• Nick Karner

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

For a little while there, I was shocked.  How can anyone hate this movie?  Why does it currently sit at a near-disastrous 5.5 rating on IMDB while the previous sequel holds at a (relatively) impressive 6.5?  You see, it’s very difficult to gauge whether a horror film is good through IMDB because horror fans, myself included, are VERY particular when it comes to watching and rating. Horror films are a reactive genre. We need to experience a wave of emotions, an experiential roller coaster ride of thrills and chills to satisfy our need for excitement and release.  Everyone is different, so reactions, especially to being scared, vary wildly.  Personally, I went years without seeing Tom Holland’s Child’s Play (1988) because of the simple fact that the cover art freaked me out whenever I passed it in the video store. I would always breeze past the ‘C’ shelf of the horror section, which may explain why it took me so long to see Carnosaur (1993). I’ve seen horror films that have abysmal ratings but ended up being quite good, great even. Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are (2013) immediately springs to mind. 

Hellraiser 3:  Hell on Earth (1992) is far from perfect, but for a near 20-minute stretch, it’s a mind-blowing display of pyrotechnics and absolute carnage. I’m all for a good single-kill set piece. The death of a supporting player early or mid-way through a film is practically a checkpoint in a race to the showdown between the hero/heroine and the Big Bad.  Budget constraints can often hinder a horror film, not a genre known for lavish spending by a studio or otherwise, and massacring large crowds can be a logistical nightmare since kills need to be unique, at least if you want to do better than throwing a bucket of blood on a few extra’s heads. If it can be pulled off, however, then you've got yourself something truly spectacular. 2002’s Ghost Ship may not be a very good film, but the opening: slicing a comfortably double-digit-level crowd in half, is outstanding. Freddy’s Revenge (1985) features a wild party scene which Krueger crashes, sending the day-glo-wearing teeny boppers scattering. Pinhead (Doug Bradley), having been freed from the Pillar of Souls last seen in Hellbound (1988), makes a grand entrance into The Boiler Room, a nightclub where 90’s kids like to boogie. What follows is an extended sequence where Pinhead decimates the entire club in delightfully gory fashion. Fingers are torn off, chests impaled, skin ripped from eye sockets, and those famous chains criss-cross the room, eliminating everything in their path. Some effects, including a silly 90’s “effect” where an ice cube turns first into Pinhead, then a deadly icicle shot through a woman’s mouth, are piss-poor. The DJ gets his comeuppance for not taking requests when his CDs (remember those?) become sentient and embed themselves in his face, an effect already used in Craig R. Baxley’s I Come In Peace, A.K.A. Dark Angel (1990).  All the while, Pinhead throws his pointy head back and laughs with devilish glee. 

Is that it?  Not by a long shot!  The heroine Joey Summerskill (Terry Farrell) arrives to find the club strewn with bodies, including that of her faithful cameraman Doc (Ken Carpenter).  She flees, with Pinhead in hot pursuit, but he’s recruited some help. There’s Camerahead Cenobite, formerly known as Doc, whose lens is embedded in his skull, ready to impale some long-haired freak too stoned to realize that now is not the time to try and hit on Joey. There’s DJ Cenobite (which is a great DJ name, actually) who flings razor sharp CD’s, complete with robotic sound effects.   There’s the Barbie Cenobite, played by screenwriter Peter Atkins, who mixes a mean, gasoline-filled martini and dispatches nuisances with a flamethrower mouth. Now it’s a like a goddamn Cannon movie! There’s a glorious dolly shot in slow motion with Joey running through the street while storefronts, manhole covers, and vehicles explode around her. It’s exhilarating. Plus, any time the police encounter forces they can’t understand nor defeat is all right with me. Their shock and confusion is palpable and they’re roasted by the Barbie Cenobite for their trouble.

Clayton Hill shows up as a priest, but you may remember him as the “sweater zombie” in Dawn of the Dead (1978), just so the movie can take a dump on religion, too. A legitimate complaint about Pinhead is that they tried to make him the next Freddy, giving him lame quips to spout off. The dialogue in this scene comes off quite well since up until this point, none of the films had directly challenged the opposite end of the religious spectrum. Pinhead throws biblical quotes right in the priest’s face and mocks the crucifixion while the stained-glass windows burst around him. I wonder why the priest wasn’t outright killed. I’m not sure if it’s an effort to toe the line between sacrilege and anti-religion or if it didn’t seem necessary, but it does stand out.  

The chase runs out of steam as Joey gets closer to her apartment. She’s surrounded by former friends and acquaintances, now turned into Cenobites, who taunt and terrorize her. It grinds the momentum of the previous scenes to a halt and is far too talky.  Is all of the prior action ridiculous?  Yes, but it’s done with such gusto and pizazz that it really doesn’t matter.

