Author Archives: Alex Good

Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)

*. I think of this movie as forming the second part of a triptych with the previous film Hellraiser: Inferno and the next one up, Hellraiser: Deader. All three were made out of scripts that weren’t written as Hellraiser movies but instead were adapted to include cameo appearances by Pinhead. All three are psychological horror stories, with protagonists wrestling personal demons while on a nightmarish quest of self-discovery. This one and Inferno are more like Jacob’s Ladder and Angel Heart than anything in the Hellraiser mythology.
*. That said, I did sort of enjoy Inferno. At least the first half was pretty interesting. But Hellseeker is a total waste.
*. I wish it weren’t so. I like Dean Winters and have found him quite watchable in everything I’ve seen him in. But there is absolutely nothing interesting going on here. In Inferno the main character was a police detective tracking what seemed to be a serial killer (I’m still not sure what was really going on, and perhaps it was all a dream). In this film Winters plays a cubicle monkey who gets in a car accident and loses his wife and his memory. As the film proceeds things start coming back to him. But not fast enough. I was praying for Pinhead to show up just to break the tedium.
*. Everything here is a letdown from Inferno. Pinhead’s back-up band of Cenobites have nothing to do and have an uninspired look. They’re nothing like the tongue twins in the previous movie. Meanwhile, Pinhead himself seems even more awkwardly shoehorned into the plot than usual. Though there’s a surprising connection to the first two films with the return of Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence, who I didn’t even recognize at first). It turns out the plot hinges on her making yet another deal with Pinhead, which doesn’t work out so well for her sleazy husband.
*. It looks, and indeed was, very cheaply made, but doesn’t have any of the creepy, Lynchian chills of Inferno. What it has instead is that bane of 1980s VHS thrillers: girls in sexy underwear having simulated sex. Incredibly, low-level employee Trevor (Winters) is a babe magnet. So off come the clothes for some of the most unerotic lovemaking ever seen.
*. There’s no point spending more time on this one. It’s crap. Basically Winters wanders around having a bunch of (supposedly) scary visions that he snaps out of whenever they’re about to reach a climax. This happens so many times you stop paying attention and only want the nightmares to come to an end. Which, by my reckoning, wasn’t nearly soon enough.

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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.

Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

*. In my notes on Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth I mentioned the similiar 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), battlefieds 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? 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 dissoulte 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’être 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.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992)

*. 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.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

*. September 9, 1988. Hellbound: Hellraiser II has its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. And your humble commentary writer was there. I believe it was being run as a “midnight movie.”
*. That is the only world premiere I’ve ever attended. Not much of a bragging point, I know, but I haven’t lived a very interesting life.
*. The movie we saw that night was the director’s cut, which is also the version you’re likely to see today on DVD. As I recall, it was not very well received. The audience was primed, and let out a cheer when Pinhead made his entrance. After that, however, things quieted down, and I had the sense that most of us left feeling led down and confused. Was Pinhead dead? How was that possible? And why? He was the hero!
*. Today there’s some debate over the merits of Hellbound. The rest of the Hellraiser series, it’s pretty widely agreed, went downhill fast, but this film still has its strong supporters. Personally, I find it disappointing, so I’ll start with the question of what went wrong.
*. In the first place, it’s no Hellraiser. There’s no shame in that: Hellraiser was a movie I rate very highly as well as consider a personal favourite and any sequel was almost sure to mark a drop off.
*. Despite expecting the usual let-down, there was reason to be hopeful. Clare Higgins comes back as the wicked stepmom turned evil queen, even though I’d heard she hadn’t enjoyed being in the first film. Kenneth Cranham is very good as the evil and obsessed Dr. Channard running a mad madhouse with a Victorian Bedlam in its basement. Christopher Young’s score is fittingly baroque.

