I’ve seen all ten Hellraiser movies before, but most of them were a long time ago. I remembered the first two adhering to Mr. Clive Barker’s vision and being pretty good, the last two were absolute dog shit, and the ones in the middle were hit or miss. So I went into Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth not expecting much. They’re brining back Pinhead after his noble sacrifice in Hellbound: Hellraiser II? Already starting on a bad foot. But turns out this was better than I remember, in part because it has something intersting to say about abusive relationships.
Joey (Terry Farrell, AKA Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) is a reporter who catches wind of strange goings-on at a nightclub. And by “strange” I mean “a guy comes into the ER with hooked chains piercing his flesh, the chains are electrified, and his head explodes.” She gets information about the place from Terri (Paula Marshall, AKA the hypnotherapist in Malignant), a girl with a troubled past looking for stability in her life. She and Joey are both ostensibly heterosexual, but there’s this big queer vibe between them. Joey lets Terri crash at her place, and in the morning Terri is attempting to make breakfast while wearing what appears to be one of Joey’s shirts. A forced conflict later in the movie sees Terri more broken up thinking Joey was lying to her than she was when her boyfriend initially kicked her out, starting the two ladies cohabitating. I’m not saying it’s full on lesbian representation or even intentionally queer, but it was one of the better elements of the movie.
The movie! I knew I was supposed to be talking about something else. Turns out the club owner and Terri’s ex, JP Monroe, comes into possession of the Pillar of Souls that Pinhead and Lemarchand’s box were sealed away in at the end of Hellraiser II. Some blood awakens the demon, who tempts people into releasing him. JP is easily swayed towards evil, but unfortunately Terri gets dragged in as well when she’s at her lowest point. Both are turned into cenobites–more on that later. While that’s going on, Joey is having dreams of Elliot Spencer, the man to Pinhead’s monster. He’s been separated from the demon, so now Pinhead is no longer bound by the rules of Hell and is ready to just fuck everything up (antithetical to Pinhead’s nature normally). After Pinhead is freed from the Pillar and massacres everyone at the nightclub, Joey has to evade some new cenobites as well as a very dramatic Pinhead. Sure, spend a full minute mocking Christ. No wonder couldn’t find a real church to film in. Anyway, Joey traps the cenobites in the box and seemingly defeats Pinhead, but the demon entered her mind to gloat. But you know who else is in her mind? Captain Spencer! The two become one and Joey sends the restored Pinhead back to Hell. The movie ends with a shot of a building that has Lemarchand’s designs all over it, a scene that inspired the next film, Hellraiser: Bloodline.
Like I said, the dynamic between Joey and Terri was my favorite part of this. It’s an overdramatized situation, but Terri is just a sad and lonely girl who is looking for someone to trust and even love, in one way or another. She’s obviously emotionally damaged since JP is able to use his smooth talking to almost get her back–his goal was to feed her to the Pillar, but that backfires–but even then she’s still trying to assert herself in some small way. It’s sad what happens to her in a way I didn’t really feel for any of the other innocent people who got turned into hellish monsters. Except JP, fuck that guy.
So the new cenobites… oof. Butterball, Chatterer, and Female were pretty iconic characters with unique designs, and these new ones just reek of the 1990’s and trying too hard. JP gets pistons shoved into his head–no idea where those came from–and apparently goes by Pistonhead. Terri becomes Dreamer, a knock-off Female Cenobite who has a cigarette coming out of the gash in her neck. Other cenobites include Camerahead (with a camera lens for an eye), CD (Captain Boomerang is to Suicide Squad as CD is to Hellraiser III), and Barbie (a fire-breathing bartender played by co-writer Peter Atkins). They’re all lame, there’s no better way to describe them. They just feel incredibly dated and I’m kind of glad we never see them ever again.
As for the idea that Pinhead and Captain Spencer are separate entities, there’s something to that in the comics. Pinhead is seemingly an ancient and well respected cenobite–one of Leviathan’s most devout followers–but also directly tied to a guy who fought in World War I. The limited series Pinhead (1993-94) explained the contradiction by saying that Spencer’s Pinhead is just the latest incarnation of the entity, who has had several different manifestations and appearances over time. I especially liked the monsignor from 1728 who was acting as an expert on whether supernatural phenomena were from Hell or not since, you know, he had firsthand experience. The same series had people summon the cenobites not through the puzzle box that has become iconic to the series, but through ways like tying an impossible knot, or navigating a labyrinthian cave system, or a pile of bones from years of sacrifices forming an unholy pattern. All this brought to us by… wait, what? Marvel Comics? Damn, I knew the Hellraiser license had swapped around a lot, but I missed that one on the shelves when I was a kid.
Oh, and this is also the first movie to have someone–Joey–actually say the name “Pinhead” out loud. It’s official!
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