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Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

When your movie’s opening credits end with “Directed by Alan Smithee,” I think it’s best to not have opening credits at all.  That name used to be a placeholder credit for directors who had disowned their movie.  While this sequel moved away from the slasher film stupidity of the previous film, it traded it for another kind of a stupidity.  Studio interference once again ruins what could’ve been another fantastic film with a frightening story.  If you ask Clive Barker, this turned into a disastrous mess.  Beyond just what Dimension Films rejected of Barker’s far more visceral and satisfying story, special makeup effects artist Kevin Yagher was the original director of the film, but after Dimension Films decided to cut down the film for time constraints and creative differences, he disowned the film.  They brought in Joe Chapelle, the director of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, to re-shoot several sequences.  Beyond just new scenes being shot, a vast number were cutout entirely, and the film was fully re-structured as being told in flashback instead of the original, fully linear storytelling that was intended.  What we were left with is an excessively watered down concept with a lot of problems that are more examples of why Dimension Films never should have been given this franchise.  Clive Barker even filed a lawsuit to get his name removed from the film, among other things.

We start out in the year 2127 on the space station Minos with Dr. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsay) using a remote controlled droid to open the Lament Configuration in a sealed chamber.  The droid succeeds only to be blown to pieces as “a most unsatisfying victim,” as Pinhead puts it.  Meanwhile, the station is stormed by a small group of Marines sent to capture Dr. Merchant for hijacking the very station he designed.  He’s captured before he can put his potential plan into action, and thus, pleads with them to allow him to finish his work.  After enough pleading, he convinces the female marine to hear his story.  Merchant tells of how his ancestor, Phillip L’Merchant (also played by Bruce Ramsay), created the puzzle box in the eighteenth century based on the specific instructions of the most famous magician in France, Duc De L’Isle (Mickey Cottrel).  Phillip never could’ve imagined what it would unlock.  De L’Isle used the box to bring forth a demon in a woman’s skin, and named her Angelique (Valentina Vargas).  Paul says that Phillip witnessed this devilry and attempted to undo it by designing the Elysium Configuration – something he would be incapable of implementing as it had to do with the reflecting of light beams to be a counteracting prison for these demons…the Cenobites.  The design was passed down through the family’s bloodline (hence, the subtitle), and eventually, the twentieth century descendant, John Merchant (Ramsay, again), a architect / computer designer, had potentially built what could become the Elysium Configuration, but Pinhead states that it could be a very large doorway (the office building featured at the conclusion of the previous film).  Angelique attempts to seduce its secrets from John, but Pinhead states that seduction is useless as pain and suffering are the way of hell now.  Pinhead attempts to trap John by holding his family prisoner, but in the end, both sides lose.  In the twenty-second century, Dr. Paul Merchant believes that he can destroy the Cenobites once and for all, but the marines’ untimely arrival have prevented that.  Naturally, no one believes his elaborate story, but he must find a way to destroy the Cenobites or else the bloodline will end with him.

There was vast potential to make this an immensely amazing film.  Clive Barker’s original ideas had so much of his macabre sensibilities in it including Phillip being a gruesome serial killer instead of a humble toymaker.  It would’ve had far more depth than this shallow, tamed down commercial film we were given.  I’ll admit that the story they give us holds together decently well, but it’s just not gripping or all that interesting.  I think the narrative would have been more tense, interesting, and suspenseful if not told in flashback.  The scenes in eighteenth century France are probably the best in the film as they are the most Hellraiser-like with grisly gore in abundance.  It also has the richest art direction, and actually contains no Pinhead.  To me, it is the most fascinating segment of the film.  Although, as the film goes on, we see the further divergence from the original, established mythology.  Pinhead once again creates his own Cenobites despite not having the power to do so.  As stated in my review of Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, Leviathan is the only one with that kind of power as he is a god.  Pinhead is merely a minion who has been granted a leadership role amongst the Cenobites.  Also, there is a conversation between Pinhead and Angelique in the present day segment that creates a confusing continuity problem.  They act as if they know each other even though Angelique has been outside of Hell for centuries, and Pinhead has only been a Cenobite for a few decades.  It’s also a little odd that Pinhead refers to her as Angelique as if that’s her name in Hell, but that name was seemingly given to her by Duc De L’Isle.  The film also fails to explain how Jacque happens to be immortal.  He’s still alive in the late twentieth century not having aged a day in two hundred years alongside Angelique.

Performance wise, Doug Bradley seems quite comfortable here, playing Pinhead somewhat less outrageous than in the last film, bringing back the coldness, but it still lacks the fierce intimidation of the first two films.  Valentina Vargas is nicely seductive and dangerous as Angelique, and creates some stimulation with her character.  Bruce Ramsay shows a good flexibility as he portrays Phillip, John, and Paul.  Each one is a different type of character.  Phillip being the naive “little man,” John being the protective father, and Paul being the intelligent and cunning one of the lot.  I hand it to him for showing the diversity of his acting abilities.  However, it is a bit of a cheap idea using the same actor to portray three different people in three different time periods.  There’s no artistic merit to have them look identical except to stupidly remind the audience that they’re all related.  It would’ve added more uniqueness to Philip, John, and Paul if three different actors had been cast to play them.  Each one would bring their own distinct qualities to the roles to make them feel more authentic and poignant, but instead, we just get one actor doing only a decent job playing all three.  It just makes the characters bleed together, not making one really standout over another for an audience’s sake.

