You know me, I’m fascinated by DTV sequels. They’re an interesting in-between medium, a way to get movies made with enough name recognition to make money but not enough to spend money on. There are some that are an enjoyable use of the format (DARKMAN III, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2), some that are completely legit theatrical-worthy movies (CURSE OF CHUCKY), and even a few that are better than their theatrical forebears (the Hyams UNISOLs, the Florentine UNDISPUTEDs, THE MARINE 2).
But the HELLRAISER movies – something about them always seemed off limits to me. The Clive-Barker-executive-produced theatrical series ended shamefully in Weinstein-induced Alan Smitheedom, and I never got the impression that the DTV sequels were either a sincere attempt to revive the magic or a ridiculous enough bastardization to get a kick out of. Like, I don’t think they have one where Pinhead joins a biker gang or has to take care of a precocious little girl and learns how to love. So over 15 long years I have turned my back on five DTV sequels to HELLRAISER.
Until now. For some reason. Wish me luck. I opened the box.
Part 5 is HELLRAISER: INFERNO from 2000, so we’re talking 13 years after the original movie, 4 years after the last in the series, which itself had been delayed quite a bit. At this point horror is very different from how it was in 1987. Other horor movies of 2000 include FINAL DESTINATION, AMERICAN PSYCHO, GINGER SNAPS and UZUMAKI, as well as sequels in series that started long after HELLRAISER, such as SCREAM 3, URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT, BLAIR WITCH 2 and RINGU 0. I guess the closest comparison would be LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD, part 5 in a series that started in 1993.
INFERNO is co-written and directed by Scott Derrickson, the rare director of a DTV sequel allowed to go on to a major career on the big screen. Sylvain White went from TROIS 3: THE ESCORT and I’LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER to STOMP THE YARD and THE LOSERS, but now he’s a TV guy. Derrickson started here but then built a career on the hit THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE. He did the remake of THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which didn’t go so well, so he went back to low budget horror and had another financial success with SINISTER. Then DELIVER US FROM EVIL didn’t stop Marvel from hiring him for DOCTOR STRANGE. So we’ll see how that goes.
I looked for signs in INFERNO that the director would go on to bigger things, but I didn’t find any. The story revolves around Joseph Thorne (Craig “the first draft of David Boreanaz” Sheffer from NIGHTBREED) a burnt out/grizzled/corrupt cop – homicide detective of course – who investigates a crime scene that we can see was a guy ripped apart after playing with a Lament Configuration. Detective Thorne is completely obsessed with chess, crosswords and palindromes, at least in the opening scene and narration that establish his character, so he takes the box out of evidence and messes with it. Instead of their previous M.O. of coming out and tearing him up with hooks the Cenobites apparently just escape into the world and he spends a few days following weird clues, having nightmarish hallucinations and going through GROUNDHOG DAY type time loops.
The shit storm starts when he sneaks out on his wife and picks up a (surprisingly gorgeous) streetwalker (Sasha Barrese, THE HANGOVER) for cocaine and sex in a hotel. Also he does a few magic tricks with the money he’s paying her with, easily his most unforgivable crime. In the morning she stays in the hotel for some reason, then calls him at work in terror. He comes back to find her slashed and hanging in the shower. So just like Sheffer’s character in NIGHTBREED he’s disoriented and seeing things and it looks like he might be a serial killer without knowing it. Or it seems that way to his partner Tony (Nicholas Turturro, MO’ BETTER BLUES). (At one point I believe he plants Tony’s cigarettes at the crime scene to set him up, but nothing becomes of it.)
So there’s a series of murders, all people he knows, all with an untraceable child’s finger found at the scene. He thinks the kid is still alive and that he has to come to the rescue. The info he gets out of informants leads him to someone named “The Engineer” being behind it all. He’s thinking it’s just a guy, and it’s referred to as a “street name,” but of course we know HELLRAISER, we know that The Engineer is this guy:
Except not in this one. In this one it’s either a faceless guy he keeps seeing…
…(admittedly pretty creepy), or at one point it’s just another name for Pinhead, and then later it’s (SPOILER) just a police counselor played by James Remar who turns evil when he takes off his glasses.
I don’t know, I’ve always liked James Remar, but I prefer the previous actor’s interpretation:
That guy was fuckin good, man. Why doesn’t he get more roles. Maybe he’s kind of a dick.
If the solution to this mystery was supposed to be follow-able then I guess I wasn’t up to the task. He goes back into his own cliche of a childhood, and maybe this is all supposed to relate to his traumatic memories or something. There’s a bit of weirdness where he finds out the child’s severed fingers are his own fingers from when he was a kid, which he doesn’t understand, and neither does anybody else. (I mean, he still has fingers.) For a minute I thought they were telling us he was still a kid and this whole thing was his St. Elsewhere dream. But that wouldn’t make any damn sense. What little boy dreams about a life where he’s an adult who does cocaine and cheats on his wife with hookers?
There are some parts I can say nice things about. Like I kinda liked the nightmare quality of the scene where he goes into a crowded gambling den and every single person except him is wearing a cowboy hat that obscures his face. Then he sees the faceless maybe-Engineer and chases him outside where he sees the silhouettes of two long haired cowboys in dusters coming out of the fog and then they do a bunch of Walker: Texas Ranger style kicks on him. I do believe these are the first kicks in any HELLRAISER picture. Not just roundhouses but kicks in general. This is generally not considered a series about kicking in my opinion.
