Thursday, December 6, 2012
Movie Review: HELLRAISER: INFERNO
2000, Dimension #21064, HF/SS/CC, NSR, VHS
#20773, DD-5.1/16:9/C/CC, $32.99, DVD-1, 99m 22s
By John Charles
Originally published in Video Watchdog #69
This fifth entry in the HELLRAISER franchise owes a greater debt to contemporary serial killer thrillers, like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SE7EN, than Clive Barker's original. Crooked detective Joseph Thorne (NIGHTBREED's Craig Sheffer) investigates the homicide of a former classmate, who was found gruesomely mutilated in what appears to be some kind of occult murder. A child's severed finger (concealed inside a candle) and The Lament Configuration are among the clues found on the scene and the curious Thorne accidentally solves the puzzlebox. He then suffers through a terrifying vision in which Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the cenobites invade his home. However, was it really just a nightmare? A prostitute Thorne picked up the night before turns up dead, with another of the child's fingers near her body, and the detective's snitch is soon found with most of his back torn away, and yet another bloody digit nearby. Thorne is also experiencing other unaccountable visions, which furnish specific details about the murders that he could not possibly know, arousing the suspicion of his partner (Nicholas Turturro, playing a slightly dimmer version of his NYPD BLUE character). The one constant in all of this horror is a brutal, enigmatic figure called The Engineer that no one has ever seen in the flesh.
Director Scott Derrickson (making his feature debut) creates and maintains a sombre, ominous atmosphere and the make-up (augmented this time with some middling CGI work) is as spectacularly gruesome as ever. Sheffer is effectual and James Remar puts in a nice, low-key supporting turn as a police psychiatrist/priest. Unfortunately, the resolution the plot builds to is so lacking in imagination and shock value, it negates these assets. There is also a glaring conceptual problem here: why is this even a HELLRAISER movie? Dimension was rightfully criticized for re-cutting HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE (reviewed VW 38:63) and forcibly inserting additional footage of Pinhead, to the detriment of the finished product. This time, they have gone the opposite route, reducing the horror icon to "Special Guest Appearance" status and the other cenobites are largely just ornate cyphers (there are two new female creatures who take heavy petting to gruesome extremes and Chatterer now has no lower body, stalking his victims like a monstrous Johnny Eck). The creators of this chapter clearly wanted to expand their audience beyond the series' fanbase but the end product is not successful enough to make the production of interest to anything more than a niche audience. Meanwhile, the relegation of Pinhead to the sidelines and the comparative lack of gore is all but guaranteed to alienate the faithful. The lesson to be gleaned from all of this is simple but Hollywood still refuses to heed it: you can only go back to a well so many times and taking a new, circuitous route ultimately does not make one speck of difference. It is time to close the book on HELLRAISER and let Clive Barker see what else he can dredge up from those splendidly dark recesses of his psyche.
The transfer of this direct-to-video production boasts crisp contrasts, though the fairly basic stereo mix is indicative of the film's modest budget; the closed captioning is good. The overpriced anamorphic DVD presents the film matted to 1.80:1 and comes with an interview, in which Bradley speaks quite eloquently about the experience of playing Pinhead (at 5m 8s, it provides more screentime than he gets in the feature!). There is also a brief bit (needlessly broken up into four chapters) in which make-up effects creator Gary J. Tunliffe talks about his work, as well as trailers for HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE (with the Hollywood Pictures logo inexplicably added to the beginning) and the SCREAM Trilogy Box Set.
[This version is out of print, but the film is now available on both DVD and Blu-ray from Echo Bridge]