At one time, this was to be the apparent final installment in the original Hellraiser film continuity, and there was a very real reason for that. Since the Weinstein’s have been unable to get their remake off the ground, they slap dashed another sequel together after this one which I will never see. Hellraiser: Hellworld is like The Matrix meets New Nightmare crossed with the worse entries in this franchise. Don’t be fooled by the presence of Lance Henriksen – he’s made plenty of bad movies. While it is nice to see Lance and Pinhead share a scene, it’s brief and doesn’t save the film one bit. In fact, it confuses the issue even further – what reality is this set in?
A young man named Adam (Stelian Urian) commits suicide after forging a deep obsession with the Hellraiser mythos and an internet game called Hellworld. His friends fail to act when Adam was spiraling out of control, aside from Jake (Christopher Jacot), who ultimately blames them for everything. This is all, supposedly, a reality where the films are real and everything else is fiction, but that’s not for certain. Adam’s friends grieve his death, and two years later, are invited to a mansion-filled Hellworld party by The Host (Lance Henriksen). They are greeted by the mysterious, cryptic gentleman, and are shown into his private, macabre collection to explore freely. Though, what they see and experience soon horrifies them. Somehow, they have entered into a manufactured hell, designed to take their sanity and their lives, but what is the true reality here?
What honestly drags the value of this film down into the dumps really is the story. Setting it in a world such as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare where Hellraiser is an actual film series and internet presence, and making it that the Cenobites, supposedly, are not real, they are just a device for which Henriksen’s character seeks revenge, sets itself up for failure. While New Nightmare was a very intelligent and effective film with a cleverly crafted premise, Hellworld just doesn’t have that ambition or creativity to coherently make the concept work. The story really has nothing to do with the mythology of the series, or anything of a personal hell. If this was produced as a film with no connection of any kind to Hellraiser, as it originally was written as, it might have been pretty decent, but you cannot follow this film’s logic. You cannot setup a world where the Cenobites, Leviathan, the Lament Configuration, and so forth are merely fictional creations, but then, turn around at the very end to show that they are completely real. New Nightmare handled it differently, and had actual explanations for how it was possible for Freddy, or a demon in the guise thereof, was able to transcend the realities. Hellworld’s ending has some satisfaction, but as I said, it’s too short-lived to make a real impact on the quality of the film.
Regardless of the plot or script, the film is as generally well-acted as any of the last few sequels – nothing spectacular, but just good enough. Henriksen, obviously, presents a strong performance that helps to gravitate the film’s events and characters. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from him in a villainous role. It is sad that Henriksen is such a damn good and very dedicated actor, but he continually stars in such poor quality films. I really think he should seek out new representation, and get himself back into better roles in better movies. Moving on, we still get faithful Doug Bradley in his usual role. Not much to say about it. Same old, reliable thing, as expected. Personally, I would have liked to see Doug Bradley have more to work with in this series, such as in the third film when the filmmakers were exploring Elliot Spenser. Give him somewhere new to go with the character and his acting talents. By this point, it felt like he was just playing it by-the-numbers, but at least he had enough sense to back out of Hellraiser: Revelations. The supporting cast of Hellworld is your usual horror film youngsters all looking pretty, and ready to get ripped to shreds. No one exceptional stands out, but they all hold their own well enough. I don’t mean to be cavalier about it, but it’s mostly your standard horror movie performances. There’s not a great deal of room for the actors to stretch their abilities, but it is comfortably above the cheap talent we’ve all occasionally endured in other horror films.
The effects here are about standard for the direct-to-video end of the series. There’s very little that will jump out and amaze you at its awesomeness. After watching all of these lower budgeted sequels, it’s difficult to conjure up anything substantive to say about the practical or visual effects. At times with Hellworld, there is fast cutting, trying to give the film a more disorienting experience, but I can’t say it’s all that favorable. It works as good as it can. Unfortunately, it does little but to confuse an audience. Computer generated imagery is, inevitably, made use of in this film. You can’t escape it, especially on the lower budgets of these direct-to-video films. It simply allows the filmmakers to do more while spending less, in comparison to practical, physical effects.
Now, despite the whole mixed bag of crap we have here, I do have to say that the cinematography and general look of the film is very good. It is probably one of the better entries to establish a visual self-identity. The use of dark and light along with a select color palette truly allow the imagery to pop out and be eye-catching. Granted, we’re not talking Blade Runner here, but it certainly lends itself towards a workable and generally effective atmosphere. While the production values are still rather sleek, the lighting helps to shadow almost anything that may, potentially, appear to be too cheap or fabricated. That’s something to credit director Rick Bota for since he has a solid career as a cinematographer, but the film’s actual director of photograph, Gabriel Kosuth, deserves the credit for realizing this style.
While I have left two prior sequels un-reviewed at this time, I might get around to them eventually for compeltist’s sake. In short, Inferno is one I’ve never liked at all, not one bit. It turns Pinhead into a figure of moral persecution in the extremely little screentime he has, and gives us a fully morally corrupt and unsympathetic character as a lead. I do own Hellraiser: Deader, but it’s been a long time since I’ve watched it. I do recall it being very surreal, but it manages to tie itself back into the mythology with connections back to Bloodline. I recall liking it enough to warrant a purchase when it was released, which was around the same time as Hellworld. The summation of this franchise seems to be that it started out with brilliance and progressively got diluted into a mess of inconsistency and frequent incoherence. It’s a very hit or miss franchise following Hellbound, but each entry, more or less, seems to have its fans. Perhaps, some sequels would have been better films apart from the Hellraiser name, or simply judged in a vacuum. However, it’s difficult to watch a lesser grade sequel knowing just how amazing and awe-inspiring its early predecessors were.
Taking all things into account with this sequel, there’s really too much going against it to make a recommendation for it. The franchise just fizzled out completely with Hellworld. Granted, there’s plenty of ways to rebound, but Dimension Films still seems like the wholly wrong studio to be controlling this franchise. They don’t seem to care about making the best movie they possibly can. They just want the most commercialized, wide appealing pile of incoherence they can put together. In any case, there are worthwhile qualities within this film, but the negatives bog it down far too much.
The direct-to-video end of the Hellraiser franchise has not yielded very admirable results. However, I found this entry to be a great surprise. Granted, this one doesn’t have a lot of Hellraiser-style gore, but gore alone does not make a Hellraiser film. Although, one early scene might spur thoughts from Hellbound, and I feel this is the best sequel since Hellbound: Hellraiser II. While this does share some elements with Hellraiser: Inferno, it blends everything together very nicely for a superior film. It is a whole twisting story that wraps itself with past mythology and storylines featuring the return of Ashley Laurence.
We open to Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) and her now husband, Trevor (Dean Winters), driving down the road speaking vaguely of things we are yet to understand. They start playfully fooling around, start kissing, but Trevor narrowly misses a head-on collision with an SUV which swerves the car off the bridge into the river. Tthe car sinks, Trevor escapes, but is unable to free Kirsty. Naturally, Trevor believes she drowned to death, but her body cannot be found. Trevor wakes up to some amnesia along with several disturbing experiences, but he takes them as nightmares due to his head trauma. Trevor is re-oriented to his peculiar surroundings including his sexually aggressive boss Gwen, his sexy young neighbor in his apartment complex, and his somewhat oddly-behaving co-worker and friend Bret. Trevor is plagued by bizarre images and nightmarish experiences all the while more and more of his memory returns. He can’t explain why someone dies in his apartment, but then, reappear alive with no memory of such events. Or why he sees an image in the video camera happening right before him, but yet, it isn’t. Why he feels he’s being watched or followed by a faceless, dark figure. None of it makes sense to him. One cop believes he’s done nothing wrong, but another believes he killed his wife. The further it all progresses, the more it comes together like any sort of puzzle. It’s all cleverly woven into a worthy sequel to the first two Hellraiser films.