The main Cenobites are these gals here:
and although I cannot for the life of me understand how everyone involved agreed to settle on those dumb looking noseless alien faces, I do think this scene where they lick his neck with long tongues and sensually caress him by digging their hands under the skin on his chest is seriously disgusting and Barkeresque. It’s Barker’s demonic S&M and his idea of how everybody wants to fuck a monster. This guy even gets turned on by these stupid things. Gives me more sympathy for the guys in NIGHTBREED who want to fuck the porcupine woman.
And by the way, what these ladies are doing is not sanitary. You know that shit is gonna get infected.
The fuckedupedness of that scene is pretty much the only thing that is reminiscent of other HELLRAISER movies. I guess you could also count the part where they re-use part III’s idea of showing blood pouring out from under a door while we hear killing sounds from the other side. But for the most part you gotta assume they made an intentional choice to distance themselves from the other movies, because it doesn’t at all look or feel like a HELLRAISER movie, or seem like a similar story or tone or world. It can get pretty fuckin cheesy, too. There’s a sex scene straight out of a Cinemax movie. And I really did not think it was gonna go into a mellow quasi-Sade song for the end credits, so I’m glad I didn’t put money on that.
No joke, there’s a big ending with Pinhead and then it goes into this song:
IMDb trivia claims
“Like Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002) (V) after it, “Inferno” was originally a non-Hellraiser related horror script owned by Dimension. To save money on writing a completely original Hellraiser story, the script was quickly edited to insert the Pinhead and the Cenobites.”
I believe this is false. On Episode 103 of the Movie Crypt podcast Derrickson told the story of how he was offered to do a HELLRAISER movie and turned it down, but then he re-watched the previous movies and got an idea for one, which he pitched to Dimension and they accepted. He wrote the script with Paul Harris Boardman, who had written a short with Derrickson, then URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT, then three features with Derrickson (EMILY ROSE, DEVIL’S KNOT and DELIVER US FROM EVIL).
I give Derrickson points for trying something completely different, not following the template of any previous movie in the series, but unfortunately this approach means removing everything that’s interesting about HELLRAISER and replacing it with hoary cliches.
I mean, if you ever had a problem with Barker’s stories being too imaginative and foreign, and wish his entire bizarre world view could be replaced with a conventional Christian one, then here you go, champ. Now instead of an unfathomable, unaffiliated torturer from Hell, Pinhead (in his extended cameo at the end) becomes a preachy punish-you-for-your-sins type of demon who shames the guy for giving in to temptation and what not. Tells him he’s a bad man.
To me this seems to miss the point of HELLRAISER. Just because Frank says “Jesus wept!” doesn’t mean this is about Christianity. In fact, he says that because it’s not at all. The idea of a piece of garbage like Frank comparing his demonic comeuppance to Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross is meant as an insult, his last act of scumbaggery. He’s not being punished by God for sleeping around. This is something a million miles away from that. This is Cenobite shit.
At times INFERNO feels like it’s supposed to be an IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or A CHRISTMAS CAROL type story of redemption and second chances. They shoulda gone all out and actually made it a HELLRAISER Christmas special. At least there would’ve been some novelty there. There’s not much that stands out here, other than Sheffer acting like kind of a weirdo. But not enough of a weirdo. He’s an anti-hero who’s not interesting enough to make up for being so unlikable
And this is a series that had Frank and Julia and Dr. Channard. We have seen some truly fascinating bad people before. There are more interesting sins than being a corrupt cop who’s into hookers and blow. (Also, many of us have seen the BAD LIEUTENANT movies, so we also know there are more interesting ways to be a corrupt cop who’s into hookers and blow.) But I guess I liked when he took $300 from the dead man’s wallet and crossed out $400 on the paperwork and wrote in $100 by hand. That was pretty funny.
I also give Derrickson points for making it personal to him, but conversely that means putting his religion in it, which I don’t think works. This change makes about as much sense as a sequel to THE EXORCIST where all the Catholic shit is replaced by Scientology or something. But it’s worse because we already have a million Heaven and Hell, good and evil, God and the Devil horror movies, and still only one about worshippers of Leviathan, the merciless spinning diamond overlord of the labyrinth. So we’re trading down here. Replacing the one-of-a-kind with the standard issue. I’m against it.
There are alot of positive reviews of this on IMDb, so maybe you’d like it more than me. But I had a real hard time getting through it.
Oh well. I still got four more of these HELLRAISERS left to watch. I figure just going mathematically, there’s gotta be some in there that are better than this one.
Right guys? Hello?
APPENDIX I: Some notable horror movies that came out between BLOODLINE and INFERNO, to give you an idea:
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
BRIDE OF CHUCKY
HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER
JU-ON, JU-ON 2: THE CURSE
RINGU, RINGU 2, THE RING VIRUS
SCREAM, SCREAM 2, SCREAM 3
STIR OF ECHOES
URBAN LEGEND, URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT
WISHMASTER, WISHMASTER 2: EVIL NEVER DIES
APPENDIX II: DTV horror sequels that existed before this one
DEATH NURSE 2 (1989)
AMITYVILLE 4: THE EVIL ESCAPES (1990)
THE AMITYVILLE CURSE (1990)AMITYVILLE: IT’S ABOUT TIME (1992)
AMITYVILLE: A NEW GENERATION (1993)
PSYCHO COP 2 (1993)
PUMPKINHEAD II: BLOOD WINGS (1994)
SCANNER COP (1994)
LEPRECHAUN 3 (1995)
AMITYVILLE DOLLHOUSE (1996)
CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV: THE GATHER (1996)
LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE (1997)
CHILDREN OF THE CORN V: FIELDS OF TERROR (1998)
PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION (1998)
CANDYMAN 3: DAY OF THE DEAD (1999)
CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC’S RETURN (1999)
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY (1999)
WARLOCK III: THE END OF INNOCENCE (1999)
LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD (2000)
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.