Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #611
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 8, 1996
Sub-Genre: Body Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Kevin Yagher, Joe Chappelle (uncredited)
Producers: Nancy Rae Stone
Screenplay: Peter Atkins
Special Effects: Timothy Huizing, Damon Charles, Kevin Yagher
Visual Effects: Rick Kerrigan, Alberto Menache
Cinematography: Gerry Lively
Score: Daniel Licht
Editing: Randy Bricker, Rod Dean, Jim Prior
Studio: Dimension Films
Distributor: Miramax Films
Stars: Bruce Ramsay, Valentina Vargas, Doug Bradley, Charlotte Chatton, Adam Scott, Kim Myers, Christine Harnos, Mickey Cottrell, Louis Turenne, Courtland Mead, Louis Mustillo, Jody St. Michael, Paul Perri, Pat Skipper, Wren T. Brown, Tom Dugan
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Daniel Licht “End Title”
 Daniel Licht “Dreams of Angelique”
 Daniel Licht “Main Titles”
It’s a good job that no one can hear you scream in space. They don’t call it the vast ocean of emptiness for nothing; just ask the Critters whose first foray into space travel for their fourth outing coincided with the end of their short and eventful tenure. Meanwhile, James Isaac’s Jason X sent everyone’s favorite momma’s boy packing and, while not quite the outright travesty many had it billed as, was a far cry from the lush green pastures of Camp Crystal Lake. It’s a questionable rite of passage for any franchise looking to retain any level of credibility and, thanks to one of Hollywood’s most overworked directors, Alan Smithee, is precisely where the Cenobites wound up after successfully orchestrating hell on Earth.
Just so we’re clear, when the name Alan Smithee is attached to a project, it’s generally a bad sign. This pseudonym represents the closest an unsatisfied filmmaker has to a get-out clause once their initial vision becomes compromised and usually denotes a project somewhat lacking in merit. Original director Kevin Yagher wasn’t best pleased with the direction his fourth entry had taken after a great deal of meddling during the post production process and promptly removed his name from the final product. However, for as much as Hellraiser: Bloodline was ridiculed by critics upon its release in 1996, it has since gone on to become something of a firm favorite with fans and is also the last of the series to boast involvement from Clive Barker. Admittedly his original concept underwent all manner of changes before the film saw the light of day but it’s hard to argue that the end result wasn’t fun, if nothing else.
On paper, Hellraiser: Bloodline was one of the more ambitious entries in the long running series, and Barker fully intended it to be a three-part film set across different time periods – past, present, and future – with clear links to his original novella. Regular collaborator Peter Atkins knocked up a script and the project was soon green-lit to go into production. Regrettably, Miramax Films were unwilling to put their money where their mouths were and this led it to be massively stripped back, leaving a muddled affair which never quite reaches its full potential. That said, it still ties in rather neatly to the third film, and supplies yet more back story to flesh out the Hellraiser folklore, thus deserving a certain level of credit. Moreover, its lean 85 minute running time never feels too long and the anthology format allows for a far brisker pace, assisting us in overlooking a fair share of the movie’s unquestionable flaws.
The overarching story is set well over a hundred years into the future and implicates engineer Dr. Paul Merchant (Bruce Ramsey), who barricades himself into his chamber aboard a space station that he designed named The Minos. He is swiftly apprehended and forced to explain his actions to top dog, Rimmer (Christine Harnos). It turns out there’s rather a lot of history between Merchant, his identical ancestors, and the puzzle box we all know and love, stretching as far back as 1796 and Paris, France of all places. Barely ten minutes in and it’s time to warp back into history for a prequel of sorts.
Known as “Toymaker” on account of his mad skills, Phillip LeMarchand (Ramsey) is commissioned to construct the Lament Configuration by libertine aristocrat Duc de L’Isle (Mickey Cottrell). Little does he know that L’Isle has sinister designs on using it to create a portal to hell and, along with his subordinate officer Jacques (Adam Scott), has already sacrificed a young peasant girl for the cause, summoning a sultry succubus by the name of Angelique (Valentina Vargas) to do his foul bidding. She too will be relevant to all three segments and is a spiritual successor for the character of Julia, after Clare Higgins had declined to reprise her role for the third film. Angelique wastes no time in seducing Jacques into breaking rank and strikes a bargain with him which entails murdering LeMarchand, thus tainting his entire bloodline for unwittingly opening the gateway to hell.
Fast forward two-hundred years and this is positively wretched news for his descendant, architect John Merchant (Ramsay again). He has built a Manhattan skyscraper that curiously resembles the Lament Configuration (à la the conclusion of Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth) and resides there with his wife Bobbi (Kim Myers: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) and young son Jack. It isn’t long before modern-day Angelique is up to her old tricks and, after failing in her attempt to seduce John, she hoodwinks a security guard into solving the puzzle box thus summoning Pinhead. Neither party is best pleased about pooling their resources; Angelique is driven by lust while her prickly associate is all about the pain and suffering. However, they must unite as Merchant is reaching completion on The Elysium Configuration, which is effectively an antidote to the Lament Configuration. Confused yet?
Then how about this one? You see, we are then whisked forward to the year 2127 and back aboard The Minos, where Rimmer is having a hard time swallowing Merchant’s tale. Turns out that the ship itself represents the final perfected form of the Elysium Configuration and can be used to banish Pinhead and Angelique back to hell permanently. Now if only some bastard believed him, then the curse on his bloodline could finally be lifted once and for all and he wouldn’t forced to spend eternity petting a dog that no muzzle could ever hope to fit.
The final third feels decidedly rushed and amounts to little more than stock characters being slaughtered in unimaginative ways, bereft of any real tension. Indeed, all three segments have their problems. The middle section feels overlong and is the weakest of the three, while many will argue that, while learning the origin of the puzzle box is a novel inclusion, it also removes some of the mystery that made the story so fascinating in the first place and could therefore be considered unnecessary.
However, the sum of the parts amass to just sufficient to keep the ship afloat and, despite its numerous shortfalls, Hickox’s film remains both entertaining and faithful enough to its origins to warrant inclusion, while the orchestrated score by Daniel Licht is more than up to par. That may be but, the fact remains, the series from this point forward had to be content with stumbling onward without Barker’s involvement and we all know how that ultimately turned out. Nevertheless, while space may well be the final frontier, it would be mean-spirited to accuse Hellraiser: Bloodline of putting the final nail in the coffin.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: While some way from the bloodiest entry in the Hellraiser cannon, Bloodline does have its fair share of flesh-ripping sickness, including the package deal slaughter of a pair of hapless security guards that brings new meaning to the term “getting your heads together”. Meanwhile, Angelique may well be inherently evil but, in the long list of Cenobites, few have looked quite so fetching in S&M gear than she. Okay, so perhaps a little less uncovered cerebral matter would have helped the boner some, but I’d still be powerless not to let her sink those hooks into me.
Read Hellraiser Appraisal
Read Hellbound: Hellraiser II Appraisal
Read Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth Appraisal
Read Hellraiser: Inferno Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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I might just be tempted to watch this film because I do enjoy WTF was that type plots, on occasion. This sounds like one of those flicks. The fact that it spans timelines is ambitious. Another great review, Rich.