter's dreams is the human side of Pinhead named Captain Elliot Spencer, who was separated from the demon at the conclusion of the second movie. He's there to help everyone fight the Cenobite revolution that is inevitable in the climax. Also look out for previous heroine Kristy, who makes a brief video appearance in a nod to the two previous films.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth solely belongs to Doug Bradley as Pinhead and his human incarnation. He gives the proceedings more gravity than they deserve, and goes all out to make Pinhead a slasher star. The script turns his supernatural character in to a stalker of the human cast, but he does everything with panache and glee. You won't mind that the movie rips off Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th instead of offering us the intellectual sex horror of the opening two chapters. Bradley is fun as the witty, urbane, human pin cushion who unleashes hellish torture devices on his unsuspecting victims.
So we have Doug Bradley stealing the film easily out from under a paper thin plot and mundane machinations. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is an entertaining trip, but its vision of hell seems sillier than what was originally crafted. In the climax we get new Cenobites which all seem laughable -- CD man, cigarette woman, camera dude, and barb wire face. They aren't scary, but kudos for trying something new. Miramax had purchased the rights for this film and the franchise, so they demanded changes to make it all more mainstream. It doesn't really work in the long run.
The problem with this installment is that it jettisons the sexual miasma of the original, and discards the Alice in Wonderland vibe of the immediate sequel. The sexuality so crucial to what came before is worn as simply as sleeves. It's all fashion, and not fleshly desire that drives J.P. and his crowd. There's no intellectual heft; hell is unleashed rather unspectacularly when compared to the erotic nightmares of Barker's vision. Yet still, this film feels more in tune with the series than what came afterwards with the remaining theatrical release of Hellraiser: Bloodline and the never-ending, straight-to-DVD sequels.
This DVD release provides us with the original theatrical cut, and not the director's version which ran four minutes longer. The anamorphic transfer holds up well, but does exhibit softness and grain at certain points. The Dolby stereo mix is true to the original release but doesn't offer much bombast in the climax. Included is a vintage featurette which is ten years old, and provides Barker speaking pompously about his work while puffing a cigar in a leather jacket. Some of the clips of his early work and products will be of interest to fans, but it hardly illuminates anything about the feature. Also offered is a fullscreen trailer from the original marketing campaign. Missing is any cut footage, and no commentary such as the one featured in a European box set which is now extremely hard to find. At least we have the film domestically, but the wait proved to be not worth it for the extras.
If you're a diehard Pinhead enthusiast this installment is worth ten bucks at your local DVD store. Doug Bradley provides your money's worth even if the rest of the film seems pedestrian. The Paramount Region One DVD offers the truncated cut for American audiences, and merely a vintage Clive Barker documentary to round things out. Hardly a special edition, but solid enough. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth makes for a fun evening of one-liners from one of the screen's most unique horror icons. He'll tear your soul apart, and convert you into a demonic slaughterhouse DVD machine flinging Criterion discs into your hapless, fullscreen-buying victims. Now there's a Cenobite for the new era.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Featurette: Clive Barker The Art of Horror
* Original Trailer