Oh yeah, the rest of the film. Well, it’s a bit more up and down. The Pillar of Souls comes into the possession of faux-hip douchebag club owner J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt) after he wanders into an art gallery that doesn’t require any staff and leaves its doors unlocked. He’s a tool who thinks weird art makes him edgy and sophisticated. It’s not explained how the Pillar has re-appeared at this gallery in a more definitively American setting as opposed to the mish-mash American/British locations of the previous two films, but there it is, and now we have a movie. Interesting fun fact: The film was shot a little over an hour from where I grew up. Credit where credit is due, the Pillar’s purpose is at least explained, unlike the last movie, which seemed to introduce it merely as a way to end the movie with a bang. Pinhead is trapped in it and must find a way to break free. 

Monroe has sex with a clubgoer by enticing her with a red rose very much the same way rock singers assign roadies the task of bringing groupies backstage. The old hooks-and-chains pull her into the Pillar, she’s absorbed, and Pinhead, face only, is brought back. You can imagine what happens next. A deal is struck with Monroe and, like the last two films, he must provide fresh victims, vampiric Monty Burns-style.  

Meanwhile, Joey, an up-and-coming reporter with a cliché character motivation (she’s stuck doing fluff pieces and wants to be a real journalist), witnesses another club kid, accompanied by avid Boiler Room patron Terri (Paula Marshall), brought into an emergency room.He immediately becomes a Scanners cosplayer when his head explodes, although this head is surprisingly lacking in that red Canadian viscera. He was brought in with chains snaking through his skin and several members of the hospital staff witness electrical currents flowing through him and the chains, which take on a life of their own, before the explosion. And yet, this is never commented nor followed up on. One of the biggest gripes I have about scenes like this are simply that if there are witnesses to an extraordinary event, then it shouldn’t be that difficult to get other people to believe something crazy is going on. Joey focuses entirely on Terri, who wants nothing to do with the situation but eventually tries to help Joey crack the case. 

The scenes between Joey and Terri aren’t particularly interesting. Terri trying to make breakfast is supposed to be cute but you just end up feeling bad for Joey’s cookware. Through contrivances not worth mentioning, Terri returns to her sometime-boyfriend J.P., who tries to sacrifice her to Pinhead but ends up being absorbed himself in a satisfying scene. Pinhead is quite the smooth-talker, convincing Terri to give him J.P. and he emerges from the destroyed Pillar, triumphant. 

There’s an anti-war theme running through parts of the film, fueled by Joey’s recurring nightmares about the death of her father in Vietnam. This serves as a conduit through which she interacts with Elliot Spencer, Pinhead’s former self and for lack of a better term, his “good half.” You see, in Hellbound, when Kirsty (who practically phones in her cameo via videotape and is merely there to steer Joey in the right direction) showed Spencer the photograph, he split into two entities, the good and the bad.  The devil is in the detail and Peter Atkins’ script, based on his and Tony Randel’s story, understands Pinhead surprisingly well. 

As stated previously, I’ve enjoyed how verbal Pinhead can be. It gets worse as the series progresses, but his conversations with Kirsty are fascinating. Now that his two selves have split, his behavior in the first two films makes much more sense, including his sense of relatively fair play and even some decency based off of his actions toward Kirsty. Now that he’s literally a being divided, the evil side runs amok, paying no heed to innocence or guilt and taking great pleasure in the pain and suffering he inflicts. The drastic change to an absolute monster in Hell on Earth and his subsequent defeat brings the character full circle. The box morphs into a knife or dagger-like shape resembling Leviathan from the last film, again a callback, and Joey stabs him with it after Spencer merges with Pinhead.  

Anthony Hickox seems like a pretty wild dude and he certainly brings a vitality to the story that probably wouldn’t have been possible under Randel’s direction. 1988’s Waxwork is still his best-known work and shows an original voice at work. Being a for-hire director and an outsider could’ve worked against him, but from what’s been reported, things went relatively smoothly for the actual shoot. The development, however, was another matter. 

Studios went bankrupt, Barker was having major issues with Fox regarding Nightbreed, A.K.A. Cabal (1990), and who knows what we would’ve ended up with had the movie been made around the turn of the decade. I wasn’t aware that this was the first Dimension Films release, the horror wing of the now-disgraced Miramax, also known as the Weinstein Hunting Grounds. 

It’s heartening to find that Barker was initially displeased with the choice of Hickox as director but after a discussion regarding a more serious tone, an agreement was reached. Of course, now there are opposing stories about who it was that guided the film to its final form, but that’s par for the course when a movie makes a bit of money and does marginally better in the critical department. The release of the far-superior Candyman (Bernard Rose, Dir. 1992) made this a banner year for Clive as he made the rounds and promoted both films. If it weren’t for the outrageous extended chase and massacre scenes, the film would not be nearly as entertaining. As a follow-up to the original Hellraiser, it’s commendable but falls just short due to uninteresting characters.  As a follow-up to Hellbound, it’s a definite improvement and fills in any blanks left previously unexplained.  

And now... (in Muppet voice)  PINHEEEEEAAAD...IIIIIIN...SPAAAAACE!!!