Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #612
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 3, 2000
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Scott Derrickson
Producers: W.K. Border, Joel Soisson
Screenplay: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Based on Characters by Clive Barker
Special Effects: Wendi Lynn Avignone
Visual Effects: Jamison Scott Goei
Cinematography: Nathan Hope
Score: Walter Werzowa
Editing: Kirk M. Morri
Studios: Dimension Films, Miramax, Neo Art & Logic
Distributors: Dimension Home Video, Miramax Films
Stars: Craig Sheffer, Doug Bradley, Nicholas Turturro, James Remar, Nicholas Sadler, Noelle Evans, Lindsay Taylor, Matt George, Michael Shamus Wiles, Sasha Barrese, Kathryn Joosten, Jessica Elliot, Carmen Argenziano
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Walter Werzowa “Main Title”
 Walter Werzowa “The Crossing”
 Walter Werzowa “Finale”
Say what you want about the Hellraiser franchise, but you never know quite where things are headed next. With the exception of the first sequel, it’s been nigh-on impossible to fathom out its trajectory. Who would have guessed that the third entry would relocate the puzzle box Stateside? Meanwhile, it would have taken one helluva crystal ball to suss out that Hellraiser: Bloodline would exit our orbit and take this battle between good and evil to the stars. By the time the fifth film was announced, Clive Barker had relinquished any last lingering control and this meant that the studio were free to do pretty much whatever they wished. Given that we had skipped both back in time and way into the future for the previous installment, the mind couldn’t help but boggle at what they would come up with next.
It’s fair to say that the omens weren’t good and this concern was only heightened on receipt of the news that Hellraiser: Inferno would be the first not to receive a theatrical release. The budget was lower than ever before, all options appeared to have been exhausted, and the great mind that concocted this legacy in the first place had washed his hands of the whole sorry affair, They’re hardly what you would call encouraging signs. And they appeared bang on the money when the film was released and had loyal fans up in arms at taking all manner of unforgivable liberties with their beloved source material. That said, it’s interesting that Scott Derrickson was chosen to direct and this is the cat responsible for the likes of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Deliver Us From Evil, and the masterful Sinister. I waited over fifteen years before finding out what all the negative press was about and, the very moment his name flashed up on the screen, breathed a monumental sigh of relief.
It turns out that, while the wrath it felt was partially justified when you consider the change of direction it proposed for the series, if you take this film on its own merits, there is plenty commendable about it. The screenplay by Derrickson himself and co-writer Paul Harris Boardman is courageous enough to act as a fresh entry point, while still focusing on the puzzle box ethos that had captured its worldwide audience in the first place. In many ways, Hellraiser: Inferno isn’t actually a horror film at all, and instead, feels more like a detective story not unlike the exploits of Mickey Spillane. Dripping with L.A. neo-noir flavor, it restricts the irrepressible Pinhead to what is essentially a walk-on cameo and, against all conceivable odds, manages to pull shit off with a fair amount of competence, not to mention flair to spare.
Our main pawn is shady detective Joseph Thorne (Craig Sheffer: Nightbreed), something of a calculated genius, and well-respected by his associates. That’s not to say he’s likeable, indeed by all accounts, Thorne is a pretty contemptible character and doesn’t give a flying fuck and two hover wanks whether you like him or not. He pilfers from the pockets of those he’s responsible for bagging and tagging, frequently gets coked up to the point where he cares for no one or thing, and pounds the pussy night after night while his wife Melanie (Noelle Evans) sits at home trying to explain to their young daughter that daddy may not get to tuck his little angel in again tonight. Straight out off the bat, we’re challenged to care about our rat bastard lead’s plight, and Thorne doesn’t willingly provide us a great number of reasons to.
Anyhoots, he’s got himself in a godawful pickle this time and even his ever-faithful partner Tony (Nicholas Turturro) is wary of offering his support. Spending the evening passed out in the motel room toilet clutching a mysterious puzzle box is one thing, but when he wakes up to find the hooker he banged last night stone cold dead in what appears some kind of ritual murder, a good alibi would really come in handy. Tony begrudgingly bails him out, but a chess loving super sleuth like Joseph Thorne isn’t the type to thank his lucky stars and never speak of the whole sorry mess again when there’s quite clearly a conundrum to be solved and, more critically, an opponent to outfox.
Determined to catch himself a killer, he finds himself chasing his tail as he attempts to locate a character known as The Engineer. He has precious little to go on other than a warning that those who hunt The Engineer usually end up regretting it. However, Thorne isn’t the type to be discouraged by scare tactics and starts snooping around for clues, despite suffering some increasingly nightmarish hallucinations that have him starting to question his sanity.
To make matters worse, it appears that The Engineer is very much aware of his interest and this is confirmed as his friends and associates start showing up dead. Fast approaching the end of his tether, his behavior becomes increasingly erratic and desperate, and even a visit to police shrink Dr. Paul Gregory (James Remar) does little to settle his fraying nerves. Sooner or later, Thorne is going to be granted his wish and he may want to be careful what he covets as things are only about to get more fucked up from hereon in.
Sheffer is on-point as our beleaguered lead and, while Joseph Thorne is hardly the most agreeable protagonist, he still manages to warrant our investment, no small feat when the weight of the entire movie rests squarely on his shoulders. Where devout fans of the series seem to take exception is the almost metaphorical manner in which Pinhead and his associates make an appearance, at last knockings no less. Make no mistake, Hellraiser: Inferno is the tale of one man’s personal hell and a quest to indulge himself with forbidden pleasures of the flesh that ultimately becomes far more literal. There is little hope of absolution here, only comprehension, and we are provided his world-weary narration to assist us in facing his fears alongside him. Meanwhile, the ever-dependable Remar is also on suitably sinister form as his psychiatrist, who may just know more about The Engineer than he is letting on.
I get why so many Hellraiser enthusiasts consider this one of the weakest links in the chain but a movie like this is positively screaming out for perspective. This is one dark movie and anyone who has watched Sinister should know full well that Derrickson has no issue with taking it there. Moreover, while Pinhead and co. barely even figure into the equation, their presence is felt increasingly as the film wears on, and it is fascinating watching them manifest in a different way than is customary. There are numerous hellish scenes littered throughout, including novel use of the Pillar of Souls, and the conclusion really couldn’t be more fitting. Like Tommy Lee Wallace’s excellent Halloween III: Season of The Witch, Hellraiser: Inferno would have been better served dropping the obvious as it deserves to stand on its own exclusive merits, of which there are many. I’d say that’s case closed wouldn’t you?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Splatter is secondary to creeping dread, although those willing to stick with it will be rewarded with a number of scenes that truly reach beneath your skin and have their way with your insides. Speaking of which, you will seldom witness a threesome quite so macabre and bizarrely arousing as the one on offer here. Not quite sure I want to know where the happy ending comes into this particular body massage.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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