*. But there are problems. Visually it’s reach exceeds its grasp, but as a vision of hell it’s at least interesting and has some unique elements mixed in with the more traditional motifs. Andrew Robinson didn’t want to come back either — he has claimed he was being low-balled, or alternatively that he didn’t like the script — which might have ended up being a plus (his character wasn’t necessary) but apparently led to last-minute rewriting of the script. Also there were arguments over the budget, with the result that it had to be shot for a lot less than they had originally planned on. Can you tell?
*. But if you’re looking for someone to blame for Hellbound I think you have to go straight to the source, to the very man who made Hellraiser an instant classic: Clive Barker.
*. The script is a mess, which may have had something to do with the rewrite but I think is more the result of Barker just not having a strong enough grip on what he wanted to do. The first movie was tight. It could have been shot entirely on a couple of sets, and the story was just as compact and economical.
*. The seeds of this film’s undoing, however, were evident already in Hellraiser. In so far as that film stayed true to his novella The Hellbound Heart it was the better for it. When it started adding things (Kirsty’s boyfriend, the homeless man who turns out to be a demon) it went astray.

*. Hellbound goes even further off track. It wants to give us more on the mythology of the Cenobites and their world but it just ends up a mess. The budget wasn’t up to the effects they wanted, making a lot of what they did get on screen look silly. The action becomes chaotic, and we’re never sure what the larger point is. I mean, when Julia “kills” Frank, isn’t she doing him a favour? And how can he be killed when, as he himself puts it, “when you’re dead you’re fucking dead” anyway?
*. “It’s not hands that summon us. It’s desire.” Sounds fair. But that excuse didn’t help Kirsty in the first movie, did it? And when she tries to raise it as a defence again here, since she didn’t open the box and she’s obviously not a thrill-seeker like Dr. Channard, she’s shut down immediately as someone who can’t be trusted. I think the Cenobites just like her.

*. What are we to make of Kirsty’s subterfuge of donning Julia’s skin? Clearly it’s absurd, an impossibility. So what’s going on? Is the point that this is all just a fairy tale? That’s the best I can come up with.
*. The kink and fetish angle was something new in the first film, but here it seems played out before things even get started. You just don’t feel these people being seduced by obscenity or so plagued by ennui that they’re ready to pay the ultimate price for a new experience.
*. I do like how Julia can not only reconstruct her body from draining the life from others, but the same process can even do her nails and makeup as well.
*. Roger Ebert: “This movie has no plot in a conventional sense. It is simply a series of ugly and bloody episodes strung together one after another like a demo tape by a perverted special-effects man. There is nothing the heroines can do to understand or change their plight and no way we can get involved in their story.” I don’t think this is entirely fair. There is a plot, however sketchy, and the heroines do have agency. Tiffany has to solve that puzzle, most obviously.
*. I like what Ebert says though about a demo tape of gore put out by a special-effects man. The whole final act just seems like they were trying to throw as much splatter at the camera as they could.
*. Most disappointing of all, however, both at the premiere and ever since, is the cursory disposal of Pinhead. Perhaps Barker had grown jealous of his most famous creation but he deserved a better send-off than the flimsy bit of redemption he gets here, his fascination with Kirsty left unexplored so that we feel like we’re being cheated of something. Of course they had to be bring Pinhead back — he was the franchise — but the damage had been done and something important had been lost.

Hellraiser (1987)

