The news that Hellraiser is getting another big screen treatment is a real thrill for fans of the franchise, because Hellraiser has been languishing in straight-to-video… well, “hell” for nearly 20 years.
What began as a franchise based on the works of Clive Barker – who also directed the first installment – about a dimension of ghoulish and powerful sadomasochists who torture and pleasure their (sometimes willing) victims, became a series of low budget horror flicks that had almost nothing to do with the demonic Cenobites that made the franchise so iconic in the first place.
Seriously, most of the straight-to-video sequels were based on original screenplays that were rewritten to throw in the Cenobites, and it shows. The haphazardness of the Hellraiser straight-to-video sequels is often clear at a glance, and the changes that were made to the franchise’s premise – seemingly willy-nilly – are significant and, arguably, to the detriment of the franchise.
But there sure were a lot of them! Let’s take a look at the greatly-maligned Hellraiser straight-to-video sequels to see which of them (if any) deserves the distinction of “the best!”
Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)
The first straight-to-video Hellraiser sequel has a better pedigree than the rest. Directed by Scott Derrickson and co-written by Paul Harris Boardman, the team that would later give the world The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us From Evil, the film stars Craig Sheffer as a corrupt detective investigating a serial killer – he also starts seeing unholy visions of the Cenobites.
Hellraiser: Inferno boasts a respectable star and decent production values, at least compared to most of the other straight-to-video sequels, but it also hammers the same grim notes over and over again, making the film feel a little monotonous. And the shift from Clive Barker’s concept of the Cenobites’ dimension – from an amoral plane where pain and pleasure are indivisible, to a Roman Catholic-inspired afterlife where Cenobites are the agents of divine punishment – was a hard right turn in the direction of the generic.
Is It The Best?: Maybe, because Sheffer is good and the story is more ambitious than you might expect, but it set the whole Hellraiser franchise on a questionable path. And it’s more of a bummer than it is scary.
Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)
The sixth Hellraiser marks the return of Ashley Laurence, who co-starred in the first two films in the series as the heroic Kirsty Cotton. Her story comes to an end in Hellraiser: Hellseeker, but it’s hardly an auspicious one. Kirsty and her husband, played by Dean Winters (the guy from those “Mayhem” commercials), get in a car accident. She goes missing while he suffers a head injury that leaves his memory hazy and his vision full of demonic creatures. The story – right up to the “twist” ending – is pretty thin and frustratingly reminiscent of Hellraiser: Inferno, but Winters and Laurence make the most of their roles… even though Kirsty behaves, debatably, out of character.
Is It The Best?: It’s satisfying to see Ashley Laurence and Doug Bradley, the original Pinhead, share a scene together but the forgettable and familiar A-plot sullies their reunion.
Hellraiser: Deader (2005)
As we’ve already discussed, the majority of the straight-to-video Hellraiser sequels started out as spec scripts that had Cenobites surgically grafted on top them. Hellraiser: Deader is one of the more obvious examples, with a story that would probably work a lot better without any connection to the franchise. Kari Wuhrer stars as a reporter investigating a cult that kills and resurrects its members, all in a weird attempt to take over the Cenobites. She carries the film well, and the scene where she struggles to get a knife out of her back – no easy feat, clearly – is arguably the best and creepiest moment any of these STV sequels have to offer.
Is It The Best?: Well, it’s the best on the list so far. Hellraiser: Deader strains to connect itself to the franchise but the resurrection cult is eerie enough to justify its own film, and Wuhrer does a fine job.
Hellraiser: Hellworld (2005)
Okay, so in Hellraiser: Hellworld, Clive Barker’s series is just a multimedia franchise that inspired a (pretty bad-looking) MMORPG. A group of friends solve the video game’s puzzle and find themselves at a sexy private rave for ultra-cool gamers, but they wander off and get killed one-by-one by the Cenobites. The set-up is beyond strained and the first twist ending is laughable (and the second one makes NO sense), but at least Lance Henriksen is in it. That’s gotta count for something.
Is It The Best?: Only in terms of camp value. The contrived script bends over backwards and then snaps in an ill-conceived attempt to accommodate a Hellraiser connection, and even without the Cenobites it just wouldn’t be a very interesting horror movie.
Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)
Cheap and rough, Hellraiser: Revelations was rushed into production so the studio could keep the rights to the franchise, and yet it’s still the only straight-to-video Hellraiser sequel that feels like it kind of belongs in the same world as the theatrical films. It’s not nearly as good, frankly, but the mythology and the tone are closer to what made Hellraiser work in the first place. A couple of young punks go vacationing in Mexico, pick up a Lament Configuration and do unspeakable things and disappear. One of them suddenly returns a year later with suspicious and creepy intentions for his family, while Pinhead waits in the wings.
Is It The Best?: Hellraiser: Revelations captures some of the prurient violence and sensuality that made this franchise so distinctive in the first place, but the shoddy production values bring the whole thing down. Worse, Revelations is the first film in the franchise without Doug Bradley as Pinhead, and his replacement just can’t match his gravitas.
Hellraiser: Judgment (2018)
The most recent Hellraiser allegedly wasn’t based on another, unrelated screenplay, but it plays like it was. Damon Carney stars as a detective tracking down a serial killer inspired by the Ten Commandments, in a storyline that mirrors Hellraiser: Inferno on multiple levels. The investigation leads him to a house where the Cenobites judge the wicked and determine their torment, a development which returns the franchise to the realm of Western religion after briefly going back to the more ineffable horror-fantasy in Revelation. The film adds some new wrinkles and Cenobites to the mythology, which will either intrigue or frustrate fans, and although Bradley didn’t return, Paul T. Taylor is, at least, a respectable Pinhead.
Is It The Best?: Probably not. If you’re a fan of the idea that the Cenobites work for Hell, punishing sinners as opposed to gifting them with beautiful pain, Judgment might intrigue you. If not, it’ll make you think long and hard about Pinhead doing paperwork, and that’s just silly. And the serial killer story is a bland non-starter either way.
So What’s the Best Straight-to-Video Hellraiser Sequel?
Picking the best straight-to-video Hellraiser isn’t easy, or fun. Even the best of these movies is deeply flawed, and the worst can be a chore. Inferno feels more like a complete, feature film than the others, but it’s also dour to a numbing fault. Hellseeker brings back Ashley Laurence, and the film is all the better for it, but she’s not in it much and the rest of the film is derivative. Hellworld is… definitely not the best, let’s leave it at that, while Revelations comes pretty close to the tone of the originals only to be undone by its sloppy cheapness. And finally Judgment has some impressive Cenobite sequences even though its familiar story and questionable additions to the canon are disappointing.
Which leaves us with Hellraiser: Deader, a film that barely feels like a Hellraiser sequel but mostly works on its own merits and has at least one memorably creepy scene. Deader, like the rest of the straight-to-video sequels, pales in comparison to the theatrically-released Hellraiser films but it stands out more than the rest. It is probably the best straight-to-video Hellraiser sequel, which may be a dubious distinction. But a win is a win, right?
Then again, this is all a matter of taste. Which one of these movies is YOUR favorite, and why?