Movies & TV / Columns

A Bloody Good Time 9.20.12: Ranking The Hellraiser Films

September 20, 2012 | Posted by Joseph Lee

Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)

Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.

Last week I looked at the history of The Crow on film. I’ll get to the feedback in a second, but I do have one thing to clarify.

When I said there should be a reboot of The Crow, I didn’t mean a full out remake of Eric Draven’s story. They’ve told that story. I realize that’s where they plan to go with a remake but that’s not what I meant. They could easily reboot the property and franchise without retelling the story of Eric Draven. That’s the beauty of the concept. It opens the door for so many possibilities and stories.

matrix1004 said: Haaa, Wicked Prayer is also on my list of worst movies ever.

Yeah it’s pretty bad. It’s one of those movies that just never seemed like a good idea and then devolved into something much worse as it went on.

Guest#1670 replied: A friend recently tried to convince me that this movie doesn’t hold up… just watched it, and he was wrong. The only thing I will say is that this movie REALLY REALLY captures the 1st 1/2 of the nineties. So it might be “dated” in that respect, but all it made me do is miss that era.

I’d say it captured everything good about pop culture in the 90s. That style of direction and film-making, as well as the soundtrack. It wasn’t quite into that whole Gen-X style the rest of the decade turned out to be. If The Crow had been made just three or four years later, it could have been completely different (probably closer to City of Angels, to be honest).

Guest#0087 added:
I had the advantage of watching The Crow without knowing that Brandon Lee had died. I was that disconnected; though the internet changes a lot of that now heh. I think it was a great performance before I knew and definitely remains the same after.

Yeah, the fact Lee died doesn’t change the fact that his performance is great. Most people seem to agree that if he hadn’t died he would have been the next big thing in action movies.

LitasRevenge said: I think Wicked Prayer could’ve been better if maybe re-cast. Boreanaz could’ve been the Crow he was coming off the Angel series ending, that would’ve been good. No Tara Reid, ew. Have Furlong as the evil guy, he was good as the Shane Casey in CSI NY.

A role reversal might have worked, but I think with a better script Boreanaz would have been great as the villain. Think Michael Wincott in the original mixed with Angelus. Top Dollar was hammy too, but just the right amount to make for a fun performance. Boreanaz’s scenery-chewing got even worse with a bad script, which made it go from “fun” to “annoying”.

Before we get to this week’s ABGT, let’s talk about October.

Some of you (hopefully all of you) may read Shawn S. Lealos’ Alternate Takes, in which he goes over all things comic book related. He’s had knockout tournaments for comic heroes and villains, and it seems to have went over very well.

Normally in October I have a huge countdown of some kind, but wanted to mix it up this year. Lealos’ Knockout deal was such a good idea that with his permission, I decided to steal it. Okay, I guess the technical term is “borrow”, but you get the idea. Starting October 4, we will begin a 32-character tournament for horror movie villains, monsters, what have you.

How does this affect you? You have a chance to determine who gets in! Obviously the big names are going to make it, but there could be some that aren’t so big that get in by your vote. I’m going to make a 32 list based on your suggestions, rank them by my own opinion to determine seeding and then I’m staying out of it. Each week there will be a poll with each match-up that you will vote on who you like better. All I will do is provide write-ups for the match-up, give the strengths and weaknesses of each and then count the winner. For all of those who hate my opinions, this is your chance to voice your own! It all goes down in two weeks, which means that’s how long you have to suggest names for it.

Now it’s time to move onto this week, with what I assume will be a character that goes a long way in this thing.

I’ve talked in depth about the Hellraiser series on this site, but never actually ranked the series. Like I did with Friday the 13th, it’s sort of my way to end talking about the series since I always come back to it time and time again. So yes, unless he pops up while discussing another topic, I don’t plan on talking Jason or Friday the 13th again. I’ve done the same ranking style for The Amityville Horror, Puppet Master and the Alien and Predator films.

Now I’m going to do it with Pinhead. Must like the other franchises, I have nothing else to say on the subject which is why I do these rankings to give my definitive opinion on the series and move on to new topics. It’s sort of the risk you run when you write a column like this for five years.

Pinhead is one of my favorite characters in the genre, but time hasn’t been kind to him. So let’s rank all nine movies from worst to best!

#9: Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

Unlike other films in this series, this had absolutely zero chance to be good. I mean none. Dimension announced this and it was made clear that it was an obvious cash-in to keep the rights so they can eventually do that PG-13 remake that absolutely no one wants to see. Even Doug Bradley, who had no problem appearing in some of the worst movies of the series, declined to take on this project. That pretty much says all that needs to be said.

