Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

*. In my notes on Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth I mentioned the similar look all these films have. What I mean is the way their sets look like film sets. Apartments don’t look like apartments, offices don’t look like offices, hospitals don’t look like hospitals, and illogical hallways are a major design feature of every building on earth, in hell, or even the heavens above. Every set seems like the same space with different furniture wheeled in and some obviously fake walls thrown up that look as if they’d fall over if you bumped into them.
*. This can be the result of bad production design or lack of any budget. I suspect a bit of both, but more of the latter. In any event, what I want to flag here is how strangely such an aesthetic fits with the oversized ambitions of these films.
*. After Hellraiser, which was mostly shot in one house, the series visited a Piranesian hell (Hellbound), battlefields in Vietnam and the First World War (Hellraiser III), and, in this film, Revolutionary France and a 22nd-century space station. For a franchise that never had the resources to make any of these settings work this might seem like folly. And maybe it was. Nevertheless, I also have a kind of respect for it.
*. And so . . . Pinhead in space. Was he the first screen villain of his generation to go into orbit? Only if you discount the Critters in Critters 4. Meanwhile, the Leprechaun would head there a year later (Leprechaun 4: In Space), and Jason would make the trip in Jason X (2002). So I guess that deserves some credit too. Or blame, if you think it’s a stupid idea.

*. There are actually three stories at play in Bloodline, going from 1796 France, where Lemarchand’s box is first made for a dissolute Marquis de Sade figure, through 1996 New York City, to 2127 and the stuff going on at the space station. Apparently Lemarchand and his descendants (all of whom are known as the “Toymaker”) are committed to finding a way to close the gate of hell they opened, only this time permanently. It takes several centuries but they get it done. This does not, however, shut down the possibility of further sequels, since Pinhead doesn’t die until 2127. Which was actually kind of clever. More clever than the alternate-universe stuff that Marvel pulls when their storylines become unworkable.
*. Having three linked stories makes Bloodline play a bit like an anthology horror film. What makes it curious in this regard is that neither of the first two stories (1796, 1996) give us much necessary information. Given how extensively the movie was rewritten and reworked, I suspect much was lost.
*. It seems as though the demon Angelique (who I don’t think is a Cenobite, at least initially) was going to have a more central role to play. Sort of like Julia in the first two films. But alas she was going up against Pinhead, who everyone knew was the star by now and the franchise’s only reason for being.
*. That’s too bad, as Angelique had some potential. Doug Bradley’s Pinhead, however, really seems played out by now. He’s still going on and on about pain and suffering and the flesh but none of it seems to carry any conviction. I also thought the chains with the hooks were starting to seem really old. Enough already.

*. They do try to add some new elements. Twin security guards are smushed together to make a new Cenobite. Pinhead has a dog. And Angelique gets some work done as well. But none of this is all that interesting. We’re four movies in now and we’ve seen this before.
*. Yes, it’s an Alan Smithee film. The studio wanted so many changes that Kevin Yagher took his name off it and it was completed by Joe Chappelle. Alan Smithee doesn’t always mean the film is a disaster, but it does indicate a troubled production. That seems to have been the case here.
*. One feels that Pinhead had by this time become both the series’ raison d’√™tre and its baggage. As I’ve said, the character quickly played out, and by this point was incapable of sustaining much interest. But he was all they had.
*. He wasn’t meant to become the face of the franchise. He’s a minor supporting character in the novella The Hellbound Heart. Barker seems to have envisioned a more important role for Julia in the first two films, and in Hellbound he was determined to kill him off. In this movie Angelique, as I’ve said, may have been imagined in the Julia role, while Pinhead isn’t even a character in the first part (Captain Elliott Spencer not having been born yet). But the studio insisted he make an appearance earlier on board the space station to let audiences know that he was in the house.
*. Given all of this, the fact that the series kept limping along, and indeed had some creative life in it yet, is remarkable. In the next films they’d go in a different direction and Pinhead would be relegated to cameos. The road to hell was proving to be a long strange trip indeed.

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