I really have to say that I think Dean Winters is a severely under-recognized talent. He’s an actor with a lot of charisma and emotional strength capable of being a major leading man. He always puts everything he has into everything he does. Hellraiser: Hellseeker is no different. He carries this film excellently reflecting various states of confusion, heartfelt emotion, inquisitiveness, menace, and passion. He embodies that wide range with ease and depth. With both how the story is structured, and the honest quality of his performance, even in the end, I didn’t really despise Trevor despite what he tried to do to Kirsty. You can come to feel empathy for Trevor as the man you’ve come to know over the course of this film instead of the man he really was.
The entire cast really is a solid mixture. Detective Lange is given plenty of humanity and compassion by William S. Taylor, and conversely, Detective Givens is nicely hard edged and abrasive by way of Michael Rogers. The ladies of the film are all very attractive, and handle the steamy, seductive aspects of their roles with a lot of passion and assertiveness. There’s definite some stimulating sexually charged action in the movie that further throws Trevor into a whirlwind of confusion.
Doug Bradley puts in one of his best performances here. Of course, he portrays Pinhead, and does so with a lot of chilling, intimidating vigor. He seemed very amped up for this script as it gives him a very juicy role that he sinks his teeth into very deeply. The film puts in just the right amount of Pinhead to keep him compelling with just a few poignant scenes. Since they avoid over indulging in the character, those scenes have strong impact which had been missed in the last several entries. The previous film, Hellraiser: Inferno, had so little Pinhead in it that he had nearly zero impact. Hellseeker gets it right. Bradley also portrays a sort of second character which he brings a different, yet similar quality to. He’s more cryptic and tempting in a subtle fashion that is very effective. His performance as this Merchant really sets a foreboding, mysterious tone for much of the film. The scene is very nicely interspersed throughout the film as Trevor flashes back to it every so often to reveal more of it.
The structure used here to build up these very vivid and terrifying hallucinations, and slowly reveal the darker truths surrounding Trevor is, dare I say, very brilliant. While it’s not all that original of a structure, the execution is just so exceptionally effective. The hallucinations are startling and constantly unnerving to an audience who must regularly question the reality of the situation. The mysterious aspects are greatly interwoven for a very compelling story that moves at strong, steady pace. Overall, this is just an exceptionally well written and executed script that has a strong punch of a twist ending.
The film was directed by Rick Bota, who had previously been an amazing cinematographer on a number of movies. So, it’s no surprise that he makes this film look far above its direct-to-video status. He clearly worked extensively with director of photography John Drake to create a very textured and moody look for Hellseeker with its blue and green tones. It creates a hardened, cold aesthetic that benefits the story very well. There is plenty of grit in the darker visuals and a rich depth of contrast that enhances the moodiness. The visuals really have a lot of weight and integrity, and the camera work is very solid. There’s plenty of dramatic angles, used sparingly, and competent camera movement to give this film production value and artistic quality. Overall, this is a film that is shot very solidly.
While the Steven Edwards’ score is definite departure from the classic Christopher Young style music, it suits this film nicely. There are some electric guitar pieces mixed in with the orchestral work, and I think that gives this Hellraiser film a bit more respectable self-identity. The score of Edwards surely supports the unnerving and startling tone that is so very well executed by Rick Bota.
Hellseeker still unsettled me after several years since my last watch of it. There were plenty of graphic sequences that made me squirm and wince. These are great story beats that weave into the overall plot smartly by the end. Nothing’s ever gratuitous. It all has a purpose once understood in retrospect. The effectiveness of this nerve twitching moments are a testament to both the amazing make-up effects work of Gary Tunnicliffe, and the digital effects work headed up by Jamison Goei. Regardless of a direct-to-video budget, the results of both are greatly impressive. Tunnicliffe really raised the standards of practical effects back to the first two films of the franchise. I will admit that the Cenobites still have the same quality as they do in the other later sequels, they are surely photographed better. The visual effects of Goei are very admirable on this kind of level. I’ve seen big budget summer blockbusters with horrendous CGI, but here, it’s quite good. It’s not Jurassic Park quality, but for a horror franchise of this budget, it’s superior to what you’d likely expect.
All in all, this is a damn good sequel. While I do feel this is the best sequel since Hellbound, don’t go thinking that this is a comparison to the first two films because it’s not. Those are different styles of stories than this. It’s a far more suspenseful, creepy, and mysterious film. It’s not so dependent on the Cenobites to drive the story forward. It has its surreal, bewildering qualities as Trevor’s own perception of reality is increasingly distorted. This is what Hellraiser: Inferno should have been, but failed greatly by detaching itself from any backstory or mythology that the series had been built on. That’s what Hellraiser is, it’s a story built on mythology as well as inner and outer conflicts. To lose the mythology and the backstory really doesn’t make it feel like Hellraiser. From the very beginning of the original Hellraiser, we’ve got mythology and history that was rich with depth. That’s what gives this series its strength. Pinhead and the rest of the Hellraiser mythos have so much that is yet to be known. There’s so much fertile ground that can still be harvested for further stories such as this one. With something as vast and as dark as Leviathan’s realm, there has to be much more that can be told about it.
While this was another original script re-written and adapted to be a Hellraiser film, I believe those writers did a solid job doing so. Tying the entire story into Kirsty was exciting and smart. Seeing her and Pinhead square off yet again was awesome, and acknowledged some substantive history with the franchise. On the DVD, there is an extended version of that scene which is very well written re-treading their back story that better explains why Pinhead sought her out. It’s only too bad that Ashley Laurence reportedly said Dimension Films only paid her enough for a single payment on a refrigerator. That stings, a lot! Regardless of that, she still put in her all for this performance, and it was a great stronger, edgier side to the character which fit perfectly into this excellent story.
This film really stands up, and it’s good that you learn things along with Trevor. You’re about as confused as he is as these bizarre, horrific, and startling events keep intruding on what he believes is reality. It’s all a puzzle that both you and Trevor discover together. It’s a film that really pays respect to the origins of the franchise, and continues on Kirsty’s story in a very intelligent way. Rick Bota proved he could be a solid director of horror with the right script. The film has a great level of grit and harden atmosphere that sets a perfect unsettling and creepy tone. Simply said, Hellraiser: Hellseeker is one to see for any Hellraiser fan!
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.
Something went wrong with Hellraiser III. Clive Barker might be credited as an executive producer, but it essentially means nothing. He proposed a storyline, but then, was relegated to a back seat executive producer’s credit. I can’t perceive any of his influence here, but that’s not what’s really wrong with this sequel. This sequel had workable elements for a thoroughly fascinating story, but what might seem to have some potential eventually degrades into sub-standard horror movie cheesiness. The execution of Hell on Earth diverges far away from the style of the previous two films. Part of the problem is that the franchise was now in the hands of a Hollywood studio who wanted to push a far more commercial appeal. The script needed an overhaul, and the quality of acting is akin to a jokey slasher flick, which is exactly what this film descends into.
Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) is a failing television news reporter in search of that story that will break her out of obscurity. While finishing a report on some go-nowhere story at the hospital one night, a young man is carted into the emergency room with chains ripped into his flesh and dangling from his body. Then, before the eyes of many in the emergency operating room, the man’s body is torn apart, and of course, Joey believes this is the caliber of story she’s been seeking. She tracks the young woman, Terri (Paula Marshall), that accompanied the man to the hospital and finds that her boyfriend is night club owner J.P. Munroe (Kevin Bernhardt), who owns a familiar pillar – the pillar of souls which now contains an imprisoned Pinhead who became trapped there after the confrontation with the Channard Cenobite in the previous film. After the spilling of blood on the pillar, Pinhead begins to reawaken, and with more blood, he can be fully regenerated. Meanwhile, Joey comes into possession of the Lament Configuration through Terri., and details of Pinhead’s mortal, human life as British Captain Elliott Spenser are soon revealed. Elliott exists apart from Pinhead now who is a free being, separated from Leviathan and Spenser, and thus, has become a far more lively and sadistic being. There is no more reasoning, no more hesitation, and no more bargains. Elliott believes he can defeat Pinhead, but Joey must bring the two together within Elliott’s realm to do so. Therefore, Joey is sent out on her mission to lure Pinhead into a trap, but Pinhead proves to be a more cunning adversary than she anticipates.
There was a very good Pinhead origin story buried underneath the second rate qualities of this sequel. It follows a logical story progression from the first two films, but the script they put together and the execution thereof just crashed and burned so hard. At the start, it doesn’t seem like a bad movie, but the garbage just continues to accumulate to turn it into a bad, cringable entry in the Hellraiser franchise. Instead of carrying on an ambitious, intelligent, and bold storytelling mentality, the film constantly takes the soft, cheap, or thinly developed route. Worse yet is that so much of the Hellraiser mythology and atmosphere is abandoned here that measuring up to the first two films becomes hopeless. For one, aside from Pinhead, all of the other Cenobites we’ve seen are gone, and new ones are created by Pinhead for his own convenience. That alone contradicts the mythology. Leviathan creates Cenobites, and only those that solve the Lament Configuration have the potential to become one. Pinhead and other Cenobites do not have the power to create other Cenobites at will. Where this new power comes from for Pinhead is a complete mystery, and it only gets worse in the following film. Granted, Pinhead does say that these new minions are a mere shadow of his former troops, but that’s a thin consolation for giving us such jokey trash. Hellraiser III simply bestows a wealth of powers upon Pinhead including gaining psychic abilities as well as creating illusions and dream-like realities without ever explaining how he or even Elliott Spenser obtained such powers. Captain Spenser says he and Pinhead have been unbound from Hell, but since all the power they had was derived from Leviathan, shouldn’t that mean being cutoff from Hell would leave them powerless? That would seem logical.
The characters and acting are a mixed bag. Being a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fan, I know Terry Farrell is quite a good and capable actress, but her performance as Joey Summerskill is very unimpressive. She’s supposed to be this driven journalist frustrated at her obscure status trying to crack open this riveting case, but what’s on the page doesn’t come out on screen. There’s no intensity or hard hitting motivation in Farrell’s performance. It’s almost all very soft and bland. I was continually struck by how flat her performance was throughout this movie. She makes what was an underdeveloped character on the page, and made it terribly yawn inducing. One would expect something along the lines of a Margot Kidder Lois Lane who is assertive, aggressive, and driven to prove herself. Instead, Farrell seems to put the minimum amount of effort into this role. The dream sequences about Joey’s father are meant to make her a sympathetic character, but they just came off as cheap, forced, and uninspired. They have almost nothing at all to do with the plot except for a very thinly veiled deception near the end. Between the lazy screenwriting and the lackluster acting, this is not a character or performance that could carry this film at all. Ashley Laurence has more depth, life, and emotion in her momentary cameo on a videotape than Terry Farrell shows in the entire movie.
Thankfully, Paula Marshall puts in a much better performance as Terri. Although, some of the stuff they write in to give the character depth is rather ridiculous. It would be one thing if Terri had nothing to aspire to, no ambition or direction in life, but to not have actual dreams when she sleeps would actually result in severe health problems. Maybe I’m taking things a little too seriously here, but it’s clearly something would’ve worked better as a metaphor instead of a literal statement. Regardless of this off-the-mark idea, Marshall really brings some viable depth and vulnerability to the role. She comes off as vastly more dimensional than Joey by way of a more grounded and relatable emotional portrayal. I would’ve preferred her being the central protagonist in the film picking up the reins from Kirsty Cotton. She seems to have more fertile emotional ground to explore than the uneven and uninteresting character of Joey. Being a drifter with no home or family, Terri automatically has a wealth of potential for a screenwriter to delve into, and Paula Marshall clearly had the talent to handle such material. It’s sad that this movie was constantly ignorant towards the potential it had on-hand, and made no effort to utilize that potential to its fullest effect.
Kevin Bernhardt’s J.P. Munroe is the most one dimensional, cheap sleaze as it gets. He’s just a cog in the story, and the script doesn’t do anything with the character. Likewise, Bernhardt doesn’t do anything worth noting with the role. He has no more to him than any low grade slasher flick, and that’s what this seems to span out to in the third act. Bloodbaths, senseless killings, and a high body count – none of which are in the Hellraiser style. The studio took Hellraiser, and turned it into a cheesy slasher franchise, eliminating anything innovative, thematic, or chilling about the mythos. The filmmakers turn Pinhead into the new Freddy Krueger with one-liners, over the top moments, and a group of seriously lame Cenobites. Pinhead loses his coldness and his seemingly heartless passion for hell. Some fans say that the appeal of this film is seeing Pinhead unleashed, but for me, that becomes its least intriguing quality. The character was far more fascinating when there was still a chilling air of mystique to his personality. On the whole here, he has been written as a completely different character that is bad enough on its own, but in the guise of Pinhead, it becomes excessively ridiculous and continually cringable. Pinhead becomes a deceiver, manipulator, and tempter of desires. He comes off more like a standard, melodramatic portrayal of the Devil than a logical progression of Pinhead. You’ve got Doug Bradley just going for broke like it doesn’t matter. He does a good job early on, but once the film does begin to “unleash” the character, his performance just becomes terribly uninteresting. Pinhead becomes another schlocky, cackling, dumb villain who’s there just to chew up scenery. Conversely, Bradley does a fine job as Elliott Spenser giving him both a strong sense of will and determination with a subtle humanity. It’s a decent performance, but it’s only too bad that it wasn’t in a better quality film to allow the Spenser character to be more fleshed out with a stronger dynamic with Pinhead.
Further contradictions to the established Hellraiser universe come with all the religious references and quips. Beyond just the betrayal of tone, one would swear that screenwriter Peter Atkins didn’t understand the franchise he was writing for, but he also co-wrote the incredible Hellbound: Hellraiser II. So, it entirely baffles me how he wrote this weak, uninspired script. What Hell really is in this fictional universe has no connection to religious interpretations or beliefs. It’s not a place for sinners or where your soul goes after death. It’s another dimension accessed by the solving of the Lament Configuration in conjunction with one’s desires to be subjected to the indivisible experiences of pain and pleasure that Leviathan offers. Atkins shows no respect to the established mythology or tone of these films. The scene of Pinhead in the church is one of the absolute worst scenes of the entire franchise because it exemplifies every downright horrible aspect of this movie. It is gratuitous in the extreme, and puts Pinhead in a setting he has no necessity to ever be in. The film is simply going as over-the-top at this point as possible not caring about story or character relevance, and just indulging in whatever the filmmakers want to do on a whim.
