Thursday, 26 January 2012

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) - Hell on Earth, How to Sabotage a Good Sequel and the Ruining of a Horror Franchise

I am such a fan of Clive Barker’s ‘Hellraiser’ (1987) and its Peter Atkins scripted sequel ‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II’ (1988). They are original, intelligent, well-written pieces of nightmarish exploration in morality and sadomasochism. I wore out my VHS copies of the films due to my religious watching. However, none of the later instalments in the series would garner such fanatical viewing from me. 

Hell on Earth

In the lead up to its release I can remember how excited I was as a 13 year old to read Fangoria’s production coverage of ‘Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth’ (1992). It was a change from two British productions to an American one when production company Trans Atlantic Entertainment bought the franchise after the bankruptcy of New World Pictures. When I finally got around to seeing it, I was just so disappointed. Abolished was the spirit of the original film that Atkins and director Tony Randel carried over so well in that aforementioned first sequel. Instead, what we got was Pinhead turned into a cartoonish Freddy like anti-hero for teenagers creating crappier cenobites to boot with the disturbing surreal horror of pleasure and pain shifting to scenes of slasher like entertainment with a severe dip in the quality of the acting too. Heavy metal music also replaced Christopher Young’s atmospheric orchestral scores.

Unlike ‘Hellbound’ Barker’s involvement was obviously minimal here. The head of Trans Atlantic Lawrence L. Kuppin wanted to keep him away so he could egotistically put his own signature stamp on it. Towards the end of the shoot though, the newfound studio for the movie’s distribution Miramax offered Clive Barker the chance of his own input. Despite adding some stuff here and there to help try to match his vision of the Hellraiser mythos it was sadly all in vain. Barker also helped promote this new Americanized version of his creation directing the video for Motorhead’s reworking of the Ozzy Osbourne song ‘Hellraiser’ which the band contributed to the film’s soundtrack. When Pinhead is starring in a rock music promo playing a game of poker with Lemmy you know the ball has surely dropped here. Oh dear how soul crushing this all was. See the promo video for Motorhead's 'Hellraiser' below (a great song by the way)...

How to Sabotage a Good Sequel

A couple of more years went by. While I had stopped buying Fangoria regularly preferring to spend my wages from my first job leaving school on clothes, movies, music, booze, cigarettes and recreational drugs I would always pick up a copy in one of my local newsagents for a quick read. On one such occasion before Apu would tell me to put down the magazine threatening to cut off my hands for treating his shop like a library I found out that a new Hellraiser movie was in production ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline’. Despite my bitter disappointment with the previous instalment, I held out some hope from the articles I quickly read. According to these features, it was going to be something completely different like we have never seen before that would take the mythology laid down in the previous movies to new heights of imagination with an ambitious narrative encompassing three settings each in different eras of time. Although at the same time, it would get back to the darkness and surrealism of the first two films.

I was excited to read all about this but in the back of my mind, I also thought that this was too good to be true. After a troubled shoot, the movie got a release finally in 1996 and I came across it by chance in the Blockbuster around the corner from me. Yes, it went straight to video in Britain just two months after coming out theatrically in the States. Knowing that this was not a good sign I was still eager to see it but those nagging doubts I had before would prove me right. Except it is no fault of the original director and the original writer.

One of the few things Miramax got right was to bring back Clive Barker into a role as big as he had on ‘Hellbound’. Usually wanting to be involved in movies based on his work due his loyalty to the characters he created and trying to insure a better quality film Peter Atkins wrote a script based on his idea just like on that previous sequel; so far so good. It was to be three movies all rolled into one epic complex horror story: the first act being Gothic, the second contemporary horror and the third a genre crossover with sci-fi. It is much like the first two instalments in that it centres on one family only this time over the course of four hundred years through a bloodline.

This bloodline is that of the Lemarchand family. The toymaker Philip Lemarchand in the first story set in 18th century France is the creator of the puzzle box configuration that opens a gateway to the hellish world of the cenobites. This brings to our world here the demon princess Angelique. He knows that he has made a terrible mistake so he sets about inventing the Elysium Configuration to send her back but is killed before he has the chance to complete it. He has an unborn son who survives. The second part set in modern day America involves the follow up to ‘Hell on Earth’. The box that was buried in cement in the climax of that film has called out to the family’s bloodline the ancestor John Merchant an architect who has had constructed a building incorporating the designs of the box seen at the end of the last movie. Angelique learns of the bloodline’s survival and travels there finding the cemented box in a pillar and unleashing Pinhead who wants to force John to use the Elysium Configuration to keep the gateway open between hell and earth so he may come and go as he pleases. Lastly, in the futuristic setting of space in 2127 another descendent Dr Paul Merchant has constructed the Minos space station for the specific reason of rectifying Lemarchand’s mistake to end his family’s curse forever by destroying the demonic cenobites and the connection between their world and ours forever. 