Sadly, we are subjected to another team of space marines that lack a sense of realism or intelligence.  They were not conceived as a capable, powerful, and competent force to contend with.  They are simply shallow cannon fodder.  They are just meat ready to be ripped apart by Pinhead’s chains, and that is another crippling sensibility carried over from Hellraiser III.  This is not a slasher film franchise where a high body count of dumbass stereotypes equals a fun movie.  This was a franchise started on deep thematic ideals of human evil and dark desires.  It was amazingly well written material that captured a macabre imagination that could run wild.  Almost all of these sequels from Dimension Films either severely lack coherent imagination or the competency to properly execute a smart idea.  Stupid characters like these marines are a strong example of the creative forces involved not understanding the property they are working with.  Many studios don’t seem to understand that you will probably make more money in the long run by producing a solid, smart, high quality movie over a stupid, slap dash amalgamation of commercial garbage.  This is why so many franchises end up in such a lower grade place than where they started.  They want to make it more commercial by stripping away everything that made it successful in the first place, which clearly is the dumbest thing you could possibly do.

The overall style and look of the film is very slick and smooth.  It sets the style for the following direct-to-video sequels, but it’s not very favorable over the earlier films.  There is a definite lack of artistry and ambition displayed here in exchange for more commercial sensibilities with the cinematography and direction.  It just looks like your generic Dimension Films production with a lot of soft blue tones and often times, gimmicky camera work.  I think the low budget tends to show through the most in the future space station scenes.  They’re all very small sets with shadowy corners hiding parts of the set which don’t exist.  There’s just a very generic design to this space station, and no budget to create a complete or impressive environment.  Atmosphere is very light, working more off of stylized lighting and camera angles than solid directing to create anything truly captivating or chilling.  A film from around this time that actually took this sort of futuristic Hellraiser concept and did it well was Event Horizon.  And that’s giving praise to a film directed by the man who gave us one of the worst theatrical films I’ve ever seen – Alien vs. Predator.

The make-up effects are quite good, as one would expect from a film partially directed by a special make-up effects master.  The majority of the gore is contained in the France sequences, and definitely serves up some solid Hellraiser visuals.  As the film goes on, there is still blood and gore, but it feeds back into that bad idea of a gratuitous body count which is not suitable for Hellraiser.  The Cenobite make-up and costumes are still at a decent theatrical release level, but as with everything else, lack that gritty texture that was such a powerful element of the first two movies.  This film features numerous digital visual effects, and they generally fall in that average low budget range.  They’re never wholly awful, but they certainly are a very long way from exceptional.  With a budget of $4 million, I think you can easily forge an accurate expectation of the quality of mid-90s CGI contained within Hellraiser: Bloodline.

For anyone seeking a reprise of the essence of Hellraiser, this film won’t do it for you.  My opinion of this film has probably gone down a little over the years.  Beyond just building up better filmmaking standards, I have gotten more worn down by studios corrupting franchises.  They have something very good to start with that has a lot of potential which has proven its success, but then, squander it by over commercializing it to where it’s counteractive to them making money off of it.  That’s not a very artistic statement, but one that the studio machine understands.  Dimension Films has constantly screwed over and brushed aside Clive Barker’s creative input on this franchise, and that couldn’t be a worse idea.  Hellraiser is a distinctly original property that has a vast wealth of ideas and stories to be intelligently told about it, but Dimension has tried so hard to make it an indistinguishable franchise that blends into all the other half-baked horror franchises out there.  After this film, Hellraiser was a direct-to-video franchise with no consistency because the studio constantly took original scripts that had nothing to with Hellraiser, and re-wrote them to be Hellraiser movies.  Hell On Earth was the first misstep, but there was a chance to rebound strong with Bloodline.  What we got slipped up far too much by embracing sleek mediocrity instead of visceral innovation.  Considering, in this same year, New Line Cinema released the deeply gritty and grisly crime thriller Se7en, proving that something that disturbing and grim could still capture a wide, mass audience and critical acclaim, there was little reason to believe that Hellraiser: Bloodline needed to be so tamed down from a very dark, violent, and fascinating concept.  Now that I think of it, Clive Barker’s original premise for Philip L’Merchant’s story was essentially Hellraiser crossed with Se7en.

This had the basis for a great installment, but the execution was flawed throughout production.  There are several cut scenes, mostly from the eighteenth century segment, that would have helped enhance the Hellraiser style and feel of the film.  A workprint bootleg is out there somewhere featuring a number of these sequences in a very rough form.  That’s the best you’ll likely ever get of Kevin Yagher’s vision for the film.  As it stands, Hellraiser: Bloodline fails in some places, but has some shining moments in its climax.  Ultimately, the film does feel too short for its conceptual potential.  It does get really compelling in the last ten minutes when Paul Merchant is squaring off against Pinhead.  Both actors do an exceptional job building up apprehension for the climax.  There was clearly a better movie that was filmed than what Dimension Films gave us, and somehow, that simply doesn’t surprise me one bit.  In the end, this sequel still delivers some good story, great makeup work, and good visual effects.  While others would disagree, I do feel this is a better film than Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth mainly due to only a few flashes of inspiration and effectiveness.