Thematically or visually, Hellraiser III isn’t really dark at all, let alone macabre, and repeatedly delves into a completely out-of-place self-parodying style. It conforms to the trends of the time, and thus, loses a lot of credibility for the future of the franchise. The cinematography is generally gimmicky and frenetic at times relying on a cheap early 90s MTV style. It’s definitely something that would be more enjoyable in a B-grade action movie than a horror film. Lighting schemes that might have potential just come off as ineffective due to a lack of vision and talent to create proper atmosphere. Unlike the previous two Hellraiser movies, there is no thematic material here, and instead, the movie simply gratifies itself with cheap gore and sexual content with no substance to justify any of it. An unrated cut was released on VHS and Laserdisc including extra gore and some other minor additions, but apparently, this version has not been released on DVD in North America. The film, as it is, is obviously cut down for gore as there are numerous quick, bad cutaways from the bloodier moments creating a quite tame and unsatisfying experience. However, an unrated cut is nothing that could salvage this film as a whole. A lack of substantive gore is the very least of this film’s problems.
Director Anthony Hickox demonstrates no better handle on horror than he ever has before. It’s a cheesy, jokey film with a light, commercial tone that is more interested in silly, cheap entertainment than offering up a chilling, intelligent vision of horror. The entire third act of the movie is just wretched for a Hellraiser movie. It couldn’t be any more of a betrayal and insult to what the series had stood for up to this point. It’s horrendously schlocky, terribly cheap, and stupidly over-the-top. It demonstrates no respect for the franchise by having Pinhead cackling like a brainless third rate villain, and throwing loads of gratuitous violence and action set pieces which have no relevance to horror. This is where those aforementioned poor excuses for Cenobites are revealed, and they are even given bad dialogue with cringable one-liners. This is not a Hellraiser movie, but it is quite expected for an Anthony Hickox movie. Warlock: The Armageddon had many of these cheesy qualities which indulged in underwhelming characters, some bad acting, and a severe lack of horror related content. Where that film is essentially disposable and dismissible, Hellraiser III ultimately develops into a giant slap in the face of the franchise. It’s hard to believe that Clive Barker would still want his name associated with this movie because he surely didn’t want it with Hellraiser: Bloodline. This is a mid-to-late 80s slasher film made in the early 90s when horror was on a very steep decline in quality and popularity. Between terrible handling by Dimension Films, and helmed by a cheap director, Hellraiser III easily falls short of all its potential.
The vast majority of these passionate gripes are focused on the final half hour of the movie. This is when Pinhead is released from the pillar of souls, and becomes this over-the-top, uninteresting villain. Before that, there are some good qualities in the film such as Paula Marshall’s performance, and the more subtle moments with Doug Bradley as Captain Spenser and Pinhead. Despite having a new composer, it retains Christopher Young’s iconic themes, and they are used throughout the film. However, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is barely passable as a horror film. Atmosphere, suspense, or proper tone have nothing to do with this film, and the majority of the acting is simply devoid of passion or is embarrassingly over-the-top. There are a lot of duds in this franchise, and it’s hard to say exactly which is the worst. This is more like another bad, cheesy A Nightmare On Elm Street sequel instead of a chilling and intelligent Hellraiser sequel. Barker’s involvement seems non-existent here as Pinhead is forced into too much of a foreground, dominant character instead of the ominous, looming figure in the background where he seems to work best. His limited screen time in the first two movies made his presence and character seem more powerful. He does tend to do more in a limited time capacity than he achieves in a lengthy role here. Basically, this is sad excuse for a sequel to the brilliant and macabre masterpieces of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Maybe if this was not a Hellraiser movie, something entirely separate and unrelated, one might be able to view it in a better light and actually gain some cheesy entertainment value out of it. However, as a part of this franchise, it’s just downright embarrassing The only consolation you have at the end of this movie is that the excellent track “Hellraiser” by Motörhead from their March Or Die album blares over the end credits. The music video, directed by Clive Barker, actually features Lemmy Kilmister squaring off with Pinhead in a game of cards. The song, lyrically, has nothing to do with the Hellraiser films, but this film at least gave us something worthwhile in that very cool music video. It’s just about the only worthwhile thing it produced.
I very much love this film, and count it as an all time favorite. I saw it twice in the theatre in 2005 because I was very much enthralled by the concept of the film and the excellent execution of all its characters and ideas. It has since remained a strong favorite of the genre for me, and has driven my fandom of John Constantine further. I was not knowledgeable about him before seeing this adaptation, but in the years since then, I have become a fan. In the Hellblazer comics from DC / Vertigo, he was a blonde Englishman created by the widely revered Alan Moore and visually based off of Sting, the front man for The Police. Obviously, that does not fit the description of Keanu Reeves, who portrays the title character as a dark haired American in Los Angeles, and there are numerous other changes here that deviate from the source material. That inevitably irritated numerous hardcore Hellblazer fans, but since this was my introduction to him, I can allow both versions to co-exist in my fandom. There are many reasons why I highly love this film including its gorgeous visual style, the world it showcases, and the potential of the characters.
It is said that whoever possesses the Spear of Destiny holds the fate of the world in their hands, and the Spear of Destiny has just been found and put into the hands of evil influences. In Los Angeles, exorcist and occult detective John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) begins to see foreboding signs of something big and unfriendly coming with demons forcing their way into our world, but at the same time, the anti-social chain smoker is diagnosed with lung cancer. It’s not so much the diagnosis that troubles him as the knowledge of where he’s going. John was born with a gift he didn’t want, the ability to clearly recognize the half-breed angels and demons that walk the earth in human skin, and Constantine was driven to take his own life to escape the tormenting clarity of his vision, but he failed. Now, marked as an attempted suicide with a temporary lease on life, the bitter hard-drinking, hard-living Constantine seeks a reprieve from his Hellbound fate. He patrols the earthly border between heaven and hell, hoping in vain to earn his way to salvation by sending the devil’s foot soldiers back to the depths. Unfortunately, he gains no absolution from the half-breed angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton), and no consolation from strenuous allies such as the ominous former witch doctor Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou). They all adhere to “The Balance” which keeps half-breeds from directly interfering in human affairs in order to settle a wager between God and the Devil for the souls of all mankind. When desperate but skeptical LAPD Detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) enlists his help in solving the mysterious death of her beloved psychic twin sister, their investigation pushes them deep into a subversive plot to use the Spear of Destiny to bring forth an evil that threatens to destroy humanity. Caught in a catastrophic series of otherworldly events, the two become inextricably involved, and seek to find their own peace at whatever cost.
Director Francis Lawrence came from a music video background, and that can be hit or miss when moving to feature films. However, Lawrence’s background was clearly a benefit as he injects a very powerful and epic visual style into this film. Director of Photography Philippe Rousselot realizes that immersive vision brilliantly. His composition is rock solid creating very engaging visuals that pull an audience into the story and characters. There is depth to spare in his frames, and plenty of grace and integrity in how he shoots everything. There’s never any handheld camera work. It’s all fluid movement that contributes to the overall enveloping otherworldly tone of the picture. The use of color temperatures is very key to the atmosphere as it accentuates the dramatic tones throughout with a vibrant palette. This is a gracefully shot film with great attention to creating a unique atmosphere and tone in its visuals.
The overall quality of the visual effects are stunning. They are exceptionally consistent and of an amazing high quality. From subtle effects like the fiery glint in the eyes of demons to the enveloping landscape of the Hell version of Los Angeles, they create a complete, rich, textured, and full world for John Constantine to exist within that is truly convincing. The fearsome demonic creatures seen throughout are designed with consistency and originality. This feels like a world with its own weathered history, and attention is paid to every detail to present it as such. The entire “into the light” effect in the climax is awesome as the shadows are literally pulled away to force the evil presence into view. There is never just one effect used over and over again as a crutch. The film is full of vibrant effects that give the film its fantastical flare. Overall, every effect is just executed and presented with amazing artistry complementing Francis Lawrence’s vision beautifully.