The production history is a depressing one to say the least. This unnecessary debacle was all down to the dim-witted studio executives whom despite green lighting a script that did not introduce their franchise’s star monster Pinhead until almost half way through the film suddenly decided that this was not on when viewing the director’s workprint. The directorial debut of SFX wiz Kevin Yagher got gang raped here. The execs forgot what partly made the first two movies work so well, which was that the real monsters were the human villains of Frank, Julia and Dr Channard. The Cenobites were the secondary antagonists and Pinhead was all the scarier for it - less is more. Not learning from their mistakes with ‘Hell on Earth’ the genre arm of Miramax Dimension sabotaged the story of charting the history of the puzzle box starting with its creation in 18th century France. This is the part of the film that the suits had a problem with - no Pinhead for 40 whole minutes. Even in its cut form though, it is still the strongest part of the movie.

This story was never essentially supposed to be about Pinhead. He features in it and when he does appear in every scene in the version that is out there now he eats up the screen like always. Doug Bradley is forever reliably brilliant in the role, which he plays with such commanding power and coldness aided by equally spine tinkering dialogue from Peter Atkins: (while looking at the Earth from the space station in the third act) “Glorious, is it not? The creatures that walk its surface, always looking to the light, never seeing the untold oceans of darkness beyond. There are more humans alive today than in all of its pitiful history. The Garden of Eden. A garden of flesh.” We saw so little of the character in those first two instalments as they were for the most part not about Pinhead yet we could never forget him. It would have worked just fine here also. Bradley’s performance is a return to his portrayal pre ‘Hell on Earth’ in which in that he was a humanless demon run amuck free from the rules of his God Leviathan.

Nevertheless, the studio made cuts anyway behind Kevin Yagher’s back. His originally intended version had more plot, characterization and explained clearly the events. The released version is incoherent making little sense most of the time. There was also more graphic imagery, which included in that first act aristocratic cenobites, demon clowns and a whole fancy dress party sequence of evil all sacrificed to make way for a quicker entrance for Dimension’s franchise poster boy. With that, Yagher quite rightfully fucked off right out of there and disowned it pulling an Alan Smithee by completely removing his credit of director and having that same said name replacing his. There were still scenes from the shooting script left to film. However, rewrites were made and new scenes filmed with the narrative structure changed with the sci-fi part of the story serving as a bookend in order to give the black pope of pain more screen time. At the helm was the hack Joe Chappelle director of one of the worst movies of the Halloween franchise ‘The Curse of Michael Myers’ (1996).

The result of all this is a mixed bag as there are diamonds in the rough. The interesting elements we can see from Kevin Yagher’s original version include a fiery relationship between Pinhead and Angelique that would have had likely more elaboration if left intact. Pinhead is such a strong character that oozes charisma and it is fascinating to see his authority challenged by his sexy demonic female equal who in her mind is superior. It is good to see a strong villainess again much like Julia in the first two instalments but here awful dubbing also sabotages Valentina Vargas’s performance. After seeing workprint footage with her original accent her voice in the final cut really does take away the power from her performance. The rest of the cast except of course another great turn from Bradley are just okay. The acting is not on a par with the first two films but a step up from ‘Hell on Earth’. Genre fans will know Kim Myers from the severely underrated ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ (1985). A film Yagher provided the excellent special makeup effects for. The originally intended ending is a lot better but Dimension decided a happy sappy one would be more beneficial as opposed to that more emotionally charged one. Check it out below from the workprint...

It looks great visually despite Dimension hiring and firing four directors of photography and the set designs are impressive with the special effects equally so and the SFX for the gore is decent. There is also the return of an orchestral musical score and though it pales in comparison to Young’s work, it does at least hark back to the classic era of the Hellraiser movies.

The Ruining of a Horror Franchise (conclusion)

In what should have been one of the best sequels with such a unique concept turned out to be a frustrating uneven mess. It does have though truly redeeming qualities that makes good on the promise of returning to the roots of the first two films, which just elevates ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline’ above the former entry. It is just that if Miramax had of allowed Kevin Yagher to release his definitive vision of the final movie we could have had something solid overall. As it turned out instead of being the saviour of the franchise after ‘Hell on Earth’ it helped relegate the series to direct to video with a further five sequels that were even worse. “Jesus Wept” so said Frank Cotton and so did millions of Hellraiser fans.

** out of ****

Dave J. Wilson

©2012 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.

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