I look at films such as Hellraiser III with the outlook of… well, it’s one of THOSE movies. It sets out from the getgo to be so unlike what preceded it, that tonally and visually it hardly feels like it takes place in the same universe. For a long time, I hated it; the rock ‘n roll aesthetic lacked the dignity of the dark fantasy approach of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II and I felt like the franchise had been dumbed down to appeal to the vacuous trends of the era.
I don’t know if I was really WRONG with that assessment, but my distaste for the film has mellowed with time. Now, I take it for what it is and find it to be perfectly entertaining. Hellraiser III is loud, stupid, dated in its trendiness and a bewildering record skip in the storyline of the series, but I won’t ever call it boring.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
Following his battle with the Channard-Cenobite at the end of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, the Pinhead entity (Doug Bradley) has become bound to the Pillar of Souls, while the spirit of his former host, Captain Elliot Spencer (also Bradley) has been left adrift in limbo. Meanwhile, Manhattan news reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) bumps into a punk rocker named Terri (Paula Marshall) who just happens to be in possession of the Lament Configuration. Elsewhere, Terri’s old flame, a jerkwad named J. P. (Kevin Burnhardt) who owns the Boiler Room club, manages to acquire the Pillar of Souls through a seedy art deal. He unwittingly releases Pinhead from the pillar, allowing the leader of the Cenobites to reign Hell on Earth, starting with the Boiler Room. Joey is convinced by the spirit of Captain Spencer to face down Pinhead and return him to Hell with the help of the Lament Configuration.
As mentioned in my intro, Director Anthony Hickox doesn’t even attempt to emulate the atmosphere and feel of the previous films. Gone is the surreal, dreamlike quality of Hellraiser only to be replaced with a flamboyant, screaming-in-your-face punk rock approach. It screams “early ‘90s punk scene” and that dated approach gives it a certain charm. You might find it more attractive if you were alive during that era and have a nostalgic fondness for it, but maybe some of you younger horror fans can appreciate it on an, uh, academic level.
What does truly make the film an occasional chore to sit through would have to be our two leads, Farrell and Marshall, who could not act convincingly if they were drowning. Marshall is certainly the worst of the pair, with just about every word out of her mouth hitting you like a softball to the groin. Though however bad they are, neither can compare to the performance of Ken Carpenter, Joey’s cameraman and later the Camerahead Cenobite. He delivers his dialogue with all the talent of a man reading cue-cards (and reading them poorly). Ashley Laurence appears for the third time in the series, but only as a brief cameo as the stars review video tape footage of one of her therapy sessions at the Channard Institute.
Doug Bradley is this film’s real saving grace, delivering an excellent performance as the sympathetic Elliot Spencer as well as a fun performance as the more maniacal Pinhead entity. Freed from Spencer’s control, the Pinhead entity has a very different personality here than in previous (and future) interpretations. Often referred to as “Pinhead Unbound”, he is very over-the-top and extravagant; screaming, laughing and cracking one-liners like a poor man’s Freddy Krueger. But even with Pinhead going off the deep end, Bradley still makes him enjoyable to watch and proceeds to deliver some of the character’s better dialogue (particularly during the scene where he invades a church and confronts a priest).
With all of the Cenobites from the last two movies killed, Pinhead is left to recruit some new minions. These new Cenobites are as goofy as they are terrible (even Pinhead declares that they’re nothing more than “a shadow of his former troops”). But, I dunno, they also have this look and feel like they stepped off of one of those weird early ‘90s action figure lines, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Toxic Crusaders. They’re so ridiculous and awful they may very well curve back around and become brilliant.
Leading the way is CD (Brent Bolthouse), a former disk jockey with CDs crammed into his face who can throw razor-sharp discs at people. Next would be Barbie (Peter Atkins), a former bartender covered in barbed wire who likes to throw Molotov cocktails at innocent bystanders. We have the aforementioned Camerahead, a guy with (big surprise) a camera in his head who can project what he sees onto nearby TV sets and tear souls apart with his blood-curdling acting. Two more Cenobites appear at the end, though I’ll keep their identities out of my review for the sake of anybody who hasn’t seen the flick yet. I’ll just say that one has a piston in his head and the other has a cigarette in her throat and both of them totally suck.
If you’re planning on getting to the next film in the franchise, Hellraiser: Bloodline, you really can’t skip this installment as the ending sets up the sequel. While my opinion has changed over the years, Hellraiser III does mark the downfall of the “theatrical era” of the franchise. I still prefer it over the next film, which tries to bring the dignity back to the franchise yet somehow ends up being even more embarrassing than this. Get ready for Pinhead in Space.