I also very highly enjoy the score to Constantine. It has a great atmospheric, haunting electronic style that further fleshes out the otherworldly quality of the film, but still incorporates plenty of traditional score elements that punctuate the rousing, dramatic sequences as well as the softer, more intimate emotions of the film. Composers Klaus Badelt & Brian Tyler put together one hell of a unique musical accomplishment with this. I’ve never heard a score quite like this before, and it works so amazingly well. There is a great use of melody all throughout which enhances the emotional depth that this film is truly rich with. This is definitely a film that takes a different approach to things to give an audience a very distinctive identity for an all encompassing experience. The addition of the song “Passive” from A Perfect Circle is wicked cool in my opinion. It truly set a great tone entering into Papa Midnite’s club.
These enveloping elements wrap together to create a very rich story with a tone full of integrity and gravity. It can be a very haunting and scary film that uses horror elements at times, but is best categorized as a supernatural dark fantasy action film. The action in the film are not big set pieces with spectacular stunts. John’s not some bad ass action hero who can slug it out with a demon. Instead, he uses his occult and demonic knowledge as well as his skills as a con artist to help him win battles. He fights smart using the tools he has acquired which exploit the weaknesses of his enemies such as holy water, Moses’ shroud, a pair of Holy Cross brass knuckles, dragon’s breath, and various eclectic items provided to him by his allies.
This story is partially inspired by the Dangerous Habits comics storyline, which I have read. There’s little directly adapted from that story, and is more just taking the premise of Constantine being diagnosed with lung cancer and having to cope with that. How he deals with it and the resolutions of the comic and the film are very different, but both greatly show off John’s cunning skill as a con artist to varying degrees.
Constantine himself is very fascinating, and I think this version of him is well portrayed by Keanu Reeves. I am quite a big fan of his work ranking Point Break as one of my absolute favorite films ever. I find his work quite enjoyable, and he has some highly impressive acting ability. I think his approach tends to be more subtle, and with Constantine, he really drives home a very diverse character. Reeves showcases Constantine’s jaded personality with depth and purpose. He brings out that worn down, weathered texture that makes the character so intriguing and surprising. He can be an outright asshole because he’s been both plagued by the knowledge he has about the world around him, and that he’s destined to spend eternity in Hell, regardless of what he does. He’s tired and frustrated by these rules that these so-called “higher beings” have imposed upon humanity for their own sport, and he knows there’s little he can do to combat that. Keanu gives the character enough edge while still maintaining an underlying sense of humanity which evolves through the film. As the story goes along, he becomes more and more invested in Angela as a person instead of just her being a cog in a larger plot. You gradually see the bond form between the characters, and how that starts to drive John’s actions. There’s a pivotal shift in there where he stops sulking in his own pain and starts seeing Angela’s. He sees her regret and how far she’s willing to go to mend it. John can still be an asshole, but ultimately, it’s just to those that deserve it. Reeves portrays these subtle and strong emotional beats powerfully showing that there’s more to Constantine beyond that spiteful, embittered exterior.
Another subtle part of John that’s retained from the comics is how his friends constantly pay the price for his battles. In the comics, John is haunted by the ghosts of his dead friends, and the screenwriters slipped a brief line in here about John not needing another ghost following him around. So, it’s no wonder that he’s as cynical and jaded as he is, but it’s also these circumstances which drive him to fight. He challenges everyone on their egotistical or hypocritical behavior, and allows no one to slide.
However, the arc for the character takes him from being a self-serving person who fights evil for his own sake to someone that does the right thing for the sake of others. It takes nothing away from the hardened core of the character, it just makes him an actual hero by the end. That is helped immensely by Rachel Weisz’s emotionally impactful performance. Reeves and Weisz had previously worked together on the 1996 film Chain Reaction as love interests, and perhaps that added a stronger chemistry between them. In this film, their chemistry is exceptionally solid and tight. They have great back-and-forth dialogue with sharp timing and rich character dynamics. Angela is also easily able to stand up to John’s abrasive attitude which is a welcomed quality. Weisz strongly portrays the more emotionally and psychologically vulnerable counter-balance of the story. This allows an audience to have a relatable conduit into the character of John Constantine and his supernatural world. Rachel Weisz is an incredible actress showcasing a wide range of abilities here. She is remarkably powerful bringing out the emotional pain that Angela has deep within. However, while Angela is vulnerable, she is a police detective, and thus, Weisz never makes her appear helpless or incapable of defending herself. She has a definite strong will and confidence about her mixed in with a grounded, engaging charm. It’s simply that the character been impacted by tragic events, and is thrust into a potentially frightening scenario which brings out those fearful or unstable elements in her. Weisz handles it all with dramatic weight and grace.
It is also immensely impressive how strong the supporting cast is in Constantine. Djimon Hounsou has such an awesome presence as the witch doctor turned night club owner Papa Midnite. His deep voice and subtle charisma give weight and gravity to his performance. He can be greatly imposing and intimidating without even standing up in his initial scene. Hounsou and Reeves spark a fascinating chemistry. They play the characters with a sense of shared history which has its turbulent areas which causes friction and some antagonism between them. The screenwriters had a good philosophy of the best way to convey exposition about a character is to show them working. You get to know more about Midnite and Constantine through what they do and how they go about doing it than can really be conveyed through straight dialogue interactions. This is showcased beautifully in the sequence with “The Chair” which allows John to see the path the Spear of Destiny has taken recently, and to find out where Angela has been taken. It’s a manner of operating alluding to information that is necessary for them to know to do what they need to do, but is not necessary to be spelled out for the audience. This further reflects the sense that this a world with a long, textured history between characters, and it is presented in a very smart way that never bogs down the film with extraneous exposition. Midnite himself has a very pleasing arc in the story that ultimately shows Hounsou’s range and charm. He makes the character very fascinating, imposing, but ultimately, highly pleasing.
Tilda Swinton is immaculately graceful and elegant as the half-breed angel Gabriel. The filmmakers chose to go with an androgynous quality for the character, and absolutely wanted Swinton for the role. They chose incredibly well. Her performance has a gentle compassion that eventually turns into a subtle megalomaniacal mindset. She also has an ethereal aura and presence about her that is pitch perfect. It’s a nice dynamic when Constantine goes to see her with him ranting and calling out the hypocrisy at hand, but she offers up a very warm, motherly tone with him. They are both trying to make each other see things from their perspective, and neither is entirely in the right. There is a very aristocratic, snobbish mentality from Gabriel that John can’t stomach, and it works so exceptionally well for this character. It’s such a remarkable performance that the words to describe it in depth escape me.
Now, this film was before Shia LeBouf started grating on peoples’ nerves, but here, there’s enough heart and charm with him as Chas to make his performance a pleasure. Chas is spirited and driven to be given the chance to be of real assistance to Constantine instead of just his personal cab driver, but John just knows the danger of allowing him to do so. Yet, Chas is eventually given the chance to show his worth. As with everyone else, the chemistry is dead on the mark perfect. Gavin Rossdale’s turn as the demon Balthazar is oozing with charisma. He relishes being engulfed in evil, and that delicious smarmy arrogance just pours out over the screen. The tension and spite between him and John is thick as can be. You can’t help but love and hate him all at the same time. All of the actors throughout the film really inhabited their characters with exceptional commitment and nuance, and came together as a cohesive whole to deliver something diverse and marvelous.
