Thursday, October 31, 2013
Mini-Monsterthon: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth
I normally try to close out these marathons with something really good, but that's not entirely necessary. Even bad movies have their appeal, and though Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is pretty much the precise point where the franchise jumped the tracks and started to speed downhill, it ends up doing so with a certain idiotic panache. To its credit it does actually build from some of the story developments of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but it blows its potential with a dull buildup followed by a ridiculous payoff.
As of the end of the last movie, head pleasure demon Pinhead (Doug Bradley) had been deposed from his place in Hell and effectively killed, only to end up in a strange pillar that arose from a bloodsoaked bed. (This made a little more sense at the time. A little.) The pillar has been sold as a statue to J. P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt), local sleazebag and owner of The Boiler Room, a yuppie S&M nightclub that is every bit as ridiculous as you think it is. A bored aspiring reporter named Joanne (Terry Farrell) witnesses the grisly fate of someone who got too close to the statue, and befriends a witness, strung-out party girl Terri (Paula Marshall). Pinhead starts to manifest through the statue after one of Monroe's girlfriends falls afoul of it, and offers Monroe the standard pleasures beyond imagination if he helps him get free. But it ends up being Terri who sets Pinhead loose, and unbound by the rules and restraints his human identity used to give him, he goes on a rampage of destruction, first through the nightclub, then unleashing some new demon lieutenants (Cenobites in the series mythology) to terrorize the city of wherever this is.
As I mentioned earlier, the buildup to Pinhead being let loose is very slow, which isn't necessarily a horrible thing (consider the slow burn of the original Hellraiser). But the story seems to be dragging itself out for the sole purpose of filling time, and there's no actual sense of tension building- things are just taking forever to happen. This first half is not without its strong points- the friendship between Joanne and Terri is actually pretty well-built and a solid character dynamic (spoiler alert: the movie discards this more or less completely.) And the actual story is, at this point, still somewhat interesting, putting the familiar temptation of the Cenobites in a new context. But by this point, the flat direction and slack pacing have us wishing the movie would start going somewhere.
That wish turns out to be a bit of a Monkey's Paw, with the second half of the movie being devoted to what can best be described as Stupid Cenobite Tricks. Pinhead's massacre of the Boiler Room patrons is nothing short of hilarious, with a ton of flashy gimmick kills that Freddy Krueger would roll his eyes at. (At one point a man seems to actively reach out and grab a hook flying through midair, as you would.) And then the new Cenobites are unveiled, and let me tell you, standards have slipped. While prior Cenobite designs played on images of self-mutilation and going to extremes in pursuit of pleasures, the characters here are designed on the principle of combining people with random objects in a way that anticipates the Venture Bros.'s "Pleasure Toast" spoof of the franchise. One of the characters is a news cameraman, so naturally he has a camera put in his head. Another is a DJ, so his head has a bunch of CDs in it and he shoots CDs at people. There's also a guy who literally throws a thermos full of gasoline on two police officers before igniting it (and one of the officers helpfully shrieks "That's gasoline!" in case we were confused), and I think this was a bartender originally but how are we supposed to keep track? There are a lot of pyrotechnics and flashy effects that are given no context- not in a scary, "Things are happening we can't understand" way, but in a sloppy theme park stunt show way.
One good point for this movie- and probably the only thing that fans of the franchise might consider checking it out for- is that we see a bit more of Pinhead's human half, the WWI soldier who escaped from his trauma into twisted hedonism until he finally came across the fateful Lament Configuration. Bradley gets to do some very good acting in his normal voice and sans facial acupuncture, and the idea of Pinhead's old soul and the puzzle box acting as moral anchors is, as I said, a good one. It's just surrounded by a lot of stupid shit.
And yet I don't hate this movie. I'm sure I would have had I seen it at the time, expecting or at least hoping for a good sequel. With the distance of time, however, it's kind of charming in its brainlessness. The part of the movie that's full of horrible gimmicky gore effects and unconvincing action setpieces is a solid antidote to the tedium of the first half, and if you like your horror movies trashy, this fits the bill. Halloween's a night for laughter as much as screams, anyway.
Based on characters created by Clive Barker
Story by Peter Atkins and Tony Randel
Screenplay by Peter Atkins
Directed by Anthony Hickox