Underrated Horror: Hellraiser III – Hell on Earth (1992)

After two fantastic films to kick off the franchise, there was a steep decline in both quality and story telling.  There is absolutely no doubt.  After the release of Hellraiser: Bloodline, no future Hellraiser would be theatrically released and that has remained to this day.  The most current film which was released on Hulu October 2022 was the closest thing to a worthy Hellraiser film to grace the big screen since Bloodline.  Oddly Hellraiser III made nearly the same amount at the box office as Hellbound: Hellraiser II.  Ultimately, the franchise has found itself in direct to video and now direct to streaming…hell for the better part of 2 decades.  Why?  Was Hellraiser III the catalyst, did the series take a hard sharp turn with this film?  Is Hell on Earth really that bad of a movie?  To me, no.  I love it and I think it’s underrated.

Synopsis:

After learning in “Hellraiser II” that he used to be British air force Capt. Elliot Spencer (Doug Bradley) — before he was sucked into another dimension and turned into the pain-craving creature known as Pinhead — Spencer’s soul ends up in limbo. Meanwhile, Pinhead is sealed in a column, which is bought by J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt). In a dream, reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) learns from Spencer she must reunite his two halves to send the murderous Pinhead back to his world.

With legendary horror films, or any film, it can be hard to follow these movies with worthy sequels.  Not many franchises can do this, Hellraiser was like Star Wars in a way, Hellraiser released in 1987 is a landmark horror film, but it’s follow-up is a fan favorite, like The Empire Strikes Back.  I’m not saying Hell on Earth is Return of the Jedi, it’s not.  Hell on Earth suffers in many ways, casting being one of the biggest issues, but that is a franchise landmark, as Doug Bradely is the one actor who is most well known and well, for the most part, no its 100% true, Doug Bradley is who he is because of playing the Hell Priest Pinhead.

Hell on Earth was up against so much going into its release. Horror was in…a recession of sorts, the boom of the 1980s lost steam by 1989 and from 1990 to about 1996, Horror was in a state of decline, which did lead to the advent of direct-to-video and tons of it in the 1990s.  64% of Hellraiser movies have been directly released to video or streaming as stated before.  Another strike against Hell on Earth, horror sequels were a thing of the 1980s.  Hellraiser as a franchise was late to the party, same with Child’s Play and I think by the third movie, people were losing interest.  Hell on Earth just never had a chance.  Oh and not to mention another Clive Barker creation was released in 1992, Candyman.

With everything going against Hell on Earth, I think a decent movie was still released.  I found this movie on HBO or Showtime in 1993 and it was the first Hellraiser I saw.  If not for Hell on Earth, I may not be the fan I am today.  So, why do I think this one is underrated?  It is a fun ass movie.  I think people take some things too seriously.  Hellraiser II left the franchise in a weird place.  All of the Cenobites were gone.  Pinhead was trapped in the pillar, so whoever was to make the next film had to do a ton of heavy lifting.  How do we bring Pinhead back, it’s certainly his franchise, they needed new and current Cenobites, who do we do that?  So, again Hell on Earth is up against a wall.

One of my favorite things about Hell on Earth is Pinhead in the pillar, corrupting JP, how is already a grade A degenerate piece of shit, who really gets what he deserves.  After Pinhead is released, he massacres JP’s club and creates new Cenobites and it is glorious, other than Dr. Channard and Pinhead, we’d never really seen how Cenobites come to be.  These are very 90s Cenobites, but we love them and there are more than ever.

At the center of all of this madness is Joey.  She has nightmares of her father who died in a war, she connects with Elliot Spencer, all for a story.  She got a story alright.  She is the main character in the story and really just not that interesting, no matter how hard they try.  Why?  Because once Pinhead presents himself, this becomes Pinhead’s movie.

In most Hellraiser movies, the Cenobites are barely in the films, that remains through all but this movie.  Pinhead is the main attraction and I think the directive in Hell on Earth was to highlight Pinhead and make him the next Freddy Krueger, look at the marketing for each movie after, Pinhead, the “bad guy” is the main attraction.  But I do find Julia and Frank more compelling bad guys.

Hell on Earth is fun and Doug Bradley on screen as Pinhead or Elliot Spencer is just terrific.  Between this and Bloodline, I swear he has some of the finest quotes in the entire franchise. “I am the way” is so good, I’ve always loved that scene in the church.  Doug Bradley is at the top of his game as Pinhead and it is just great to see him chew so much screen time. 

I know this movie isn’t great, but it’s fun.  The Massacre in JP’s club is so good and tins of fun. It seems like Doug Bradley genuinely had a good time making this movie.  It also has conective tissue with the first two movies, mention Channard and Kirsty, well, we see Kirsty.  Really the mainline storyline culminates with Bloodline and Hell on Earth is the third chapter.  It’s just fun.

One thing I noticed in watching Hellraiser III Hell on Earth the last time, it reminded me of an Italian horror film. The acting is stiff at times and JP and Doc sound almost dubbed. Seriously, watch it again and even scenes with Joey feel so early 1980s Italian, I love it!

Thanks for reading, I have a bunch of these underrated Horror articles now and maybe I’m crazy or just partial to some of these films that people call trash or disregard, like Hellraiser III or Return of the Living Dead 3. Oddly, I am really hard on movies. I’m not sure which film will be next, maybe another part 3 of a series..No, not Howling III Marsupials, never.

I wonder, if Hellraiser III Hell on Earth came out in 1989, would it be more acceptable?

Remember Horror Movie Massacre is every single Wednesday at 8pm CT and you can join in on the conversation on YOUTUBE by subscribing to the channel or follow The Horror Syndicate on Facebook. Now, I leave you with a song…

About Ray Marek III 697 Articles
I have been watching horror films since I was 6 years old. The story, one Saturday night, my mom and I were watching movies and she fell asleep on the couch. We had the channel set on HBO and the movie we were watching ended and the next one, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. This was some time in 1986. I watched then entire film, I was sitting on the edge of my seat. When my mom woke, she asked me what just ended and I told her, “Freddy”. That was all I talked about for weeks and finally she broke down and rented more horror films for me. She rented, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre part 2, Re-Animator, Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives and Halloween II. I watched all and fell in love with horror films forever. 5 Horror Films to Watch Inferno (1980) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) The Beyond (1981) Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986) Horror of Dracula (1958)