*. I saw this movie when it was first released in theatres and came away very impressed. I felt like I had seen nothing like it.
*. You have to remember the times: in the early ’80s horror films had devolved into endless repetitions of the same old slasher clichés and formulas. The genre was in a desperate rut. There was no originality, no invention. Hellraiser was different. And not just because it was British (though that probably helped).
*. There’s an interesting comment made on the Hellraiser: Resurrection featurette where author Bill Condon calls this film one of the two landmark horror movies of the 1980s, along with Nightmare on Elm Street. But Nightmare on Elm Street has always struck me as a parody of conventional elements that Wes Craven was already bored with, inspiring a dive into the surreal. Hellraiser was going in a different direction.
*. It’s all the more surprising then that this is a film that was not that well received at the time. Roger Ebert was perhaps the most prominent nay-sayer, but critical aggregate scores were not good and the box office ($14 million, on a $1 million budget) wasn’t outstanding. Still, voices such as Stephen King and Kim Newman both saw in it “the future of horror,” and this seemed to me to be a good call.
*. But Barker’s promise, which really was immense, fizzled. It’s amazing that this was his first movie, and that just before shooting started he’d gone to the library to find a book on directing. He’s said that at the time he might not have known the difference between a lens and a plate of spaghetti (which was, no doubt, an exaggeration).
*. Now this movie is not the Citizen Kane of horror debuts, but it is very effective. Barker had a unique vision and a solid script, and was given enough independence to develop them (something he insisted on after being upset at the “cinematic abominations” made of a couple of previous screenplays he’d written, for Underworld and Rawhead Rex).
*. But where did he go from here? Next up there was Nightbreed, which I remember as being awful. He wrote a lot more, but nothing that I think measures up to his Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart, the latter being the novella Hellraiser is based on. So he didn’t disappear, but still “the future of horror” title never panned out. I wonder if this was another version of the catastrophe of success.
*. As for the film, it would go on to have a long legacy, with a plethora of sequels that rolled downhill followed by the obligatory franchise reboot. But more on them later, if I ever get around to watching them all.

*. To get back to where I started: in 1987 this movie really was the thing. But I’m impressed seeing it today at how well it’s held up. Yes, it’s still the ’80s, but while the hair is big it isn’t disturbingly so. And yes the puzzle box (“Lemarchand’s Configuration,” for those in the know) is just a fancy Rubik’s Cube. Even at the time I thought the Ghostbusters reject of a demon (apparently called “the Engineer”) was laughable, and the dolly behind it clearly visible. The final animations are lousy, and apparently Barker drew them by hand, while drunk, because there was no money (but then why not just do something simpler?). Grant all of this, but it’s still a darn good movie.
*. I mentioned how being British might have helped it seem even more different. As Kim Newman points out, it was something really new in the U.K.: “In the mid-1980s British horror only existed as an underground tradition. Between Bromley Davenport’s Xtro (1982) and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987), no British horror film was given a theatrical release.” That gives you another idea of the wasteland out of which this movie arose.
*. Still, as Newman also says, “If there is such a thing as a British horror film for the 1980s, Hellraiser is it.” This despite the fact that the location (London) is never specified and the American production company insisted on some of the actors’ voices being dubbed.
*. Given that the author of the original story was also the screenwriter and director, it’s surprising how many significant changes were made. Chief among these is making Kirsty into Larry’s daughter from a previous marriage instead of a former suitor the same age as Julia. This change makes sense though because it turns our lead into a threatened teenager and also brings in a kinky incest angle.
*. A more mysterious change is adding the bearded homeless man who turns into a winged demon at the end. There’s nothing in the novella like that and I’m not sure the character was necessary here. He seems just a distraction. I think he should have been the Engineer, a figure who is articulate and even somewhat dignified in the novella but appears to be little more than an angry slug in the movie.
*. Since this movie is a personal favourite of mine I don’t want to spend too long on nit-picking at some details, but here’s a quick list. I’m bothered that Frank and Larry don’t seem like brothers. I’m bothered that Larry and Julia don’t seem remotely compatible. I’m bothered at how much of Frank is reconstituted with just a few drops of blood, but there’s hardly any change at all between his second and third victims (and killing Julia doesn’t even heal the cuts on his face). I’m bothered that the recomposing Frank and flashback Frank are played by different actors and I can’t see the former in the latter at all.
*. Also: why does Pinhead follow up his line “This isn’t for your eyes!” with “We have such sights to show you!” He seems to have changed his mind.