Of course, there is Peter Stormare’s magnificent performance as Lucifer himself. There have been so many portrayals of the Devil over the years in cinema from some massively talented actors, and each portrayal has been unique. Stormare takes unique to a whole new level here. The physicality alone is unsettling as if he’s trying to uncomfortably fit back into a human form like it’s an old out of shape body suit, and it results in some peculiar and tense nervous energy. The look is striking enough without devolving into shock. The shaved eyebrows and shorn haircut along with the tattoos really present a standout visual that separates Lucifer from everyone else in the film. Stormare takes all of this to forge a weirdly eccentric Devil that doesn’t need to flaunt an ego or boast of his power. His creepy, chilling presence sells everything. The addition of the pure white suit and bare feet was a nice touch, and it really fits the visual aesthetics of the film.
While I have nothing against a well done origin, it is very commendable that this is not an origin story spending a large percentage of the film showing how Constantine became the man he is today. His back story is not even revealed until well into the second act as we get to know it alongside Angela, and allusions to other shared histories are sprinkled throughout. The film treats its audience as intelligent by not having to explain every little thing. It presents a world, gradually lays out the general parameters of how it works, and then, allows it to envelop the audience. I like this approach for the character because there is a lot of John Constantine history that is very relevant to the character, but it would be nigh impossible to hit all the poignant marks to develop him fully in a two hour film. Starting a film series here is very interesting because it takes John from the jaded, weathered depths to someone more purposeful and formidable. It is a greatly executed arc wrapped up in a strong plotline backed by some excellent talents in front of and behind the camera.
It seems hard to judge where this movie stands in terms of general consensus. It’s not one of those comic book movies everyone talks about, or includes on the list of the best or worst adaptations. I seem to perceive this as a film that had good commercial success, but tends to get overlooked for no apparent reason. Professional critics were divided on it, but the thing with critics is that they get paid to go see movies they are not always pre-disposed to enjoy. This was a movie that appealed to my tastes via its marketing, and it did blow me away. Again, the hardcore fans of Hellblazer likely had their passionate gripes with all the changes made to the established elements of the property, but it’s not a bad film at all. It’s exceptionally well made from a filmmaker with great vision and artistry, and features an amazing cast that put their all into it. From an objective point of view, it’s a greatly entertaining and satisfying film. It has plenty of interesting action, an excellently crafted world, fantastic, stunning visual effects, a unique and fascinating score, and is just generally well written all the way around. I really love this film, and I love what I’ve read in the Hellblazer trade paperbacks. Both offer me something different but equally satisfying to my tastes for supernatural horror and dark fantasy. If you’re unfamiliar with the property, this film can ease you into the heavier subject matter and grittier feel of the comics, but they are two unmistakably different presentations on the characters and the world they inhabit. Taking the film on its own merits, it’s a highly imaginative, excellent piece of work that is worth investing your time and interest in.
I truly like and enjoy the original Warlock from director Steve Miner. While the low budget restricted its overall production quality, the good script and high caliber acting talents of Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant really made it something worthwhile. It’s one of those films which showed a lot of potential, and that with a larger budget and stronger production values, it really could’ve been amazing. The rights for the film eventually ended up at Trimark Pictures which came to specialize in some decent genre and B-movie successes, mostly direct-to-video releases, but were ultimately absorbed by Artisan Entertainment and subsequently Lionsgate Films. With the rights to the first film, Trimark decided to make a sequel with those better production values. Warlock: The Armageddon brings the Warlock back from oblivion, but this sequel would’ve been better off staying in oblivion. The golden-maned Julian Sands portrays the Warlock far more devilishly in this one with a darker charm, but has no worthy or even respectable adversary this time around. Sands essentially carries the entire movie, and any scene without him is rather uninteresting. His charisma and charm on screen is so electric that you simply crave more of it when he leaves the screen. The plot doesn’t offer anything all that engaging or particularly special.
The Warlock is brought back to recover a collection of gems that, together, can destroy all of creation (yes, again) by bringing his father, Satan, into our world. Meanwhile, in some rural town two teenagers are chosen by some most unimpressive Druids to be trained and fight the Warlock. Chris Young and Paula Marshall, respectively, portray these two youths, Kenny and Samantha, who aren’t too fond of their parents having to kill them first before being imbued with these new special powers. As the Warlock dispatches of several non-formidable obstacles to obtain these gems, these two teenagers in love try to come to grips with what they have been tasked with, and fear for the evil that is coming for them.
I can’t wrap my head around how we go from the amazing character of Redferne, portrayed by the exceptional Richard E. Grant, to a couple of teenagers who frankly care more about what they’re gonna do on Saturday night than being the saviors of all creation. These two amateurs are expected to go up against the unholy spawn of Satan and prevail? I can only suspend my disbelief so much before a premise becomes laughable. Truly, I was more involved in the Warlock and his quest to destroy humanity than caring about this rural pair of teens in love being forced into a situation they want nothing to do with. There is hardly anything endearing or engaging about their half of the movie. Honestly, I wanted this film to have nothing to do with them. It’s rather sad when you come to actually wanting the villain to destroy all of existence. At least we would have been spared more sequels. Of course, Sands was not brought back for Warlock III: The End of Innocence, which was a non-sequel casting Bruce Payne in the title role.
This sequel is much gorier than the original, but the story and characters are far weaker. It’s not a question of bad acting, it’s a question of a bad script. Whereas the original film was written by the exceptionally talented David Twohy, the screenwriters of this sequel, Kevin Rock & Sam Bernard, have nothing of special note in either of their filmographies, and nothing at all written since the late 1990s. Director Anthony Hickox had just finished Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, and I feel this film is worse than that uneven sequel. Hickox directed some decent horror films like Waxwork & Waxwork II, but after Warlock: The Armageddon, he never directed, wrote, acted in, or produced another recognizable film. At best, he’s proven to be a B-grade director not capable of producing anything without a hefty helping of cheese and over the top sensibilities. Ultimately, looking over the credits of this film, the only notable talent involved is Julian Sands. From the screenwriters to the director of photography to the music composer, there’s nobody of note here. Charles Hallahan (The Thing) and Zach Galligan (Gremlins, Waxwork) do have roles here, but they’re essentially nothing more than inconsequential supporting roles.
On a technical level, the movie is well made with competent cinematography giving everything a fine polish and sheen. It looks a little more cinematic than the first movie, but it certainly has its limitations. Some sets are clearly more restrictive in size and style than what their real world counterparts would be such as the fashion show venue. Also, one action scene takes place in a small American southwest town which looks like the back lot for some low budget western, aside from the parking meters. The Warlock literally has a showdown with a couple of guys with shotguns dressed in bad western attire. It’s another unsatisfying thing attributed to both the screenplay and the low budget. They can’t afford to place the climax of the film in an interesting setting, so, it all happens in a forest-like environment where there are no production values to show off. While earlier sequences were mainly on sets that did the best with the budget they had, the climax just makes it look cheaper with uninventive ideas of setting or action. Of course, Anthony Hickox had the climax of Hellraiser III take place on the late night streets of Los Angeles, and showed a lot of explosions and action, but it ultimately amounted to pointless drivel that dumbed down that franchise to an achingly low level, despite the production values. I can’t say that more money would’ve fixed the creative or artistic problems with the film. It was a rather bland story to begin with, and the climax gets to the point where I’d rather prefer seeing the Warlock triumph.
