Clive Barker’s Hellraiser to this day stands as one of the most innovative, brazen and fearless horror films ever made. Regrettably, what could have been a franchise with enormous creative potential was then followed by an unending offspring of awfully cheap, increasingly inept sequels that existed only to make a quick buck for their relative studio fat cats (yes, we’re looking at you, Weinstein Bros). Needless to say, the essence of the famed author’s original idea was lost almost immediately in the subsequent films that followed, existing in but a mere shadow of what was arguably one of the best cinematic examples of the genre to date and further proof that imitation isn’t necessarily always the sincerest form of flattery.
Conceptually interesting and relatively ambitious, Hellraiser: Bloodline was released in 1996 and is oft remembered as the last sequel to receive a theatrical exhibition. Too bad the film isn’t retained in the memory for much else, as it clearly suffers from almost all the classic symptoms of sequel-itis – i.e., a film that embodies a conflict of artistic ideas, thus resulting in a jumbled mess that is neither terribly coherent or entertaining. In other words, a movie largely unworthy of your time and attention.
Hellraiser: Bloodline spans a period of over 400 years, first beginning in the future year of 2127 on board a spaceship (!) where scientist Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsey) attempts to open the Lament Configuration by way of a robotic assistant. The craft is then suddenly invaded by a group of law enforcement troops who capture Merchant and force him to explain his on board activities, and more importantly his ‘bloodline’. From here the film jumps back in time to the 17th Century and connects Merchant to a toy maker (the originator of the mysterious box) and then to a present day architect seeking to construct a life-size assembly of the infamous golden cube. Amid the time travelling, the Pope of Hell himself, Pinhead (Doug Bradley), finds his way through to earth to challenge each incarnation of Merchant to a battle that will blow open the doors of the underworld forever.
To its credit, Hellraiser: Bloodline makes a decidedly sincere effort from the get-go to both simultaneously expand upon as well as bring about closure to the mythology that was first introduced in the 1987 original. The idea of telling a story that transpires over multiple generations and includes organic references to all three previous films is arguably well motivated, at least in theory. Unfortunately, this initial concept is barely delivered upon and the resulting film lacks passion, conviction and enough creative forethought to make for what could have been a rather accomplished story and a detailed love letter to fans of the series. But for anyone familiar with the films’ troubled history, original director (and renowned makeup FX artist) Kevin Yager abandoned the project toward the end of production due to studio interference, forcing the producers to hire a replacement director to finish shooting the remainder of the script. Needless to say, the dubious ‘Alan Smithee’ credit was employed…and it shows.
The cluttered screenplay also extends to the ill treatment of its characters and their seeming inability to rationalize the majority of their actions. Moreover, none of the multiple embodiments of Merchant are ever terribly sympathetic in their plight to overcome the evil that is the Cenobites, hence making for quite the apathetic identification on behalf of the viewer. Perhaps even more unfortunate is the short end of the straw given to the severely underused Valentina Vargas as the films’ second antagonist. Somewhat of an intended dual villain to Pinhead, Angelique is established effectively in the first act of the film, however when it comes time to expand upon her motivations in the final act she almost disappears amid the blue mist and metal chain hooks as swiftly as one of the films’ shredded victims. In the end the only one worthwhile is Mr Bradley, whom somehow always manages to make even the most feeble Hellraiser film watchable.
Almost everything about Hellraiser: Bloodline hints toward a film that ‘could have been’. Clocking in at only 77 minutes long (excluding the end credits) it’s safe to say Dimension Films must have had a field day cleaning up the floors of the editing suites, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what treasures may have been trimmed prior to the films’ release. By the same token this also confirms just how truncated the vision for this, the fourth film in the series was. While it may demonstrate a few spots of decent effects work and other relatively impressive production values, the labored feeling so evident in the proceedings is ultimately more palpable than the supposed horror being portrayed on screen.
AVAILABLE NOW from Umbrella Entertainment
Writer: Peter Atkins
Cast: Bruce Ramsay, Valentina Vargas, Kim Myers, Doug Bradley
Run Time: 82mins