Movie Review : Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)
Whether you like it or not, British author/screenwriter/director/badass multidisciplinary artist Clive Barker started something greater than himself when he unleashed the adaptation of his novella The Hellbound Heart upon an unsuspecting society in 1987. People welcomed Pinhead, the Cenobites and the enlightenment of pain so surprisingly well the movie spawned a whopping seven sequels (including four straight to video), comic books and even more literature, yet it surprisingly remains the lowest grossing horror franchise in history. The first two movies were so much fun and your reaction to them so great, I decided to add this review of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, the tormented little brother of two true blue horror cinema classics. Does it live up to the franchise's reputation of tigger happy, blood soaked cosmic horror? Well, let's see.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth's storyline is almost a standalone. Dionysian scumbag Frank Cotton and his unfortunate family are briefly acknowledged in an expository scene, but never a part of the narrative. There was a schism during the final battle of Hellbound: Hellraiser II and chief Cenobite Pinhead (Doug Bradley) has split into two entities: his former self Elliot Spencer and the creature he has become through his extreme pleasure seeking. Pinhead is found and brought back into existence by J.P Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt) a trust fund kid and club owner and a terrible person in general. After witnessing a supernatural event that originated in Monroe's club involving CHAINS, investigative reporter Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) is compelled to uncover the terrifying truths of the universe and therefore becomes the only person in the world standing in Pinhead's world domination/apocalypse plans.
The fascinating question the Hellraiser franchise has been cleverly refusing to answer for three movies now is: is it religious horror or not? The series has been increasingly acknowledging the Judeo-Christian paradigm of heaven and hell for some time now, but it's unclear whether it's out of convenience or not. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is delightfully trolling the audience in that regard. There is a great scene where Pinhead chases Joey into a church, walks up to the altar and starts mocking the crucifixion scene by puncturing his hands with his own head pins for some reason. This could be interpreted as inverted Christianity, but everything else in the scene points to a subtler, more complicated answer. The priest Joey runs to is completely impotent. Not only he doesn't have power, but he openly says he doesn't believe in demons, that they're metaphors. The logic of good and evil doesn't seem to apply here. Pinhead and screenwriter Peter Atkins are once again laughing at the human impulse of dividing everything into two categories in true cosmic horror fashion.
There are a several new Cenobites in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth. What used to be a desire-based meritocracy * becomes out of necessity, well, something more akin to conventional, Judeo-Christian hell. Club dwelling lost souls and huh...technology users are getting "turned" by Pinhead. That was an interesting choice. Joey's cameraman Doc (Ken Carpenter) turns into THIS. My man J.P Monroe turns into whatever THIS is and last but not least, there's an immortal CD guy in that movie. Once again it isn't clear whatever the fuck is going on with this. Maybe it is a pseudo-religious comment on technology and the endtimes ** or maybe Peter Atkins is just terrified by technology, but Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth files them as sinners and sinners get turned into Cenobites because of Dr. Channard ***. Or maybe because the more the merrier. The franchise has a history of doubling down on whatever cool concepts they come up with.
There you have it. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is not as fondly remembered as its predecessor partly because it creatively shot its wad to make a long-lasting horror masterpiece, partly because it's a new narrative and last, but not least, it deals with themes and issues that now belong to a foregone era. Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is still a great movie that trolls our Judeo-Christian heritage hard and show the series' trademark lack of restraint when it comes to over-the-top gore scenes. The Hellraiser franchise was one of the best surprises of horroctober. I didn't think it would be half the fun that it actually was. This is the ultimate stop for nostalgic horror movie fans. The Hellraiser movies put their money where their mouth is and deliver a savant mix of subtle cosmic horror, over the top gore and eighties silliness. I can't say enough good things about these films.
* There is literally one new Cenobite created in the first two films: Channard. And that fucker deserved it.
** The movie is PRETTY apocalyptic after all.
*** You'd have to see part II to understand why. But please do. It is a glorious rain of gore and ridiculous ideas.