I’ll admit, I love the ‘Hellraiser’ franchise. Like ‘The Howling’, this franchise has a reputation among the horror community as being inconsistent and features more bad entries than good. To this, I subjectively disagree. While the first four followed a linear story line that delved deeper into the mythology with each film and gradually increased the presence of Pinhead and the cenobites, I love that the following six films served as an anthology of tales centered on those who opened the box – some of which connect to the story lines from the first four films, some of which do not – and I think that some of these are just really good horror tales on their own. I’m well aware of each sequel’s flaws, but those never really stop me from enjoying these movies as is.
To be honest, the top eight on this list are films that I can watch anytime and often revisit. There’s only two in this series that I don’t care for, but my experience with those two films doesn’t affect my enthusiasm for this series.
Here is my ranking list, going from worst to best:
10) Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)
The biggest problem with the ninth entry in the series is the fact that there is so much potential for this film. It easily could have been one of the best sequels, but it falls short mostly due to the rushed production made in an effort for the studio to secure the rights. This movie utilizes themes and situations from the earlier films that have been absent in the majority of the sequels, and with a little more time to fully develop this particular story, this could have been a good follow-up that goes back to the roots of the first four films in terms of style and scope. The story begins with two families gathering together to mourn two young men who disappeared – and are believed to have been murdered – on their road trip to Mexico. But when one of the young men mysteriously shows back up, hell follows, plunging the two families into a night of terror. The acting is god awful from everyone around, and the dialogue is cringe-worthy. The story itself feels like it’s not fleshed out enough, and Stephan Smith Collins is horribly mis-cast as the Hell Priest, Pinhead. This is one that I don’t revisit very often – if at all – which is a shame considering how much I enjoy this franchise.
09) Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
The eighth entry suffers from some obvious studio pressure to conform to popularity; at the time this one went into production, the horror genre evolved into a self-referential, tongue-in-cheek, meta style that was, at the time, popularized by Wes Craven’s ‘Scream’. So, enter Hellworld, a sequel where every character knows who Pinhead and the Cenobites are, mostly due to a real shitty looking video game that apparently has millions of die-hard fans. We’re introduced to a group of friends who lost one of their own when his obsession of the game went too far, resulting in his death. The lead male character, Jake (Christopher Jacot), is such an insufferable prick that he blames everyone else in the group for their friend’s death, despite the fact that they didn’t have any more to do with it then he did, and despite the fact that he didn’t do anything to prevent it either, but he still spends the entire run time trying to guilt trip everyone else from his high horse. A year or so after the friends go their separate ways, they all find themselves invited to a Hellraiser party because they unlocked a code in the shitty video game. At the party, they each begin to fall one by one at the hands of the Cenobites, until the surviving characters are brought to the truth via a post ‘Scream’ twist complete with a monologue of motive. On the bright side, it has the always great Lance Henriksen in it, and pre-Superman Henry Cavill appears to have been having fun making this movie. Unfortunately, the movie tries too hard to be like ‘Scream’ rather than ‘Hellraiser’, and for that, the films suffers. Oh, and the guilt tripping douche canoe survives, so F this movie.
08) Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth (1992)
Here’s one that I know most will disagree with me on, including a few of my colleagues here at The Horror Syndicate, as it seems to be pretty well liked among ‘Hellraiser’ fans, and even casual fans, some of whom regard it as “the last good one”. That’s totally fair. I get why people like it, and I’m not going to say that you’re wrong and that I’m right – but for me personally, I just don’t like this movie as much. What I like about some of the other movies in the series is that the Cenobites aren’t largely displayed front and center, and that they’re usually businesslike and unbiased: they perform their duties when summoned, and nothing more; you open the box, your soul belong to them. There is no personal gain or motives in their actions, there is only their duty. They are the consequences that await the seekers of pleasure and pain who open the box. The title of the novella, ‘The Hellbound Heart’, and the film, ‘Hellraiser’, do not refer to Pinhead or the Cenobites. They refer to the person who sought the box, and I feel like this film forgets that. It forgets that the first two films weren’t focused on Pinhead and the Cenobites, and it feels, to me, that it goes a little beyond the world established by Clive Barker with a need to become mainstream and make slasher icons. The story follows a television reporter named Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell), who witnesses a bizarre incident at a hospital, which leads her to a night club called The Boiler Room, where the owner, J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt), has the sculpture from the end of the second film – soon she learns that Pinhead (Doug Bradley) has been separated from his human form, Elliot Spencer, and that without his human half, he is pure evil. The effects are good, Doug Bradley shines in this, and I like the aspect of Elliot Spencer and the Hell Priest being separated, but overall, it’s one of my least favorite entries in the series because it’s a little too focused on Pinhead. I don’t hate this sequel, and do watch it when I marathon these movies, buts it’s not one of my favorites.
07) Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)
Yeah, I ranked the tenth film higher than the third. I’d actually rank this much higher on the list if it ended differently, or at least if it had gone to credits after The Auditor’s question to Pinhead regarding the inevitable consequences to their actions, but it’s the last few minutes of the movie that really dampened my enjoyment of this film. The story itself is decent, despite being a knockoff of ‘Se7en’, with a trio of detectives trying to solve the case of a serial killer who uses the Ten Commandments to murder his victims (as opposed to the seven deadly sins in ‘Se7en’), but their investigation gets them entangled with two factions of hell; one of which is led by the Hell Priest, Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor), and the other is led by a new character called “The Auditor” (Gary J. Tunnicliffe). Now, these were the two big selling points for me with this movie. Paul T. Taylor proves to be a worthy successor to Doug Bradley as Pinhead – I’d like to see more of him in the role, especially if Doug is truly finished with the character – and the other would be Special Effects Artist/Writer/Director Gary J. Tunnicliffe as The Auditor; his performance really surprised me, especially because it was strong and oddly likable. The film itself is just a huge step up from some of the previous entries, and I liked it. Until the end. The ending scene took away a lot of momentum gained earlier. Overall, despite being ranked seventh on this list, I do enjoy this one for trying to expand on the mythology and world that this franchise exists within.
06) ‘Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
First thing’s first, yeah, this has a shitty subtitle. I get that it’s connected to the plot and refers to a cult group who call themselves “Deaders”, whom serve as a major plot point, but still, it’s a horrible name for a cult and even worse to have on a product you want to sell. Regardless of the films awful subtitle, the seventh entry isn’t really all that bad. It follows an investigative reporter named Amy Klein (Kari Wuhrer), who is assigned to the story of a cult group that can defy death by means of resurrection. Her investigation brings her to one of the infamous puzzle boxes, and plunging her into a growing feud between the Deaders and the Cenobites. Although the script was originally not ‘Hellraiser’ related, the re-write at least attempts to connect to the original theatrical films in a big way. Kari Wuhrer carries the entire film on her shoulders, and does a really good job. While not one of my favorites, this one is still pretty enjoyable to watch.
05) Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
Despite the synopsis on the DVD case pumping up the return of Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton for the first time since her cameo appearance in the third film, she’s barely in this film, although her character is a major presence to the story. Instead, the sixth film is focused on Kirsty’s husband, Trevor (Dean Winters), who begins to have troubling hallucinations following the car accident which allegedly claimed Kirsty’s life. Soon, people around him begin to die gruesome deaths and Trevor is the prime suspect by the police. As the hallucinations intensify, the truth surrounding the circumstances of the car accident is revealed, leading to a major twist that’s pretty satisfying. It’s an enjoyable and twisted film, even if characters motivations aren’t 100% clear. But this does get some points for bringing Ashley Laurence back into the series, as watching her interact with Doug Bradley’s Pinhead once again makes this one worth a watch if you’re a fan of the earlier films.
04) Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)
The fourth film is the last one to see a theatrical release, and was intended to be the final film in the franchise with an ending that promises to kill Pinhead once and for all. But don’t worry, this sequel takes place in the future, so there’s plenty of room left for dozens of stories in-between. The structure of this film isn’t as straight forward as any of the other sequels in the series, and plays out more as an anthology that spans past, present and future, chronicling the bloodline of the toy-maker responsible for making the puzzle box. This is the first ‘Hellraiser’ film under the nose of Miramax/Dimension Films, and the studio meddling left a sour taste in the mouths of Producer Clive Barker, Writer Peter Atkins, and Director Kevin Yagher. Yagher even quit as the studio demanded a complete overhaul with re-writes and re-shoots, and requested to have his name removed from the final product, hence the directing credit going to the fictitious name Alan Smithee. Barker and Atkins even abandoned the franchise because of this. However, I do still enjoy this film, probably a lot more now than I used to (which I suppose makes my complaints of ‘Hell on Earth’ hypocritical), but I do wonder what this film would have been like if Barker, Atkins and Yagher got to make the film they intended. For curious fans, there is a multi-part work print available on YouTube that reveals the version of the film that it was originally intended to be. Overall, this sequel has grown on me over the years and I enjoy watching it. The special effects are great, Doug Bradley is great, and I love the character Angelique (Valentina Vargas). In fact, I’d love to see her return to the franchise at some point in the future.
03) Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
The fifth film in the series is the first to be released Direct-to-Video, and is one that many believe to be the start of the downward spiral the series would endure. Unlike the previous two installments, ‘Hell on Earth’ and ‘Bloodline’, the cenobites once again take a back seat, getting a little less screen time then they did in the first film. The story reverts back to ‘The Hellbound Heart’ thematically and focuses on a morally corrupt character who opens the box. Craig Sheffer gives a hell of a performance as Detective Joseph Thorne, a man who neglects his family, snorts cocaine, cheats on his wife with prostitutes and even black mails his partner into helping him cover his tracks after the latest prostitute is found dead the following morning. Believing the woman’s death to be connected with a current investigation, Joseph embarks on quest to find “The Engineer” – an element from the novella – a mysterious figure with brutal methods. There are some questionable things in this movie, such as the Ninja Cowboys (Yeah, you read that right) and a slightly preachy Pinhead determined to punish Joseph for his sins, but other than those few minor nitpicks, this is a solid horror mystery with plenty of interesting visuals and plot twists. Out of all of the Direct-to-Video sequels, I do enjoy this one the best. I’ll even dare to say that this one is underrated.
02) Hellraiser (1987)
The one that started it all. Now, just because I have this at number 2, doesn’t mean that it’s inferior to the second film: I believe that both of them complement each other and make one whole story; the first film is the cause, the second film is the effect. The story follows Larry Cotton( Andrew Robinson), his daughter, Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), and his new bride, Julia (Clare Higgins), who move into the old family home, unaware of the fact that Larry’s brother, Frank (Sean Chapman), had been stowing away in the attic until he solved the puzzle box known as the lament configuration, and was torn apart. Also unknown to Larry is the fact that Julia had been having an affair with Frank, and she was still secretly pining for him. After Larry gets a small wound moving furniture, his blood drips onto the floor of the attic, triggering Frank’s sudden resurrection. Julia discovers the bloody, skinless Frank in the attic, and aides him in the task of regaining flesh by luring men into the attic and killing them. But Frank wasn’t meant to be free from hell, and soon the cenobites coming looking for him. This movie is just awesome. It’s gruesome, gory and atmospheric, and has some of the best scenes in the entire series: “Jesus wept” and Frank’s resurrection are incredible sequences that make this a memorable horror film.
01) Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 (1988)
Following the events of the first film, this sequel goes big, and does everything a great sequel should do. Sole survivor Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) returns, and is haunted by what she witnessed at the end of the first film. After telling her story, the police think she’s just crazy and traumatized, but Dr. Channard (Kenneth Cranham) believes her. He believes her because he’s spent years trying to collect Lemarchand’s puzzle boxes. Channard retrieves the box and the mattress from which Julia (Clare Higgins) was killed on, and performs as resurrection in a scene that sometimes has me turning my head. Channard and Julia form a partnership of their own, and it’s up to Kirsty to stop them. Pinhead and the Cenobites get a little more screen time then they had in the first film, and we’re given a little more insight to who they are, and they’re given a great moment in the third act where they stand up to Channard; Channard and Julia make great villains, with some memorable moments. Unlike the cenobites, Channard is pure evil, and makes a stand, while Julia has her own motivations; Composer Christopher Young takes his subtle score from the first one and makes it grand and epic. Basically, this movie just expands on everything established in the first film, and ups the ante in the process, resulting in a sequel that sets an incredibly high bar yet to be topped.
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