Following on from the events of Hellraiser II: Hellbound, lead cenobite Pinhead has been frozen into a pillar of souls along with the puzzle box that opens the gates to hell. Purchased by louche night club owner J. P. Monroe, Pinhead reveals his presence to J.P. Offering him dreams beyond his imagining Pinhead demands that J.P. brings him more souls so that he can free himself from the pillar but will J.P. agree?
… has all the dread of a disco-infused baby shower and that’s not a good way to go if you’re meant to be the lord of hell.
Hellraiser III marks several sea changes in the Hellraiser franchise and it has to be said not all of them are good. You see, whilst Hellraiser II: Hellbound‘s scriptwriter Pete Atkins was still on board, the whole production moved to the States from England and the difference is immediate. Transplanted into a more garish, neon-lit Americana aesthetic, the first casualty is the previous Hellraiser movies obsession with gothic dread. Mostly set inside an American nightclub, it’s clear that most of the movies’ scenes are shot inside on a sound stage and its woodenness clearly infects many of the performances.
Terry Farrell (who would later go on to find a better role as Drax in Star Trek Deep Space 9) plays Joey Summerskill, an ambitious reporter. Paula Marshall plays Terri a nightclub wastrel who might hold to the secret to what club owner J. P. Monroe is hiding in his nightclub and Doug Bradley reprises his role as Pinhead. In common with all the subsequent Hellraiser movies that he’s appeared in since, he’s the best thing in the movie. Serenely floating above whatever the plot requires of Pinhead, Bradley clearly relishes the pathos that screenwriter Pete Atkins has afforded him. Sadly though, that finishes there because the clear unvarnished reality is that compared to the first two movies, Hellraiser III is a movie made on the cheap. Without access to the quality talents of Clare Higgins or Andrew Robinson, it becomes achingly obvious even before the mismatched dialogue falls out of synch with the picture.
Now, don’t get me wrong, part of the charm of horror movies is second-guessing the stupidity of those who are about to die and the choices that have led to their fateful end (don’t go into the darkened house without putting the lights etc. and so on). However, bereft of any kind of high-calibre opponent like he had in Ashley Laurence‘s Kirsty Cotton, Pinhead pretty much gets to run amok, unchecked. In fact, in starting with a reversal of fortune where Pinhead is now the one to who needs to regenerate his body, Hellraiser III is a retooled remix of Hellraiser I’s essential mechanics. In the end, the movie is about Pinhead himself – and you have the fatal flaw which now permeated through pretty much the subsequent movies. The monster is now the star rather than the reckoning that the movie’s characters are trying to avoid. Imagine a movie where Geiger’s Alien is on the screen the whole time. Pretty soon any shock value or revulsion will be spent and there’s nothing scary left to feast on – and that’s what happens in Hellraiser III. Whereas the previous two movies were scary, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth sadly has all the dread of a disco-infused baby shower and that’s not a good way to go if you’re meant to be the lord of hell.