I can say that the visual and makeup effects are entirely superior to the previous film, and that’s bizarre since this film’s budget was $4 million less than the first film. Perhaps, it’s simply a benefit of the evolution of digital effects replacing optical composites in the four year gap between films that gives this sequel a higher quality in that area. The powers of the Warlock are exponentially more extensive and destructive here than in the first movie, but it doesn’t matter much when the story loses the heart and the charm that the first had with Redferne. You can read my earlier review of that film for a more in-depth insight into what really gave Steve Miner’s film so much promise.
Again, Warlock: The Armageddon is really cheesy and pathetically weak in nearly every facet with Sands being the only exception. This sequel is okay if you want to see more of Julian Sands’ purely evil, sadistic, and wonderfully devilish performance, but that is all that is worth seeing in this film. The original Warlock wasn’t any major blockbuster success, and so, Trimark probably didn’t feel as if all that much effort needed to be put forth for a sequel. Again, Trimark was never known for very high quality films, but there are a few that I still heavily enjoy. However, this is not one of them. If the first movie was filmed as well as this one, and had this much gore – it would’ve kicked some real ass. Unfortunately, what really is the most important aspect with both is good story and character. This film lacks both whereas the original Warlock really had it in good amounts. It was well written with some character depth and a consistently enjoyable premise. This sequel was dumb on arrival with only Julian Sands bringing anything truly entertaining to the project. See it if you want, but you’re not missing much otherwise. At best, it’s cheesy early 90s horror schlock. I would better recommend watching the original Warlock, or if you really want some bad ass demonic vanquishing, try Constantine. This was a franchise that hardly ever got going anywhere, and with this sequel, it’s easy to see why it was not a success.
Warlock is a film I have always enjoyed, but have also always felt a little let down by. It’s a fantasy horror feature that had a great deal of potential with some fantastic performances and a good story behind it, but a low budget really hindered its potential. Directed by Steve Miner (Friday The 13th, Parts 2 & 3), Warlock was produced by the struggling New World Pictures in the late 1980s. It didn’t gain a release in the US until 1991 due to New World’s filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy soon after the movie was completed. Trimark Pictures gained the rights to the series which have since been absorbed by Lionsgate. Sequels were produced (one with Julian Sands, one with Bruce Payne), and while they had more impressive production values, they both were generally inferior on a screenplay level to the original. Unfortunately, a proper widescreen DVD release has still not been made available by anyone who’s held the rights. However, I have discovered an excellent quality widescreen presentation via FearNet OnDemand. Seeing it only on VHS all these years, I am astounded by its quality, and that is going to factor into my revised review here. Still, I have to hope that this transfer will become available in a new home video release in the high-definition digital era.
The film starts out in Boston, 1691 where Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) – a witch hunter – has captured the Warlock (Julian Sands), and is soon to be executed in a most ‘Salem witch trial’ sort of way. Although, the Warlock escapes in a time warp via the forces of Hell. He is transported to the year 1988 (the present) to locate the three parts of the Devil’s Bible which will give him the true name of God, and the power to destroy all of creation. However, Redferne (Richard E. Grant) is able to follow him to the future, only one day too late. The Warlock has a head start on him, and has already placed an extreme aging spell on Kassandra (Lori Singer), the young woman whose home the Warlock crash landed into. So, now it’s up to Redferne to track down his archenemy before he destroys all of creation.
This is an impressively effective supernatural thriller. That is due to several talented individuals putting a lot of skill and time into this. It is a steadily paced picture filled with a good balance of suspense, action, light humor, dramatic moments, and horror elements. Gore only minimally factors into the film. It is the atmosphere and the deliciously evil, sinister performance of Julian Sands that helps land it near the realm of horror. He truly turns the film into gold above its budgetary shortcomings. He is the perfect evil disguised as a man – as the trailer states – “with the face of an angel, and the charm of the Devil.” He is frightening with an amazingly chilling screen presence that pulls you in fully. He can set a foreboding tone without saying a word.
Meanwhile Richard E. Grant delivers a fine performance bringing the pure-hearted, moral charm of the out-of-time and out-of-place Redferne to the surface. Grant makes Redferne a very likeable character as he has a warm heart of gold without becoming sappy. He maybe a bit naive because of him being a stranger in an even stranger land, but he remains dedicated to his purpose and oath to bring an end to the Warlock for all time. Redferne could’ve come off as a rather campy hero, but beyond all the old word speech, the value of Grant’s performance shines through to present an honest, grounded protagonist. Redferne is given a depth and history to give him his avenging motivations for hunting the Warlock to the ends of the world and time. Grant inhabits those qualities with weight and conviction. Redferne is also a worthy adversary as he is knowledgeable and experienced in hunting the Warlock, and is more than capable of not only combating him, but ridding the world of him. Most importantly, Redferne has heart – which is something you don’t usually see in this sort of genre picture. It’s a perfect contrast of good and evil where the performances of Grant and Sands are concerned. One is a passionate man of virtue, and the other is an icy cold villain. When the two occasionally share a scene, it is juicy, meaty content that fuels the momentum of the film. Their final confrontation in the climax is very strong, and allows the characters to feed off of one another, fleshing out their sordid history. It is a powerful and nicely crafted climax indeed.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing special or greatly important about Lori Singer’s character, but in the least, Kassandra is a decently enjoyable guide through the late 20th century for our kind-hearted hero from the 17th century. She does build a nice chemistry with Grant which gives way to some charming humor at appropriate moments.
The few visual and makeup effects present in the film were decent for the time it was made and the budget it was allotted. Still, some of the optical visual effects are severely dated by today’s standards. They may even seem obsolete by the groundbreaking standards of the day (i.e. The Abyss, Predator, A Nightmare On Elm Street 4). This really only applies to the optical composites of the Warlock flying. Although, I doubt the low budget effects will hinder your enjoyment of the film greatly. I have witnessed films, released before and after this one, with tremendously lower quality effects. I did find a nostalgic appreciation for the animated magical fire the Warlock wields. On the practical side, the old age make-up used on Lori Singer while she is hexed by the Warlock was far from being a crowning achievement, but it’s never been a serious detractor for me over all these years.
Steve Miner does as good of a job as ever here despite the film not being high on scares or blood – unlike his work on the first two Friday The 13th sequels. However, Warlock is a worthwhile supernatural thriller, and Miner should be proud of what he was able to create here. He handles the story with respect and care. He provides suspense and tension where need be, and is able to ramp the intensity up at the right moments. The screenwriter for this film was David Twohy (The Fugitive, Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick), and he definitely wrote a fine script that shows a rough, early version of his now well-known style. If Twohy wanted to direct a remake, or a worthy sequel – I’d definitely be privy to seeing it. With a more generous budget and little studio interference, he can churn out a really good film.
Looking at the credits of this film, there are a some notable names that would become horror veterans themselves. Two I noticed were David R. Ellis (director of Final Destination 2 & 4) as stunt coordinator and second unit director, and special make-up effects artist Tom Woodruff, Jr. of Stan Winston Studios and later Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (who have become responsible for the creature effects on all the Alien sequels). It’s always interesting to see that such amazing talents worked on a film such as this early on. It gives good context on where they’ve been, and how they’ve advanced their craft over the years.
The cinematography is fairly good. There’s a nice choice of angles and movement, and in select scenes, very moody lighting that enhances the Warlock’s dramatic presence. These elements come together quite well with the visual effects to create a darkly fantastical atmosphere. I don’t know how well it all would work for a modern audience, but since I grew up through this era, I can appreciate it with a nostalgic context.
