Case Number 22642: Small Claims Court

THE HELLRAISER COLLECTION

Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 1992 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Hellraiser: Bloodline
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 1996 // 85 Minutes // Rated R
Hellraiser: Inferno
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 2000 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Hellraiser: Hellseeker
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 2002 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Hellraiser: Deader
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 2005 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Hellraiser: Hellworld
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 2005 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 31st, 2011

The Charge

"I have such pleasures to show you."

The Case

I was chatting with a friend on the subject of horror movies recently. Eventually, Clive Barker's Hellraiser came up, and my friend made a confession: "You know, I rewatched that recently -- and honestly, I didn't care for it that much this time around. It's really just not a particularly good movie." He agreed with my suggestion that it was a film containing some interesting ideas and memorable images, but insisted that the presentation of those ideas just wasn't as compelling as it should have been. I happen to like the original Hellraiser, but I certainly understand where he's coming from. In truth, I think I like Hellraiser primarily because of the tantalizingly weird ideas it delivers to us via a series of brief, nightmarish flickers. I find what it promises more compelling than what it actually delivers. I don't like the second film quite as much, but it also continued to suggest that Barker's dark universe contained fascinating depths. As such, I was actually sort of curious about The Hellraiser Collection, which bafflingly collects the six additional sequels that followed the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Hellbound: Hellraiser II.

Yes, I know perfectly well that the law of diminishing returns applies more unrelentingly to horror sequels than to any other genre. And yes, I realize that the percentage of straight-to-DVD horror films (which the Hellraiser sequels are from the fifth installment onward) that are actually decent is terrifyingly low. Even so, I couldn't help but wonder what other filmmakers might do with Barker's savagely loopy ideas. Where do you take a figure as inexplicable as Pinhead? He's certainly not as easily categorized as most of the genre's bloodthirsty icons.

Oh, how mistaken I was to think that digging through this set might actually be an interesting experience. The more the filmmakers attempt to explain about Pinhead's past and the history of the Cenobites, the less interesting it becomes. By the time I was done with the box set, I was perfectly content with the notion of never seeing another Cenobite again. The assorted filmmakers work hard to find ways to transform this seemingly untamed franchise into something increasingly generic, and they slowly but surely transform the initially fascinating Pinhead into a pretentious bore.

The initial pattern goes something like this: Pinhead makes a dramatic entrance, makes some increasingly ridiculous speeches about the notion that pleasure and pain are indistinguishable, torments some people and is eventually sent back to hell when somebody figures out how to work that famous puzzle box. Naturally, these events are presented in a variety of different ways (for instance, Hellraiser: Bloodline features an astronaut creating a giant space-laser version of the lament configuration), but the cumulative effect is that Pinhead eventually begins to feel like a dumb windbag. Once the character has been thoroughly explained (and thus robbed of his mystique), his proclamations start to sound oh-so-silly:

Pinhead (looking at earth): "Glorious, is it not? The creatures who walk its surface, always looking to the light, never seeing the untold oceans of darkness beyond. There are more humans alive today than in all of its pitiful history. A garden of Eden. A garden of flesh."

Once we hit the direct-to-video sequels, the films begin to feel less like Hellraiser movies than entirely unrelated straight-to-video horror flicks into which Pinhead has been clumsily inserted. Arguably the worst instance of this is Hellraiser: Inferno, which plays like an awful, agonizingly overlong episode of The Twilight Zone (with a forgettable Pinhead appearance that lasts all of sixty seconds). I don't even want to think about Hellraiser: Hellseeker, which returns Ashley Lawrence to the series and quickly demolishes any goodwill we may have retained towards her character based on her middling-but-tolerable work on the first two films (technically, she makes a cameo in the third film, but it's a laughably disposable appearance).

Additionally, as the production values steadily decrease over the course of the series, the franchise itself begins to feel depressingly like a series of generic slasher flicks for S&M fetishists. The energetic, striking imagery that marked the first two installments gives way to vastly more unimaginative horrors (c'mon, how scary is a Cenobite who throws CDs at people?) and flat direction. By the time Pinhead is in space, watching the series has begun to feel like a chore. By the time he's reduced to a laughable, overweight, useless bit player in his own franchise (basically all of the direct-to-video installments, to varying degrees), it has begun to feel like a punishment. There's definitely a distinguishable difference between pain and pleasure, Pinhead: pleasure is what I'm feeling when I'm not watching the Hellraiser sequels.

Not that you need yet another reason to avoid this collection, but most of these films look pretty awful. The worst offender is Hellraiser III, which is presented in full-frame (it was shot in 1.85:1) and often looks like a VHS tape. Terrible, terrible stuff. Color bleeding is present in many of the films, detail is shoddy and the image is generally quite flat. Audio is even worse, with most of the scores (which often incorporate Chris Young's wonderful themes) sounding like they were recorded in a coffee can. Far too many lines of dialogue are indistinguishable (particularly anything the Cenobites say, as their voices are often accompanied by that noisy echo effect). No supplements of any sort are included. The first three films in the collection are housed on a flipper disc, while the final three are stuffed onto a standard DVD.

The Hellraiser Collection effectively killed any enthusiasm I may have once had for Clive Barker's bloody franchise. These movies are terrible, the transfers are terrible and the audio is nearly unlistenable at times. Even with a very low price tag (the set can be found for five to twelve bucks, depending on where you shop), I can't possibly recommend this set.

The Verdict

Guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth
* None

Scales of Justice, Hellraiser: Bloodline
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile, Hellraiser: Bloodline
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Hellraiser: Bloodline
* None

Scales of Justice, Hellraiser: Inferno
Judgment: 20

Perp Profile, Hellraiser: Inferno
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Hellraiser: Inferno
* None

Scales of Justice, Hellraiser: Hellseeker
Judgment: 30

Perp Profile, Hellraiser: Hellseeker
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Hellraiser: Hellseeker
* None

Scales of Justice, Hellraiser: Deader
Judgment: 40

Perp Profile, Hellraiser: Deader
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Hellraiser: Deader
* None

Scales of Justice, Hellraiser: Hellworld
Judgment: 40

Perp Profile, Hellraiser: Hellworld
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Hellraiser: Hellworld
* None

Accomplices
* IMDb: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0104409/combined

* IMDb: Hellraiser: Bloodline
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0116514/combined

* IMDb: Hellraiser: Inferno
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0229440/combined

* IMDb: Hellraiser: Hellseeker
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0274546/combined

* IMDb: Hellraiser: Deader
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0337636/combined

* IMDb: Hellraiser: Hellworld
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0354623/combined