Bloodline ushers in the end of the “Theatrical Era” of the Hellraiser franchise, and really, it’s for the best. What Bloodline attempts is a rather half-hearted “alpha and omega” approach: Revealing the origin of the Lament Configuration through a series of flashbacks while simultaneously whisking us away to a space-age future where series star Pinhead (Doug Bradley) meets his ultimate demise. While this rather epic attempt at storytelling should warrant an “A” for effort, the actual quality of the film falls far short of that letter grade.
And as long as we’re being honest, Hellraiser: Bloodline in tone and approach is pretty much a poor man’s Interview with the Vampire, and that’s way more embarrassing than anything Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth did.
The year is 2125 and onboard a bizarre space station orbiting Earth, the creepy Dr. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) has summoned the Cenobites with the Lament Configuration for purposes unknown. Merchant’s ultimate plan gets put on the backburner, however, after he is arrested by the US Military, who are understandably irritated that he hijacked their space station (even if he did design it). Now being interrogated, Dr. Merchant reveals the tragic history of his bloodline, beginning with a famous French toy-maker named Phillip L’Merchant (also Ramsay). Back in the 1700’s, L’Merchant unwittingly constructed the dreaded Lament Configuration for some hedonist weirdo, opening the gateway to Hell and cursing his family for centuries to come. Now, in 2125, Dr. Merchant intends to create a new puzzle box that will destroy the Cenobites forever and undo his family’s curse.
The origin of the Lament Configuration was first revealed in the fantastic Hellraiser comic book series, though this version is heavily altered and watered-down to appeal to a wider audience. While in the movie L’Merchant is a kindly gentleman and dedicated husband, in the comics he was a serial killer who used the fat of murdered children to polish the box he had created. If you’re obsessive over continuity, one could argue that the origin Dr. Merchant provided during his interrogation was simply filled with misinformation; the real facts having been lost over the centuries. But that’s only if you’re one of those crazy Hellraiser fans that feel they have to consolidate every continuity into a single timeline (good luck trying to work in that short story, “Look, See” in there).
If Hell on Earth had one advantage over Bloodline, it would have to be in the special effects department. The practical effects, such as gore and puppets and models and what-have-you, are all convincing enough, but the circa-1996 CGI will have you twitching in agony. Everything is reflective and off-looking and generally couldn’t look any less convincing if they’d had “this is fake” scrawled all over them. Star Fox on my Super Nintendo has more advanced polygons than the CGI puzzle-boxes, robots and Cenobites seen in this movie.
On the bright side, while Hell on Earth was saddled with some truly pathetic new Cenobites, Bloodline gives us the best crew of S&M demons we’ve seen since Hellbound. Angelique (Valentina Vargas) probably ranks at the bottom of the bunch, being nothing more than a hot chick in leather with her skull exposed beneath peeled-back flesh on wires. She may be hot, but Vargas’ acting is so bad you’ll have to mute the TV to tolerate her.
The Twins (Michael and Mark Polish) are a pair of bumbling security guards who get fused together into a Siamese freakshow; one having a perpetual grin and the other a perpetual frown. They’re nice and gruesome-looking, even if their creation feels like it breaks “the rules” of a Hellraiser film (they didn’t summon Pinhead, so why are they being transformed and punished?).
The real stand-out Cenobite, however, is the Chatter-Beast (Jody St. Michael). He’s basically this big deformed dog with chattering teeth, obviously inspired by the Chatterer from the original Hellraiser. The various chattering Cenobites are my favorites, so of course I was a sucker for this one. While the CG effects used during his chase scene were pretty “bleh”, the makeup and puppetry effects used on the Chatter-Beast are top-notch.
Lastly, you have Pinhead, played once more by Doug Bradley. Pinhead, having been restored after the events of the last movie, is no longer a cackling madman and a bit more back to basics. However, he seems to have a bit of a world-domination fetish going on, which hardly seemed to be his thing in the first two movies (and indeed, isn’t even remotely touched upon in the following films). Bradley’s performance is as fine as ever, but his dialogue seems to be blander and all-around more poorly written than usual.
As for the overarching narrative about L’Merchant, it definitely does come across as a two years too late attempt to knock off Interview with the Vampire. It holds the story together and in broad strokes the origin material isn’t bad, but the execution (bad editing, bad acting, bad special effects, inconsistent characterization) seems hellbent on undoing any positive progress.
Still, it provides some answers to questions that may have been bothering you about the series, and offers a genuine ending (that sort of cheats by skipping ahead to the future, leaving room for more sequels to take place in-between). That said, it takes itself seriously when it almost feels like it doesn’t deserve to (Pinhead. In. SPAAAAACE!).