*. Barker wanted Kirsty’s dream sequence to be “a moment of pure Argento surrealism,” but why? It’s a sequence I’ve never understood. I’m not even sure who is underneath the blanket. It’s not her father. The boyfriend? And why is it that he wakes up in a sweat?
*. I think the film might have been clearer about such things. Another point I’ll mention is that I never thought, the first few times I saw the movie, that Frank was dying in the house. I thought he’d just flopped there for a while before taking off for Asia or North Africa, buying the box, and then opening it in some seedy opium den or something. It really wasn’t until I read The Hellbound Heart that I realized that all that early stuff had actually taken place in the same house on Ludovico Street (get it?) and that Frank was bound to it in some physical sense.
*. Well, it was a somewhat messy production, shot on the cheap and with a lot of loose ends. But now on to a quick catalogue of what I love about it.
*. In the first place, while kinky it also has an adult attitude toward sex. This isn’t a movie about a bunch of teenagers screwing and then getting killed by a puritanical or voyeuristic slasher. In fact, Kirsty and her boyfriend even sleep in the same room but in separate beds!
*. Instead, the sexual heat is brought by Clare Higgens, who was only 32 but looks slightly older: very much the mature, professional lady with her perfect hair and makeup and nails. This, in turn, makes her turn to depravity all the more compelling. She’s the MILF from hell. Or, to take Barker’s analogy, she and Frank are the Macbeths.

*. The design elements, especially with the Cenobites, are terrific, as are most of the special effects. I’ve already flagged the weak links (the animation at the end and the appearance of the Engineer), but otherwise they got a lot of bang for their buck. The gore holds up really well, especially with that shocking opening sequence. Frank’s jigsaw-puzzle of a face is still disturbing over thirty years later.
*. Barker wanted to start off with something shocking as a way of “taming the audience”: letting the audience know right away that nothing is off the table and keeping them off balance for the rest of the movie. It’s also important to start off with this because the Cenobites don’t actually show up for a while. Barker references Jaws on the DVD commentary as an example of this kind of opening, but it’s a fairly standard part of any horror artist’s toolkit.
*. Sticking with the icky stuff for just a moment I’d also praise the sound effects used for Frank’s feeding. It shoulds like he’s munching and slurping on take-out, which in a way I guess he is. Barker can cut away from such scenes and just show Julia listening in the hallway and it doesn’t lose any of its impact.
*. Then, of course, there are the Cenobites. Barker was afraid that audiences would find Pinhead in particular ridiculous. I think the context of his initial appearance helps here, as it did the first appearance of the apes in the original Planet of the Apes. They might have seemed funny too, just guys dressed up in gorilla suits, but because they’re so terrifying hunting the humans down we aren’t allowed to laugh.
*. By now the whole Cenobite gang (or the Order of the Gash, to use the novella’s crude double entendre) have become not just familiar but iconic. And again I have to stress how strange they were in 1987. Sure there was a leather scene in the ’80s, but piercing wasn’t mainstream at all. These guys were something different.

*. Like all iconic villains, Pinhead gains from the fact that less is more. I’ve talked before about how we remember a lot of great movie villains just for a couple of lines or perhaps even a quirky physical characteristic and that’s it. Fans of this film can, and do, quote Pinhead’s lines because there are so few of them. Which, in turn, magnifies them in our memories.
* Barker nixed the contemporary metal score to go with something more conventional. I like Christopher Young’s score here as it fits a cozy setting that has gone to seed, setting the tone with a campy edge.