Here’s a condensed version of my thoughts when I slammed it as the second worst horror film of 2011 (it lost out to Human Centipede 2 for that “honor”): I get it. We were going to get a new Pinhead eventually, especially with a remake in development hell. But just like the rest of the film, they didn’t take time to find a suitable replacement. They just picked probably the closest bald guy they could find. And he sucks. He’s so bad that they had Hulk voice actor Fred Tatasciore dub his voice. Gary J. Tunnicliffe is a fan of Hellraiser. With a lot of tweaking, this script could have been a serviceable sequel. But they rushed everything into production so we get a half-baked story with a lot of rehashing from the previous films. The acting, the direction, the script, all of it is just awful. The only redeeming quality of this piece of crap is the special (practical) effects, and that’s nowhere near enough to save it.

My thoughts haven’t really changed in nine months, except that this gets worse every time I think about it. It’s certainly the worst of the franchise.

#8: Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

Deader, on the other hand, wasn’t even supposed to be a Hellraiser film. It was an unrelated horror film changed into a Hellraiser sequel. Unlike previous entries to do this (like the underrated Inferno), it shows. It’s a dull as dishwater horror movie with Pinhead showing up maybe once every thirty minutes to do something cenobitey. Not even Dimension cared about this movie as this, Hellworld, two new Prophecy sequels and The Crow: Wicked Prayer all sat on the shelf for years before Dimension remembered they had them and released them.

This movie is just a mess. It takes half-baked ideas with potential and buries them in a cliched wreck of over-acting and cheesy lines. The thing is, it may have been an okay movie when it was just Deader. But adding the Hellraiser elements meant a lot of tweaking had to be made and as it result it doesn’t make much sense. Not to mention the editing choices were horrible. I know it was likely a story device, but having the main character get in a suspenseful situation just to wake up elsewhere (not once, but several times). The fact this movie isn’t the worst in the series should let you in on just how bad Revelations was.

#7: Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

I actually picked up the workprint version of this at a convention I went to, and it’s not much better. Bloodline could have been something good, but due to studio meddling and what appeared to be every possible production problem happening, it isn’t. You know a movie is bad when the name Alan Smithee is brought out to get credit, such is the case with this. Kevin Yagher wanted nothing to do with this after the studios got involved. They only pull out Smithee for the truly wretched like The Birds II: Land’s End.

While the movie does benefit from some cooler looking cenobites (like the twins and the Chatterer dog), it’s just an unmitigated disaster. But for a story about the forces of Hell vs the cursed bloodline that let them loose on the world, it’s overly complicated and poorly put together. Nothing is explored to its full potential and there were some really, really stupid scenarios. I’ve already mentioned in a previous column how dumb the idea of a Pinhead holding a child for ransom is. Pinhead in general is at his worst, which is a reason cutting his screen time in later films wasn’t that bad. He just goes on and on and on with his rants and doesn’t know when to shut up (even when it’s about to kill him). It was meant to be an epic Hellraiser outing, likely akin to Hellbound, but instead it was an epic failure.

#6: Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)

I feel like I’m going to repeat myself a lot when it comes to the series and the word “potential”. Every single film (except Revelations) has a neat idea that is never fully developed and leads to a meandering waste of time. Like Inferno, it’s about a man’s personal journey into Hell (which really is why a Hellraiser show could work, in my opinion…but only as an anthology series). But it’s not only a retread of that film, it’s a poorly made one. On top of that, it brings back Ashley Laurence just to waste her. Sure, she’s a good actress and nice to look at, but she does very little here, especially considering her history with the cenobites.

Kirsty has less time in this film than Pinhead, I believe. They didn’t even market her as being in the film (just Pinhead on the cover again), so what was the point of including her? I’ll tell you, to trick diehards like me into buying the movie. There is also some bad dialogue and the worst of it is an amalgam of a good cop and bad cop shouting things like “It’s all good dawg” in the lead’s hallucination…in a Hellraiser movie. I guess it could have been worse. Pinhead could have said it.

#5: Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)

There seems to be a torn audience when it comes to Hellraiser movies. There’s the side that loves the first four and hates the later films because of lack of cenobites and Pinhead. Each of the films have their own theme in sections, I think. The first two are Pinhead vs Kirsty, three is Pinhead’s attempt to take over the world, four is the history of the box and the next three are specific journeys into Hell. Hellworld is a completely different movie. It’s a slasher with Hellraiser elements, in a world where it’s supposed to be just a movie but really isn’t.