The one last thing to praise is the late Jerry Goldsmith’s score. I have loved his work for years from his scores for the Star Trek franchise to an endless MASSIVE list of feature films. His score for Warlock had haunting, mysterious elements, and an epic feeling at the film’s climax. This musical master always delivered something memorable and wonderfully cinematic, no matter what the film or genre. It’s a sad thing he is no longer with us. I just hope that his legacy will be carried on by new generations of musical masters.
In the end, it really is the budget that holds down the greatness of this film. It had some solid talent in front of and behind the camera along with a well written screenplay. Not to mention, the title role was perfectly cast with an actor that envelopes the screen, and inhabits every scene with vile charm. Warlock simply did not have the money to boost its production values to a level comparable to the talent involved. It generally does not look cheap, but the dated and low quality visual and make-up effects damage it. But where there are films that falter despite great visual effects and production values, this one soars to respectable heights despite lower grade effects and budgetary limitations. This is due to the quality of talent injected into it, and the solid foundation laid down with David Twohy’s script. It’s full of charm, suspense, mystery, intrigue, and subtle terror. I thank the now defunct Trimark Pictures for picking up this film from the then defunct New World Pictures. I just wish Lionsgate would do something special for this old gem because it honestly deserves it.
Prince of Darkness is certainly one of John Carpenter’s stranger and more underappreciated films. It’s the second installment in what Carpenter calls his “apocalypse trilogy” (which includes 1982’s The Thing and 1995’s In The Mouth of Madness). Simply put, this film is about the coming of the apocalypse, and the arrival of the Prince of Darkness – Satan himself. This is one seriously eerie and creepy film, but it has the slowest pace of any Carpenter film I have seen. I believe this film comes as an acquired taste. It can take multiple viewings to really enjoy it fully, as it did for me.
A group of scientists, students, and priests – led by Father Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) – have come to study a mysterious canister which has been sealed away in the basement of a Los Angeles church. The eerie green liquid inside this canister proves to be supernatural as it defies gravity, leaking upwards to the ceiling, and soon, it’s discovered that it is self-organizing as part of a living intelligence. This has made way for changes to occur in nature that herald the coming of something evil. And those who come into contact with this liquid are transformed into mindless undead slaves of Satan himself. Outside the church, the homeless and derelicts of Los Angeles become powerless against the influence of hell. The few human beings inside the church are trapped – barricading themselves inside with threats all around them. Theories are abound as to what is happening and philosophies about heaven, hell, and all of creation. But whatever forces are at work, these few people must not only survive these servants of hell, but also prevent the coming of the Prince of Darkness from the other side.
If you choose to watch this film, I suggest you get things as dark and as quite as possible, put in the DVD, get that surround sound just right, and get ready to experience one of the most haunting, frightening films ever. This is possibly the most taut and suspenseful Carpenter film of all-time. The master of terror gives us a film that nobody should easily be able to forget. The score from John Carpenter & Alan Howarth is absolutely mesmerizing and powerful. Right from the beginning, it sucks you into a creepy and absolutely ominous world, and doesn’t let go until the end credits have finished. It’s an absorbing, killer work of musicianship that compliments the film marvelously.
The effects here are great. There’s nothing here as complex as in The Thing (which Rob Bottin really delivered something groundbreaking), but there’s plenty of scary makeup work and visuals to unsettle any audience. There’s such apocalyptic biblical imagery here – including swarms of creepy crawly critters – that it will have you squirming and jumping from your seat. John Carpenter wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym “Martin Quartermass,” and man, he does just such an amazing job eliciting such haunting emotions. The film has such a suspenseful power that it could ONLY come from John Carpenter.
That pseudonym is only one of several that Carpenter has employed in his career. He uses them because he feels uncomfortable with his name plastered all over the credits as if it’s an egotistical thing to take so much credit. Me, I believe in everyone getting the credit they deserve for the hard work they do. The fact of the matter is that I know who Martin Quartermass, John T. Chance, and Frank Armitage are, and it is still John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.
The cast is full of Carpenter regulars such as Donald Pleaseance (Halloween, Escape From New York), Victor Wong & Dennis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China), and Peter Jason (They Live, In The Mouth of Madness). Also, Jameson Parker from TV’s Simon & Simon is in a lead role as well. It’s very much a Carpenter style cast in that he doesn’t cast big stars, but a lot of strong character actors that give the film a textured diversity. I really enjoy all their talents, and they all put in fantastic efforts. John Carpenter has always been great in the casting department (probably best displayed in The Thing). We even get a cameo from shock-rocker Alice Cooper, and he contributes the title song from the album of the same name. The song only appears in a small scene, and via a guy’s walkman radio. In any case, it’s always nice to see Alice appear in a horror film via an acting role or as a musician. He has no lines, but appears creepy enough as one of the derelict servants outside the church. Overall, this cast gives a lot of life and character to this slow-paced film.
In a way, this is different from most Carpenter movies, mainly in pace. He’s always made very smart pictures, and his horror has never been something you can entirely shut your brain off for. And while Prince of Darkness is full of atmosphere that drives every horror element forward, it is much more an idea and philosophy driven screenplay. There are very few action set pieces as the danger and horror are played through tense atmosphere and chilling visuals. It’s a film that crawls in under your skin slowly, and requires you to stay mentally aware of what’s happening for it to have the proper effect.
There’s a good deal of discussion in the film about philosophies regarding dreams, death, hell, religion, and so forth. This adds to the psychological aspect of the film since it revolves around such supernatural or paranormal phenomena birthed out of an ancient evil covered up by the church. With the film having such a wide ensemble cast, they have plenty of room for differing opinions and beliefs, but don’t let this make you think the film gets bogged down by it. Not at all. As they uncover more truths, it enhances the fearful and foreboding atmosphere of the film. There is a haunting evil taking form in their presence, and it is slowly consuming them either physically or psychologically.
In everyone’s dreams, they see a transmission from the future of a dark figure exiting the front of the church they are all holed up in. They get only bits and pieces, but they all share it getting a little more each time they fall asleep. It is another piece of the foreboding doom that lies ahead of them, and it is immensely effective.
Prince of Darkness definitely has similarities to an old style zombie film where a group of mismatched people have to fend for their lives against an undead army. However, Carpenter just pushes it further with so much more substance and unsettling visuals. This really is a nightmare come to life. A constant theme in Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy is some sort of force consuming humanity and deteriorating it into something entirely inhuman. In The Thing, it’s an actual alien life form that perfectly duplicates any organism it infects which could eventually wipe out the human race. With In The Mouth of Madness, reality is twisted and distorted to where people become psychotic and homicidal in the wake of ancient evil reclaiming our world. In Prince of Darkness, it’s sort of a bridge between the concepts. As an ancient evil slowly claws its way back into our world, it also consumes nature and humanity until they become entirely mindless, inhuman servants. Coming from three different screenwriters on three different films, that is an entirely fascinating conceptual arc.
This film is undoubtedly one of John Carpenter’s finest works. Some don’t take a good liking to it because of its slow, slow pace, and its focus more on suspense than physical intensity. Whatever the case, I find it to be a masterwork worthy of inclusion to anyone’s DVD collection. The cast is very good, fun at times, but solid always. The score is pure gold, a powerful accomplishment for Carpenter and Alan Howarth. As in any Carpenter film, the cinematography is stellar, and the direction is absolutely phenomenal! If you genuinely want to get creeped out to the max one dark, lonely night – this is the one film to watch! I won’t say that Prince of Darkness is a perfect film as the pace can be a detractor to its potential. Part of good tension and suspense is momentum, and it’s not entirely consistent here. However, it is a great flick, and I will give it a great 9 out of 10. If nothing else, the ending will grab you like only a John Carpenter film can!