*. The third entry in a series that I don’t think was ever planned as a franchise. Things, however, were now out of control. Despite Clive Barker doing his best to kill him off in the previous movie (Barker had apparently wanted Julia to be the franchise villain, but Clare Higgins wanted out), Pinhead — officially his name now, not only in the credits but in the script — is back and in charge of the operation. The mythology, however, is coming undone.
*. Some things have changed and some have stayed the same. We’ve left dear old Blighty and are now in New York City. The title announce this as “Clive Barker Presents,” but I don’t think he had a lot of creative input. We hear Christopher Young’s score. We see a bunch of film sets that really look like film sets, which has become part of the low-cost charm of these movies. It also helps blur the line between reality and hell, since the film’s real world looks so much like hell in the first place. Not to mention Vietnam looking like upstate New York (it was actually shot in North Carolina).
*. Pinhead is back, and I should be happier about that but (1) the plot has him being split from his human personality, which I guess they had to do after the last movie but which is still hard to swallow, and (2) he talks far too much. I think I can recite all of Pinhead’s lines from Hellraiser because they really stood out. Less was more. Here they let Doug Bradley drone on about flesh and pain and whatnot and it just gets tiring.
*. I’m not knocking his acting chops, but without his makeup and Cenobite costume Doug Bradley doesn’t make much of an impression. I wish they could have left his back story out of it.
*. Another problem is that whatever rules there were for summoning the Cenobites have now been disposed of completely. In the first two movies you had to summon them, and only those who summoned them got to taste their pleasures. And in the second movie they still tried hard to rationalize how this worked. But in this movie they don’t even bother, and when Pinhead is unleashed it’s a wholesale Carrie-esque slaughter of the innocents. Or at least the partially innocent. He mostly takes out a nightclub filled with party boys and coked-up whores, but still. And what Joey’s photographer did to deserve his terrible fate is beyond me.
*. Pinhead’s original gang of fellow Cenobites (Butterball, the Female, the Chatterer) are gone, to be replaced by jokey Borg-like figures made over in ways that reference their previous lives. (This was, to be fair, suggested in Hellbound, when the brain surgeon Dr. Channard undergoes a kind of lobotomy and his tentacles have scalpels.) So the unfortunate photographer here becomes a demon with a telescoping lens for an eye. A DJ becomes a man who throws CDs (remember them?) like ninja stars. A bartender mixes up Molotov cocktails and breathes fire. The sleazy nightclub owner who started all this gets a sort of piston stuck in his head that is, he tells us, better than sex. In the first movie Barker was afraid that people would find Pinhead silly and laugh at him. In this movie they’ve embraced that fate. I mean, the new gang even make stupid wisecracks as they go about killing people.
*. Another connection with the other movies that’s easy to miss is the fact that the Other Side has the power to communicate with ours not just through dreams but by way of our television sets. This is used here when Captain Elliot Spencer contacts Joey through her TV, but you may recall that the Cenobites announce themselves by way of the TV in Kirsty’s hospital room in the first film, and videotapes will also play key plot functions in Hellraiser: Inferno, Hellraiser: Hellseeker, and Hellraiser: Deader.
*. I didn’t get the mocking of religion, with Pinhead doing a parody of communion in the church. Why bother with this? I’m not offended, but it seems as though they’re going out of their way to make not much of a point. When Andrew Robinson said “Jesus wept” at the end of the first film it was an ad lib. It didn’t mean anything. But at least this much is consistent with Barker’s vision. Remember the baptism scene in Rawhead Rex?
*. In most respects Hell on Earth feels like a more timely, commercial film than the previous two. The first movie had a classic, timeless quality to it that lets it still play well today. This one is very much a product of the early ’90s, or even earlier. To be honest, it feels more like a Cannon production than something from Miramax. The shoot-’em-up in the street could have come out of a Chuck Norris flick.
*. Is it a terrible movie? No, but it’s another step down for the franchise, which was by now badly wounded and becoming mired in inconsistencies. Still, there’s a lot of ruin in a franchise and this one had a way to run yet.