*. The cast are all very good. Andrew Robinson, the Scorpio killer in Dirty Harry, stays just this side of overplaying his double role. He’s at his best in that final shot where he’s being hung up on all the hooks and chains and we see what’s more than just a shadow of a smile on his face. At least in some sense, isn’t this what he signed up for? And now he gets to go through it all again. Clare Higgens I’ve mentioned as the icy queen with lava in her veins. And Ashley Laurence in her debut has a really strong turn as Kirsty. Her boyfriend, a character not in the novella, is, as Barker points out on the commentary track, “completely useless throughout the entire movie.” I love the bit of business where he tries to grab the box from her and take charge of the situation at the end but she slaps his hand away. This is serious business! Just let her get on with it.
*. In fact, we might extend that inversion of traditional gender roles to Larry and Julia as well. What gets the ball rolling here is his running to her when he cuts his hand on the nail, instead of going to wash it up in the sink or something useful. And of course Frank has to get Julia to bring home all his victims, and kill them for him as well. It’s the women in this movie who get things done. Meanwhile I’m still wondering why the hell it would take three guys to carry a mattress up a flight of stairs. (One of them is Oliver Parker, who would be back moving the same mattress in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, only this time with even worse results.)
*. I guess I could go on but there doesn’t seem much point adding more words to a movie that has had more than enough said about it already. In the featurette included with the DVD Barker mentions his being exhausted by talking about the film, and that anything he has to say is pretty much by the way now anyway since it’s a movie that belongs to its fans. Certainly the basic mythology and the character of Pinhead would proceed to take on a life of their own. I’m not sure at this point how many Hellraiser movies there have been, but it’s a lot and they’re still going.
*. Personally, I don’t quite rank this as one of my personal favourites of all time but it is a movie that, for various reasons, I have near the top of such lists. It’s interesting that despite all the sequels and the reboots it still stands pretty much alone. There was nothing quite like it when it came out and as far as I know there hasn’t been anything quite like it since. It has its flaws, some of which you’d expect given the budget. And yet through the right alignment of talent, the moment, and a bit of luck it all still works. After thirty years I think we have to admit that it’s gone beyond cult status and can be considered a classic.

The Ceiling (2017)

*. There’s nothing wrong with using the word Kafkaesque to describe a world of urban, bureaucratic nightmare, but for me Kafka’s spirit has always signified something broader than this. The Ceiling, a short film out of Finland, seems to me to be one example.
*. A man’s wife has just left him. He now lives alone in a cottage, doing what his friend refers to as an “ungodly amount of reading.” Which may simply mean that he’s still reading books in 2017. As he gets up from his chair one day he notices that the ceiling has lowered quite a bit, causing him to bump his head.
*. It’s an absurd situation for which there is no explanation and which brings into question all our assumptions about how the world works. Is Olavi (the man) somehow responsible? Is he going crazy? He shows signs of paranoia. Or is it only paranoid to think so? If so, it may be catching, as his friend Tuomas, who comes to visit, seems at the end to have been infected with . . . something.
*. Like one of Kafka’s parables there is no simple allegorical reading of what such a story is about. Sure, without his wife Olavi’s life is about to get a lot smaller and less comfortable. We get it. But then the ceiling rises again, and Tuomas seems to be having problems.
*. Then there’s Tuomas’s little girl Pipsa. She’s so cute it hurts but I wonder if she’s also meant to have something demonic about her. She has the knowing smile of an imp.
*. As in “The Metamorphosis” the meaning seems to me to lie in the coda, as Tuomas has to call his wife to remind him where he lives. Yes, we are once again experiencing the sheer horror of men without women. On their own they are helpless worms, their nudity after a sauna only underlining their frightened vulnerability. Even Pipsa has more composure and confidence. Who is worse off, Olavi with his elevator of a ceiling (not a glass ceiling, but a real one)? Or Tuomas with his lost helplessness? At least at one point Olavi thinks he may be able to adjust to his new circumstances, make a go of it. We can’t feel so sure about Tuomas’s state of dependency.

