Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)

*. And now for something completely different.
*. Hellraiser: Inferno is the fifth film in the Hellraiser franchise and, as an indication of the series’ fortunes, the first to be released direct to video. But, and I say this in its defence, it is not just more of the same.
*. In my notes on the previous instalment, Hellraiser: Bloodline, I said that the character of Pinhead had become a kind of albatross for the series. His hooked chains had become stale and he was growing less interesting every time he opened his mouth. It’s a relief then that he’s hardly in Inferno at all, just basically appearing at the end to deliver a surprisingly moralistic homily to the film’s protagonist.
*. This is probably because the original script was not written to be a Hellraiser movie but was adapted for the franchise. Instead it’s a psychodrama about a “bad lieutenant” police detective (Craig Sheffer) who goes off the rails (cocaine, prostitutes, stealing and forging evidence). He feels guilty that he’s cheating on his wife and neglecting his parents and his daughter. It’s not even clear if the Cenobites are real or if they’re just delusionary manifestations of personal demons.

*. Even allusions to previous films in the series don’t seem right. For some reason the Lemarchand Configuration (the name of the puzzle box) has been dumbed down to the Lament Configuration. The Engineer — the name of the chief demon in the source material (Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart) and turned into a ridiculous monster in the first film — is a name adopted here by Pinhead. It’s like we’re in a kind of alternate-Hellraiser universe.
*. The visual texture of the film is also different. Yes, it’s still a bargain-basement production, but gone are the fake-looking sets and tunnels (well, there’s one tunnel/hallway scene, but it’s actually pretty good). It’s not a picture that tries to look as big as the previous sequels, and I think it’s better for that.
*. A lot of people write Inferno off, but I think the first half at least is very good. The new Cenobites are actually quite disturbing, and (as many before me have noted) there’s a real David Lynch vibe to the proceedings. The second half of the movie tends to get stuck chasing its own tail down a rabbit hole (to mix my metaphors), but up till roughly the hour mark it’s quite enjoyable. Directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister) it’s also the scariest film in the franchise since the first.

*. There are a few unforced errors. It’s fine that Joe steals the first victim’s money from his wallet, but why does he change the evidence form? Isn’t that a giveaway? And sure, it’s neat that he sees a videotape of the murder of the ice cream guy Bernie, but does he have to watch it in a bar?
*. Would it have been a better movie without Pinhead? That is, without being part of the Hellraiser franchise? I don’t know. Pinhead is certainly an odd fit for this material. He’s always been more about the passions of the flesh than tortures of the mind. At the end he seems almost to be trying to help Joe by playing Clarence Odbody to his George Bailey.
*. But is that a bad thing? As I started off by saying, Pinhead’s usual shtick was getting old. And even if it came about through the economy of recycling scripts, Inferno at least came up with an interesting new direction to explore. I think you could take a one or two-line synopsis of each of the Hellraiser films and say “Well, that sounds interesting,” or “That might be a bit different.” Inferno is no different. It’s not a great movie, but for the fifth film in a series that usually only rates around the same level as the Children of the Corn or Leprechaun franchises it’s actually a lot better than I expected.

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