NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
This is Hellraiser 9, also known as ‘the one without Doug Bradley’ … and one of those projects (cf: Corman’s Fantastic Four, My Name is Modesty) apparently made solely to secure rights a company (here, Dimension) need to retain so a bigger project (the inevitable remake of Hellraiser) can be developed. So, it’s a script by make-up man Gary J. Tunnicliffe handled in a couple of weeks by direct-to-DVD sequelmeister Victor Garcia (Return to House on Haunted Hill, Mirrors 2) and barely 75 minutes long. The fact that the DVD release has nine minutes of deleted scenes which could easily have been left in suggests the brisk running time was an artistic decision, though something as makeshift as this can scarcely have had many of those and some scenes still manage to drag on too long.
Pinhead is now played by Garret Dillahunt-jawed Stephan Smith Collins, but dubbed by Fred Tatasciore (the voice of the Hulk on various animated projects) and there’s a return to the series of the box-toting vagrant (now, Daniel Buran) who was in the first two movies (he now talks a lot more than he used to, though). Considering that the most recent sequels were non-Hellraiser scripts retrofitted into the franchise, this is even a modest return to basics, riffing on elements from Hellraiser and Hellbound Hellraiser 2 long since forgotten in the weird traipse around the world found in everything from Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth to Hellraiser: Hellworld. Pinhead and cronies are now back to being called ‘cenobites’ rather than plain demons, and the young heroine even looks up the word in a dictionary and explains what it actually means (an inhabitant of a monastic order). The rules of the puzzle box and coming back from the dead after being pulled apart by infernal chains are as they were in the first film, but we do get a new set of characters.
It opens as if it’s going to be yet another found footage film with snippets of cam-cordered action shot by teenagers Nico (Jay Gillespie) and Steven (Nick Eversman), who run away from their affluent families and head for Tijuana where they get into drink-and-sex-related troubles, have their car stolen and Nico winds up opening the box, which summons Pinhead and some familiar-looking stooges. Then, mercifully, we cut to Steven’s sister Emma (Tracey Fairaway) looking at the footage – which upsets her since she’s Nico’s girlfriend and he’s on the video banging a hooker (Adel Marie Ruiz) in a bar toilet (which ends with her battered to death) – and the teens’ grieving parents (Steven Brand and Devon Sorvari, Sebastien Roberts and Sanny Van Heteren) getting together in an uh-oh out-of-the-way home to hash over recent disappearances and sling recriminations at each other. Flashbacks explain how Nico, a nasty piece of work, and Steven, a more sensitive soul, met the Vagrant and got to open the box, whereupon Nico was ripped apart for his pains. Then, Steven had to be badgered by his skinless pal into murdering hookers (we get a few too many murdered hookers for one film) in order to bring him back to life. This is all analagous to the action of Hellraiser, and those who remember that film won’t be surprised by the major twist (spoiler alert: it’ll be given away in the next paragraph).
After the families’ cars have disappeared, stranding them at their home, a dazed Steven staggers into the frame, and starts acting inappropriately creepy, making out with his sister and shooting his Dad in the stomach. Yes, it’s nasty Nico in Steven’s skin, which he took after his friend claimed he’d give him ‘the shirt off my back’, and he delivers a long, ranting lecture about how worthless the affluent parents are. He forces Emma to open the box (here, it’s not a skill but a personality trait – since Nico is told ‘you suck at puzzles’), intending on trading her innocence to the Cenobites. A flurry of betrayals, reversals, murders and skinnings which makes for unhappy endings all round. It’s pretty bad, of course – and the quickie schedule really shows in the way that so much of the film takes place in one front room with the resurrected teen sociopath ranting at everyone. Girly-looking Eversman gets to play both kids, of course, and spends more time as the evil Nico than Andy Robinson did as the villain of Hellraiser – but as a tearaway dropout, Nico’s a fairly thin, random explorer of the perverse and there ought to be more to the relationship with his best pal/victim than there is. The crisis in their doomed runaway rampage comes when Steven baulks at killing a hooker who has a baby behind a curtain in her room, and sulks in the corridor while Nico finishes her off and the baby’s cries end with a neck-snapping sound effect. Some verbal nastiness, as Nico taunts Emma’s Dad (who has had an affair with his Mom) about deflowering the girl, is tasteless but also so overplayed that it’s bathetic. And the lantern-jawed, flatly American-sounding Pinhead just feels wrong … even with two weeks to spare, surely they could have found a Brit to dub the voice?
Advertised as ‘from the mind of Clive Barker’, Barker responded ‘it’s not even from my butt-hole’ … though it is closer to Hellraiser than sequels the series’ creator did authorise, if only because it’s a scrambled remake of the original. This underlines the odd fact that even the duff Hellraiser sequels to date (and there have been a raft of them) troubled to tell different stories in an arena where, say, the Friday the 13th or Elm Street series just make the same exact film again over and over. The punchline is that the remake this was made to keep alive is now apparently stalled – and will seem even more redundant since this already is a Hellraiser remake.