Glass (2019)

*. First off, I’ll give M. Night Shyamalan full credit for marching to the beat of his own drum. Glass is a personal and intelligent reflection on comic book culture that doesn’t go for easy points. It’s knowing, but not arch or ironic. Many people described it as Shyamalan’s love letter to superhero comics and I think that’s fair enough.
*. It’s also timely, being released at the moment of peak Marvel: just after Avengers: Infinity War and just before Avengers: Endgame. Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson, who seems miscast to me) specializes in people who believe they are superheroes, a form of delusion of grandeur that is approaching an epidemic. Instead of the Three Christs of Ypsilanti we have a trio of comic book heroes and villains introduced in the previous two instalments of the trilogy: Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) and the Overseer (Bruce Willis) from Unbreakable and the Beast (James McAvoy) from Split.
*. So as I say, it’s timely. And the story has an interesting hook (insert spoiler alert here), with Dr. Staple being the villainous mastermind trying to demystify our world. Which is, in fact, a comic book world. The three heroes are basically figures from our collective unconscious, archetypes who are made real through our faith or belief in them.
*. Such a plot involves an interesting twist, where the forces of law and order seeking to protect us are the bad guys, while the villains turn out to be representative of a Romantic dark side or unrestrained id. How odd is it that Elijah Price is a mass murderer and Kevin Crumb a serial killer but both are redeemed at the end and presented as heroes? Sure they’re both “broken” characters because of their background, but so are many if not most bad people. Is the point that without their villainy there could be no good guys like David Dunn? Or is it that their crimes aren’t real in some sense? I thought this was rather fuzzy.
*. You could imagine a good movie being made out of such a premise. I’m not sure Glass is that movie though. For starters, and on the most basic level, it’s dull. Aside from the initial battle between the Overseer and the Beast I don’t think anything at all happens in the first hour.
*. I’ve nothing against talky pictures, but the talk here only advances the plot very slowly and the point being made isn’t in need of such development. Nor did I feel that I was getting to know any of the main characters better, or that they were being given any more depth than they had in the previous films. If anything, Mr. Glass and David Dunn seem less interesting than they were in Unbreakable. (I have to enter the caveat here that something like an hour of Glass was cut from the final print. From the deleted scenes included with the DVD, however, I doubt my opinion would change even if I’d seen a three-hour version.)
*. One of the big questions coming into Glass was whether Willis would at least pretend to be awake for his role, and I think the answer is “sort of.” This is an actor who seems to have found his comfort zone. Or else he’s lost interest. Maybe both.
*. If the leads are dealt with in a cursory manner this is even more the case with their attendant supporting figures, who have little function to play aside from doing some basic research into comic books, which allows the finale here to take on a bit of a Scream quality (“This is the part of the story when this happens,” etc.)
*. I’m assuming the organization wanted the trio to escape, because just having a single orderly on duty for such a large facility was kind of hard to figure otherwise.
*. Audiences were said to be confused by the ending. I think it more likely they were disappointed. It’s not complicatd, but it is anticlimactic. Hell, the Overseer is drowned in a puddle. It’s hard to beat that for a depressing finale. But I guess that was the point, undercutting the superheroic mythos and making it real at the same time. The story clearly couldn’t end there, however, so there’s an even more disappointing coda suggesting some kind of viral superhero awakening. I couldn’t buy into this at all, and indeed had trouble understanding exactly what Shyamalan was suggesting. That we are all superheroes if we only believe in ourselves enough? A nice thought, but it seems hardly worth taking us a trilogy of films to get to.
*. It’s well made, if by that you mean it’s polished and looks nice. But while Shyamalan conceived of Glass as being at least in part a thriller, suspense seems not to have been the intention. Instead there’s just the feeling of things proceeding slowly toward a downbeat resolution. Yes, it’s a refreshing mix of genre filmmaking with the cinema of personal expression. It’s just that Shyamalan doesn’t have much that’s new to say. His thoughts on genre remain generic. What he was after was a “tonal fresh break” with the comic book genre but what does that end up meaning except that Glass moves slower than a Marvel movie and relies less on special effects?
*. Despite being too long for the modest bit of ground it covers I liked Glass most of the time. It’s just that I didn’t like it as much as Unbreakable and perhaps not even as much as Split. After three of these movies I can’t say I feel like I came out ahead.