Hellworld could have left out the Pinhead elements and it would have been fine. It may not have sold as well, but it would have still been a good movie. Pinhead is at his absolute peak of uselessness here. But if you ignore that, you have a slasher that’s not too bad (if not great) with a kind of neat twist that’s not that easy to predict. Plus you can’t go wrong with Lance Henriksen playing the villain. The rest of the cast is mediocre at best, but that’s the formula for most slashers, especially post-Scream. It’s not a good Hellraiser movie, but it’s an okay way to kill an hour or two.

#4: Hellraiser: Hell on Earth (1993)

The fact that Hell on Earth is this high on the list may have some flames come my way, but I don’t think it’s as bad as it’s been labeled over the years. I actually rather enjoy it. There is some bad, sure, but I think the good outweighs it. I would complain more about Pinhead becoming the main villian if Doug Bradley did a poor job playing him, or if the script gave him really bad lines (as Freddy was victim to), but he’s never made the butt of the joke. He’s a true evil menace and with his freedom from hell we see just how destructive he can be.

I also like the logical progression from the second movie in which Pinhead was “killed”. How can a dead person, even one turned into a cenobite, be killed? Well the soul is divided into the cenobite half and the human half, with one sent to limbo and the other trapped in a large statue. I didn’t say it made sense, but at least they tried something.

But the bad comes from the new cenobites. Butterball, Chatterer and the unnamed lady cenobite are all dead. Instead we get: half man, half CD player. Half man, half camera. A girl who smokes through a hole in her throat. If Pinhead has all that power from Hell, you’d think he’d be able to make better minions. I also didn’t think the “Hell on Earth” tagline was earned. Basically, there should have been more carnage.

#3: Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)

It know ranking a movie like this at #3 doesn’t mean much considering how bad this series turned out, but Inferno is a legitimately good movie. Not a “everyone else hates it but I like it” movie like Hell on Earth, but a good sequel. It’s the first of the series to focus on one man’s slow descent into Hell and madness and as a result it’s best. Does it borrow a lot from Jacob’s Ladder? Maybe. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s what a Hellraiser film should be, even with less time for Pinhead. Although people do complain about that (myself included), he really doesn’t have that much time in the original. He’s back in his role as a reaper of sorts, leading damned souls into Hell with no concern what they did in their life.

Craig Sheffer is great in the role of a dirty cop who is a jerk but still manages to get you to sympathize with him by the film’s end. Even as a straight up detective story this would be pretty out there with the S&M stuff and the child’s fingers being cut off. But since it’s a new Hellraiser film the weirdness is turned up to eleven and it works. This is the last good Hellraiser film and it’s twelve years old. Kind of makes you sad, doesn’t it?

#2: Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

Inferno takes one man into Hell. Hellbound takes all of us into Hell and this version is not the hellfire and brimstone you may have heard about. It’s still sick and depraved. With a higher budget than its predecessor (or at least what appeared to be one), it shows it off with glimpses of Hell that are both unnerving and fun to look at in a macabre sort of way. The idea is that everyone has their own personal torment to suffer through for eternity…that is, once the cenobites are done “knowing your flesh”.

This also introduces fan favorite Dr. Channard, who is one hell of a bizarre cenobite. He’s directly connected to Leviathan, having his brains scrambled as he spits out medical puns and shooting spears into people. Channard is such a badass he takes out the main four Cenobites with ease and only gets killed by his master. Hellbound was the perfect way to continue this series and a great sequel as well.

#1: Hellraiser (1987)

There was a time when I would have ranked Hellbound over the original. But time has been more kind to this film and less so to that one. Both are still great, but this has held up as the true classic of the series. I’ve said so much about this movie that I don’t know how else to explain why it’s a great film to you. It’s certainly the best of the series, which may not be a high distinction but I consider Inferno and Hellbound good enough that it has some decent company.

This was Ashley Laurence’s first film role and she’s a decent actress, certainly more than capable of playing the lead. This also introduces Pinhead to the world and he wasn’t even anything more than “lead cenobite” at the time. I don’t think anyone, especially Clive Barker, had any idea that he would go on to become a cult figure. I think the reason Hellraiser works so well is that there’s nothing else like it before or since. The sequels we never quite able to match the visuals we get here (with only Hellbound really coming close in tone). It’s a very unique movie, which works to its advantage even 25 years later.

That’s it for me. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week, as preparation for the Horror Knockout, I’m going to look at what I think are the WORST horror villians/monsters. If they’re not scary, lame or completely fail, they’ll make the list (probably).

Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)

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Joseph Lee

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