Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #610
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: September 11, 1992
Sub-Genre: Body Horror
Country of Origin: United States/Canada
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Anthony Hickox
Producer: Lawrence Mortorff
Screenplay: Peter Atkins, Tony Randel (Story)
Based on characters by Clive Barker
Special Effects: Mark Coulier, Shaune Harrison, Stephen Painter
Cinematography: Gerry Lively
Score: Randy Miller
Editing: Christopher Cibelli, James D. R. Hickox
Studios: Dimension Films, Fifth Avenue Entertainment, Trans Atlantic Entertainment
Distributor: Miramax Films
Stars: Terry Farrell, Paula Marshall, Kevin Bernhardt, Peter Boynton, Doug Bradley, Ashley Laurence, Ken Carpenter, Peter Atkins, Eric Willhelm, Robert Hammond, Brent Bolthouse, Lawrence Mortorff, Clayton Hill, Aimée Leigh, Peter G. Boynton
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Triumph “Troublemaker”
 Motörhead “Hell On Earth”
 Randy Miller “The Pillar”
In my recent appraisal for Tony Randel’s Hellbound: Hellraiser II, I spoke briefly about how difficult it is for a franchise to maintain credibility and it seems like the ideal time to elaborate further on some of the key problems facing any film series as it begins to wear on. You see, while there’s generally at least a spark of originality first time around to help said film to stand out from the crowd, those same narrative hooks are increasingly used to flog it to death as subsequent entries begin to focus more on superficial aspects and gimmicks than anything else.
It’s a thankless task for anyone looking to attempt such an undertaking as they must also remain mindful of what fans have come to expect and traditionally this entails learning more about the antagonist or fleshing out the world in question. When you consider that the mystery element is often what makes these films memorable in the first place, it is inevitable that will have become largely diluted by the time a trilogy has been churned out. That’s not to mention anything that is going on behind the scenes and how much of a part those responsible for the original vision are willing to take. It’s a veritable mindfield and I don’t envy any filmmaker taking the reins further down the line.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is a prime example of the above issues and it’s a miracle it ever made it to the final cut as it damn near didn’t. Another Clive Barker adaptation, his very own Nightbreed, had been plagued by problems and ended up performing rather underwhelmingly at the box-office. Moreover, it single-handedly sent Film Futures into bankruptcy, and New World were in the same kind of dire straits when this entered production. The rights were then transferred and Barker’s involvement in the project only came deep into post-production. Meanwhile, Randel was supposed to return as director but producers found his vision too bleak and Anthony Hickox (Waxwork, Waxwork II: Lost in Time) was drafted in as a replacement. It was only natural that these hindrances would have an effect on the final cut and, considering the turmoil it endured, it has to be said, things really could have turned out a lot worse.
Let me make it abundantly clear from the get-go, if you’re looking to point the finger at when the franchise’s fortunes began to take a pretty severe swan dive, then Hickox’s third entry is unquestionably where it’s at. By attempting to open the world up further, something quickly becomes lost in translation, and it is required to fulfill an industry standard that makes for a far more formulaic by-the-numbers affair. Studio executives meddled, weighed in about what they believe the series needed to flourish, and the result is a film that, despite carefully linking back to both former installments, struggles to find any kind of a workable identity. To his credit, Hickox was known more for horror comedy than something as undiluted as this, and listened intently to Barker’s instruction when keeping things strictly straight-faced here. But it’s Americanization comes close to being its undoing and only an eventful final third rescues the film from a far worse fate.
Since being defeated in the last film, Pinhead and the Lament Configuration itself have become trapped within a macabre statue named the Pillar of Souls. Sleazy nightclub owner J.P. Monroe (Kevin Bernhardt) happens across it an art gallery one night and manages to procure it for pretty much whatever price his heart desires, thinking it would make a wonderful addition for his club, The Boiler Room. Just for the record, J.P. is the kind of cat who would happily kick away your meemaw’s Zimmer frame and make it look like an accident if offered a hand job at the end of it.
Meanwhile, go-getting news reporter Joanne Summerskill (Terry Farrell) also has an interest in the pillar after witnessing a teenager being ripped apart by chains in a hospital emergency room of which the only available lead just so happens to be J.P.’s former main squeeze Terri (Paula Marshall). After questioning the young girl, she soon agrees to offering her a roof over her head and, all the while, J.P. is “getting to know” his new toy and about to unwittingly break the seal in some style.
After bleeding directly onto the statue, Pinhead perks up and begins his dubious bargaining, which most would run a mile from but a soulless cat like J.P. doesn’t take a great amount of time coming round to its host’s persuasive reasoning. We know the spiel from here as it’s the usual sacrificial lamb routine, with one donation making him stronger, and a second, freeing him from his shackles to come good on his pledge of bringing hell to earth. However, while lust was the bargaining tool for Julia in the first film and knowledge for Dr. Channard in the second, J.P. is all about the power and, just like those before him, he really should be careful what he wishes for.
While all this unpleasantness has been going down, Joey has been having all manner of weird dreams featuring her father, who died while serving in the Vietnam war, and no prizes for guessing who’s responsible for these imaginings. Thus she’s been doing her homework, inspecting video evidence recovered from the Channard Institute that sheds some light and traces the threat back to The Boiler Room. What it then amounts to is a race against time as she endeavors to nip this evil at the bud before it can be released into the world and run amok. Nice try Joey, but I’ll refrain from passing you a cigar on this occasion, as we all know you ain’t gonna make it dear.
So all hell literally breaks loose and, where previously the Cenobites were present as a consequence more than anything else, here Pinhead takes centre stage for the entire third act and, after making short and bloody work of the patrons of The Boiler Room, takes to the mean streets and makes them meaner. He’s not alone as his fresh recruits are only too willing to lend a hand and each possess their own fearsome ability. This culminates in a scene set within a Catholic church whereby he mocks a crucifixion proclaiming “I am the way” and certain religious groups were up in arms about the blasphemous connotations, although the series has long since hinted at such. It’s certainly an eventful conclusion and helps us to forget how uninspired everything that has preceded it has been.
Hellraiser: Hell on Earth has its issues. While Farrell, Marshall, and Bernhardt are all fine, some of the other performers fare decidedly less well and the dialogue they’re forced to recite is pretty uninspired and occasionally cringeworthy. Pinhead gets the best lines by a long chalk, although his fresh cohort have a tendency to spout some fairly insipid crowd-pleasing one-liners and get by on sheer enthusiasm alone. However, for all its foibles and false conclusions, Hickox’s film still manages to give a creditable enough account of itself for the most part, and wraps up the trilogy reasonably well all things considered. That said, the fact remains that Barker’s almost total lack of involvement is hard to shake, and it cannot help but have you pondering what might have been.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: There is plentiful splatter on the platter here, albeit decidedly less clinical and affecting than before, and the club massacre scene in particular throws all manner of fast paced atrocities at us. However, the most memorable moment shows a surprising level of restraint as we cut to outside as blood begins to flow beneath the door, while the screams of the remaining patrons gradually subside, washed away by the sounds of all manner of flesh-ripping and gouging playing out within.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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