What’s this? A Hellraiser movie? And it’s starring Lance Henriksen? Holy shit! This is gonna be awesome! I can’t wait to watch it!
Two years after their closest friend died playing the Hellraiser MMORPG called Hellworld, a group of friends decide to get over the tragedy by attending a Hellworld themed party at a secluded mansion. The host of the party (Lance Henriksen) has made sure that all the wildest and most hedonistic party-games are available to his guests, who traverse the winding corridors of the manner from one orgy to another. But as they live it up, they are each hunted one-by-one by Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and his gruesome Cenobites (Chatterer and Bound). Soon, only the feisty Chelsea (Katheryn Winnick) and melancholy Jake (Christopher Jacot) are left… but is the whole thing in their head?
What the fuck is this garbage?
The straight-to-video Hellraiser series had been moving at a great pace, with Inferno, Hellseeker and Deader taking a low-key anthology approach to the mythos of the franchise and being all the better for it. Hellworld, at the slightest of glances, would seem to continue that trend, being unconnected in narrative to the previous installments and even boasting the same director (Rick Bota) as the last two. Unfortunately, Hellworld is a sequel that seems eager to be a Hellraiser film in name only, bucking all the traditions of the franchise in exchange for an insultingly generic slasher film trapping.
Right off the bat, Hellworld hits audiences over the head with the revelation that it isn’t in the same continuity as the previous films. It takes an approach similar to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, being set in the “real world” where Hellraiser is just a series of films and a pile of merchandise. This isn’t exactly new territory for Hellraiser, either. The short prose story, “Look, See” by Nicholas Vince offered a similar concept (so in a way, Hellworld and “Look, See” share a continuity… which is very unfortunate for “Look, See”). This is almost a relief, come to think of it, as the movie is so terrible you’ll look for any excuse to pretend it never happened. And since it doesn’t share canonicity with the preceding seven films, you’ve got your excuse to ignore it right there.
Hellworld desperately wants to do something different with the franchise, which isn’t a foul intention per se, but there comes a point where you discard so many traditions and elements of a franchise in an effort to creatively branch-out that you lose everything that makes it a part of that franchise (think Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday).
And more so than that, it seeks to be “different” by becoming a clone of every uninspired slasher film on the market. It seems disrespectful to the character of Pinhead to have him chasing stupid teens around a house with a surgical bone cleaver, chopping their heads off as soon as he catches up to them or jamming spikes through their faces after following them through the woods. If Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth was Pinhead pretending to be Freddy Krueger, Hellworld is Pinhead pretending to be Jason Voorhees. And that’s not a compliment even if it sounds like one.
Worse yet, the film is self-aware that it’s breaking the established rules of the franchise in a transparent attempt to “up the stakes”, as it were. It’s done in an obnoxious Scream-like fashion, as main character Chelsea begins citing “the rules of a Hellraiser movie” to Lance Henriksen. But rather than feel like there’s a greater sense of danger because the rules no longer apply, it simply leaves the characters becoming as frustrated as the audience because they recognize the glowing errors as much as we do.
Hellworld is surprisingly star-studded, depending on your definition of “star”, I suppose. Lance Henriksen sleepwalks his way through a paycheck, and I honestly can’t blame him for any of it. The character Derrick is played by Khary Payton who has become a popular voice actor in recent years (Cyborg from Teen Titans, most notably, though he currently voices Grimlock on Transformers: Robots in Disguise). And you have Henry Cavill as the generic asshole character (a somewhat precognitive glimpse of how he’d wind up playing Superman in the DC Cinematic Universe).
Perhaps Payton aside (who seems to be the only actor really trying in this picture), everyone is sure to get on your nerves, not that they had much to work with. There’s a scene where Chelsea confronts Henriksen’s unnamed character and delivers this superb oneliner before roundhouse-kicking him off a balcony: “Goodbye… ASSHOLE!” Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Hellraiser: Hellworld was bad-enough to put the franchise back in the grave for another six years, with the next installment, Hellraiser: Revelations, not coming out until October of 2011. It’s such a tremendous misstep for the straight-to-video series, which was really gaining momentum until Hellworld brought it to a dead stop. And as of right now, it’s the last time Doug Bradley played Pinhead. What a way to end a career.